The Kavieng Wharf Massacre
The greatest single loss of civilians from New Ireland occurred on -. Well even that is not absolutely definite, nor the numbers who were killed that evening on the Kavieng wharf.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission roll of Civilian War Dead lists 25 of the 74 deaths in Papua New Guinea (the MV Montevideo Maru is listed separately) as dying on the 18th February 1944 at Kavieng. 24 of these were from New Ireland and one, Thomas Francis Haughey and not on the plaque, was from Aua in Manus.
An additional 9 or 10 persons who were not Australians or British, and therefore not recorded on the Commonwealth roll or included in the prosecution case at the War Crimes Trial in Hong Kong from 24th November to the 17th December 1947, also died. They bring the total who were killed that day, and the numbers admitted to by the Japanese, to 31 or 32, but it could be as many as 35.
That date, 18th February, was the one associated with the false story of the ship Kowa Maru and when the missing prisoners of war were allegedly put on board. It was subsequently sunk with great loss of life, 30 miles west of New Hanover on 21 February 1944. It was the date the men went missing, presumed dead, used by the Australian Government on the Certificates of Death issued after the war.
At war's end all those involved in the killing on Kavieng wharf conspired to tell the story of the Kowa Maru perhaps in the mistaken belief that there were no survivors. They were instructed that the story would be that the prisoners were sent by barge from Kavieng to Doi Island near where the ships were sheltering prior to making their run to Rabaul, and put on the ship to go to Rabaul.
In about June 1947 new evidence came to light in Japan when a survivor of the Kowa Maru, Otsu Yoshio, was interviewed. He said that no POWs had been embarked near Kavieng and sent to Rabaul, and that no POWs had been aboard when the ship departed Rabaul and was subsequently sunk. Corroborative evidence was also received from Toshio Ose, captain of the Kokai Maru which had sailed to and from Rabaul in convoy with the Kowa Maru and was sunk at the same time with a total of 420 crew and Japanese military personnel returning to Japan.
Investigators then recalled Japanese, who had been in Kavieng at the time, from all over Japan where they were then living for further interviews in Tokyo. One, Takada Kazue, OC of the Guard aboard the No.1 barge committed suicide en route to interrogation at the War Crimes Section Tokyo (MP375:WC41). Another Jitsukawa Kinjiro an engine hand on a barge, interviewed on 24 June 1947, had either forgotten the false story or had decided to tell the truth of what happened one day in March 1944.
Presented with this new information the principal Japanese officers involved realised that their story was no longer credible and admitted their involvement based on the need to obey orders or, in Tamura's case, operational necessity.
Record Of Military Court
The above is a copy of the Record of Military Court (Japanese War Criminals) at the Melbourne office of the National Archives of Australia MP742/1 336/1/1951.
The accused, who had all pleaded not guilty, submitted a petition on 29 December 1947 against the finding and sentence of the Court, and in Tamura's case his daughter Oosawa Reiko also wrote seeking leniency, but all petitions were dismissed and sentences were confirmed on 20 February 1942(sic), presumably 1948, by Major-General W.M. Anderson (Adjutant General).
In opposing the petition against the finding and sentence of the Court, the prosecution, Lt. Col. J.W. Flannagan had said: 'As evidence of the guilt of all accused, and their knowledge that the whole plan was utterly illegal, the Japanese held a conference at Kavieng at the Headquarters of the Naval Garrison Unit soon after the surrender. MORI, YOSHINO, SUZUKI and TAKATO were present. It was decided at this conference to tell Allied investigating officers that after the aerial bombardment of Kavieng in February 1944, the internees had been sent in a barge to Doi island, where they were transshipped to the Kowa Maru, which was sunk by Allied action. This concocted story was planned to mislead Allied investigators should any enquiry be made as to the fate of these missing civilians. Orders were given that all men under command were to tell the same story if they were asked any questions concerning these people.'
