Hanawa Camp history
by James T. Murphy (Page 3 of 5 Pages)

Main Hanawa Page


The copper mine was one of the oldest mines in all of Japan. It had been in continuous operation for 1300 years. The mining methods had remained unchanged for centuries. This mine required hard labor to extract additional ore and previous owners had declared it non-productive. But Mitsubishi was determined to continue operation as long as there was breath remaining in the American POWs.

The mining equipment was antiquated, worn out, always needing repair, and only could be kept running by exhaustive human labor. The mine had no safety personnel and posed a constant threat of mine explosions, mine cave-ins, sudden flooding of work areas and other industrial accidents. There was the ever present prospect of a major mine disaster.

The five hundred American POWs (and later 50 British POWs) at Hanawa faced the real possibility and the real fear of death each moment of every day. The threat of death came from many sources.

First, the intense repulsion and hatred felt for us by the Japanese Military Commander, his NCOs and his armed guards; second, the hatred from the Mitsubishi employees who directed our slave labor and were hell bent to work us to death to accomplish their goal of copper production; third, the daily dangers of working under unsafe conditions with the real possibility of industrial accidents; fourth, the daily threat of starvation, life threatening disasters, total weakness and exhaustion, and freezing to death from the cold, harsh weather; fifth, the real threat from the local Japanese populous who demonstrated open irate, hostile and inflamed feelings against Americans who were killing civilians as they destroyed Japanese cities, and who could explode in uncontrolled attacks against us at any moment; and sixth, threats from our own officers and camp staff, some of whom demonstrated that they would survive even if no one else survived and that "it was every man for himself".

It is a wonder that any POW survived a full year under these constant threats of death. It is amazing that only eight POWs died. Their deaths were attributed to mine cave-ins, malnutrition, and starvation, respiratory diseases and tuberculosis. Many of us do not believe that we could have survived another winter at Hanawa.

Mitsubishi copper mine at Hanawa operated rather typically but we always had the feeling that it was almost impossible to squeeze any additional ore from this worn out relic.

From our camp located at about 4,000 ft. elevation, we would climb about two miles up to the mine. The main shaft entrance was high up in the mountain and the processing equipment was housed near this entrance. We would walk deep down into the many laterals, blast and dig out the ore, hand load small cars with ore and push the cars on small rails out of the mine and dump the ore into large holding bins above the rock crushers. The crushed ore was mixed with water to form a slurry and then pumped to another crusher to convert it to smaller particles. The fine slurry was then passed through separators and filters to extract the copper ore. Buckets of copper ore then went to the smelter for melting into copper ingots. The push carts, the rails, conveyer belts, the buckets, the crushers, and the filters were always in a state of deterioration and disrepair. The repair procedures required the shoveling and handling by hand—a back breaking difficult job for the emaciated POWs. This job was made worse by the severe cold and snow during the winter months. Most work was done by hand and required heavy lifting.

Work at any job was difficult. We would arise at 5 a.m., eat breakfast of a small bowl of rice, barley or millet with a cup of watery soup. We would then have roll call and leave for the mine about 5:30 a.m. arriving ready to work at 7 a.m. We worked under Mitsubishi supervision until 5 p.m. with a 30 minute lunch break. We returned to camp, usually after dark, had supper, then to bed.

The miners had the worst job. Their walk down into the deepest bowels of the earth and their work down in the mine was dirty, dangerous and difficult. Each was furnished a carbide headlamp as his only lighting. A quota was set but the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads and men were never enough and men were brutalized for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many laterals of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through. Some laterals had standing water with threats of sudden flooding. Lighting was poor and most areas were not even boarded up to prevent cave-ins. The work was dangerous and many suffered from accidents. Gas detecting equipment was non-existent so there was an ever present danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps. Even in the cold winter months when going into the mine would be warmer, the additional warmth was no consolation for the rigors of the mine work.

The POWs assigned work topside had more technical jobs such as electricians, machinists, millwrights, mechanics and general laborers. These men were watched closely by the civilian supervisors to prevent deliberate damage inflicted on the very critical items of equipment. It seems that some POWs were a bit careless and would cause electro-mechanical failures with the disastrous results of shutting down mine operations. Such "accidents" often resulted in severe punishments but most POWs endured the consequences for the brief glory of creating sabotage against the enemy. All this work was done by hand with backbreaking lifting and moving of equipment.

The work contract between the Japanese Imperial Army and the officials of Mitsubishi called for the Army to deliver a given number of POWs to the mine each day, six days per week. The POWs would then be turned over to the mining company for the daily work activities. The company had not counted on the sick and emaciated condition of the POWs. They had been in bad health in P.I. and the Hell ship experience had produced a group of individuals unable to walk long distances or to work at strenuous tasks. In order to fill the daily work quota, the healthy POWs were having to carry the weak POWs up to the mine. Once at the mine, no amount of coercion could force the emaciated sick POWs to perform any type of work. The Japanese changed their arrangement to permit those unable to climb the mountain to the mine and to bring jobs down to camp.

In the Japanese mind, everyone worked. In fact, if you could not work, your food ration was cut to one-half rations. Light duty work was set up within the camp compound. This work consisted of blacksmith work, nail making work, rope making work and other work contributing to their war efforts. The American doctors in camp were able to control work detail somewhat by putting sick POWs on light duty. This helped keep sick POWs in camp and kept them from going to the mine.

Japanese Policy

The Mitsubishi Mining Company supported by the Japanese Imperial Army, capitalized on the slave/forced labor of the American POWs at their copper mine near Hanawa, Japan. Mitsubishi and the Japanese Army victimized, enslaved, and subjected the 500 POWs to horrifying physical and mental torture and abuse to aid this company's effort to help the War. The Mitsubishi Company realized enormous profits from these POW laborers while the Japanese nation's war effort reaped unbelievable benefits to further the Japanese war effort.

It was obvious to the Japanese Army and to the Mitsubishi employees as we arrived in Hanawa that we were in no condition to work.We had been POWs for two and a half years and were starved, malnourished, abused, and ill, but even so they ignored our health problems. We were subjected to perilous working conditions and strenuous physical labor beyond belief. The guards and officials were trained to be barbarous and savage in their day-to-day exploitation and control of us. The egregious act against us by the Japanese included beatings with clubs, rifles, shovels, picks and other objects. We were struck with fists and kicked with booted feet causing gashes, contusions and ulcers.

Even though our conditions of malnutrition, starvation, disease, and illnesses were plainly evident, the Japanese did nothing to remedy these. We were not fed; our illnesses and diseases were not treated; but they continued to work us harder and harder to increase copper mine production.

Page 1- Americans move to Japan on the Noto Maru
Page 2 - Arrival at Hanawa
Page 3 - Slavery at the Mine
Page 4- Bitter winter of 1944-1945
Page 5 - War ends - Diary Notes