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Balalae Island Gunners

Report on alleged war crimes by Japaneseof Osaki unit in Balalae Island November 1942 to September 1943

by NX.70429 Maj. E C Millikin B Sqn 2/4 Aust. Armd. Regt.

Acting on instructions from HQ 11 Div I carried out in the RABAUL area an investigation into the alleged war Crimes on Balalae Is. During the period Nov '42 to Sep '43.

Balalae is pear-shaped with an area of approx. one square mile and approx 2000 yds East & West and 1900 yds North & South. An area approx 600yds square, where the white POWs and Chinese were quartered, was "Out of Bounds" to the majority of the Japanese and to all Koreans unless they were there on duty.

OSAKI Unit (18 Naval Construction Unit) during the period under review was approx. 800 strong and while on this island suffered fairly heavily from Allied bombing. In Sep '43 the Unit was moved to KAVIESO ( New Ireland) and built up to 1200 strong. At this period the commander LT. COMD. OSAKI returned to Japan. His further movements are unknown.

In all 324 Japanese Naval personnel and 2 Koreans of OSAKI Unit who had been on Balalae. during the period under review were located in the R area. Of these 108 Japs, including all the Officers and Petty Officers also the 2 Koreans were interrogated

The Japanese all claimed to know very little about the white POWs and in my opinion, must know a lot more than they are prepared to admit. Not one man interrogated would admit having come into actual contact with the POWs. In view of the wall of silence raised by these Japanese it would appear they have either been ordered not to say or admit to knowing anything or else they have decided upon this course by themselves.

On the other hand the 2 Koreans were prepared to tell all that they knew. Their evidence was mostly hearsay, being mainly overheard from groups of Japanese discussing these matters. I consider that the story told by these two men is, as far as it is possible to obtain, the true story of what happened.

A Japanese interpreter HIGAKI of No. 5 Compound RABAUL gave evidence about a party of 600 British Artillerymen from Singapore who left there by ship during Oct '42 arriving RABAUL 6 Nov '42. One man died on the voyage. The party staged at KOKOPO (RABAUL) for about one week. 82 men were left here as too weak to continue their journey. This party was later put under the care of HIGAKI as he could speak English. These men, apart from 3 reasonably fit men left as cook and medical orderlies, were suffering from beriberi, malaria and other sicknesses. On 18 March '43 the numbers were down to 48 - HIGAKI took over at this stage. On Japanese surrender 18 men survived. HIGAKI states that the men told him that after a stay of one week at KOKOPO the 517 fit men were put on a ship and departed for an unknown destination. He was unable, despite repeated inquiries, to find out anything about their fate.

This party of 517 appears to be the same one referred to in HQ First Aust. Army letter A27974 of 25 Jan '46 addressed to 23Bde, the differences being that the letter refers to a party of 512 leaving New Britain in Mar '43 by boat. HIGAKI is quite definite about the number 517 and the date approx. one week after 6 Nov '42.

There is no doubt that a large number of the POWs were killed by Allied bombing, mainly as a result of the Japanese refusing to let them take shelter in slit trenches or air raid shelters. From evidence given by the Koreans, also that taken in other areas, it seems certain that the remaining POWs round about June '43 were killed and buried. The reason for this is not clear, the evidence pointing to :-

(a) The POWs were of no further use due to being too weak for further work or else their task was finished.

(b) The Japanese feared an invasion by the Allies and did not wish the POWs to be discovered.

The method of killing is not clear, although evidence gathered in other areas is all to the point that at a certain time the POWs remaining were killed. In the absence of an eyewitness the best evidence will be a complete report on the exhumation of the bodies.

In view of the evidence gathered by me I am of the opinion that the only person who can be held responsible is the commander of the unit Lt Comd OZAKI.

Major E C Milliken NX.70429

10 March 1946

The above is a report on an investigation carried out by the Australian Army.

Following liberation of Ballale, 436 bodies were exhumed together with artefacts proving these men were the missing artillerymen who had sailed from Rabaul to an unknown destination. None of these could be personally identified and these bodies were eventually re-interred in individual graves at the Bomama War Cemetery in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.