Fukuoka POW Camp
Description of the camp, as taken from reports from
interned American prisoners of war (Liaison
Branch, American Prisoner of War Information Bureau, 31 July 1946;
Author: John M. Gibbs).
Notes in blue were
by Louis "Goldy" Goldbrum, former Camp 17 POW #45. Comments
and notes on camp descriptions in green type are provided by Ortwin
Louwerens, former Camp 17 POW. My notes are initialed "LD."
Omuta, on a bay, about 17 miles northwest of Kumamoto and 40
south of the city of Fukuoka, opened on 7 August 1943. The
coordinates are 33.000N, 130.420E. Terrain level, well-drained
and filled in with slag from a coal mine at Omuta.
The original camp site was 200 yards square. By
the size had been increased to 200 yards x 1000 yards. The site
is a reclaimed grove and the buildings thereon were formerly laborers'
quarter constructed by Mitsui (Baron Mitsui) Coal Mining Company and
operated by the Japanese Army. A wood fence, approximately 12'
high with three heavy gauge wires (first wire approximately 6 feet off
the ground), enclosed the compound. The grounds were kept as
clean as possible at all times. Some fir trees adorned the
compound. The Japanese officials were
stationed in the enclosure.
* Medical officers from the United States, Australia
Royal Dutch command later join the interns.
- Major John R. Mamerow, later sent to Manchuria
Achille C. Tisdelle, former aide to General
- US Navy
Edward N. Little, mess officer, later court-martialed
for cruelty to Americans
Thomas H. Hewlett, camp surgeon
- Lieutenant Harold Proff, medical officer
- Australian Camp Commandant, Lt. Reginald Howel
- Australian Camp Physician, Captain Ian Duncan
LD: The letter
is from Camp 17 POW Ortwin Louwerens. Depending upon where the POW's
were housed in Camp 17, (British, Dutch,
Americans, etc. were in separate barracks and areas) some former POW's
concur with Louwerens, most others concur with Dr. Hewlett. I felt this
was an important point of view to include and share with the reader.
The summary is that each prisoner suffered "hell" under the appalling
and inhumane treatment by the Japanese. Differences in opinions
of various reports does not take away from the fact the prisoners all
were subject to atrocities that those of us "not
over there" could ever expect to understand or comprehend.
reading your website on Fu.17 for more reports, I came
on that Camp Medical Report by Dr. Hewitt and was completely
overwhelmed by the facts that there were numerous wards as well as a
department (in the Camp?!!) and most of all that there also
has been a Dutch doctor Bras.
was misinformed - there was a Dutch doctor; many references
are made of him. LD)
I already told
you in my comments and sketch of the camp that there only was a
medical ward (one barrack) and a separated quarantine ward with
some 9 beds (real beds)
patients. I was there for several days because of my smallpox (the
Japanese doctor considered this as very contagious).
(We believe Louwerens is
describing the Dutch side and that is why he
felt the American descriptions were inaccurate. LD)
Either I missed
quite a lot during my 18 months in Fu.17, or I have been completely
blind!! But Dr. Hewitt, who made the report,also reported
several cases of OEDEMA in 1945. I only can tell you a story
most probably related to this appearance of oedema.
Japanese rice was always polished, of good quality,but
unfortunately also too luxurious for POW's and therefore it was (for
us) always mixed with soybeans, so called pigeon weed (small
grains half white, half red) and potatoes. Soya and pigeon weed
have Vitamins B and also the soy-paste in which the
vegetables and seaweed were impregnated, not much but just
Sometime at the beginning of 1945- end 1944 we received
non-food articles from Red Cross parcel and amongst these also
coffee-powder. But we also got a pack American cigarettes
and you could swap one American cigarette for some SALT
with the Koreans in the mine!! This
salt was a delicacy with your meal in
the camp but it also produced an hour or two later a swelling in
your legs, and we knew that this swelling should not go further
than the knees. So when it reached that level we dissolved some
coffee-powder in hot tea-water and drank it. After several hours you
had to piss continuously to drain the swelling in your legs. Maybe the
reported case of oedema was someone who did not have anymore
Many cases of the reported pneumonia were also
washing yourself clean in the mine (down below there was plenty of
water) before going up with the train and expose yourself during
10 to 15 minutes to the draught in the tunnel, only to have more time
left in the warm waiting room to take a smoke. We were always
warned not to do this.
