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Merchant Marine Prisoners of War

Life in Imprisonment
The purpose of these 2 pages is to describe the camps and the daily routines. I've chosen to omit descriptions of beatings and cruelty, as there are several accounts on the Internet about that side of life in the various camps (see the links listed on the bottom of this page, and also on my Merchant Marines/Ships/Navies Links page). Additionally, my text under Aramis also has details about Norwegian prisoners of the Japanese (scroll to "Prisoners of the Japanese").

Life in Imprisonment Page 2
The fate of Woolgar and her Survivors
(Andaman Islands, Changi Prison, Sime Road Camp).

 The Fate of the 3 Officers from Alcides (and others): 
Please see background history under M/T Alcides (includes complete crew list)

 On I-10: 
The 3 officers were Captain Arne Karlsen, Radio Operator Johan Arthur Johansen, and 2nd Mate Odvar L. Olsen.

The submarine (I-10) submerged shortly after the prisoners had been notified of the death of their shipmates, and stayed submerged for 67 hours. The Norwegians on board were still in shock and fell into a deep sleep, but were awakened by a Japanese bringing them some rice. During their stay on the boat they were extensively questioned by Tonozuka himself. The captain was called upon first (his shipmates had to carry him as he was still in excruciating pain from his back injury) leaning foreward while holding on to a table, in a room which appeared to be the officers' messroom, with 5 officers in full uniform complete with medals in attendance (incl. the commander). In the brief period of time they had together before the radio operator was called in, they were able to agree on a strategy, part of which was for the radio operator to pretend he understood no English, and only the captain would know where the Alcides was headed. (The fact that one of the others could be used as interpreter for him didn't occur to them at the time, and when it did they were extremely relieved to find that it obviously hadn't occurred to the Japanese either).

During the captain's first questioning session it became clear that the Japanese thought they had sunk a British ship, and it appears it took several sessions before they believed the captain's statement that it was in fact a Norwegian ship. This first session also provided the Norwegians with an explanation for the big "bang" they had heard on the morning of the 23rd (see text under M/T Alcides). It turned out the Japanese had thought they had altered course because they had seen the 2 torpedoes heading their way. Believing the Norwegians were aware of the sub it had then followed them very cautiously in a submerged position, but Captain Karlsen got the impression it had had problems with speed and position in relation to Alcides. When the ship had stopped (for repairs) the Japanese were of course very surprised, because it gave them an opportunity to get in a proper position for another attack.

After the radio operator had been questioned (using "hand language") it was 2nd Mate Odvar L. Olsen's turn. When asked if it was possible to have a radio operator who's English language skills were so lacking, he replied as agreed, that most of the communication was usually done by use of the Q-code system, as per Admiralty orders (I'm not sure how this worked). When the captain was later given the same question he replied in the same manner, and their strategy seemed to work. After the 2nd questioning round the 3 were separated. The radio operator was placed in a room by himself, which turned out to be the torpedo tube room, the 2nd mate was placed in a "closet" in the after part of the boat, while the captain stayed in the original room, which meant they no longer had a chance to coordinate their answers. Day after day the questioning continued. A handful of rice and a cup of water was handed out each day, and after a while hunger and thirst started to be a problem. Then on the 8 day on board the alarm was sounded and they were again placed in the same room. The boat stayed submerged for over 24 hours, but the 3 prisoners never knew what was going on at the time. They had problems breathing and sleeping, food rations consisted of a small bowl of cold rice and a cup of water, but one day they suddenly felt a breeze of fresh air and realized they were on the surface again. From then on they were not questioned again and they stayed together in the same room.

NOTE: When being questioned they were asked to give their names and addresses, so they all assumed that the authorities and their families would be notified of their fate, but after they had been freed in 1945 and reported to the Norwegian authorities in New York they learnt that they had been listed as dead.

After 12 days, on Aug. 4 they were blindfolded and taken ashore at Penang, Malaysia. When the blindfolds came off they found themselves in a large room, relieved to still be together in spite of their fear and apprehension. When the door was opened again 2 armed men took them outside in the sunshine. A large lawn in the middle of a cluster of houses could be seen, with a flag pole holding the Japanese navy flag in the center, but no other prisoners were seen so they assumed they had temporarily been placed at a naval base. To their joy they were handed a piece of soap and a bucket of water and were able to get cleaned up for the first time since they had been taken prisoners, and even washed their clothes. On the 5th day, early in the morning of Aug. 9 they were again blindfolded and taken aboard another sub. This time they were in the company of what turned out to be the captain of a Dutch ship, torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in June, he being the only survivor. Since the loss of his ship and men he had been held at Penang. Just to be on the safe side Johan Johansen still pretended to speak nothing but Norwegian, for fear that their new cell mate had been placed there as an informer.

Food rations were the same on this sub as it had been on I-10, and the captain's pain continued to be unbearable. Additionally, they now had big rats to contend with on this 10 day journey, in fact the 2nd mate was bitten by one so one of them always stayed awake during the night to keep an eye out for the intruders. On Aug. 18 the blindfolds came out again, before they were taken to port on a small landing craft, but they had no idea where they were (it was Nagasaki). From there they were taken by train to Yokohama (a ride of over 24 hours) and then by a local train to Ofuna about an hour away, arriving hungry, thirsty and exhausted. After having walked to the prison camp (this was of course torture for the captain who had injured his back) they tried to sit down while one of their guards went inside to report their arrival, but kicks from the guards forced them to their feet again.

 Life at the Prison Camp Ofuna: 

Ofuna was located southwest of the center of Yokohama and served as a "transit camp" where the kempei tai, the Japanese counterpart to the German Gestapo, interrogated the prisoners, often by the use of torture. It consisted of barracks located around a large, open area, surrounded by a tall fence with barbed wire on top. The prisoners' barracks were divided into small cells each of which were entered from an isle in the middle. These cells were about 2 meters wide by 2.5 meters deep and had a small 30 x 30 cm window, either facing the open parading ground outside or the fence, depending on which side of the aisle the room was. The distance to the ceiling near the door was 2.3 meters but above the sleeping area on the opposite side it was only 1.5 meters to the ceiling. The sleeping area was covered by a thin bamboo mat, and in the corner they had 3 cotton blankets which had to be kept folded at all times during the day. There were no mattresses or pillows of any kind. The walls were very thin so the rooms were cold. The cracks inbetween the floorboards were so wide in places the ground underneath could be seen. The door leading into the cell had a peephole in it and a lock on the outside.

