Report of Draft sent from
Java to Japan and information regarding the Tamahoko Maru
Original at Australian War Museum and copy at NARA
Lt. John Hickley, RN, Senior surviving English Officer
Lt. Van Oortmensen, RNEI Army, Senior surviving Dutch Officer
Lt. Lance Gibson, AIF, Senior surviving Australian Officer
Sub-Lt Philip Cranefield, RN
This draft was formed at Adek Camp Batavia and began assembling
there on 9th May 1944, the company officers being transferred
from Cycle Camp on 10th May: the men were drawn from Cycle Camp,
Kampong Macassar, Adek and Buitenzorg. Major J.D. Morris A.I.F.
was in command; and the final draft consisted of four companies
of 150 men and 1 officer, a company of 125 men and one officer
and a H.Q. company of 48. These last two mainly consisted of
a special medical party of 30 doctors and 60 medical orderlies,
2 men acting as priests were included in H.Q. The total number
was 41 officers and 737 men of which 197 were English 42 American
258 Australian and 281 Dutch. The draft was completed in nine
days and was supplied from a Red Cross consignment with shoes
and adequate medical supplies - a feature of the draft was the
almost complete lack of sickness.
The draft embarked a.m. on 19th May in "Kiska Maru"
of about 3,500 tons, one Dutchman being left at Tanjong
Priok with dysentry [Tanjong Priok was
the port for Batavia, now known as Jakarta]. The ship
sailed for Singapore via Banka Strait and arrived in Keppel Harbour
at 1600 on 22nd May , the prisoners being transported in
lorries to Havelock Road Camp. (A German U-boat of about 2,000
tons with a closed bridge was alongside and provided some interest
as she had two shell-holes in the stern). Indian troops were
in the remainder of the camp and, under a Lieutenant R.I.A.S.C.,
supplied the party out of their own rations. A "glass rod
test" was held during the stay here, as a result of which
1 Australian and 4 Dutchmen were detached from the draft.
At 0800 on 2nd June 1 , 772 men marched from the camp to
the docks and were taken out in landing barges to the ship lying
in the Roads. She was a vessel [name unknown]
of between 4,000-5,000 tons, loaded with bauxite, and
the prisoners were put in the forward between-decks under Nos.
2 & 3 hatches- as 300 men slept on deck, everyone was able
to lie full length at night. The ship sailed on 3rd of June and
formed [into] one of a convoy of 11 ships, 3 of which were carrying
prisoners of war, escorted by 4 small corvettes. Naturally all
were apprehensive of submarines, and this feeling was accentuated
when the leading corvette was torpedoed on the night 6th/7th
Kapok lifebelts were provided, but the sergeant of the guard
would not allow them to be issued to the prisoners, but on 8th
June Major Morris at last succeeded in having them issued. On
11th June the convoy arrived in Manila Bay anchoring off the
town and stayed 2 days, sailing on the morning of 14th as a convoy
of 10 ships escorted by 3 corvettes, a minelayer and a whaling
ship for Formosa. We proceeded close inshore northward along
the west coast of Luzon for 2 days and on leaving the N.W., point
ran into a heavy storm during which the ship received damage,
and on arrival at Takao on 18th June, began [to] immediately
to discharge her cargo.
The following morning, the draft was transferred to a larger
cargo ship of 6,700 tons [Tamahoko Maru]which was
loading quarter cargo of rice and sugar and which also carried
about 500 Japanese servicemen aft, all of whom bore the appearance
of survivors. The accommodation consisted of the forward between
decks which extended from forecastle bulkhead to the bridge under
Nos. 1 & 2 hatches. About 300 men again slept on deck forward,
20 cooks abaft the bridge and the remainder below decks. The
Korean guards were also below, occupying a space on the starboard
side level with No. 2 hatch and the officers slept round the
foremast. Life belts were again provided, but not issued, despite
protests, and were stacked against the ship's side forward of
the guards. Access to the hold was by wooden ladders under each
hatch. There were a number of balsa rafts on deck secured to
The convoy, consisting of 12 ships escorted by 2 corvettes a
minelayer and the whaling ship, left Formosa 20th June, the next
few days being pleasantly cool after the tropics. At 11:50
pm on 24th June 1944, in approximate position 40 miles S.W.
