|Mukden Rescue & Evacuation|
On 8 August 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and the following day launched a massive offensive into Japanese occupied Manchuria.
The Japanese held American prisoners of war at two sites in Manchuria. The largest camp was at Hoten, three miles northeast of Mukden, in an industrial area adjacent to the main rail line leading to the city of Harbin. At the time of liberation, this camp held 280 US officers and 1,038 enlisted men. A smaller, satellite camp at Hsian, approximately 100 miles northeast of the Hoten camp, held several dozen British, Dutch, and American VIP prisoners, including Lieutenant Generals Jonathan Wainwright and A.E. Percival, the American commander in the Philippines and the British Singapore commander, respectively.
On 16 August 1945, a six man Office of Strategic Services (OSS) team parachuted into Mukden. They contacted Colonel Matsuda, the Japanese camp commandant, and immediately began efforts to contact Wainwright at Hsian and coordinate the evacuation of the main camp at Hoten. One member of the team left by train on 18 August for Hsian; on 26 August he returned to Mukden with Wainwright and his party.
In the meanwhile, the Soviet Army moved into the area. The first Red Army troops arrived in Mukden on 19 August by air. By 21 August the 6th Guards Tank Army of the Trans-Baikal Front had arrived in force. A number of incidents between Americans and Soviet troops, involving harassment and robbery, occurred in the early days after the Soviet arrival. According to Lieutenant Colonel James F. Donovan, the eventual leader of the US evacuation effort, most of the incidents stemmed from a few ãignorantä and often drunken Russian soldiers not identifying the Americans as such. By contrast, Donovan noted that most Russian soldiers were ãuniversally enthusiastic about Americans and loudly proclaimed their friendship when passing in the streets.ä None of the incidents seriously interfered with the evacuation of the American POWs. In fact, the Soviets were instrumental in assisting the American POW contact team with the evacuation effort. The Soviets were especially helpful in procuring transportation used in the evacuation and in providing general manpower support, a crucial need given the large number of prisoners to be evacuated and the small number of Americans in the contact team. That a number of Russian officers, including the Soviet commander, Major General Pritula, were recommended for American decorations gives some indication of the level of cooperation between the US and Soviet authorities in Mukden.
On 29 August 1945, the nineteen-man POW Recovery Team No. 1 arrived in Mukden to reinforce and assist the initial OSS contact team. With the arrival of the larger team, processing of the liberated POWs began in earnest. Much of this effort involved paperwork; POWs filling out identification forms and completing questionnaires concerning possible war crimes violations by their Japanese captors. It also involved immunizations and other medical treatment of the prisoners and graves registration work. Remains of POWs buried in the camp cemetery were identified and prepared for exhumation and eventual reburial in permanent American military cemeteries.
Evacuation of American POWs from the Mukden area began shortly after the initial OSS team arrived and ended by mid-September. The first group left by air on 21 August, eighteen POWs needing immediate medical assistance. Another thirty medical cases were evacuated by air on 24 August. On 27 August General Wainwright and the other VIPs departed by air. But most of the POWs went by train from Mukden to the port of Darien, where they boarded US Navy ships, the hospital ship USS Relief and the transport USS Colbert, for evacuation to Okinawa and then home. Aboard ship they were deloused, issued new clothing, and received additional medical and dental treatment as needed. The railroad movements from Mukden to Darien occurred on 10 and 11 September. Relief sailed from Darien for Okinawa on 12 September, Colbert departed on the 13 August. The POW Recovery Team closed out its operation on 19 September 1945 and left Mukden by air for China Theater headquarters in Kunming.
The early arrival of the OSS contact team (even before Soviet
troops were on the scene), the additional assistance of POW Recovery
Team No. 1, and the cooperation of the Soviet forces in the area
assured the timely and comparatively smooth evacuation of the
US prisoners of war from Manchuria.