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Japanese War Crimes in the Pacific: Australia's investigations and prosecutions

8 The Australian war criminals compounds


From 1945 to 1953, a number of Australian-run 'war criminals compounds' were set up in locations across South-East Asia.334 Many of the early 'war criminals compounds' in the immediate post–World War II period were temporary and the title somewhat of a misnomer: most held merely Japanese prisoners of war, disarmed Japanese personnel awaiting repatriation, Japanese war crimes witnesses or informants or suspects awaiting trial. For instance, the Australian compound at Balikpapan, Borneo was commonly referred to as a 'War Criminals Compound', even though it only held Japanese 'awaiting trial' and no trials ever took place at Balikpapan.

Apart from the temporary compounds, there were two permanent Australian War Criminals Compounds located at Rabaul from 1945 to 1949 and at Manus Island from 1949 to 1953 in which a mixture of suspected and convicted war criminals were held, albeit usually carefully separated from each other.

The imprisonment of war criminals at Rabaul and on Manus Island

The pressing question of what Australia should do with war criminals sentenced to terms of imprisonment (as opposed to those sentenced to death) was discussed at length among various Commonwealth Government departments and the Army from late 1945 onwards. Indecision was the primary reason that the initial war criminals compound was at Rabaul, as most Japanese personnel had been gradually concentrated there after the surrender.335

The Rabaul compound was administered first by the Army's 11 Australian Division, then Headquarters 8 Military District (HQ 8 MD) from 23 March 1946, when it took control of the Japanese camps in the Rabaul area, and lastly by Headquarters Northern Command. Under HQ 8 MD, the operational order of battle referred to the war criminals compound as the War Criminals Military Prison Rabaul,336 although the compound itself was a part of Japanese Labour Camp No. 4, which held disarmed Japanese. As such, the Rabaul compound likely operated according to the 'Orders for Aust Camp Comds [Commanders]', which were issued by 8 MD in respect of Japanese group and labour camps in the Rabaul area in April 1946.337

The commandant of the Rabaul compound was Major TW Upson, who had been seconded from the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) to the Royal Papuan Constabulary and then attached to HQ 8 MD, and whose second-in-command was Major
RH Hicks. While the staff of the Rabaul compound were from the Army, the war criminals were guarded by about 130 native police constabulary detached from the New Guinea Police Force.338 The Army eventually approved a formal war establishment for 1 Australian War Criminals Compound at Rabaul in October 1947.339 Regrettably, it is difficult to locate complete rosters of personnel, either before or after the raising of the war establishment, for the Rabaul compound.340 The war criminals themselves were led by a camp leader, an assistant camp leader and hut leaders, with ballots determining who among the war criminals served in these positions over time.341

The Rabaul compound was visited by Mr Cyril Chambers, the acting Minister for External Territories, in January 1949. Chambers reported that his inspection of the compound had 'revealed that the grounds were in excellent condition, gardens and lawns having been laid out and all buildings inspected were spotlessly clean and tidy'. Major Upson told Mr Chambers that discipline was 'excellent' and that, 'generally speaking, the prisoners were good workers'.342 Several plans to build a proper military prison in Rabaul were debated in 1945–47 but appear to never have come to fruition.343 Similarly, a long-debated plan to transfer responsibility for the Rabaul compound from the Army to the Civil Administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea never eventuated.344

Beginning in February 1949, the war criminals were transferred from Rabaul to a new compound on Manus Island, where they were to serve as a labour force. The Manus Island War Criminals Compound was initially still under the Army's HQ Northern Command and still commanded by Major Upson. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) assumed command of the compound in March 1950, renaming it the 'RAN War Criminal Compound Manus'.345 The Naval commandants of the Manus compound were, in order, Lt Cdr AI Chapman, Lt Cdr PH Baile and Lt Cdr EG Henry. The camp staff were on the books of HMAS Seeadler and, later, HMAS Tarangau.346 In other respects, the Manus compound operated as a separate Naval establishment, under the direct control of the Naval Officer in Charge, New Guinea and later the Naval Officer in Charge, North Eastern Area. In 1952, the Navy estimated that it would be 'economical' until 1957 to retain the war criminals on Manus, given the 'usefulness' of their labour.347

Image 27: Scale of rations and commodities set out in the War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations 1951 (Cth).

