Extract of interview with
George E. Cobb, SC1c (cook)
S1c Cobb was the Cook on the submarine Sea Lion [S-195]. Captured on Corregidor, he worked on the Manila Dock details and was sent to Japan aboard the Noto Maru for slave labor at Hanawa.
At the end of September or early October 1944, we were sent to Japan; the stevedores having been sent on an earlier ship. I had been transferred to a winch team (1) to load the ships and was placed aboard the last ship. The ship was one of the Hell Ships. (2) We were jammed in the "tween deck" with no room for movement. Up to sixteen men would be crammed into an area six feet by ten feet. One thousand of us were loaded that morning into the forward hold and the hatches were closed. The ship finally pulled out in the late evening and for the next six days, we remained in this suffocating hell. Each day, the Japanese would lower one bucket of rice for all of us and one 50 gallon drum for excrement. With dysentery rampant, the atmosphere became putrid.
We arrived at a port on the southern tip of Japan (3). Here, we were immediately loaded aboard waiting box cars and sent north to Hanawa near the city of Sendei (4) on the northeast shore of Honshu. Along the way, some were unloaded for other labor camps. In our camp of about 400 men, were a large number of Australian soldiers and about fifty Navy service crew men. The Japanese, assuming the navy men had mechanical abilities, assigned us to perform maintenance on their equipment while the remaining were forced to work deep in a copper mine.
Within one month we had snow. The Japanese had issued us clothes made out of a gunny sack material, thin flannel underwear, one coat and split toe clogs (shoes). Our food was really inadequate. If you worked, the full ration consisted of a bowl of rice, a cup of diluted miso soup and on rare occasion, a cup of tea in the morning. At mid-day, another bowl of rice. If you were unable to work, the ration was cut in half.
Our workday began with a 6 AM reveille and at 7AM, we began a one hour walk of 5 to 8 miles to the mine with a Japanese guard as escort. My work crew of 10 had the job to repair the ore crushers under a civilian supervisor. We had nicknames for almost all the guards. One we called "Happy" and he was the only decent Jap we knew. He would help to hide the sick men on work details then smuggle food to them. We gave him a letter of commendation when we were set free.
Most of the beatings we got were from the civilians. However, two of the guards, "Gimpy" (an ex-soldier) and "Soldier", were extremely mean. They took great delight in punching you in the neck or face. If you fell, they would kick you in the ribs and knees until you stood again. Both carried a four foot piece of bamboo that they also used to beat you. One day, I was trying to warn "Gimpy" not to do something that was dangerous as he would get hurt. He laid his hand open and proceeded to work me over pretty bad. However, I lived to see him die. At the end of the war he was trying to steal supplies being dropped to us by the B-29's. As he was looting a container, another 55 gallon drum, without a parachute, dropped directly on him.
The regular guards were replaced near the end of July. We learned the war was over on 21 August and took over the camp. Someone had secreted a three by five American flag and with great ceremony, we raised her on the flagpole. God, we were happy and crying at the same time. Some scout planes located us and asked if what we needed, food, medicine or clothes. We signaled for food and medicine and they dropped all three, tons of the stuff. By this time I was eighty pounds under my normal weight of 190. We left the camp on a train.
1. Each wench team was five men with one officer. There were 10 wench teams from the Manila Dock detail placed aboard the last transport. BACK
2. Noto Maru actually sailed 27 Aug 1944; 1135 prisoners, eight day voyage, one death. BACK
3. The port of Moji on the northern tip of Kyushu. BACK
4. Designated officially as "Sendai Camp #6, Hanawa". BACK