The final result was promulgated to all the accused on 9 March 1948. The accused Rear Admiral TAMURA Ryukichi was executed at Stanley Gaol, Hong Kong on 16 March 1948, four years, almost to the day, of the Kavieng wharf massacre on 17 March 1944. This date was stated by the 3 most senior officers as the date of the massacre in their appeal petition dated 2 December 1947 (MP742/1 336/1/1951).
Jim Ridges P.0 Box 86 Kavieng 26 June 2002
- Rear Admiral TAMURA Ryukichi
Commander YOSHINO Shozo
Lt.Commander MORI Kyoji
CPO HORIGUCHI Yoshio
- COMMITTING A WAR CRIME in that they at or near KAVIENG in NEW IRELAND in or about the month of March 1944 were, in violation of the laws and usages of war, together concerned in the MASSACRE of approximately twenty three Australian Civilian internees, then held in the custody of the Japanese Armed Forces
- PRECIS OF EVIDENCE
- The evidence shows that during the latter half of 1942 the Japanese Forces in New Britain interned approximately 32 civilians of whom approximately 23 were Australian nationals, in an internment camp at Kavieng.
During February and early March 1944 Kavieng was subject to heavy Allied bombings which the Japanese believed to be a prelude to an Allied landing.
Sometime in March 1944 after a particularly heavy air raid on Kavieng, the accused V/Admiral TAMURA Ryukichi who commanded 14 Naval Base Force and 83 Naval Garrison Unit gave a verbal order to his senior staff officer, the accused Commander YOSHINO Shozo, that 'in the event of a landing by the enemy you will have the foreign internees at Kavieng executed'. A day or so later YOSHINO transmitted the order to the accused Lt.Comdr.MORI Kyoji, Executive Officer, 83 Naval Garrison Unit.
Subsequently, still in the month of March, MORI instructed his subordinate, the accused LT.MOCHIZUKI Hichitaro, Commander Security Detachment 83 Naval Garrison Unit, to have the civilian internees executed.
The same day MOCHIZUKI at a conference of his platoon commanders ordered his senior platoon commander, the accused LT.SUZUKI Shozo to carry out the execution order. From his platoon SUZUKI selected the accused P/0 HORIGUCHI Yoshio as a member of the execution party. Other Japanese were selected and participated in the execution but their names are not known and/or they have never been located.
At about 1700 hours on the same day as the above mentioned conference the execution party commanded by SUZUKI went to the internment camp where SUZUKI told the internees to pack up for a move to Rabaul. The internees were then moved to a spot about 50 metres distant from Kavieng south wharf where, in accordance with previous arrangements made by MORI, were two barges loaded with cement sinkers and lengths of wire.
The victims were then taken one by one, blindfolded at a spot between the roadway and the wharf, then lead to the edge of the wharf by HORIGUCHI. When each victim arrived at the edge of the wharf he was told to sit down. Sailors then placed a noose of rope over the victim's head and strangled him. The bodies were then thrown into one of two barges and cement sinkers were secured to the bodies by wire cable.
During the executions SUZUKI moved between the wharf and the roadway supervising the execution party.
When the executions were completed the barges moved to the vicinity of Edmargo and Nago Islands and the bodies were thrown overboard. SUZUKI then reported to his Headquarters that the executions had been carried out, and in due course MORI so reported to TAMURA and YOSHINO.
TAMURA pleaded operational necessity in his defence. Each of the others accused pleaded that they were acting in obedience to the orders of a superior officer.
- Sentence and Date 17/12/1947
- Rear Adm TAMURA Ryukichi - Death by hanging
Comd YOSHINO Shozo - 15 years imprisonment
Lt Comd MORI Kyoji - 20 years imprisonment
Lt MOCHIZUKI Hichitaro - 7 years imprisonment
Lt SUZUKI Shozo - 12 years imprisonment
CPO HORIGUCHI Yoshio - 4 years imprisonment
Online edition created by J & J Evans, August 2002