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Ask MHQ: Tracking Prisoners of War

Originally published on Published Online: May 13, 2014 
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Q: I have read many accounts of German and Italian prisoners of war in World War II being sent to Canada and the United States, where they worked outside the camps. What about Japanese POWs captured in the Pacific and Asia? Where were they sent? Were they allowed to work outside the camps?

—Maj. James Goodwin II USAR (ret.)

A: As many as 50,000 Japanese were taken prisoner by the Western Allies during WWII. Those captured in Southeast Asia were generally held in camps in Australia and New Zealand; those taken in Burma were sent to camps in India; and those taken in the Central Pacific from late 1943 on were held in compounds set up in the islands. The Americans shipped POWs they regarded as promising sources of intelligence to Fort Hunt, Virginia, or Camp Tracy, California.

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Since the Japanese believed that the very act of falling into enemy hands alive severed all ties with their homeland, they tended to be very cooperative. Allied intelligence officers often found that if they simply gave a Japanese POW exaggerated accounts of what they already knew, he would correct them with a flood of invaluable information. After the war thousands of Japanese soldiers were put to work helping suppress the forces of independence in some of the recovered colonies, such as French Indochina. Western Allies repatriated the last POWs between 1946 and 1947.

Hundreds of thousands of Japanese in Soviet hands were held in
Siberian gulags and used as laborers to expand the railroads. Of the 1.2 million in China, some 100,000 were engaged by either the Kuomintang or the Communists for their technical skills.


Jon Guttman, Weider History Group's research director, is the author of many military histories.

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