In 2017, I sought out the site of Mukden Allied Prisoner of War Camp in Shenyang, Liaoning province, Northeast China. Mukden Camp, also known as Hoten Camp, was located on the outskirts of Mukden, present-day Shenyang. The former POW site, at Di Tan Street, in the Dadong district of Shenyang, is now the location of the Shenyang WWII Allied Prisoners Camp Museum. It has one of the best preserved examples of an Allied POW camp. At the time of my visit, the new museum had not been completed.
A prominent memorial plaque in the museum grounds was still in the process of being erected and was partially obscured. Nevertheless, the plaque provides an excellent overview of the camp’s history; from which I have transcribed the following (one line was not visible):
Allied POW Camp
November 1942 – August 1945
During World War II Japan transgressed the international convention and set up a prisoner-of-war camp in Mukden (present-day Shenyang) of Northeast China specially for locking up prisoners captured from the allied forces at the Pacific Theater. Known as the “Mukden internment camp” under the jurisdiction of the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Kwantung Army, the camp consisted of the main camp, the first sub-camp, the second sub-camp, and 3 detachment camps. With its occupied areas coming to 50,000 square metres, the main camp had 20-plus buildings inclusive of POW barracks and houses for Japanese armymen and was one of the typical POW camps built by Japanese troops inside Japan and the territories in occupation during World War II. From November 11, 1942 to August 20, 1945 over 2,000 US, British, Canadian, Australian, Dutch and French captives were successively imprisoned in the “Mukden Internent Camp”, including large numbers of senior officers such as the US and British supreme commanders of the Pacific Theater. As a consequence, not only the multiplicity of captives’ nationalities feature the internment camp, but the camp was also characterized by the high military ranks and large numbers of prisoners.
Put under close surveillance and oppressed cruelly by the Japanese army over 3 years’ time, large numbers of prisoners of war died from extreme mental and physical maltreatment such as hunger, beating-up, diseases. Faced with such wicked circumstances, the the prisoners did not give up their will to fight and “persevered … from the smoke-filled battlefields.” At that moment, the help from kind-hearted Chinese workers was the only solicitude felt by them on the alien land.
On August 9, 1945, the Soviet Red Army dispatched troops to Northeast China in the light of the Yalta Agreement, On August 15, Japan declared unconditional surrender. On August 20, the Soviet army entered the Internment camp and the prisoners regained freedom.
Some further history: the first prisoners at Mukden camp had been tansported on the Japanese ship Tottori Maru. On 6th October 1942, the Japanese Tottori Maru had sailed from Manilla, Phillipines with 31 American officer prisoners-of-war (POWs) and 1,930 enlisted POWs from POW camps at Cabanatuan, Luzon and Malabalay, Mindanao. a few of the POWs were survivors of the infamous ‘Bataan Death March’ and some had been captured on the island of Corregidor. A month later, on 7th November 1942, the ship made port at Fusan (Pusan) present-day Busan, South Korea. At Fusan the POWS were disembarked. Two days later, on 9th November 1942, 14 officers and 1,288 enlisted POWs were issued winter clothes and sent by train to Mukden, Manchukuo (Manchuria). A second group of POWs arrived in April 1945, which included captives from Singapore, and a third group in May, that had been relocated from a camp in Cheng Chia Tun.
Following Japan’s surrender on 15th August 1945, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a United States wartime intelligence agency, carried out a ‘Mercy Mission’ code-named ‘Cardinal’. On 16th August 1945, a six-man team led by Major James T. Hennessy were parachuted into a field near to Mukden Camp. They were captured by a Japanese patrol, disarmed and beaten, the Japanese-American interpreter severely- all were later released. Two days later, the local Japanese commander, surrendered and the OSS team entered the camp. The team, whilst on the mercy mission, also sought high -ranking officers that included Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright and Lt. General Arthur Percival. However, the two Lt.Gen were being held at another POW camp, some 100 miles away.
The Soviet Union had declared war on Japan, on 8th August 1945, and invaded Manchuria just after midnight on 9th August. On 19th August 1945, some 250-300 Soviet airborne troops were dropped into Mukden. Forward mobile units of the 6th Guards Tank Army, part of the Transbaikal Front, also arrived. The camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on 20th August 1945,
It should not be forgotten: that Unit 731, officially the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army, was active at Mukden Camp. Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army, was a covert biologocal and chemical warfare research and development unit based in the Pinfang district of Harbin. Unit 731 committed many crimes against humanity. From post-war evidence, Unit 731 was also involved with medical experiments at Mukden camp. A drawing from the museum, is entitled ‘ A group of Doctors’, believed to be from Unit 731 take measurements from POWs’. Major Robert Peaty (British Army, Royal Ordnance Corps), POW No.24, wrote: ‘entry for January 30, 1943 notes, “Everyone received a 5 cc Typhoid-paratyphoid A inoculation.” The February 23, 1943 entry read “Funeral service for 142 dead. 186 have died in 5 days, all Americans.”.’ Following a secret agreement, high ranking officers of Unit 731 who were involved with these crimes were granted immunity from prosecution by the United States. Nevertheless, the Soviet Red Army did manage to capture 12 members of Unit 731 elsewhere – later to be tried at the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials in 1949.
Finally, a quotation from Mukden Camp POW No.14 Arnold Bocksel, who had served on the US Army Mineplanter (USAMP) Harrison:
Sleep is the opiate of those imprisoned. With eyes closed in slumber, you re-enter old worlds and familiar places. You can go back home and visit with your family and friends. Eat another of Mom’s great meals, see close friends, especially old girlfriends, have fun, and most of all, escape from the reality which is now.
From Rice, Men and Barbed Wire written by Arnold A. Bocksel (1991)
Here are some of the pictures I took at the museum site, including images of drawings and quotations created by Allied prisoners. Click on the thumbnails to view the galleries.
Shenyang Allied POW WW2 – Camp Site Views
Allied POW – Drawings
Allied POW – Quotations
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