Image 27: Scale of rations and commodities set out in the War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations 1951 (Cth).
Enlarge image - View image gallery

The operation of the compounds

While the War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations pursuant to the War Crimes Act 1945 were not issued until February 1951,348 both the Rabaul and Manus Island compounds operated under various standing orders, memorandums, written instructions and practices. For example, the standing orders for the Manus compound in February 1951 comprised 37 orders, including the instruction that staff and guards were to treat the war criminals 'with kindness and humanity' but 'shall firmly maintain order and discipline and shall enforce complete obedience to these regulations and to all orders and instructions issued thereunder'.349 Life was extremely regulated for the war criminals. When the Manus compound wanted to issue toilet paper to the war criminals in August 1949, for instance, it applied to Army Headquarters in Melbourne for permission to include toilet paper on the ration scale.350 The request was passed to the Department of the Navy, which was by then responsible for supporting the compound. More than two months later approval was granted for 10.5 rolls of toilet paper to be issued per 100 men per seven days.351 Regrettably, the documents do not offer any insight into what materials the war criminals had been using up to that point.

There were occasional reports in the Australian press that the war criminals were being treated too well in Australian compounds. One press correspondent, reporting on the Rabaul compound on 19 December 1945, for example, 'saw signs of the prisoners being treated too easily'. He confided: 'We do not want to "beat them up", because that would be sinking to their standards. … But what I saw makes me feel that we may go too far the other way'.352 The theme of unwarranted leniency was one that would periodically appear in the Australian press throughout the life of the Rabaul and Manus Island compounds, and later about Sugamo Prison in Tokyo.

For their part, the war criminals quite naturally found plenty to complain about while held in the compounds, including the injustice of their trials and sentences, the climate, the food, the working hours and duties, their health and the monotony of incarceration.353 The war criminals also occasionally complained about their treatment by Australian military personnel or the native guards,354 although not about Major Upson, who was even fondly thanked by war criminals who had been condemned to death.355

It was after the war criminals were repatriated, however, that stronger claims about poor conditions and ill-treatment surfaced. This might have been expected, given that the war criminals were subject to censorship of their outgoing mail. However, many of the post-repatriation claims make generalisations and are clearly exaggerated, if not untrue. The Tokyo Nichi Nichi newspaper, for example, published a series of 10 articles in June 1953 based on the 'memoirs' of a repatriated war criminal, which give a very negative account of what it was like to be imprisoned in the Morotai, Rabaul and Manus Island compounds, including that the Rabaul compound was a 'living hell'.356 Forwarding these articles to Australia, the Australian Embassy in Japan explained that the Nichi Nichi was not unlike Sydney's Daily Mirror in being 'prone to sensationalism' and 'not particularly concerned with the accuracy of its reporting', although it (regrettably) had 'quite a large circulation'.357

Sensational claims by repatriated war criminals of being arbitrarily imprisoned and suffering through years of appalling ill-treatment fitted well with certain views in Japan about the postwar Allied war crimes trials being simply victors' justice. For example, the Japanese House of Representatives Special Committee for the Repatriation of Japanese Nationals Abroad and Relief of Bereaved Families heard evidence from three repatriated war criminals in June 1953. While listening to their accounts of ill-treatment, a committee member declared that the war criminals on Manus had been imprisoned 'as a result of false charges' and that they were 'suffering … in spite of their innocence'.358 The Australian Embassy delivered a polite refutation to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the 'misleading picture' voiced in the hearings and the issue was also discussed with a Foreign Ministry official.359

There was no formal system of parole on Manus, as it was thought that the compound's 'geographical position' on the island made it 'impracticable'.360 However, the regulations allowed for a system of graduated remission of sentence for good conduct and industry.361 For example, for a war criminal sentenced to life imprisonment, the Naval Board could, on the recommendation of the officer-in-charge of the compound, grant a remission of sentence of the unserved remainder of the sentence once 30 years of the sentence had been served.362

Table 4: Remissions for good conduct and industry under the War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations 1951(Cth)

Period of Sentence of Imprisonment

Period of Sentence that must expire before remission available

Remitted Period

Period of less than 2 years

Seven-eighths of sentence

Remaining unserved period of sentence

Period of 2 years but less than 5 years

Five-sixths of sentence

Remaining unserved period of sentence

Period exceeding 5 years

Three-fourths of sentence

Remaining unserved period of sentence


30 years of sentence

Remaining unserved period of sentence

There were no riots (such as occurred at Cowra prisoner-of-war camp in New South Wales in August 1944) and no escapes from either the Rabaul or Manus Island compounds. However, the war criminals committed a wide variety of prison offences, which saw them subjected to disciplinary action.363 Regulation 24 of the War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations 1951 listed 35 acts or omissions by war criminals that consisted of an offence that might be punishable, with the second-to-last being a rather handy catchall offence of 'offends in any way against the good order and discipline of the compound'.364 Many of the offences that were committed were relatively minor, including:

