Borneo’s Japanese War Criminals
Col. Suga, Commander all prisoner-of-war (POW) & civilian internment camps, Borneo.
Capt. Susumi Hoshijima Commander, Sandakan for two and half years
Arriving at the signing of Japan’s surrender on 10 Sept 1945. He was found guilty at the War Trials and sentenced to hang. Born in1892, Baba Masao was hung at Rabaul on 7 Aug 1947 aged 55 years.
‘Baba was born in Kumamoto prefecture, as the son of Lieutenant Baba Masayuki, a career officer in the Imperial Japanese Army, and his wife. He attended military preparatory schools from childhood, starting with the Army Cadet School in Hiroshima, whose curriculum was based on Prussian models. He graduated from the 24th class of Imperial Japanese Army Academy in December 1912, specialising in cavalry. As a second lieutenant, he was assigned to the IJA 5th Cavalry Regiment.
Baba studied as part of the 33rd class of the Army War College, graduating in November 1921. He remained in the cavalry throughout his career, and was attached to the Inspectorate of Cavalry from 1933-1935, where he served as an instructor at the cavalry school. In 1935, Baba was promoted to colonel and subsequently given command of the IJA 2nd Cavalry Regiment from 1935 to 1938.
In July 1938, Baba was promoted to major general, and served as commanding officer of the IJA 3rd Cavalry Brigade to 1939. From 1939 to 1940, he served as a staff officer with the Inspectorate of Cavalry. He became the commander-in-chief of all cavalry operations from 2 December 1940 to 1 October 1941. During the Second Sino-Japanese war, he was assigned to Inner Mongolia to develop cavalry operations. In August 1941, Baba was promoted to lieutenant general.
With the start of World War II, Baba was assigned command of the IJA 53rd Division, a post which he held to 25 September 1943, when he was appointed commander of the IJA 4th Division in Sumatra. He subsequently became commander in chief of the IJA 37th Army based in Borneo.
While in Borneo, Baba organised anti-guerrilla operation in the interior of the island. He was also military governor of Sabah from 26 December 1944 until 10 September 1945.
The Allied reconquest of Borneo began on 1 May 1945 with the landing of the Australian Army at Tarakan, and with landings at Brunei and Labuan on 10 June. Japanese forces surrendered on 9 September, with General Baba formally turning over his sword to Major General George Wootten of the Australian 9th Division at Labuan on 10 September.
Baba was officially discharged from the Imperial Japanese Army in April 1946.’
‘Baba was arrested in January 1947 on suspicion of involvement in war crimes and brought to Rabaul for trial. Baba was charged with command responsibility for the Sandakan Death Marches, during which over 2,200 Australian prisoners of war perished. Evidence was presented at the trial that Baba was aware of the weakened condition of the prisoners, yet gave direct orders for the second march.’
Below: Baba’s Flight from Borneo to Labuan.
Baba was arrested in January 1947 on suspicion of involvement in war crimes and brought to Rabaul for trial. He was charged with command responsibility for the Sandakan Death Marches, during which over 2,200 Australian prisoners of war perished.
Evidence was presented at the trial that Baba was aware of the weakened condition of the prisoners, yet gave direct orders for the second march. The trial began on 28 May 1947 and was concluded eight days later on 5 June 1947 with a death sentence. Baba was executed by hanging on 7 August 1947.
The verdict off guilty was returned after a deliberation of 12 minutes and the sentence announced a recess of 2 minutes.
The Suicide Of Colonel Suga
Commander of all prisoner-of-war (POW) & civilian internment camps in Borneo.
Suga died by suicide aged 59 years five days after being taken prisoner by Australian forces in
The person who was responsible of all POWs and civilian internment camps in Borneo during WWII was Lieutenant-Colonel Tatsuji Suga.
An English lecturer before the war Suga volunteered as prison camp commander after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.
There were three interment camps in Borneo – Batu Lintang (Kuching), Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. Besides these, there was a brief internment camp on Labuan island.
Suga was based at Batu Lintang and was rarely seen at other camps.
Unlike other Japanese soldiers such as Hoshijima, Suga was remembered by some internees to be kind. One Australian civilian internee Rosemary Beatty recalled that Suga would take the children to his residence and serve them coffee and fruits. Sometimes he even gave the children sweets.
Whenever Suga was away from Batu Lintang camp, the brutality by the guards increased. It is unknown if it is due to Suga’s instruction or his men took advantage to abuse the prisoners during his absence.
Believed to be a Catholic Suga attended masses at the camp during the war. On Aug 24, Suga himself officially announced to the prisoners at Batu Lintang that Japan had surrendered.
He was heartbroken as he believed that his entire family had been killed in the bombing of Hiroshima.
When the Japanese officially surrendered in Kuching on board HMAS Kapunda on Sept 11, 1945, he was there to attend. Later that day, Suga officially surrendered himself at Batu Lintang Camp.
Together with several of his officers, he was flown to Labuan to await for their trials as war criminals.
Suga was found dead in the morning of Sept 16, 1945. He reportedly committed suicide by stabbing his throat with a table knife. He was also found with a water bottle half-filled with sand. While some reports suggested he struck his own head using the bottle before stabbing himself, other stated that he had help in his suicide.