Camp interns included 10 officers, 133 NCOs and 358 privates, a
total of 501, all Americans, from the Philippines. 497 American
prisoners from the Philippines reached the port of Moji, Kyushu, on 29
January 1945 and were divided among the Fukuoka area installations as
100 to Camp #3, located at Tobata
193 to Camp #1, located at Kashii
110 to the Japanese Military Hospital at Moji
95 to Camp #17
Only 34 of the hospital prisoners, later transferred to Camp
survived. The death of the 76 prisoners while in the hospital was
due to the horrible conditions of travel from the Philippines to Moji
and extreme malnutrition.
An earlier group of 200 American prisoners
reached Moji on 3 September 1944, all of whom were assigned to Camp
#17, making a total of 814 American prisoners, which was the
maximum. The camp was liberated on 2 September 1945. There
were 1721 prisoners in the camp toward the closing of it on 2 September
1945. British, Australian, Dutch and American prisoners evacuated
the last minute from the Philippines and Siam were in desperate
physical condition when they arrived.
Asao Fukuhara, camp commandant.
Unnamed Japanese officer, camp surgeon and civilian guards.
Several pseudo names were given by the POW's for the Japanese Guards:
Sailor, One-armed Bandit, Pig, Smiley, Long Beach,
Riverside (the Japanese Interpreter), Yotojisa also called
Flangeface, Fox, Screamer, Devil, Wolf, Sikimato San-called Blinkey,
Mouse, Big Stoop, Gold teeth, Turtle, Devil, Toko-San also called Billy
Goat, Rat, Greyhound, Wingy, Pretty Boy and The Bull.
Biographies for some of the
names recalled by POWs in their personal accounts. LD)
NOL: The guards were
Japanese military personnel; Japanese civilians were the foremen
(hanchou) and "overmen" in the mines and
sink factory. The Japanese soldiers were young and
fanatic and therefore not easy or friendly.
(a) housing facilities.
33 one-story buildings, 120' x 16', with ten rooms to a barrack, of
wood construction with tight tar paper roofs. More barracks were built
a more prisoners arrived. Ventilation
was satisfactory. Three to four officers were billeted in one
room, 9' x 10'. No heating facilities, and while the climate was
mild, it must be remembered that the men were sensitive to temperatures
around 50 degrees F, and because of their weakened condition due to
malnutrition, the dampness and cold were very penetrating. The
barracks were light enough during the day without artificial
illumination. Each room had one 15-watt light bulb.
Air raid shelters were dug into the earth
about 6' deep and 8'
wide, 120' in length, timbered in similar manner, to coal mines,
covered with 3' of slag and an adequate splinter-proof roof.
During the bombardment in June 1945 two of
our barracks -- one of them was my housing -- were hit and burned down;
occupants of these two barracks had to sleep with one blanket on the
tables at the far end of the mess hall till the day we were evacuated!
Luckily the occupants of the two barracks worked in separated
The beds consisted of tissue paper and cotton batting
a cotton pad 5'8" long and 2' 6" wide. Three heavy cotton
blankets were issued by the Japanese in addition to a comforter made of
tissue paper, scrap rags and scrap cotton.
In each of the 33
and at the end thereof, were three stools raised from the floor about
1.5 feet on a hollow brick pedestal, each being covered with a
detachable wood seat, and one urinal. A concrete tank was
underneath each stool. The prisoners made wood covers for each of
the stools, thereby reducing the fly nuisance. The offal in the
tanks were removed by the Japanese laborers each week.
OL: A Japanese farmer did the offal to use
it as dung in the fields, a common use in Japan where the offal was
gathered in pits in the field.)
The bathing facilities were
separate building equipped with two tanks (shown above) approximately
30' x 10' x 4' deep, with very hot, steam-heated water. The
American camp spokesman would not permit the men to immerse themselves
during the summer months on account of skin disease. In the
winter the tubs were used but not until the men had taken a preliminary
bath before entering the tubs. The men were required to watch
each other to see that none "passed out" because of the heat and their
weakened condition. After bathing, the men would dress in all the
clothing they had and go to bed for the night. Even then the
prisoners would fill their canteens with hot water and place them
beneath the covers. With these precautions, the men slept
comfortably through the cold nights. Every two barracks had an
outside wash rack, 16 cold water faucets and 16 wood tubs with drain
boards. Prisoners washed their clothes by scrubbing with brushes
on the drain board and rinsing them in the tubs. There was a
constant shortage of soap.
mineworkers had to take a bath in the mining-compound with two large
tanks with hot water, because you needed it to wash off the coal dust.
I think it was the same in the sink factory.
