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The order for Extermination

As Japan realised that it was losing the war the infamous order to annihilate all prisoners in the event of Allied invasion, and remove all evidence, was given. Not all Japanese camp commanders adhered to these instructions from Tokyo, but there are numerous examples where they were. At Sandakan, in British North Borneo, 2434 Australian and British POWs were systematically killed; there were only six survivors, all escapees.

One example of the guidance given by Tokyo was translated as:

The Time

Although the basic aim is to act under superior orders, individual disposition may be made in the following circumstances:

  • when an uprising of large numbers cannot be suppressed without the use of firearms
  • when escapees from the camp may turn into a hostile fighting force

The Methods

  • whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, or however it is done, with mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation, or what, dispose of them as the situation dictates
  • in any case it is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and leave not any traces

                               Taken from Sandakan, by Lynette Ramsay Silver

This guidance was given to Japanese camp commanders and it serves to indicate the fear the Japanese had that when the Allied invasions came, large numbers of prisoners might revolt and interfere with Japanese defence.

Unbeknown to most POWs, Allied Special Forces (Force136 and E Group) were already operating in the vicinity of some POW Camps to be available to prevent massacres and take advantage of the numbers of POWs available. In many cases the POWs would have been physically unable to mount any meaningful resistance, indeed in some cases, starvation rations were implemented precisely to achieve this end. However there are some reports that some POWs, Indian captives in Malaya for example, had been stockpiling stolen rifles against such an eventuality.