  • offences in relation to work, such as for being absent from work without permission, for refusing to work, for arguing when ordered to work, for feigning infirmity to avoid work, for being idle at work or for leaving work without permission
  • offences in relation to attitude and conduct, such as for disobeying a lawful order or for behaving in a disrespectful, insubordinate or insulting manner towards a guard or for fighting or quarrelling with other war criminals
  • offences in relation to unlawful possession of goods that were either prohibited outright or had not been lawfully issued or were possessed in excess of the amount permitted.
Image 28: Translation of Imamura's note indicating he was intending to commit suicide.

Image 28: Translation of Imamura's note indicating he was intending to commit suicide.
NAA: MP375/18, A
Enlarge image - View image gallery

There was, however, one serious offence committed in the Manus compound: the murder of war criminal Ogata Sakari by fellow war criminal Yasusaka Masaji on 4 March 1949. From the facts, the murder appears to have been the outcome of ongoing antagonism between the pair and to have been, essentially, an accidental killing. Yasusaka was tried by the Supreme Court of the Territory of Papua-New Guinea for wilful murder of Ogata but was convicted of murder. He was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, which was suspended until the expiration of his sentences of imprisonment for war crimes.365

A number of accused or convicted war criminals died in Australian custody in the compounds. For example, five war criminals were killed in accidents while on working parties, all of them from the Rabaul compound.366 Several war criminals also attempted or were successful at committing suicide in the compounds. Army courts of inquiry were held into the attempted suicide of General Imamura Hitoshi and into the suicide of Lieutenant General Adachi Hatazō, both of which found no fault on the part of the compound or its staff and guards.367

Image 29: Sugamo Prison, Papers of James K. Ken Baker, Sugamo Prison Detachment, MacArthur Memorial (Norfolk VA)

Image 29: Sugamo Prison, Papers of James K. Ken Baker, Sugamo Prison Detachment, MacArthur Memorial (Norfolk VA)
RG15, Box 62, Folder 7, reproduced with the permission of the MacArthur Memorial.
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The closing of the Manus Island Compound

As the war criminals served out their sentences, they were repatriated to Japan, although some whose sentences had not been fully served were repatriated to Japan for medical reasons and were then held in Sugamo Prison.

One of these medical repatriates, Toyooka Eijirō, did escape from the Japanese hospital where he was being treated in October 1949 and, despite apparently vigorous attempts by the Japanese police to locate him, was never caught.368 His fate remains unknown. As discussed in Chapter 10, all remaining war criminals serving their imprisonment in the Manus compound were repatriated to Japan and the compound itself was closed on 31 July 1953. An article in the Sydney Sunday Herald reported in August 1953 that the war criminals on Manus had been 'well-nigh indispensable as a labour force', as they 'willing and diligent had almost an essential role in Australia's slow, difficult rebuilding of the Manus base'.369

Overview of the records


While there are a considerable number of records held in relation to the compounds (the majority being held in Melbourne), the files are spread across a number of series created by various agencies and it can be difficult to locate specific information about compound personnel, the war criminals individually or the management of the compounds. There is also a definite disparity between extant records for the Rabaul and Manus compounds. Considerably more detailed information is available about the day-to-day running of the Manus compound, particularly after it was taken over by the Navy.

Films, sound recordings and photographs

Unfortunately, there are very limited film or sound records or photographs of the compounds, probably due to the technology of the period and the challenging conditions and poor climate. The compound regulations would have prevented the war criminals from creating their own. The known films, held at the Australian War Memorial, are:

  • 1 minute 43 seconds of silent black-and-white film footage from Rabaul in September 1945, which shows Japanese prisoners building a compound to house war criminals.370
  • 3 minutes 23 seconds of silent black-and-white film footage from the No. 5 compound at Balikpapan in November 1945, showing suspected war criminals.371
  • 5 minutes 10 seconds of silent black-and-white film footage from the Morotai compound in October 1945, where suspected war criminals were held, which shows the camp, inmates performing labour, including working in the vegetable garden, and interrogations being conducted.372

Some official photographs were taken of the compounds, of working parties and also of the individual war criminals themselves for identification purposes. Military personnel and civilians occasionally took unofficial photographs for their own collections.373 Greatly hampering the photographic record, the Army and Navy both took active steps to keep press photographers away from Manus Island, right up until 1953 when the war criminals were being repatriated.  