(d) mess hall. There
was one unit mess
11 cauldrons and 2 electric cooking ovens for baking bread, 2 kitchen
ranges, 4 store rooms and 1 ice box. Cooking was done by 15
prisoners of war, 7 of whom were professional cooks, all working under
the supervision of a Japanese mess sergeant. The men working in
the coal mines were given 3 buns every second day to take with them for
their lunch when they did not return to the camp to eat. Other
days they were given an American mess-kit level with rice.
Prisoners ate in the mess hall in which were placed tables and benches.
mess was entirely ruled
Lieutenant Little. If supervised by a Japanese mess sergeant, it
was seldom evident. Little went as far as ingeniously
constructing scales to make sure the POWs did not get an extra grain of
rice. People working in the mine received only two meals a
day. Going to work, they received a box about the size of a
25-cigar box with steamed rice and topped off by several slices of
salted radishes and several strips of soy-soaked seaweed.
was plenty of hot tea in a huge wooden container in the mess hall, but
it was tea from the stems only; tea leaves were not for POWs.
(e) food. Usually consisted of steamed
and vegetable soup made from anything that could be obtained, three
times a day. Upon occasion of a visit to this camp by a
representative of the Red Cross in April 1944, a splendid variety of
fats, cereals, fish and vegetables were served, which naturally
impressed the representative, and in his report to headquarters he
called particular attention to the menu. It is known that the
spread was to impress the Red Cross man, and that it was the only
decent meal served in two years. Rice and soup made with radishes,
mostly water, remained the diet throughout. The men working in
the mines were given 700 grams of rice, camp workers 450 and officers
300. Our American camp doctors stated that such scant
ration was insufficient to support life in a bed patient. All of
the prisoners were skeletons, having lost in weight an average of
around 60 pounds per man. Again, only men in the mines were given
buns to eat. The city water was drinkable.
Goldy: I do
not recall any vegetable soup or buns except on rare occasions. We
were given a roll or baked sweet potato when we came out of the mine at
the end of the work shift.
have never received any bun -- this was luxury -- as a meal for the
mines, neither as one of the other meals, with the exception of 2 or 3
times we got baked bread (a third of a loaf as a complete meal). As for
normally was always rice with some pickled vegetables and/or seaweed and not more than a spoonful. I think the
POW-personnel working as cooks did their utmost to make the best of it.
LD: Several POW's have
mentioned buns, however
several noted that the buns were allotted by the mess hall crew and
receiving one was sometimes dependent upon who, at the time, the mess
facilities. Medical section
surgical section of the infirmary had ten rooms each with capacity for
30 men. Isolation ward could accommodate 15 men. Daily
medical and dental inspections by American officers, but they had but
little to work with in the way of medicines and instruments. The
dentists had no instruments and could only perform extract ions, and
without anesthesia. For dysentery, the Japanese provided a powder
which they concocted, the use of which produced nausea and diarrhea
when administered to the American patients. There were no
American hospital corpsmen in this camp until April 1944, when 10 men
were added to the hospital corps with two doctors and one
dentist. After October 1944 medical supplies were provided and an
operating room installed. Prior to October 1944 the camp was
practically without medical supplies. The Japanese doctor was entirely
OL: The only doctor I have seen during my
18 months was the Japanese doctor and American orderlies -- mostly Navy
personnel -- who did an excellent job under these circumstances. I
was treated because of ulcers because of lack of vitamins -- two times
incision with a razorblade with no painkillers and another time because
of a kind of tropical open wound, neglected and looked very bad and
like green moss growing on it, but the orderly managed to clean the
whole wound with pincers up to the fresh meat and powdered it with
silver-nitrate of which he (the orderly) still had something left.
(g) supplies (1) Red Cross, YMCA, other:
first Red Cross and YMCA supplies were received early in 1944 on the
Japanese ship Teia Maru. The items in the food parcels were doled
out to the men sparingly provided he had a consistent work record in
the coal mine and was not guilty of infractions of rules. In the
aggregate each man was given the equivalent of about one complete
parcel during the full period of the confinement. The favoritism
shown the mine workers in the distribution of parcel items defeated the
intention of the Red Cross because it tended to give protein foods to
the more healthy rather than to the weak. The 1944 Red Cross
shipment contained medicines, surgical instruments and other supplies
which the Japanese refused to make available for the benefit of the
invalid men, but helped themselves to them. The YMCA furnished several
hundred books. (2) Japanese issue: The clothing (cotton)
was issued by the coal mine company and was adequate. British
overcoats were given out by the Japanese army. Each prisoner was
given three heavy cotton blankets and a comforter made of tissue paper
and scrap rags and scrap cotton. The canteen was practically
bare. From it the men received regularly five cigarettes per day.
