Oryoku Maru sunk December 14-15, 1944
Of the 1619 men who boarded this ship only about 450 landed in Japan and 161 of those died shortly after arrival
an excerpt from Forty-Nine Days In Hell
About, 2000 Japanese filled the entire passenger section of the vessel, and they must have been badly crowded. Three small holds were left for the prisoners of war. These were loaded in typical Jap fashion, starting with 500 of the highest-ranking officers who were placed in the after hold. The officers crept down a long, slanting, wooden staircase and were met at the bottom by Sergeant Dau, whom some of them remembered from the prison camp at Davao. Dau had his men beat the officers back as possible into the hold with brooms. It was almost pitch-dark in the farthest recesses of the hold, as a platform about 5 feet above the hatch cut almost all of the light and air that have reached this dungeon.
Investigation showed that wooden tiers had been built into the sides of the hold, about 9 feet deep and about 3 feet high. A man could not stand, nor extend his back against his neighbor's knees. The Japanese insisted that the Americans could sit in rows four deep, jammed in the foul, stinking darkness. Some of the older offices began to faint right away. Fist-fights broke out, and it became obvious that only the front row in each bay would be able to get enough air. In the hold, on top of the 500 officers, were pile 350 more men, making a total of 850 in this after hold No. 5. The senior officer in the hold tried to get the men to take off their shirts and use them as fans, stirring up the little air that remained.
Account by Kenneth Day
SUMMARY OF VOYAGE
On Dec. 13, 1944 the Japanese in charge on the Oryoku Maru took 1619 American and Allied prisoners of war on board for transport to Japan. They left from Pier #7 in Manila. Groups 1 of the prisoners, about 700 men, were loaded first and placed in the after hold. Group 2, about 600 men, entered the forward hold, which was about 60 by 100 feet. Men started fainting due to overcrowding and lack of ventilation. Group 3, approximately 300 men, were loaded in the hatch amid-ships.
The Japanese gave the men little water, inadequate latrines and the temperature inside the ship rose to 120 degrees. Men became deranged, and forty to fifty men died by the 14th.
For the next two days, American planes strafed the ship. For this, the Japanese punished the prisoners on board further by denying food and water. More of the confined men started acting crazy. On the 15th, an American bomb hit the aft hold killing around a hundred men.
After that, the Japanese released their passengers at Subic Bay. They then let out the POWs, and made them swim ashore, even if they did not know how to swim. Five men on a raft of floating debris were fired at, and three died. The prisoners assembled in an area next to a tennis court. Fifty percent of the men got some water, after waiting in line for four to six hours. The men were forced into the tennis courts and counts of rosters took place. The counts showed less than 1300 men remaining at this point.
For the next five days, the men received tablespoons of rice and little water. They were standing in the heat during the day, and in the cold at night with no protection from either. Six to seven died from wounds and exhaustion. One corporal had an arm that turned gangrenous, which had to be amputated with a mess kit knife. He survived a few days after the removal of his arm and then died due to lack of care.
On Dec. 20, 500 men went to San Fernando, Papamya and a second group left on the 21st. Some men were placed in a jail, the others in a movie house. Fifteen of the sickest men were taken to a small cemetery outside of San Fernando and were coldly executed.
Next the men took a train to San Fernando, La Union on Christmas Eve. The boxcars proved hot and crowded. The next morning, Christmas, they marched to a schoolhouse and a group was told to dig for water, which they found after digging five feet down.
The men now had to march to the beach and stayed there for two days and two nights. Two hundred and thirty six men boarded the Brazil Maru, and the rest entered the Enoura Maru. Men had to jump from the pier onto barges, up to twenty feet below. Some men broke their legs, and one man died from hitting his head on a barge.
The men on the Brazil Maru headed to Takao, Formosa and the food they received amounted to hard moldy, bug infested rolls and teaspoons of rice. The Enoura Maru prisoners fared slightly better on food and water. Sixteen more deaths occurred during these trips, and those men were buried at sea.
Two hundred and thirty six men were moved from the Brazil Maru to the Enoura Maru on January 6, 1945. The men were given meager portions of food; when they found the Japanese had sugar on board, some took the risk of severe punishment to steal the sugar.
On January 9, Americans bombed the Enoura Maru, and with the bomb fragments and steel fragments an additional 300 prisoners died and a number of others sustained injuries. The Japanese allowed Mercurochrome to be put on men’s minor wounds, while those with serious injuries were ignored.
It wasn’t until Jan. 12th, that the Japanese allowed the dead to be removed from the ship. Because of the damage to the Enoura Maru, the prisoners transferred to the Brazil Maru, the next day. At this time, only 900 men were alive. The ship raveled to Moji, arriving Jan. 29, 1945. On the sixteen days of this passage, men died daily with fifteen dying the first night and up to a maximum of forty a day passing away towards the end. The call from the corpsman making rounds to “Roll Out your Dead” was a chilling shout. About half them men on board the Enoura Maru died. The men parading off the ship were walking skeletons, and in a short time, another 161 men perished. Of the original men who boarded the Oryoku Maru, approximately 87% of them died.