of Nagasaki, we were awoken by an explosion as another ship in
the convoy was torpedoed and within seconds another torpedo hit
our ship just forward of the bridge on the starboard side, blowing
the covers off the hatches. This explosion must have killed many
men sleeping on them and numbers of others on deck are known
to have been struck by falling debris. Also there were now two
large holes in the deck of the hold and many men, rushing for
the ladders which had been blown away, must have fallen into
the cargo. Other men rushed toward the life belts and were so
trapped. Escape by those below was made by means of the iron
ladders under the hatches, or, for the most part, by being washed
out by the sea. It has been estimated that the ship sank in less
than 2 minutes.
The balsa rafts were cut adrift by the late Gunner J. Brookes
(35th AA Regt RA), possibly assisted by the late Chief Engine
Room Artificer C. Mellish R.A.N. (HMAS "Perth") who
throughout the draft was most efficient as disciplinary N.C.O.
[Cedric Erryl Bell Mellish, RAN, of Armidale,
NSW, died in sinking of Tamahoko Maru, 44.06.24]
Finding themselves in the water, most prisoners managed to gain
these rafts or other wreckage and settled down with the Japanese
survivors to wait for dawn, all nationalities helping each other.
Fortunately no depth charges were dropped nearby by the escort
and at dawn a corvette lowered her boats and picked up Japanese,
leaving the prisoners on the wreckage. At about 0700 the small
whaling ship came up and lowered rope ladders. On receipt of
an order from her bridge, the prisoners were allowed on board
and were put on the forecastle deck under a small gun-platform.
This craft specialized in picking up prisoners and was most efficiently
handled during the process. Some men were picked up by boats
from the corvettes and put on board the whaling ship; 2 aircraft
also co-operated. 7 prisoners were picked up by a corvette which
later came practically alongside when they were thrown back into
the sea to swim to the whalecatcher, but unfortunately two non-swimmers
were drowned. A thorough search of the area was made, and as
far as could be seen, no one was left in the water. Four Korean
guards were also saved including one who all along had been most
helpful to Major Morris and this man proved very useful as interpreter
during the rescue and subsequent proceedings.
The. ship with 211 prisoners arrived in Nagasaki at 12:30 pm
and after a cold hungry wait the prisoners were landed at 1800.
During this period a Japanese doctor and two nurses came to treat
the sick, but their sole equipment was Mercurochrome and their
attention most perfunctory.
Lorries transported the prisoners to Fukuoka 14 camp, in the
Mitsubishi factories, where a hot meal, clothes and sleeping
mats were provided. A further survivor was brought in two days
later and later still the ashes of a Dutch doctor and an Australian
private - so it must be presumed that the remaining 560 men lost
their lives in this disaster.
* includes 13 men of the S.S. American Leader per George Duncan
A Captain Takata of the Japanese P.O.W. Information Bureau later
visited the camp to secure a signed statement of the sinking
from the surviving officers. Advantage was taken of this opportunity
to criticize several points, chiefly the entrusting of a draft
of this size to the whim of a sergeant, and his subsequent refusal.
to issue life belts which might have saved more lives, and also
conditions, health etc. in Fukuoka 14 - subsequent improvements
in the camp may well have been due to this visit.
For six weeks, the party lived in crowded conditions in the camp
after which they joined up with the old camp and started work
in the factories. During this period the camp staff were fairly
sympathetic, though comforts and medicines were scarce.
/S/Lt. John Hickley, RN, Senior surviving English Officer
/S/Lt. Van Oortmensen, RNEI Army, Senior surviving Dutch Officer
/S/Lt. Lance Gibson, AIF, Senior surviving Australian Officer
[Lance Aldworth Gibson, 2/3 Aust Machine
/S/Sub-Lt Philip Cranefield, RN