Canned salmon could be bought about every two months, one can per man.
Goldy: I do
not recall canned
but I recall a round container containing dry fish powder, which we
used as a condiment over our rice. At one time there was a
beached whale, and we got left-overs.The whales was spoiled and
some chose not to eat any. They were the fortunate men, as the whale
made most of them very sick. The Red Cross parcel was a joke and not
even worth mentioning.
of cigarettes was
based on one
cigarette for one working-day; that is one pack of 10 cigarettes for
ten-days shift; I never have seen the mentioned can of salmon. Because
of the scarceness of cigarettes they were priceless; two cigarettes for
half bowl of rice, or one and a half cigarette for the soup was a
common daily deal in the mess hall. During my time I received one Red
Cross parcel, that is to say that we only received the non-food
articles; the cans of food were stored by the Japanese and occasionally
we saw or tasted some in our soup and the market-value in cigarettes
was accordingly double or triple! Unfortunately this
storage-room (like my barrack) was also hit and burned down when our
camp was hit during a bombardment.
(h) mail. (1)
incoming: First incoming
was received in March 1944, thereafter each 60 days. Some received
mail, some received none at all. It as all at the "whim" of the
Japanese. However, if there was bad news, the Japanese most always made
sure a POW received that mail.
(2) outgoing: Prisoners were allowed to write a card about
every six to eight weeks. Very few made them "home."
(i) work. In
coal mines and zinc
three shifts per day of approximately 100 men per shift.
Conditions in the mines were pronounced dangerous although only three
men were killed outright during the period of confinement of 22
months. Many men received painful injuries from falling rock and
other causes. Fortunately for the prisoner there was among the
group an experienced coal miner who gave the men safety talks and
pointed out some of the dangers of coal mining, which were not apparent
to the novice miners. The coal mines were operated largely by
American prisoners, the smelters by the British and Australian
prisoners. Coal mines were approximately 1 kilometer from
camp. Hours of work: 12 hours per day, 30 minutes
lunchtime. The men were given one day off every 10 days.
left hand was crushed in a
mine cave-in and thanks to the expertise of Dr. Hewlett, it was able to
be repaired when I returned to the US and entered a VA hospital.
OL: In the
mine we were divided in
about 15-20 men to work in one coal-galley supervised by a civilian
hanchou who told you with arms and legs what you had to do and then
find out for yourself. There were no instructors or something of the
kind. The shifts were a 10-day shift and depending on the changing of
the shifts you had a day (off) in between and that only occurred once
in a month. Because of roll-calls and endless counting procedures in
the camp and on the mining compound you were about
12 hours ¨busy.¨ You had quite a rotten day when there also was one of
the regular inspections on the camping ground. Work in the mines was
done mostly by POW-s and also Korean contract-workers; unpleasant
(k) treatment. Often the men
without cause with fists, clubs and sandals. Failure to salute or
bow to the Japanese was an offense which usually was followed by
compelling the prisoners to stand at attention in front of the guard
house for hours at a time. Some men were beaten daily and other
harassed by guards while trying to sleep during their rest time.
The worst cases I saw were an American NCO Johnsen
or Jones (something like that) who got a beating in front of the
guardhouse with a rod or something of the kind, because he wore his US
Army cap. The beating (we saw it from our barrack) was so bad that he
died the next day. In another case an Australian who took a nap in the
coal mine and fell asleep, without warning his other companions; so at
the roll call outside he was missing. After we were back in the camp
again he had woken up and reported to the guards of the other shift.
The Japs considered this as an effort to escape and was punished by
kneeling in front of the guardhouse with a bamboo stick between his
knees and calves on his legs during the whole night in wintertime. The
result was quite evident: both legs to the knees amputated. But he
(l) pay. (1) Officers: were
paid 20 yen per
until June 1944, when it was increased to 40 yen less 18 yen per month
for mess. Each prisoner received 5 cigarettes per day regularly
except for about one day per month. Postal savings accounts for
officers were deposited with Protecting Power amounted to 7,688.26
yen. Prisoner of War headquarters ran its own destitute
welfare. (2) Enlisted men: NCOs were paid 14 sen per day and
privates 10 sen per day. No postal savings were deposited with
OL: The payment
was very unimportant to us as long as we received our cigarettes each
10 days a package of 10 and toothpowder and some soap.
