Location Prisoner Personnel Guard
Personnel General Conditions
Gibbs reports were prepared post-war based upon assorted prisoner
affidavits and, apparently, on the reports of the International
Red Cross representatives in Japan who were notorious for their
bias in favor of the Japanese.
PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS IN JAPAN & JAPANESE CONTROLLED AREAS
AS TAKEN FROM REPORTS OF INTERNED AMERICAN PRISONERS
LIAISON & RESEARCH BRANCH AMERICAN PRISONER OF WAR INFORMATION
by JOHN M. GIBBS - 31 July 1946
FUKUOKA CAMP NO. 17
ON THE ISLAND OF KYUSHU, JAPAN
Omuta, on the bay, about 17 miles northwest of Kumamoto and 40
miles south of the city of Fukuoka, opened on 7 August 1943.
The coordinates are 33 N, 130 25'E. Terrain level, well drained
and filled in with slag from a coal mine at Omuta. Dimension
of original camp site, 200 yards square which by April 1945 had
been enlarged to 200 yards wide by 1,000 yards long. The site
is a reclaimed grove and the buildings thereon were formerly
laborers quarters constructed by Mitsui Coal Mining Co. and operated
by Japanese Army. A wood fence approximately 12 feet high with
3 heavy gauge wires (first wire approximately 6 feet off the
ground) enclosed the compound. The grounds were kept as clean
as possible at all times. Some fir trees adorned the compound.
The Japanese officials were stationed in the enclosure. Top
2. PRISONER PERSONNEL:
Maj. A. C. Tisdell, spokesman; Maj. Thomas H. Hewlett, camp surgeon
and Maj. John R. Mamerow, medical officer.
Camp first occupied 10 Aug. 1943 by 10 officers, 133 NCO's and
358 privates, a total of 501, all Americans, from the Philippines.
497 American prisoners from the Philippines reaching the port
of Moji, Kyushu on 29 Jan. 1945, were divided among the Fukuoka
area installations as follows:
100 to camp #3 located at Tobata
193 to camp #1 located at Kashii
110 to the Japanese Military Hospital at Moji
95 to camp #17
Only 34 of the hospital prisoners, later transferred to No. 22
survived. The death of the 76 prisoners while in the hospital
was due to the horrible conditions of travel from the Philippines
to Moji, and extreme malnutrition.
An earlier group of 200 American prisoners from the Philippines
reached Moji on 3 Sept. 1944 all of whom were assigned to camp
#17, making a total of 814 American prisoners, which was the
maximum. The camp was liberated on 2 Sept. 1945. There were 1721
prisoners in the camp toward the closing of it on 2 Sept. 1945.
British, Australian, Dutch and American prisoners evacuated the
last minute from the Philippines and Siam were in desperate physical
condition when they arrived. Top of Page
3. GUARD PERSONNEL:
Asao Fukuhara, Camp Commandant
Camp surgeon, an unnamed Japanese Army man
Civilian guards, 2 pseudo named as the "sailor" &
"one arm bandit", both Japanese.
There were Japanese orderlies who worked as hospital attendants,
number and names unknown. Top of Page
4. GENERAL CONDITIONS:
(a) Housing Facilities: The barracks comprised 33 one story buildings
120' x 16' with 10 rooms to a barracks, of wood construction
with tight tar paper roofs, and windows with panes. Ventilation
satisfactory. Three to 4 officers were billeted in one room 9'
x 10' and 4 to 6 enlisted men in room of same size. No heating
facilities, and while the climate was mild, it must be remembered
that the men were sensitive to temperatures around 40 Fahrenheit,
and because of their weakened condition due to malnutrition the
dampness and cold was very penetrating. The barracks were light
enough during the day without artificial illumination. Each room
had one 15-watt light bulb.
Air raid shelters were dug into the earth about 6 feet deep and
8 feet wide, 120 feet in length, timbered in similar manner,
to coal mines, covered with 3 feet of slag and an adequate splinter-proof
The beds consisted of tissue paper and cotton batting covered
with a cotton pad 5'8" long and 2½' wide. Three heavy
cotton blankets were issued by the Japanese in addition to a
comforter made of tissue paper, scrap rags and scrap cotton.
(b) Latrines: In each of the 33 buildings, and at the end thereof,
were 3 stools raised from the floor about 1½' on a hollow
brick pedestal, each being covered with a detachable wood seat,
and 1 urinal. A concrete tank was underneath each stool. The
prisoners made wood covers for each of the stools, thereby reducing
the fly nuisance. The offal in the tanks was removed by Japanese
laborers twice each week.
(c) Bathing: The bathing facilities were in a separate building
equipped with 2 tanks approximately 30' x 10' x 4' deep, with
very hot steam heated water. The American camp spokesman would
not permit the men to immerse themselves during the summer months
on account of skin diseases. In the winter the tubs were used
but not until the men had taken a preliminary bath before entering
the tubs. The men were required to watch each other to see that
none "passed out" because of the heat and their weakened
condition. After bathing the men would dress in all the clothing
they had and go to bed for the night. Even then the prisoners
would fill their canteens with hot water and place them beneath
the covers. With these precautions the men slept comfortably
through the cold nights.
Each 2 barracks had an outside wash rack, 16 cold water faucets
and 16 wood tubs with drainboard. Prisoners washed their cloths
by scrubbing with brushes on the drainboard and rinsing them
in the tubs. There was a constant shortage of soap.
(d) Mess Hall: There was 1 unit mess with 11 cauldrons and 2
electric cooking ovens for baking bread, 2 kitchen ranges, 4
store rooms and 1 ice box. Cooking was done by 15 prisoners of
war of whom 7 were professional cooks, all working under the
supervision of a Japanese mess sergeant. The men working in the
coal mines were given 3 buns every 2nd day to take with them
for their lunch when they did not return to the camp to eat.
