PRISONERS USED AS BOMB HOSTAGES
Japs Put Camps Near Vital Targets and Many Men Were Killed in Raids
By ROHAN D. RIVETT, formerly of THE ARGUS, who was sole British war
correspondent among the prisoners in Burma and Siam, and who has just returned after three and a half years in the hands of the Japanese.
The use of prisoners as hostages is as old as warfare. But it took the Japanese to devise the "compensa- tion system." They placed prisoners where they were most likely to be killed or mutilated, so that they could scream to the world about "in- discriminate bombing" and "Allied atrocities," and have Allied dead to compensate their own material
In all prison camps in Burma and Siam the Japanese attitude about prisoners in target areas was the same as that taken about the tor- pedoing of transports laden with prisoners—"Enemy sink Japanese ship—very bad. Enemy sink own
men—not so bad."
The first serious bombings of a POW camp occurred at Thanbyuza- yat on June 12 and 15, 1943. At Thanbyuzayat, which was the be- ginning of the Bangkok railway from the Burma end, the base hos- pital for prisoners lay close to the railway yards, surrounded by stores, ammunition dumps, and Japanese troop concentration. Six Liberators appeared over the camp at 2.30 on June 12, wheeled, and swung back towards the railway junction, drop- ping sticks of bombs across the area, including one on the POW's well, which they obviously took to be a gunpit. The water party, almost ex- clusively Australians, was an- nihilated by a direct hit.
JAPS IGNORED PROTESTS
Three days later, by which time we had some slit trenches, bombers re- turned. Despite the most vigorous protests of Brigadier A. L. Varley, senior Allied officer in Burma, the Japanese had refused to mark the hospital in any way except for a minute Red Cross flag in the middle of the "new" hospital area. The "old" hospital huts were completely unmarked and indistinguishable from neighbouring supply dumps and other obvious military targets. The Japanese had also refused to allow any information as to the results of the previous raid to be sent to the Allied Command.
The miracle of June 15 was not that some 17 men were killed and 60 more wounded, but that the num- bers were not 10 times as great. The planes made runs as low as 1,500ft, bombing and machine-gunning the "old" hospital area with great accuracy. One plane dropped five bombs straight down the centre of two long huts, utterly destroying the huts, but inflicting very little damage on the slit trenches two or three yards outside.
The camp adjutant, an Australian officer, was killed by a delayed action bomb while seeking to bring aid to trapped and wounded patients, and Colonel Chris Black, of Sydney, was severely wounded in the arm at
the same time.
After two hours the last plane finally went away. The feeling that we were imprisoned like rats in a trap, and were facing progressive elimination by our own planes, de- pressed even the stoutest. As one Light Horse veteran said to me, "This isn't war; this is extermina-
GLOOM AND HELPLESSNESS
That night every man in the camp who could walk dragged himself to the growing camp cemetery, where we stood in serried files while the Dutch and Australian padres con- ducted Protestant and Catholic burial services over our dead com- rades. No one who was there will easily forget the gloom and hopeless-
ness of those hours.
It is not surprising that next morn- ing the Dutch padre, seeking in- spiration while making an address, raised his eyes to the heavens and found that his entire flock anxiously followed suit, believing that he had sighted more Liberators.
On June 17 the Thanbyuzayat hos- pital was abandoned, thousands of sick carrying their pitiful worldly possessions on their backs into the jungle, where not even bamboo huts
had been prepared to offer them shelter from the daily rainstorms. More men died as a result of this evacuation than actually perished in the bombing raids, or afterwards from wounds received.
The next major POW fatalities occurred at Nonpladuk, in Siam, on September 6, 1944. Nonpladuk was the main marshalling yards and workshop centre on the Bangkok- Moulmein line, being at the junction of the new railway and the main Bangkok-Singapore line. The prison camp here was bounded on one side by sidings, on another by workshops, and on the third by supply sheds and anti-aircraft batteries. These were all within a few yards of the huts where prisoners were huddled to- gether on top of each other.
The inevitable results of this situ- ation had already been forcibly pointed out to the Japanese authori- ties by the British senior officer, Colonel Toosey, but, despite all pro- tests, no identification marks were allowed, and the prisoners were re- fused the right to dig slit trenches for their own protection, although deep shelters had already been pre- pared for the Japanese guards.
434 CASUALTIES IN ONE RAID Twenty-one Allied planes came over first, and, bombing with deadly ac- curacy, destroyed three Japanese ammunition trains in the sidings. They also wrought great destruction in the workshops area without drop- ping a single bomb on the camp. The next wave of aircraft consisted of 12 planes, of which 11 dropped their bombs on the targets, but the last released his bombs too soon and the stick fell right across the prison camp where the prisoners were con- fined to their huts, most of them lying on the bamboo slats a couple of feet above the ground. The bomb splinters simply tore apart the bam- boo huts, killing, maiming, or injur- ing 434 men, of whom 98 died.
Colonel Sugasawa, commander of all prisoners in Siam, visited the camp next day and listened to an impas- sioned plea from Colonel Toosey for the removal of personnel from the camp. Sugasawa's reply, as he stood in the hospital surrounded by muti- lated men, was: "This will happen many times again. You are soldiers. You must be prepared to die. Look after your slit trenches."
So, although slit trenches were al- lowed, the 3,000 Allied prisoners were kept cooped up in "the death triangle" while night after night Allied planes bombed the workshops, sidings, and supply sheds.
COLONEL'S BLUNT LETTER
More prisoners were killed and in- jured, and finally the Japanese ordered the evacuation of the camp some five weeks after Japanese headquarters had received a letter from Colonel Toosey couched in terms as straight-forward as if he had been reporting to the British Government. Of the senseless mas- sacre of helpless prisoners in such circumstances Colonel Toosey wrote: "It is against all rules of humanity, all international law, and even against common sense."
It is doubtful whether anything imposed so great a strain on the thousands of sick men lying help- lessly in the hospital huts under the ravages of dysentery, malaria, beri- beri, and other diseases, as this constant apprehension regarding their own planes. It was a refine- ment of mental torture, revealing more subtlety than the Japanese usu- ally displayed. But we were all glad that the idea of using us as host- ages failed, and that the Japanese keypoints all along the line were re- lentlessly hammered by the big
The railway, which, cost so many lives, never carried enough material to be of great use to the Japanese forces in Burma, and in the last months of war, owing to the destruc- tion of bridges by bombing, its value was virtually nil.