Lester Tenney Tennenberg wrote- "I was asked by Major
Mamerow to be in
charge of the little entertainment we could have, and 'The GREAT
ZIGFIELD' was the culmination of my effort... a musical comedy was the
result. The Japanese allowed this show, and Baron Mitsui (Mitsue, Baron
Mitsui, Coal Mining Company) came for the opening night." (August or
(m) recreation. The YMCA provided
for such outdoor games as football, volleyball and tennis, but the
prisoners, at the close of work periods, were too tired and weak to
play. There were no indoor sports except those made by the
prisoners. There was a rotating library of about 300 volumes
provided by the YMCA
A vegetable garden was planted and maintained by the prisoners, and
some live stock was raised, but the Japanese ate the live stock and
none of it was made available
to the prisoners. Entertainment was allowed, tho rare. Often it was for
the entertainment of the Japanese rather than the "concession" of such
by the Japanese.
(n) religious activities. In July 1944 a
Protestant Dutch Army chaplain arrived as one of a prisoner
detail. Until his arrival the camp was without a chaplain.
From July 1944 Protestant services were held each Sunday.
(o) morale. Was low because of
food, long and hard working hours which left no time except for work
and sleep. There was no laughter, no singing, nothing but
depression which condition was made worse by beatings and the harassing
activities of the Japanese guards during the sleeping hours.
MOVEMENT AND HELLSHIP
Of the original group
of 501 officers
enlisted men who reached this camp in August 1943, at least 15
died. The remainder left for Mukden, Manchuria on 25 April
1945. Other American prisoners, approximately 340, remained at
Camp #17 until liberated on 2 September 1945. Dutch, British and
Australian POW's were to be interned, along with Norwegian and
HELLSHIPS ARRIVALS IN OMUTA:
(Info courtesy of Jim
The first 500 POWs
arrived at Camp #17 on 10 Aug 1943 after a
day journey from Manila to Moji aboard the Clyde Maru (known
to the men as the Mate Mate Maru).
The next 7 Americans (#506-507) arrived on 24 March 1944 after a
journey aboard the Kenwa Maru.
The third group to arrive was a mix of Australian (#507-655), British
(#657-664), and Dutch (#668-928) POWs who arrived on 18 June 1944 after
sailing on the Teia Maru. (ex Aramis).
The fourth group consisted of 200 British enlisted men and 2 officers
(#931-1128) aboard the Hioki Maru.
The second large contingent of American POWs (#1131-1332)
on 2 Sept 1944 aboard the SS Canadian Inventor (the Mati Mati
The next group (#1337-1430) consisted of Dutch personnel transferred
from other camps in Japan.
The seventh group were Australians (#1431-1629) who arrived 16 Jan 1945
after a journey aboard the Awa Maru.
A small group of Americans, Australians, British, and Dutch were
transported from other Japanese Camps to Fukuoka #17 near the end of
Jan 45. (#1632-1683)
On 30 Jan 1945 96 men from the Brazil Maru, including Capt.
John Duffy went to Camp #17. Chaplain Duffy was moved to Mukden in
April 1945. The other 95 men were assigned numbers 1684 to
A group of men from Taiwan make up the next group (#'s 1778-1873). The
men most likely arrived in mid Jan 1945 aboard the Melbourne Maru,
but may have come aboard Enoshima Maru in early Feb 1945. These men
included British and Dutch survivors of the hellship Hofuku Maru,
sunk off Luzon, 21 Sept 1944 with the loss of about 950 POWs. Many of
these men were taken to Taiwan aboard Hokusen Maru in Oct-Nov
1944 and others on Oryoku Maru and Brazil Maru in Dec 44-Jan
45. The remainder consisted of American, Norwegian, and Czech nationals
who had been taken to Taiwan aboard Hokusen Maru.
Seven or eight survivors of the Oryoku Maru/Enoura Maru/Brazil Maru
journeys of Dec 44-Jan 45 were brought to Fukuoka 17 from Fukuoka 22 in
late Feb or early March 45. Two remained at the camp(#1886, #1892) but
the others plus several of the original group of American officers
including Maj. John Mamerow, were sent to Mukden, Manchuria on 25 April
In June 1945 a group of about 100 Australians (#'s above 1893) were
transferred from camp Fukuoka camp 13-D, Oita, to Fukuoka 17. These men
had arrived in Japan in Sept 1944 aboard Rashin Maru.
was liberated on 2
POW Recovery Team Liberators 1945
Christison, kneeling, left
Lt. D. L. Christison, back row, middle officer; Lt. Ed Little, standing
front, far left