It is not known whether Suga had knowledge of the Sandakan-Ranau Marches. He died without knowing his wife and three of his children survived the Hiroshima bombing.
The following information is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatsuji_Suga
‘Suga was born in Hiroshima, the first son in his family. Although the family held Buddhist beliefs, his younger brother Giichi converted to Christianity and became a Protestant missionary: he worked at churches in Manchuria, Vancouver Island, and Chicago and became the headmaster of YMCA in Tokyo. As a youngster, Suga attended the services at the Alliance Church of Hiroshima which was started by a Danish priest.
Hudson Southwell, an Australian missionary interned in Borneo, later wrote: “During our time in the internment camp, Colonel Suga had often come into the church services in the women’s section and sat near the back. Once he told Winsome [Southwell’s wife] directly, ‘I’m a Christian.’ This was a startling admission for a Japanese officer to make to a prisoner during wartime.”
Suga graduated from Meido Middle School in Hiroshima and then the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in Tokyo, as a Second Lieutenant. At around this time he married a woman with the given name Teru; they were to have two sons and four daughters. Suga was an affectionate father and ensured that all of his children went to university, at a time when only five per cent of Japanese went beyond the fifth or sixth grade. He was an expert horseman and a keen practitioner of kendo.
Toward the end of World War I (during which Japan was an Allied power), Suga served in Siberia, Korea, Manchuria and China. In 1924, he took early retirement as a Major, and decided to pursue a career teaching English. He sailed to the United States, leaving his family in Japan, supported by his pension.
Suga studied to become a certified teacher of English as a second language, at the University of Washington in Seattle. He supported himself by taking a series of jobs, such as dish-washing, and by fishing. He was interviewed in Seattle in 1924 by William Carlson Smith as part of Smith’s research on race relations, later used for his book Americans in the Making, which was published in 1939.
Suga taught English as a lecturer at the Hiroshima High School of Technology (now the Department of Technology, Hiroshima University), Japan, before he was called back to active service in 1937, to serve in the Second Sino-Japanese War. He became ill with diabetes and retired again in October 1941. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Suga volunteered for service as a prison camp commander on an advice of his younger brother, believing that his language skills would prove useful. He was appointed commander of all POW and internment camps in Borneo.’
Borneo. 1945. Informal portrait of Kwanaka Yoshiro, batman to Colonel (Col) T Suga, Japanese Imperial Army, sitting in the back of a car after being taken prisoner. Kwanaka Yoshiro assisted Col Suga commit suicide by hitting him on the head with his sand filled water bottle after Col Suga slit his throat with a knife. Note the hospital ship in the background. (Donor H Donaldson)
Capt. Susumi Hoshijima
The Japanese who was directly responsible for so many deaths was the commander of Sandakan Camp from Sep 1942 to May 1945.
Captain Athol Moffitt, the prosecutor at the War Trials compared Hoshijima to the Beast of Belsen.
Military engineer Hoshijima was tasked to lead the construction of a military airstrip at Sandakan with POW forced labour.
He was a graduate of Osaka University, starting his military career managing the Sandakan camp as a lieutenant. By the end of the war, he was promoted to captain. He stood a towering 1.8m tall (6ft) and was described as having a very athletic body.
His trial which focused on the conditions at Sandakan Camp rather then the Marches, took place between Jan 8 and 20, 1946 at Labuan.
The four charges were:
‘authorising and permitting POWs in his charge to be closely confined under inhuman conditions and beaten’
‘authorising and permitting POWs in his charge to be tortured and beaten by soldiers under his command’
‘failing to provide adequate and proper medical care and food for the POWs under his charge’
‘authorising and permitting underfed and ill POWs in his charge to be used for heavy manual labour and other labour’
On 27 Feb 1946 Hoshijima was found guilty of all four charges against him. He did not have very much time to ponder on the end of his life and his punishment!
Moffitt wanted the worst punishment for Hoshijima. He stated “Death by the ignominy of hanging is too good for this barbarian, ironically self-termed ‘cultured’.”
It was Hoshijima who authorised the use of the cage as punishment – permitting confinement of prisoners under inhumane conditions, and authorising his subordinates to beat them.
“Three bamboo cages had been built in early 1943, to be used in the punishment of both POWs and IJA (Imperial Japanese Army) soldiers who broke camp regulations. The cages were designed so that a person inside could not lie down or properly stand up. These cages were not unique to Sandakan; records show they were relatively widespread in POW camps across Asia and the Pacific.”
POWs had no protection against the elements, mosquitoes and Japanese excessive brutality as guards walked past.
One POW died in the cage and others died after being released.
According to Japanese regulations, each POW camp was required to have at least one doctor on site. However, the Sandakan POW Camp was established as a branch of the larger Batu Lintang (Kuching) camp. Sandakan had only visits ever from Kuching doctors. Two doctors from Kuching who came without medical equipment and supplies.
Dr Yamamota visited in Oct 1944 and Feb 1945 when he brought with him large amounts of Quinine and atabrine antimalarial drug. We know these were never made available to POWs.