The prisoners were locked up most of the day except for in the mornings when they were allowed out to "clean up" and use the "toilet" but during these times the guards would take every opportunity to mistreat the prisoners in various ways, based of course on the old Japanese customs and beliefs that a prisoner had "lost face" and was worthless in every way and therefore deserved what they got in the way of torture. (The rules for the treatment of prisoners of war drawn up in the Geneva Convention of 1929 had no bearing here. Early in 1942 the Allies had notified authorities in Tokyo that they intended to treat prisoners of war according to the rules of the convention and requested Japan to do the same, but Japan's foreign minister pointed out in his reply that Japan had never ratified the convention and would therefore adhere to it Mutatis Mutandis - with the necessary amendments - thereby getting around the convention as they saw fit). Speaking was strictly forbidden, and if they were caught doing so the punishment was severe and often in front of all the others. The camp was under the Japanese Army and lead by a staff of officers and soldiers. The group was exchanged every 2 weeks which often resulted in new rules and new methods of punishment, depending also on how the war in general was going for the Japanese. The camp had no regular interpreter so more often than not the prisoners didn't understand the commands and would therefore not follow orders quickly enough. This would then be understood as a demonstration agains the rulers, punishable by a fist or a bamboo cane.

Food was handed out twice a day and consisted of a bowl of rice and some soup and a cup of Japanese tea. Every now and again the soup would be replaced by a herring fried on coal. Water was never handed out, so they had to get their drinking water out of the faucet near the "toilet" or in the area where they washed up in the mornings. When needing to answer the call of nature they had to notify a guard who followed them there and back, but if they had to go during the night the guards often pretended to not hear them so they often had to urniate in their cells. Again, this act was severely punished, but after a while these punishments stopped because the prisoners made their own little "toilet" by removing a plank in the floor underneath their bamboo mat. Clothes were not handed out so the prisoners always wore the clothes they had arrived in.

When the 3 Norwegians arrived Ofuna on Aug. 19-1943 there were only 25 American prisoners in the camp, but a large amount of prisoners had been sent to other camps before they arrived. Among the remaining Americans was Commander Maher from the American cruiser Houston which had been sunk in the Sunda Strait, Feb 28-1942. Being as he had the highest rank, and also because he had knowledge of the Japanese language he became the spokesman for them, doing an excellent job and was probably instrumental in reducing the punishment. (Note: Al Maher is also mentioned as being the spokesperson in an account from the Omori camp, so he too must have been moved from Ofuna when the Norwegians were). The rest of the prisoners were American naval officers and pilots who had been shot down. By Sept, the number of prisoners had increased to 40 and then on Sept. 13 things changed for the Norwegians when another 8 countrymen arrived, namely Able Seaman John Jacobsen (had previously served on Alcides but had paid off at Suez in Oct.-1941), Thorbjørn Christiansen, Steward Olav Johnsen (Johansen?), Engineer Einar Eidesen (Eidissen?), Engineer Petter Trætvik, Able Seaman Teodor Nielsen, Able Seaman Karsten Pedersen and Engineer Anton Minsaas, all from Madrono. (Magnus Heggø and Tønnes Tønnesen came to Ofuna after the 3 from Alcides had left on Dec. 3-1943). All these men are included on my page Merchant Marine Prisoners of War. In the course of that fall and winter the number of prisoners kept increasing, all the ones who arrived in this period were American.

My Guestbook has a message related to Minsaas and Christiansen, giving the following quote from the book "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand (this is the story about American WWII bomber crew Louis Zamperini's survival in Japanese prison camps. Zamperini was also a famous American athlete and participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin):
"Louis sat in his cell, shivering and praying. A Norwegian sailor, Thorbjoern Christiansen, felt for him, and gave him a gift that may well have saved his life. Digging through his possessions, he pulled out a coat and passed it on to Louis. Louis bundled up, hung on, and hoped he wouldn't end up like Minsaas." (See the next paragraph).

Related external links:
Picture of Arthur Maher - from the website Pow's in Japan
USS Houston CA 30 - Includes details on her sinking and crew list.
Ofuna Interrogation center

 The loss of a friend: 

I understand the camp had no doctors and when the weather got colder many prisoners got sick. The lack of nourishment and conditions in general also caused various diseases. Madrono's 1st Engineer Anton Minsaas became very ill, his legs were swollen and he developed problems moving and breathing, but was not excempt from the daily exercises on the grounds until he collapsed one day. He was then allowed to remain in his cell but after the others had returned he was ordered out and had to walk barefoot around the grounds, guarded by an armed soldier. Eventually he was unable to get out of bed, and Johan A. Johansen and Einar Eidesen were moved to cells next to him to give him the assistance he needed and it became very obvious to them he was dying, too weak to even speak. He died on Oct. 19 surrounded by his friends. Johan Arthur Johansen and Madrono's Einar Eidesen were given the task of preparing him for burial and were told to dress him in a shirt, tie and suit, socks and shoes found in his suitcase. They were also ordered to clear a space in one of the barracks where the Japanese had decided he was to be placed on "lit de parade". A table was set up for the purpose, and covered with white paper, before they, together with another 2 prisoners were told to carry Minsaas over to the room and place him on the table with his face towards the door. They folded his hands on his chest, and soon afterwards the Japanese added a ribbon and a miniature sword. All the prisoners were then ordered to march past the dead as a last greeting. Later that day Johansen and Eidesen were called upon to place their dead friend in a coffin, after first having removed his socks and shoes. That same evening all the prisoners were again called out to the open area of the camp. Johansen was sent outside the gate to get a small wooden box containing their friend's ashes, whereupon they all proceeded out the gate where soldiers and civilians waited, accompanied by Buddhist monks carrying candles and incense and singing hymns, with the soldiers forming the rear of the procession, carrying guns and bayonettes. They continued in the dark until they reached what appeared to be a Buddhist temple in the woods. One of the monks handed Johansen a spade and motioned for him to start digging at the foot of a pine tree, but to his horror the spade broke in two and he expected a beating, but nothing happened. Instead another spade was fetched, he finished the digging, placed the urn in the "grave" and filled it back up with dirt whereupon the prisoners were returned to the camp, where the 4 who had helped were given an extra portion of rice. This ceremony left a deep impression on them all, not only because they had lost one of their own, but I suspect also because of the unexpected respect shown by their captors.