Other days they were given an American mess-kit level with rice.
Prisoners ate in the mess hall in which was placed tables and
(e) Food: Usually consisted of steamed rice and vegetable soup
made from anything that could be obtained, 3 times a day. Upon
occasion of a visit to this camp by a representative of the Red
Cross in April 1944 a splendid variety of fats, cereals, fish
and vegetables were served, which naturally impressed the representative
and in his report to headquarters, he called particular attention
to the menu. It is known that the spread was to impress the Red
Cross man, and that it was the only decent meal served in 2 years.
Rice and soup made from radishes, mostly water, remained the
diet throughout. The men working in the mines were given 700
grams of rice, camp workers 450 and officers 300. Our American
camp doctors stated that such scant ration was insufficient to
support life in a bed patient. All of the prisoners were skeletons
having lost in weight an average of around 60 pounds per man.
The city water was drinkable.
(f) Medical Facilities: Medical section and surgical section
of infirmary had 10 rooms each with capacity of 30 men each.
Isolation ward could accommodate 15 men. Daily medical and dental
inspections by American officers, but they had but little to
work with in the way of medicines and instruments. The dentist
had no instruments and could only perform extractions, and without
anesthesia. For dysentery the Japanese furnished a powder which
they concocted, the use of which produced nausea and diarrhea
when administered to the American patients. There were no American
hospital corpsmen in this camp until April 1944 when 10 men were
added to the hospital corps with 2 doctors and 1 dentist. After
Oct. 1944 medical supplies were provided and an operating room
installed. Prior to Oct. 1944 the camp was practically without
medical supplies. The Japanese doctor was entirely disinterested.
(g) Supplies: (1) Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., other Relief: The first
Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. supplies were received early in 1944 on
the Japanese ship TEIA MARU. The items in the food parcels were
doled out to the men sparingly provided he had a consistent work
record in the coal mine and was not guilty of infractions of
rules. In the aggregate each man was given the equivalent of
about 1 complete parcel during the full period of his confinement.
The favoritism shown the mine workers in the distribution of
parcel items defeated the intention of the Red Cross because
it tended to give protein foods to the more healthy rather than
to the weak. The 1944 Red Cross shipment contained medicines,
surgical instruments and other supplies which the Japanese refused
to make available for the benefit of the invalided men, but helped
themselves to them. The Y.M.C.A. furnished several hundred books.
(2) Japanese Issue: The clothing (cotton) was issued by the coal
mine company and was adequate. British overcoats were given out
by the Japanese Army. Each prisoner was given 3 heavy cotton
blankets and a comforter madeof tissue paper and scrap rags and
scrap cotton. The canteen was practically bare. From it the men
received regularly 5 cigarettes per day. Canned salmon could
be bought about each 2 months, 1 can per man.
(h) Mail: (1) Incoming: First incoming mail was received in March
1944, thereafter each 60 days.
(2) Outgoing: Prisoners were allowed to write a card about each
6 to 8 weeks.
(i) Work: In coal mines and zinc smelters 3 shifts per day of
approximately 100 men per shift. Conditions in the mines were
pronounced dangerous although only 3 men were killed outright
during the period of confinement of 22 months. Many men received
painful injuries from falling rocks and other causes. Fortunately
for the prisoner there was among the group an experienced coal
miner who gave the men safety talks and pointed out some of the
dangers of coal mining which were not apparent to novice workers.
The coal mines were operated largely by American prisoners, the
smelters by the British and Australian prisoners. Coal mines
were approximately 1 kilometer from camp. Hours of work 12 hours
per day, 30 minutes lunch time. The men were given one day off
every 10 days.
(k) Treatment: From time to time the men were beaten without
cause with fists, clubs and sandals. Failure to salute or bow
to the Japanese was an offense which usually was followed by
compelling the prisoners to stand at attention in front of the
guard house for hours at a time. Some men were beaten daily and
others harassed by guards while trying to sleep during their
(1) Pay: (1) Officers: Were paid 20 yen per month until June
1944 when it was increased to 40 yen less 18 yen per month for
mess. Each prisoner received 5 cigarettes per day regularly except
for about 1 day per month. Postal savings accounts for officers
deposited with Protecting Power amounted to 7,688.26 yen. Prisoner
of War Headquarters ran its own destitute welfare.
(2) Enlisted Men: NCO's were paid 14 sen per day and privates
10 sen per day. No postal savings were deposited with Protecting
(m) Recreation: The Y.M.C.A. provided equipment for such out-door
games as football, volleyball and tennis, but the prisoners,
at the close of work periods, were too tired and weak to play.
There were no indoor sports except those made by the prisoners.
There was a rotating library of about 300 volumes provided by
the Y.M.C.A. A vegetable garden was planted and maintained by
the prisoners, and some live stock was raised, but the Japanese
ate the live stock and none of it was made available to the prisoners.
(n) Religious Activities: In July 1944 a protestant Dutch Army
Chaplain arrived as one of a prisoner detail. Until his arrival
the camp was without a chaplain. From July 1944 protestant services
were held each Sunday.
(o) Morale: Was low primarily because of inadequate food, long
and hard working hours which left no time except for work and
sleep. There was no laughter, no singing, nothing but depression
which condition was made worse by beatings and the harassing
activities of the Japanese guards during the sleeping hours.Top of Page
Of the group of 501 officers and enlisted men which reached this
camp in August 1943, 15 died. The remainder left for Mukden,
Manchuria on 25 April 1945. Other American prisoners, approximately
340 remained at Camp No. 17 until liberated on 2 Sept. 1945.
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