This chapter sorts records into several sections:

  • nominal rolls and registers of war criminals
  • personal dossiers and photographs of convicted war criminals
  • files relating to the so-called 'war criminal compounds' other than Rabaul and Manus374
  • files relating only to Rabaul
  • mixed Rabaul/Manus files which were carried over between the compounds
  • files relating only to Manus Island
  • photographs of the compounds.

Files and artefacts relating to various compounds held at the Australian War Memorial are listed separately at the end.


334 See also Narrelle Morris, 'The Australian War Criminals Compounds at Rabaul and on Manus Island, 1945–53', in Georgina Fitzpatrick, Timothy McCormack and Narrelle Morris (eds), Australia's War Crimes Trials 1945–51, Leiden: Brill Nijhoff, 2016, pp. 689–731.

335 For the policy debates, see, for example, NAA: MP927/1, A336/1/19.

336 See, for example, Eight Military District, Operational Order of Battle as at 1 June 1946, AWM: AWM52, 1/7/47/8.

337 'Orders for Aust Camp Comds', Appendix 'B' to 'Reorganisation and Control of Japanese Camps', 8 MD GS Instruction No. 30, 9 April 1946, AWM: AWM52, 1/7/47/5.

338 ibid.

339 The Army establishment for the 1 Aust War Criminals Compound (Rabaul), dated October 1947, can be found in NAA: A10857, III/106 and NAA: MP742/1, 96/1/3305. For a very brief overview of the 1 Australian War Criminals Compound, written at the time, see 'Report on the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internees at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, 1939– 51', part V, chapter 9, NAA: A7711, VOLUME 1.

340 For example, see the lists held in NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/1434; and MP375/14, WC10.

341 See 'Outline of the History of the Compound Liaison', undated, NAA: MP375/13, WCC2/21.

342 See 'Extract from page 98/99 of Report on Visit to Papua-New Guinea by Acting Minister for External Territories (The Honourable Cyril Chambers) 11th–22nd January, 1949' in NAA: A518, C16/2/6.

343 See, for example, the First Army's proposal entitled 'Jap PW – War Criminals – Place of Imprisonment' and attached 'Military Prison for 500 Jap War Criminals at Rabaul', 14 December 1945, AWM: AWM54, 327/30/2. See also NAA: MP742/1, 96/1/2903. See also the plans drawn up by the Department of Works and Housing for a 'Prison for War Criminals' in October 1946, NAA: A518, C16/2/6.

344 For correspondence on this plan, see NAA: A518, C16/2/6.

345 This name is, of course, incorrect, given that the compound contained more than one 'war criminal'.

346 For a nominal roll of staff and their functions under Chapman's command, see NAA: MP375/18, G.

347 Letter from TJ Hawkins, Secretary, Department of the Navy to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, stamped 7 July 1952, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 3.

348 War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations 1951(Cth), Statutory Rules 1951, no. 11, made under the War Crimes Act 1945 (Cth) on 16 February 1951 and notified in Gazette on 22 February 1951. A minor amendment was made to the regulations later that year: see War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations (Amendment) 1951 (Cth), Statutory Rules 1951, no. 116, made under the War Crimes Act 1945 (Cth) on 27 September 1951 and notified in Gazette on 22 February 1951. The regulations 'as made' in 1951 are available in full on the Federal Register of Legislation:

349 'Royal Australian Navy, Camp and Compound Standing Orders. War Criminals Compound. Manus', issued by Lt Cdr AI Chapman, OC, War Criminals Compound, Manus Island, 28 February 1951, NAA: MP375/13, WCC1/2.

350 See Letter from Adm Comd, 1 Aust War Criminals Compound, Manus Island to Army Headquarters, Melbourne, 9 August 1949, NAA: MP375/13, WCC2/5.

351 Letters from the Director of Maintenance, Australian Military Forces, Military Board, Quartermaster-General to 1 Aust War Criminals Compound, Manus Island, 26 August 1949 and 31 October 1949, NAA: MP375/13, WCC2/5.

352 See, for example, HA Standish, 'How Beaten Japanese Fare Under Australians', Sydney Morning Herald,
19 December 1945, p. 2.

353 See, for example, General Imamura Hitoshi's description of the war criminals' 'monotonous life' on the 'isolated island' of Manus in a letter to the International Red Cross Society, 18 July 1950, NAA: MP375/13, WCC2/4.

