Japanese WWII POW Camp Fukuoka #17 Omuta (site by Linda Dahl)
Linda has worked hard to present as much information as possible on this site devoted to Fukuoka Camp # 17
PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS IN JAPAN AND JAPANESE CONTROLLED AREAS AS TAKEN FROM REPORTS OF INTERNED AMERICAN PRISONERSLIAISON AND RESEARCH BRANCH AMERICAN PRISONER OF WAR INFORMATION BUREAU
By JOHN M. GIBBS 31 JULY 1946
FUKUOKA CAMP NO. 17 ON THE ISLAND OF KYUSHU, JAPAN
Omuta on the bay, about 17 miles northwest of Kumamoto and 40 miles south of the city of Fukuoka, opened on 7 Aug. 1943. The coordinates are 33 degrees N, 130 degrees 25 ‘ E. Terrain level, well drained and filled in with slag from a coal mine at Omuta. Dimension or original site camp site, 200 yards square which by April 1945 had been enlarged to 200 yards wide by 1,000 yards long. The site is a reclaimed grove and the buildings thereon were formerly laborers quarters constructed by the Mitsue Coal Mining Co. and operated by Japanese Army. A wood fence approximately 12 feet high with 3 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 this compound. The Japanese officials were stationed in the enclosure.
2. PRISONER PERSONNEL:
Maj. A.C. Tisdell, spokesman; Maj. Thomas H. Hewlett, camp surgeon and Maj. John R. Mamerow, medical officer.
Camp first occupied 10 Aug. 1945 by 10 officers, 133 nco’s and 358 privates a total of 501, all Americans, from the Philippines. 497 American prisoners from the Philippines reaching the port of Moji, Kyushu on 29 Jan. 1945, were divided among the Fukuoka area installation as follows:
100 to camp #3 located at Tobato
193 to camp #1 located at Kashi
110 to the Japanese Military Hospital at Moji
95 to Camp # 17
Only 34 of the hospital prisoners, later transferred to No. 22 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 from the Philippines reached Moji on 3 Sept. 1944 all of who were assigned to camp #17, making a total of 814 American prisoners, which was the maximum. The camp was liberated on 2 Sept. 1945. There were 1721 prisoners in the camp toward the closing of it on 2 Sept. 1945. British, Australian, Dutch and American prisoners evacuated the last minute from the Philippines and Siam wee in desperate physical condition when they arrived.
3. GUARD PERSONNEL:
Asao Fukuhara, Camp Commandant
Camp surgeon, and unnamed Japanese Army man
Civilian guards, 2 psuedo named as the “sailor” & “one arm bandit”, both Japanese.
There were Japanese orderlies who worked as hospital attendants, number and names unknown.
4. GENERAL CONDITIONS
a. Housing facilities: The barracks comprised 33 one story buildings 120’ x 16’ with 10 rooms to a barracks, of wood construction with tight tar paper roofs and windows with panes. Ventilation satisfactory. Three to 4 officers were billeted in one room 9’ x 10’ and 4 to 6 enlisted men in room of same size. No heating facilities and while the climate was mild, it must be remembered that the men were sensitive to temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, 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 earth about 6 feet deep and 8 feet wide, 120 feet in length, timbered in similar manner to coal mines, covered with 3 feet of slag and an adequate splinter-proof roof.
The beds consisted of tissue paper and cotton batting covered with a cotton pad 5’8” long and 2 1/2 feet wide. Three heavy cotton blankets were issued by the Japanese in addition to a comforter made of tissue paper, scrap rags, and scrap cotton.
b. Latrines: In each of the 33 buildings, and at the end thereof, were 3 stools raised from the floor about 1 ½ feet on a hollow brick pedestal, each being covered with a detachable wood seat, and 1 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 was removed by Japanese laborers twice each week.
c. Bathing: The bathing facilities were in a separate building equipped with two tanks 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 diseases. 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 throughout the cold nights.
Each 2 barracks had an outside wash rack, 16 cold-water faucets and 16 wood tubs with drainboard. Prisoners washed their cloths by scrubbing with brushes on the drainboard and rinsing them in the tubs. There was a constant shortage of soap.
d. Mess Hall: There was 1 unit mess with 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 whom 7 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 the mess hall in which was placed tables and benches.
e. Food: Usually consisted of steamed rice and vegetable soup made from anything that could be obtained, 3 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 this 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 2 years. Rice and soup made from radishes, mostly water, remained in the diet throughout. The men working in the mines were given 700 grams of rice, camp workers 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 about 60 pounds per man. The city water was drinkable.
f. Medical facilities: Medical section and surgical section of infirmary had 10 rooms with capacity of 30 men each. Isolation ward could accommodate 15 men. Daily medical and dental inspections by American officers, but they had little to work with in the way of medicines and instruments. The dentist had no instruments and could only perform extractions, and without anesthesia. For dysentery the Japanese furnished 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 2 doctors and 1 dentist. After Oct. 1944 medical supplies were provided and an operating room installed. Prior to Oct. 1944 the camp was practically without medical supplies. The Japanese doctors were entirely disinterested.
g. Supplies: (1) Red Cross, YMCA, and other relief: The first Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. supplies were received early in 1944 on the Japanese 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 1 complete parcel during the full period of his 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 invalided men, but helped themselves to them. The Y.M.C.A. 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 3 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 5 cigarettes per day. Canned salmon could be bought about each 2 months, 1 can per man.
(1) Incoming: First incoming mail was received in March 1944, thereafter each 60 days.
(2) Outgoing: Prisoners were allowed to write a card about each 6 to 8 weeks.
i. Work: In coal mines and zinc smelter 3 shifts per day of approximately 100 men per shift. Conditions in the mines were pronounced dangerous although only 3 men were killed outright during the confinement of 22 months. Many men received painful injuries from falling rocks 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 novice workers. 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 lunch time. The men were given one day off every 10 days.
k. Treatment: From time to time the men were beaten without cause with fists, clubs, and sandals. Failure to salute or bow to the Japanese was an offense, which was usually 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 others harassed by guards while trying to sleep during their rest time.
l. Pay: (1) Officers : Were paid 20 yen per month 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 1 day per month. Postal savings accounts for officers deposited with Protecting Power amounted to 7,688.26 yen. Prisoner of War Headquarters ran its own destitute welfare.
(2) Enlisted Men: NCO’s were paid 20 yen per day and privates 10 sen per day. No postal savings were deposited with Protecting Power.
m. Recreation: The Y.M.C.A. provided equipment 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 Y.M.C.A. A vegetable garden was planted and maintained by the prisoners, and some livestock was raised, but the Japanese ate the livestock and none of it was available to the prisoners.
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 primarily because of inadequate 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.
Of the group of 501 officers and enlisted men which reached this camp in August 1943, 15 died. The remainder left for Mukden on 15 April 1945. Other American prisoners, approximately 340 remained at Camp No. 17 until liberated on 2 Sept. 1945.