I was recently contacted by Tony Walsh, an Australian citizen resident in Japan for many years. He belongs to a newly formed Japanese group, known as the POW Research Network which is now organizing the erection of a commemorative plaque near the site of the former Ofuna Naval Interrogation Center on the outskirts of Yokohama. This is to replace a wooden Buddhist memorial tablet which had decayed. The tablet contained the names of six POWs who died at Ofuna. In addition to Anton Minsaas, the following Americans are (or will be?) commemorated on the plaque:

Persheu, Ernest F. Jr., 1st Lt., USAAC, 1944.06.09
Hunt, Rrichard L. Jr., Lt Jg, USN, 1945.02.26
Norman,Westley Imel, Lt Jg, USN, 1945.03.11
Flynn, Kenneth Ashton, Lt Jg, USN, 1945.07.24
Ziemmer,William, Lt Jg, USN, 1945.08.03

Some more names are available from this downloadable external pdf file

 Transfer to Omori: 

After about 3 months at Ofuna they were transferred to Omori on Dec. 3.-1943. According to Johan A. Johansen's account a total of 72 prisoners were moved that day, including the Dutch captain they had met at Penang, 61 Americans and all the Norwegians (10). The 3 from Alcides again ended up together in the same building, where to their surprise they met another 9 Norwegians, namely 3rd Mate Toralf Madsen (from Madrono), Able Seaman (Mechanic?) Gudmund Nielsen (from Herborg), Able Seaman Åge Sedolfsen, Able Seaman Bertil (Bertel?) Stokset, Able Seaman Wilfred Øihaug (Øyehaug?), Oiler Odvar Fostervold, Oiler Lars Johnsen, Mechanic Erling Jacobsen and Birger Jarholm (all from Kattegat, I believe they had been at Omori since July 20). (Carpenter Johan Sunde from Madrono and Marthon Hermansen from Kattegat had already died according to Åge Sedolfsen, though another source says Sunde died at Shinagawa in March 1944; Hermansen is also listed elsewhere as having died in March-1944). This made the total number of Norwegians at Omori 19, out of a total of 900 prisoners of various nationalities; U.S.A., Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, North Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Holland and Nigeria.

I've been (unsuccessfully) trying to determine exactly when this camp (full name Tokyo POW Camp Omori-ku Iriarai Kila) was opened - one source says in the fall of 1943, another says early 1942. Kristian Ottosen (author of "Ingen Nåde") says that when Omori was put into use as a prisoner camp in 1942 it was to house British prisoners of war from the Hong Kong and Singapore areas, then later American prisoners came to the camp, mainly from the Philippines. Many of the men who had taken part in the well known death march from Bataan to the camp O'Donnell came to Omori, and also men from the camp Cabanatuan. Then gradually prisoners of other nationalities arrived; officers and crew from the American, British and Dutch Fleets who had been taken prisoners following the Pacific battles, as well as American and British pilots who had been shot down over the Pacific, Burma, Indonesia and the mainland of China.

Related external links:
Omori Tokyo Base Camp No. 1 - Includes a roster where 9 Norwegian seamen are listed with their POW number (from Alcides, Madrono, Kattegat).
Twelve Hundred Days - Covers the Bataan Death March, Camp O'Donnell, Cabanatuan, Hell Ships etc.
American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Inc. - Lots of links to personal stories here.

Omori was located half way between Tokyo and Yokohama. It was set up on an artificial island in Tokyo bay, connected to the Tokyo-Yokohama road by a 200 meter long wooden bridge, sourrounded by the sea on all sides. The oval shaped island was about 75 meters long and 65 meters wide. Around the island was a tall bamboo fence with barbed wire attached to it. Omori was the headquarters for all the prison camps in the Tokyo area. The administration was managed by a colonel and his staff of officers and soldiers. Civilian office personell, mostly women also had access to the camp. A medical officer with the rank of captain was in charge of all the camps in the area, not so much to see to the health of the prisoners, but more to make sure they were able to work. Omori was well known for the inhumane treatment of the prisoners.

The prisoners' barracks were in the middle of the island, between the administration buildings and the soldiers' quarters (north) and the anti aircraft guns (south). The camp had 11 barracks, each with a 100-130 prisoner capacity. The buildings, measuring 30 x 6 meters were made of wood. The prisoners' quarters had a dirt floor running lengthwise along the centre with bunks in 2 levels on each side. The bunks were 70 cm wide and about 2 meters long. Near the entrance an addition had been erected, with space for 8 prisoners of officer rank. As at Ofuna, the officer with the highest rank was the "barracks manager". One of the barracks had a sick room (space for about 16), but those who were seriously ill were usually transferred to Shinagawa, though prisoners often died at Omori (they were fetched by civilians and always cremated).