Susuimi Hoshijima Reduces The Food Supply In Sandakan POW Camp.
With the sudden reduction in work for POWs because Allied air raids closed the Sandakan Airstrip in Dec 1944 Hoshijima reduced the already meagre rations to 140-200 grams per man daily.
The death rate of POWs who were already sick from tropical illnesses, physical abuse and serious malnourishment began to accelerate with this additional starvation. In January 1945 Hoshijima ordered the POWs receive no further rations whatsoever. The POWs were doomed to terrible deaths.
Shocking Find Inside Home Of Susumi Hoshijima
While the POWs of Sandakan Camp slowly died due to hunger and sickness, Yuki Tanaka’s book in ‘Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II’ revealed a shocking truth.
He stated, “By March 1945 the Japanese had stockpiled huge quantities of food and medical supplies in preparation for the expected Allied invasion. Presumably these stockpiles were intended only for Japanese personnel. The storage room beneath Commandant Hoshijima’s house contained more than 90 metric tonnes of rice and 160,000 quinine tablets. After the war, Allied forces found other stockpiles in the Sandakan area containing more than 786,000 quinine tablets, 19,600 Vitamin A and D tablets, large numbers of Vitamin B and C tablets, and a great deal of medical and surgical equipment. Nothing from these stockpiles was supplied to POWs, nor would the camp command have been permitted to do this even had they wished to.”
Tanaka added that the responsibility for the many POWs deaths from malnutrition and illness must lie in large part with the higher command of the Borneo Garrison and Lieutenant General Yamawaki Masataka and Major General Manaki Takanobu in particular, who seemed to have made the decisions deliberately to weaken POWs to death or close to it.
Susumi Hoshijima’s Trial
Whether the order to reduce the food supply came from Hoshijima or his superiors, the fact remained Hoshijima was directly responsible for the deaths and brutality against POWs in Sandakan camp.
After the war, Hoshijima was charged with ‘authorising and permitting POWs in his charge to be closely confined under in human conditions and beaten’, ‘authorising and permitting POWs in his charge to be tortured and beaten by soldiers under his command’, ‘failing to provide adequate and proper medical care and food for the POWs under his charge’ and ‘authorising and permitting underfed and ill POWs in his charge to be used for heavy manual labour and other labour’.
Captain Takakuwa and his second-in-charge Watanabe Genzo were found guilty of causing the murders of POWs and were hanged and shot on Apr 6, 1946 and Mar 16, 1946 respectively. You can read the war trials transcripts at AWM.
Hoshijima continued issuing statements declaring his innocence and appealing for clemency. He was allowed to write farewell letters to his family – sending 10 – more than other prisoners. His requests to send a lock of hair and toenail paring are refused.
What was going through this man’s mind at this point?
It is clear he did not feel any responsibility or guilt.
As he mounted the gallows Hoshijima shouted ‘Long live the Emperor’. The waiting provost tried to silence him and it is believed Hoshijima bit his hand. The provost calmly said
‘”This is for the Aussies you killed at Sandakan”.
Above: LABUAN, BORNEO. January 1946. IN THE CUSTODY OF A MILITARY POLICEMAN, CAPTAIN SUSIMI HOSHIJIMA, JAPANESE COMMANDANT OF THE PRISONER OF WAR CAMP AT SANDAKAN, BORNEO, ABOUT TO ENTER THE WAR ROOM AT HEADQUARTERS 9TH DIVISION, DURING HIS TRIAL AS A WAR CRIMINAL. THE CHARGES AGAINST HIM ARISE OUT OF HIS CONDUCT OF THE POW CAMP, AND HIS CULPABILITY IN THE INFAMOUS RANAU “DEATH MARCHES”.
Above: SANDAKAN, NORTH BORNEO 26 OCT 1945. IDENTIFICATION PHOTOGRAPH OF SUSPECTED JAPANESE WAR CRIMINALS. LEFT TO RIGHT: CAPTAIN NAKATA SHINICHI; WARRANT OFFICER KOSAKA SHIGEO; SERGEANT MAJOR EHARA KESAO; AND SERGEANT MAJOR MATSUI SHINTARO
SERGEANT MAMO, A US ARMY NISEI MEMBER OF THE ALLIED TRANSLATOR AND INTERPRETER SERVICE ATTACHED TO 9TH DIVISION, INTERROGATING SERGEANT MAJOR MATSUI SHINTARO OF THE JAPANESE KENPEITAI (MILITARY POLICE).
Above: SANDAKAN, NORTH BORNEO 26 OCT 1945 IDENTIFICATION PHOTOGRAPH OF SUSPECTED JAPANESE WAR CRIMINALS. L-R CORPORAL KAZI UNOKICHI, AND PRIVATE 1ST CLASS NAKURA TAKESHI
Above: SANDAKAN, NORTH BORNEO 1945-10-26. IDENTIFICATION PHOTOGRAPH OF SUSPECTED JAPANESE WAR CRIMINALS.
L-R: KONO KINZIBURO AND MIZOUCHI SHIGENIBO