354 The extant records show a discernible trend of Japanese complaints regarding ill-treatment in the initial weeks and months after being taken into Australian custody in late 1945 and early 1946, when policies and practices regarding Japanese prisoners were still being formulated, anti-Japanese feelings were quite rampant; and there certainly seems to have been some 'bad apples' among compound staff or working party guards who had not yet been identified and weeded out. While the overall complaints by civilian interpreter Ikeuchi Masakiyo and Lt Cdr Suzuki Naoomi regarding the Morotai compound, for instance, were not upheld, it seems clear that a degree of rough treatment was meted out to them and others: see AWM: AWM54, 779/2/13, 779/5/3 and 1010/9/71. While many complaints did centre on the initial period in custody, that is not to say that ill-treatment did not occur at a later stage in the Rabaul and Manus compounds. See, for example, Lt Katayama Hideo's extensive account of ill-treatment at the Rabaul compound in 1946 to early 1947, which he attributed to compound staff who disregarded the commandant's policies in order to commit 'great injustices'. He reported that after those staff were relieved of their posts in early 1947, however, the compound was 'now a model prison': AWM: AWM114, 423/10/36.

355 For a number of letters of thanks to Upson, see NAA: MP375/19, 2. The war criminals appeared unaware that Upson, in addition to being the compound commandant, also functioned as the hangman.

356 See the English translation of the 'Memoirs of a Manus Island War Criminal' articles in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 8.

357 Memorandum from RJ Percival, Third Secretary, Australian Embassy, Tokyo to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 26 June 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 8.

358 See the English transcript of Minutes of the Special Committee for the Repatriation of Japanese Nationals Abroad & Relief of Bereaved Families, House of Representatives, 17 June 1953, pp. 4, 8, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 8.

359 Australian Embassy, Japan, Note Verbale, no. 133, 22 July 1953; and  Memorandum from AB Jamieson, First Secretary, Australian Embassy to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 23 July 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 8.

360 Letter from TJ Hawkins, Secretary, Department of the Navy to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, [indistinct] July 1950, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 2.

361 War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations 1951(Cth), reg 41.

362 ibid, reg 41(5). In reality, no war criminal sentenced to life imprisonment served 30 years, as all war criminals were released in 1957. The absolute longest sentence served was 12 years.   

363 For the official register of charges against the war criminals in relation to both compounds for the period December 1948 to May 1954, see NAA: MP375/2 VOLUME 1 and 2. It is unclear what system was in use prior to December 1948. For the personnel files of the war criminals at Manus, which also include information about offences and punishment, see NAA: MP375/15.

364 War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations 1951 (Cth) reg 24(ah).

365 For a full transcript of the murder trial proceedings and other correspondence relating to Yasusaka, see NAA: A518, BR836/3.  See also a 1956 letter describing the trial and sentencing by the trial judge, Chief Justice Sir Beaumont Phillips, in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 16. Yasusaka is discussed further in
Chapter 10, as his civilian sentence for murder complicated his parole in 1956.

366 See letter from Mr TJ Hawkins, Secretary, Department of the Navy to the Secretary, Department of the Army,
21 August 1951 attaching 'Nominal List of Japanese War Criminals Died or Executed Rabaul and Manus', NAA: MT1131/1, A255/2/9. There is a Japanese account of several of the deaths at Rabaul – translated from Japanese newspaper articles – in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 8.

367 For the Courts of Inquiry, see NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/1205 PART 13 and MP742/1, 336/1/1264.

368 Toyooka had been serving a sentence of 15 years' imprisonment for massacring 11 Allied prisoners of war. For correspondence regarding Toyooka's medical condition, see NAA: MP375/14, WC10 and for his escape, including police reports on the search for him, see NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/1963.

369 'The Japanese Who Have Left Manus are Still Unrepentant War Criminals', Sunday Herald (Sydney), 2 August 1953, p. 9.

370 AWM: item F07355.

371 AWM: item F07404.

372 AWM: item F07389

373 See, for example, the photographs of the Rabaul compound, its gallows and the war criminals awaiting transfer to the Manus Island compound in the Papers of the Papua and New Guinea Association of Australia, Fryer Library, University of Queensland, UQFL387.

374 There is, in fact, apparently very little of this material extant, as most of the temporary 'war criminal compounds' were so short-lived. For example, despite the fact that there are photographs and film footage of the Balikpapan compound, as described here, I have not discovered any documents about that compound. Most of the extant material on the temporary compounds relates to the Morotai compound, and is recorded in the Australian War Memorial section of this chapter.


Chapter 8
The Australian War Criminals Compounds