All the prisoners had to work, either outside the camp or within the camp itself, but due to his injury and with the help of Maher and an American doctor in the camp Captain Karlsen was eventually assigned to the camp's post office where he sorted mail. The Red Cross letters and other mail to prisoners in Japan came to the main post office in Tokyo, and after it had been censored there it was sent to nearby Omori to be sorted alphabetically, then returned to the main office for distribution to the appropriate camps. This of course meant that whoever sorted the mail very quickly developed a knowledge of where every single prisoner was kept, and where each camp was located, not only in Japan, but also in other areas occupied by the Japanese. Through this work Arne Karlsen also learnt there were Japanese prisoners in the U.S., Canada and Gt. Britain, in spite of what they had been lead to believe about a Japanese never allowing himself to be taken prisoner. Arne Karlsen often had to redirect letters from parents in Japan to a son in a camp in one of these countries. When the Japanese finally became aware of the fact that too much unwanted insight was gained by the existing system, only mail to prisoners in Japan was sent to Omori for sorting, and Arne Karlsen kept his job as "mail sorter" until the middle of May-1945 (end of Apr.?) when he was transferred to the camp Hitachi. (Another source says the captain was in fact set to sewing leather bags and belts during the day and cleaning pots in the evenings, this may have been earlier on). An English prisoner, Major F. H. Frankcom was the manager of this post office.

For the others work mostly consisted of unloading cargoes from ships or railroad carts. They would be awakened at 05:30 by 2 the prisoner "guards". (The picket would start at 20:00 in the evening and last until 06:00 the next morning, 10 men, 2 hours each - this job would be in addition to other work). Prisoners also shared the responsibility for cooking the rice and had to see to it that a pot of rice and one of soup was delivered to each barracks before 05:30, meaning they would have to start cooking around midnight the night before. Each prisoner got a cup of rice and a cup of soup for breakfast as well as a cup of rice to take to work with them, but this portion would usually be eaten before they even went to work, hungry as they were, so there was always a shortage of food, though they would steal whenever they could, for instance from the cargo they were unloading from ships and railroad cars, but not everyone was lucky enough to escape getting caught because body checks were always performed before they departed the work place. In spite of the severe beatings they received, not only the guilty himself, but the entire group, they continued to steal and hide food in order to stay alive.

Before they departed for work on trucks they would be divided into 7 groups on the parade ground; 6 of which were "work forces" and the 7th were those who had been "accepted" as sick or those who had worked for 29 days in a row and were "awarded" a day in the camp (though this was not a day off by any means, they still had to perform various tasks within the camp, like emptying the toilets, general tidying up etc. etc). The prisoners were sent to work at 6 different areas of Tokyo. The worst job was the construction work in the Tokyo Bay area where they were set to build artificial islands from 06:30 until 17:00 with only a 15 minute break, in all kinds of weather. The equipment was very primitive and the work extremely hard, under constant pressure and mistreatment by the guards. The work at the Mitsubishi warehouse was the most sought after. Here they got tea with sugar in it every day, on the condition of course that they did not try to steal the sugar and bring it back to the camp. This job was also quite hard, in that they had to carry 100 kg bags of sugar from barges in the channel and stack them in the warehouse, 300 sacks per person per day. Other jobs were performed at 3 railroad stations, Onagegava Station, Shidomi (Shiodome?) Station and Shibaura Station where the work consisted of loading or unloading the railroad cars, and carrying the goods to barges. These loads sometimes consisted of food stuffs, so again they were able to steal and hide some of it. Tobacco was also stolen; this was never discovered by their captors. (Smoking was only allowed at the camp between the hours of 18:00 and 21:00 and only in certain places). Others would unload cargoes of various chemicals or coal from ships. This was also extremely heavy work, but also sought after to some extent because these workers would be entitled to an extra ration of rice as well as a warm bath at the end of the day, they even got soap to use for the purpose (otherwise baths were limited to once a week). One of the barracks had 2 square containers, 2 x 2 meters by 1.2 meter tall. On "bathing days" they were filled with water and warmed up from the underside of the barracks. Otherwise, the prisoners would wash up in 1 of 2 areas where there were faucets and cold water. They also washed their clothes there, (that is, if the water hadn't frozen to ice) and if anyone was caught stealing warm water from the bath barracks they were severely punished. The work force would rarely be back before 18:30, and by lights out at 21:00 they were all so exhausted they fell asleep.

The leader of the camp was Leutenant Morigishi, among the prisoners referred to as Gentleman Jim, so nicknamed because of his unusually humane attitude and behaviour. But in the fall of 1943, things changed drastically when a man named Matsuhiro Watanabe (Watinabi?) appeared on the scene. He was a corporal, but what his job was is not clear to me, though it appears he was involved in reconnaissance, possibly also with the kempei tai. Initially he seemed to be a friendly enough chap, until one day he suddenly and violently turned on a prisoner for no apparent reason, and they were soon to learn his true and extremely cruel nature in the subsequent weeks and months. As mentioned, he who had the highest military rank automatically became the spokesman for the prisoners, and Commander Al Maher, artillery officer on the American cruiser Houston which had been sunk in the Pacific, held this position at Omori, so he must have been among the 72 transferred from Ofuna on Dec. 3. The situation with Watanabe got so bad eventually that Al Maher went straight to the top, whereupon Watanabe disappeared from the camp. Later, he turned up at another camp, Navetsu on the west coast of Japan, but one day he was also gone from this camp. After the capitulation he seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth, and was eventually deleted from the list of persons accused of war crimes as it was believed he had committed suicide. But in Aug.-1995, 50 years after the capitulation he appeared again, now 77 years old, asking for forgiveness for his cruelty. He had been living in the mountains in the Nagano district where his family owned a property, in the beginning hiding during the day and coming out only at night, but later he changed his name to Owata and took a job at a health center in the area.

Gentleman Jim was instrumental in bringing to light the many talents among the men in the camp when giving his permission for a special Christmas performance. This came about from a very sad occurrence which started when 2 prisoners one night broke into the warehouse and stole 5 Red Cross packages (these were held back by the Japanese, rather than having them distributed as was intended). The thieves buried the packages outside the barracks in which they lived, then helped themselves to a portion each night. But one night one of them was caught in the act and arrested. Having taken sole responsibility he was hung up in a tree without food or water for 10 days and was later never seen again. His accomplice was spared, and his guilt and suffering at the treatment of his friend must have been tremendous, but this dramatic event had another, more positive result too. On their nightly break-in the thieves had discovered a chest full of costumes, make-up etc., also from the Red Cross. Among the prisoners were Franck Tinker (prince charming), an American? musician and opera singer, the English Bates from London who came from theater circles in London, the Scottish Quiin (the leading lady) who was a talented actor, the American Catholic priest, a clever writer, the English Austing who was a bandmaster from the Royal Regiment, the Dawson brothers who played the cornette, and these and many others took part in the Omori smash hit show of Christmas Day-1944 with Gentleman Jim, interpreters and guards as guests of honour.

At the end of Apr.-1945 most of the Norwegians were among the many prisoners who were moved to other camps, while Wilfred Øyehaug, Åge Sedolfsen, Odvar Olsen and Johan Johansen remained at Omori and subsequently saw many new prisoners arrive, some of whom had previously been kept at other places in the Tokyo area, while others were American pilots who had been shot down during the bombing raids over Tokyo and Yokohama. (According to my POW page Captain Arne Karlsen of Alcides was transferred to the camp Hitachi in the middle of May-1945). It looks like the steward from Madrono, Olav Johnsen must have stayed at Omori as well, because I have found his own story about the freeing of the camp in the fall of 1945. (According to American sources Omori had 317 American and 304 other prisoners in Apr.-1945). The prisoners also experienced some of these raids towards the end of 1944 and their hope for freedom intensified, but not until Febr. 16-1945 did they experience another one which lasted all day, while work continued as usual for the prisoners. Just after midnight they saw the first nightly raid on Tokyo, setting large areas of the city on fire, but this was only the beginning of a series of air raids through the spring and early summer of 1945, with great loss of civilian life, tens of thousands died. After the horrendous attack on March 9, which killed over 200 thousand the prisoners at Omori observed burnt bodies floating past the island for several weeks, and it was the prisoners' job to remove them. Omori was also hit in some of the attacks, though the camp itself was spared. However, in Tokyo Prison Camp No. 2 11 large 500 kg bombs fell on July 25/26, killing 22 prisoners and 15 Japanese, but none of the Norwegians were killed. In that camp at the time were Captain Johannes Slaastad and 1st Mate Kåre Foss Olsen from Dukat as well as 3rd Mate Finn Kjellevik (D/S Storviken). I believe the other 2 officers from Dukat, 2nd Engineer John Alme and 2nd Mate Reidar Andreassen were also there at the time, as was the Norwegian Bernt Anker Olsen, who had served as 2nd Mate on board the British S/S Kiangsu. D/S Dukat prisoners are listed on my page Merchant Marine Prisoners of war, B. A. Olsen from Kiangsu is listed on Page 2.

During one of these bombing attacks, at the end of May-1945, the infamous Watanabe went completely berserk. While the bombs were dropping around them on the island the prisoners were made to stand in rows, while Watanabe ran inbetween the rows of men swinging his sword above their heads, the guards standing ready with their guns, waiting f. o.. Johan Johansen says it was probably the incredible calm and self discipline amongst the prisoners that prevented a massacre from taking place that day.

Related external link:
B-29 major missions over Japan - with dates and names of targets.

In the camp there was an Englishman called "Sir John" by some of the prisoners (he was not a Sir, nor was he a John, in fact his name was David James). He was a naval officer who had been taken prisoner in Singapore, having been sent there as a British/Japanese military advisor, probably because of his background, coupled with his knowledge of the Japanese language (he had lived in Japan and China since he was little and had served as an officer in the Japanese Navy in 1905). He was treated with the greatest respect at Omori, and was even given a room to himself. After a while "Sir John" became the main source of news from the outside world; if the prisoners got a hold of Japanese newspapers they would be smuggled to him for translation. Following Aug. 6 and 9 they all sensed something had changed. From the Japanese newspapers the prisoners had bought from Koreans where they worked they learnt (through "Sir John") that the Americans had started to use "landmines" with horrendous explosive capabilities. The prisoners soon realized this was a new and terrifying weapon, and they were keenly aware of the fear in the faces of their captors whenever air raid sirens were heard. At the work places and in the camp large, deep ditches were dug and covered with iron sheets for protection against these new aircraft "landmines". Not until the war was over did the prisoners learn the truth about this new weapon. They also learnt that Hiroshima had been chosen because it was an important collection point for convoys and the Japanese Navy, as well as for the many factories and other military installations. Also, the Americans believed there were no allied prison camps nearby, when in fact there were 23 American prisoners held in the center of the city, 13 of whom were pilots who had been shot down 5 days before the bomb was dropped (I'm unable to verify this statement).

The very last air attack they experienced was on Aug. 15-1945, when wave after wave of aircraft of varying sizes came in and dropped their bombs on Yokohama naval installations south of the camp and the airport Atsugi, which was located 2 miles west of Omori. All night they kept coming closer and closer until Omori too got a direct hit, but the barracks had already been evacuated and the inmates had taken shelter in the ditches that had been dug previously, so nobody was hurt but there were rumours that 2 Japanese had been killed when a bomb hit the barracks near the main gate where the guards were. When leaving for work that morning, they saw the crater and realized lives must have been lost in the carnage. The group that were sent to work at the Shibaura Station that day could sense something unusual was going on, especially when all the guards left them to their own devices. Taking advantage of this situation they helped themselves generously to some rice they found in one of the railroad cars. Later that morning, almost 2 hours before their regular food break they were told they could eat; one of the guards even gave them a whole bucket of rice to cook and eat, and again they were left to themselves for over 2 hours. They were so busy consuming this unexpected amount of food they didn't think much of it when they heard voices and music coming through a loudspeaker, but when they returned to the camp, having been sent back much earlier than usual, Sir John announced that the Emperor's surrender speech had been on the radio.

Related external links:
Documents Relating to American Foreign Policy - Hiroshima
Atomic Bomb: Decision
The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The Avalon Project
- Also about the bombing
The Atomic Bombing of Hirsoshima and Nagasaki
Atomic bombing of Hiroshima - Eye witness account by a Catholic priest.

Emperor Hirohito's Broadcast to the Japanese People on Surrender - (more links related to the surrender further down on this page).

Al Maher warned them to stay calm until the news was official (wanting also to protect "Sir John"), and incredibly they managed to keep from letting their feelings go until the next morning, Aug. 16 when the camp commander, colonel Sakaba together with an interpreter gathered them around for an announcement, but instead of hearing what they had longed for, namely that Japan had surrendered, they were asked to help Japan in her fight against Communism. The reaction of over 1000 prisoners' pent up anger and resentment was like "a Typhoon of whistles" that would not stop and the commander eventually stepped down and departed. The next day the prisoners took control of the camp and their first demand was that they be given access to the Red Cross packages. To their utter astonishment they found masses of food parcels, books of all imaginable categories, musical instruments, clothes etc. etc. all of which was now distributed among the inmates. It's difficult to even begin to imagine for those of us who weren't there, what a party they must have had! The next day, when the Americans started to drop food, medicines, clothes etc. into the camp they had another feast, they even shared some of the food with their captors. Sir John had a close call when one of the cases went straight through his window and nearly killed him, so after this the prisoners climbed up on the roof and painted "PLEASE USE PARACHUTE".


Finally, on Aug. 29 they saw the American landing craft arriving in the bay. They were warned to retreat to their barracks in case of trouble, but before long the camp was surrounded and under allied control. Evacuation started immediately, those who were sick or otherwise bedridden were the first to be carried on board the 4 landing craft and taken to the ships in Tokyo Bay. The barrack that housed the Norwegians was the last one to be evacuated so they had to wait for 11 hours. The radio operator from Alcides says there's absolutely no truth to what is written about the Americans with regard to their horrible treatment of the Japanese during this time. Being among the last 100 to leave he was eye witness to what he calls the "exemplary conduct" of the American soldiers. Among other things it has been said that the much hated Watanabe, mentioned further up on this page, was hung on the spot but Johan Johansen confirms that he had gone from the camp a long time before Aug. 29. Finally, at 23:00 it was the Norwegians' turn. They were taken to a hospital ship where they were bathed, examined and questioned, a procedure taking over 3 hours. All of them were of course under-nourished. After they had been given some clothes it was time for breakfast; egg, bacon, cheese, fruit juices, coffee and bread of all kinds, with ice cream for desert.

That same day, Aug. 30, those who were well enough were taken to a troop transport, among them were the 4 Norwegians who had remained at Omori when the others had been transferred in Apr.-1945, Wilfred Øihaug and Åge Sedolfsen (Kattegat), Odvar Olsen and Johan Johansen (Alcides), and I would assume Madrono's steward Olav Johnsen. Later they were joined by Arne Karlsen (captain of Alcides), Karsten Pedersen and Einar Eidesen (Madrono), and then Johannes Slaastad, Kåre Foss Olsen, Reidar Andreassen, and John Alme (all from Dukat), Bernt Anker Olsen (British S/S Kiangsu) and Finn Kjellevik (Storviken) arrived from Tokyo Camp No. 2. 1st Mate David Knudsen from Aust is also mentioned among the latter group, but this is a mystery to me as several sources list him as having been on Ramses when that German ship was intercepted by the Australian HMAS Adelaide and the Dutch Jacob van Heemskerck (The sinking of Ramses and also Interview with David Faye Knudsen). The only other source that mentions Knudsen as being in Japanese imprisonment is Guri Hjeltnes (Handelsflåten i krig, Book 4) who says he was at Tokyo POW Camp No. 2 in 1945. The Norwegian prisoners on Ramses were landed by Adelaide at Fremantle and David Knudsen is listed as having joined the Norwegian tanker Britannia. By Febr.-1943 he was reunited with his wife and brand new son in Connecticut. For the rest of the war he was employed at Nortaship's office in New York. (David Knudsen died in Jan.-1983). They were also told that all the other Norwegian prisoners they had met at Omori had survived and were on other troop transports.

After the surrender documents had been signed on board USS Missouri on Sept. 2 wave after wave of aircraft flew over the several 100 allied vessels in Tokyo Bay. Early in the morning of Sept. 4 the Norwegians were told to get ready to leave the troop transport, which they had originally thought would take them to the US, but instead they were now going to Atsugi airport to be flown to Okinawa. The reason for this change of plan was unrest among Japanese officers and the allied fear of a negative reaction among some Japanese forces to the recent course of events, and it became important to get the ex prisoners out of the country as quickly as possible. They landed on Okinawa on Sept. 4 and were then taken to a tent camp which was surrounded by barbed wire and heavily guarded. (The camp was attacked on the night leading up to Sept. 7 by a group of Japanese who had thrown hand grenades into the camp before running off. The American guards went in pursuit and found them hidden in some dirt caves and, it was later said, drove them out with the help of flame throwers). On Sept. 9 the ex prisoners were flown to Manila and in order to make room for as many passengers as possible they were told to leave all their belongings behind. These were packed and marked with names, and they were told they would receive them at a later time, but they never did, thereby losing quite a few "souvenirs" from their time in imprisonment.

Related external links:
Dignitaries present on USS Missouri
The formal surrender of the Empire of Japan
- with list of allied ships present and several pictures of the signing ceremony, links to info on the Potsdam Conference, and more.
USS Missouri

In Manila they were taken to yet another tent camp, each tent containing 4 beds and next to each bed was a bag full of clothes as well as toiletries. After 6 days, on Sept. 15 they embarked the troop ship W. C. Langfitt (not sure if this name is correct) for Seattle, with 4500 passengers on board, the majority Canadian and American soldiers on their way home, I assume they were also ex prisoners. There were 13 Norwegians on board, the rest were sent with another troop ship so they didn't see them again. According to Alcides' radio operator the 13 were: Arne Karlsen, Odvar Olsen, Johannes Slaastad, Kåre Foss Olsen, Reidar Andreassen, John Alme, Bernt Anker Olsen, Karsten Pedersen, Åge Sedolfsen, Wilfred Øihaug, Einar Eidesen, Johan A. Johansen, and again Aust's 1st mate David Knudsen is mentioned. I'm really wondering if there might be a mix up with somebody else here, some of the men from Aust were prisoners in Singapore at the end of the war - they are listed under Aust on my "Merchant Marines Prisoners of War" page - though at the same time I would think that since this is an eye witness account by Johan A. Johansen he would know who was there with them.

 Arrival Canada: 

They arrived Victoria, Canada early in the morning of Oct. 3. The subsequent welcoming ceremony for the returning Canadians delayed the ship considerably and they didn't arrive Seattle until very late that night, so that the "welcoming committee" there had already been waiting for quite a while. But still, they received a warm welcome with speeches, music and family reunions, mostly aimed at the returning Americans of course. The Norwegians had been permitted to stay on board overnight and later decided to go ashore, and when they stopped at a stand with some ladies serving coffee and free donuts, they were extremely surprised to find that these ladies were in fact Norwegian (one of them was the wife of the Norwegian consul Stang). The result of this chance encounter was that they didn't spend the night on the ship afterall. Hotel rooms were quickly arranged for, as well as a meeting at the consulate so that they could get their lost identification papers replaced. They got some money for new clothes (they were wearing American uniforms at the time, which had been part of the contents of the clothes bags at the tent camp in Manila), the hotel bills were paid for them, 1st Class train tickets for New York were purchased, the General Consulate in New York was notified, and telegrams were sent home to their families in Norway. "Sons of Norway" arranged a party, they got to go to the theater, had a feast of a meal etc. and the ladies of the lodge arranged sightseeing around Seattle. Their newly found friends waved them goodbye at the station when they left on the 4 day train journey to New York on Oct. 8. Once there they stayed at the Norwegian Seamen's Hotel in Brooklyn and in the 4 weeks they were there they gained several pounds and gradually also their health. This is when they found out they had been listed as deceased and it took several days therefore to clear that situation up so that they could be paid the money due to them.

 Going Home: 

On Nov. 4 they embarked D/S Stavangerfjord for Norway. (Before they departed they also learnt that the remaining Norwegian ex prisoners had arrived San Fransisco). They arrived Bergen on Nov. 11 where those who did not disembark there were able to call their families. They said goodbye to John Alme and Wilfred Øihaug, then continued to Stavanger where Karsten Pedersen (Madrono) and Reidar Andreassen (Dukat) disembarked. Arne Karlsen, Odvar Olsen, Johannes Slaastad, Kåre Foss Olsen, Åge Sedolfsen, Einar Eidesen and Johan A. Johansen (and again David Knudsen is mentioned) continued with Stavangerfjord to Oslo. From Bergen to Stavanger journalists were among the passengers; their interviews were printed in Bergen's "Morgenavisen" and "Haugesund Dagblad" (these probably still exist at the local libraries there). On arrival Oslo on Nov. 13 more interviews followed. The families of the 3 from Alcides were waiting to greet them, what an incredible moment that must have been! The next day they went to the company's office (I. M. Skaugen) to report on the sinking of Alcides and on their experiences in Japan. They were also reunited with Alcides' former Captain Karl Henriksen who due to health problems had signed off shortly before Alcides had been sunk (see my text under M/T Alcides). He had desperately tried to find out what had happened to the ship but had given up all hope when he heard she was among those missing without a trace. He later went to London where he was employed at Nortraship's office for a while before being transferred to the New York office where he stayed until May-1945.

The 3 survivors from Alcides stayed in touch. 2nd Mate Oddvar Lorang Olsen died in 1982, I'm not sure about the others. A great deal of the information in this account is based on details found in Radio Operator Johan Arthur Johansen's articles in the Norwegian magazine "Krigsseileren". Please notify me if there are objections to my using it. After careful consideration I decided to include this story on my website, partly to help those who may be searching for information on a family member who was in imprisonment, but also because I feel it's very important that these stories get told.

Handelsflåten i Krig, Book 4 - Guri Hjeltnes
"Krigsseileren, Issue No. 2 and 4 1989, No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 -1990, No. 1 and 2-1991
"Ingen Nåde", Kristian Ottosen.

 Madrono's Men: 
Background history and more details can be found under Madrono on my page "Norwegian Victims of Thor". Names that are mentioned for the first time on this page will be in bold text

According to an article found in the Norwegian magazine "Krigsseileren" No. 4 for 1996, based on interviews with Madrono's survivors Steward Olav Johnsen, 2nd Mate Ragnar Jonassen, and Petty officer Tønnes Kviljo Tønnessen, as well as company archives, written by Jan. G. Langfeldt some of the survivors from Madrono had stayed at Caviti on the Philippines for about 3 months. Caviti was a naval base a few hours by car from Manila. Steward Olav Johnsen says some of them lived in villas which had previously been living quarters for American officers before the Japanese came. He states they departed Manila on Aug. 14-1943 and arrived Kobe a week later, but there's no details on how they got there. From Kobe they were sent to Camp Ofuna. Olav Johnsen indicates they were treated fairly well (as long as they obeyed the rules), compared to what the American pilots had to endure in the way of torture under interrogation (he describes this in detail, but I do not want to include it here). He also mentions the 1st Engineer Anton Minsaas who died on Oct. 18 (19?)-1943, 10 days before his 60th birthday. As mentioned, on Dec. 3-1943 (17 months after Madrono had been captured) Olav Johnsen and the other Norwegians at Ofuna were transferred to Camp Omori, Tokyo, where Olav Johnsen worked as a cook (he mentions an interpreter by the name of Fukidjimasan, who enjoyed telling him every day that his wife and children in Norway probably had nothing to eat). From there Heggø and Tønnesen were sent to a jail for criminals in the North of Japan. Olav Johnsen says there were about 1000 prisoners at Camp Omori at the time. Discipline was tough, but not as bad as Ofuna where they hadn't been allowed to speak with eachother. He says they were in barracks with dirt floors, 50 men in each room, 25 bunks in the top row and 25 in the lower row. Twice a week they were allowed to take a bath in large wooden tubs, several men at a time. Once a week they had a day off, but among other duties that day they had to empty the "lavatories" with the help of buckets.

Please note that some of the statements in this account don't completely match those given further up on this page, some of which was based on Radio Operator of Alcides, Johan Arthur Johansen's story, which says for instance that Magnus Heggø and Tønnes Tønnesen came to Ofuna after the 3 from Alcides had left on Dec. 3-1943, and are not mentioned among the 19 at Omori.

Work consisted of unloading from railroad cars in the Tokyo area, Onagegava Station and Shidomi Station, and they were driven there each morning. Those who worked at Shidomi unloaded items like sugar and canned foods and were often able to steal some to bring back to the camp. They were always searched upon their return but one of the prisoners, who was a tailor made their pockets so long that they reached down to their lower legs, and since the Japanese limited their searches down to the waistline they were able to get away with this theft of food. Since Olav Johnsen often worked in the kitchen he was also able to steal from the food storage room next door, with the help of these long pockets. The diet consisted of a mixture of rice and a type of grain called koren (korian?). Additionally they got the green Japanese tea, "vegetable" soup and sometimes "broth" made from intestines. There was no sugar or salt in the food, and they never got meat. One night one of the English prisoners crawled underneath the food storage area and drilled a hole through the floor straight into a sack of sugar, having taken measurements to determine its location during the day. The sugar then poured down through the hole, and when he was done he put a plug in the hole. These nightly visits were repeated until the sack was empty at which time the hole was discovered but it was put down to the escapades of mice. Olav talks about another English prisoner nicknamed Shadow who was caught in the act of stealing food. Afterwards he had to stand outside for a week and was also sent to work every day, being denied food the entire time. But he survived with the help of other prisoners who smuggled food to him.

Sometimes tobacco leaves were unloaded at Shimodi Station These were placed across the prisoners' backs underneath their shirts and smuggled into the camp. One time they even used the commander's own car which he had parked near the railway station. Some daring prisoners managed to approach the car unnoticed and tied tobacco leaves to the underside of it. Later, when the commander had parked his car in the camp all they had to do was sneak out one dark night and fetch the tobacco. They sprinkled sugar in between the leaves and rolled them up. When these tobacco "sticks" had been left for a while they cut thin slices out of them which they then used.

Lack of information from the outside world was another problem, but they were fortunate enough to have among them an English business man who had had his office in Tokyo before the war and who spoke Japanese (this is probably the "Sir John" mentioned further up on this page). Whenever someone came across newspapers they would take them to this man for translation. After Germany's capitulation the allied air attacks on Tokyo increased, and they were able to watch the B-29 bombers drop their bombs all over Tokyo. After one of these raids the Japanese soldier in charge of the kitchen searched for his family in Tokyo for several days, but lost his wife, children and parents. When the camp was freed the Norwegian prisoners became aware of the Red Cross packages that had been sent to the camp. It turned out the Japanese had handed out 1 package to be shared by 4 prisoners, while Red Cross had in fact sent 1 package to each prisoner. When the first American aircraft showed up on Aug. 18 the prisoners wrote POW in big letters on the roof of one of the barracks, whereupon the pilot dropped some cigarettes and chocolate. When more aircraft returned with more cigarettes and more chocolate the prisoners wrote WE WANT FOOD on the roof. Soon one aircraft after another dropped cases of food and the prisoners had to run for cover so as not to get hit by the boxes. They were highly annoyed at the fact that some of it landed in among the pigs and got eaten by them before the men could get to it. The next message on the roof read "please use parachutes".

Finally, on Aug. 29 they saw the first allied warships out in Tokyo Bay and soon they were aboard a hospital ship. Little by little prisoners from other camps trickled in, among them Magnus Heggø and Tønnes Kviljo Tønnesen who showed obvious signs of having suffered greatly. In addition to the bad treatment, Tønnesen had lost his voice due to the fact that he had not been allowed to speak for the first year. The Norwegians were in Yokohama for a while, then in Okinawa were they lived in tents and had to look out for nightly snipers. From there they were flown to Manila, then taken by ship to San Francisco where they lived at Norway House before travelling by train to New York. In Dec. they could finally embark Stavangerfjord and go home. (Those who had been taken on board Thor at the time Madrono had been captured had been sent home to Norway in Nov.-1943, but most of the others went home on Stavangerfjord).

Life in Imprisonment Page 2
The fate of Woolgar and her Survivors
(Andaman Islands, Changi Prison, Sime Road Camp)

Some more related external links:
A Singular Man - The story of a 15 year old American prisoner (Mindanao, Kawasaki steel mills, Shinagawa and Omori).
Major Robert Goldsworthy - Describes life at Omori prison camp.
Yorktown Aviator - "My Experience as Prisoner of War by the Imperial Japanese." The story of an American pilot at Ofuna.
Biographies and Tributes - A collection of stories from Japanese prison camps (mostly told by Americans, also covers the Bataan death march and the "hell ships").
Hard Way Home - Beautiful site based on the personal journal of an American who became a prisoner of the Japanese after the fall of Corregidor. See also this site.
Deliverance, it has come! - (Los Baños).
Liberating Los Baños
Raid at Los Baños
Note to allied prisoners - This is a copy of an original paper that was dropped from an American plane on August 28, 1945. It landed on the field of the prison camp at Hanawa, Honshu, Japan.
FEPOW Community - Far East Prisoners of War, has a wealth of information.

Links related to the Japanese Capitulation:
The Potsdam Proclamation - A statement of terms for the Unconditional Surrender of Japan, July 26, 1945.
Offer of surrender from Japanese Government
Secretary of State Byrne's Reply to Offer
Japanese acceptance of Potsdam Declaration
Secretary of State Byrne's Surrender Instr. to Japan
The Japanese Surrender Documents.

War Criminals / Far East - Includes the names of those who have been tried and convicted.

Other pages on this website that deal with Merchant Marine POW's:
Camps in N. Africa | Rudzin's Diary | Captain Messel's Diary | Odd's letters | Kvarstad Ships & Men POW's | Santo Tomas Documents | Merchant Marine Prisoners of War | POW Camps

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