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Research Guides

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

Using National Archives of Australia research guides

The National Archives of Australia preserves and cares for a diverse collection documenting the relationship between the Commonwealth government and the Australian people. This collection is a rich resource for the study of the nation's history, society, families and individuals.

While the collection covers almost 200 years of Australian history, its main focus is Australian Government activities since Federation in 1901. The Archives also has significant holdings of 19th-century records transferred by the colonies to the Commonwealth government.

Archival resources

The guide is based on an examination of thousands of files and other items in the National Archives. The majority have not been listed as there is not enough space to report on each one, especially the investigation files. In most series that do contain a lot of relevant files, a small sampling has been included to indicate the breadth of records within the series and particularly interesting or unusual records.

The guide therefore provides a selective listing of records that document Australia's investigation into Japanese war crimes in the Pacific and the prosecution of the accused. Many records are listed at the item level and the guide goes beyond the Archives' online collection database, RecordSearch, in briefly summarising the types of records, subject matter and the names of correspondents contained within the items. These items are all available for access. Other records are described at the series level, either because they contain a very large number of relevant items or because many of the items have yet to be cleared for access.

Most of the records listed are held at the National Archives' Canberra office, the remainder being held in Melbourne, with smaller quantities in other state and territory offices. Records held by the Australian War Memorial are also included. Footnotes to materials held in other collections are included where possible.

The guide is structured according to key functions and activities carried out by the Australian Government and the armed forces. Each chapter describes selected Archives' holdings on relevant subjects and topics. This guide is not exhaustive; it does not seek to include every record associated with Australia's investigation and prosecution of Japanese war crimes in the Pacific. However, it does highlight areas for further research.

Accessing records

Access to records held by the National Archives is governed by the Archives Act 1983. Under the Act, records in the open access period are eligible for public access. A change to the public access provisions of the Act in 2010 saw the open access period commence after 20 years – a 10-year reduction from the previous 30 years. This change is being phased in between 2011 and 2020, with the open period advancing by two years on 1 January each year. In the year of publication, 2019, records dating up to and including 1997 are in the open access period. More information on accessing records can be found on 'Fact sheet 10 – Access to records under the Archives Act' available on the National Archives' website (

Under the Archives Act, there are provisions to withhold information from public access if that information calls into certain exemption categories. Most records (98 per cent) are wholly released for public access, while 1.75 per cent are released with some exempt information deleted. Only 0.25 per cent of records are wholly withheld because they consist entirely of exempt information. If the National Archives refuses access, it is usually because the records contain sensitive information or information that is not in the open access period. Further information about the type of records that may be withheld can be found on 'Fact sheet 46 – ­Why we refused access', available on the website (

Many of the records are available as digital copies on the National Archives' website. Research using the online collection database, RecordSearch, will identify digitised records.

To view records that have not been digitised, a researcher will need to visit the reading room of the state or territory office where the records are located. Advance notice of at least five business days is required before visits to view original records.

Using this guide

Each section of this guide lists relevant records relating to the subject covered. Records are listed as series (groups of records) or as items (individual records). An explanation of each element is provided below in a key.


This series holds files of the Department of External Affairs, London, otherwise known as the External Affairs Liaison Office London. The role of this office was to liaise between various British agencies and the Australian Government. It thus includes numerous files relating to war crimes.


Series: A2937


Quantity: A2937


Recorded by:1924–45  Department of External Affairs, London (CA 1759)

7War Crimes – Interrogation of ex-prisoners of war, 1945A2937, 304


1. Series title – the series title and the date range of the records that make up the series. A series is the organisational arrangement used by the National Archives to control and manage records. It may contain one or more items. Some series may contain hundreds or thousands of items.

2. The National Archives office where the series is located.

3. Description of series

4. The identifying number applied to the series.

5. Quantity – gives the quantity in shelf metres of records in the series

6. Agency title – the agency responsible for the creation of the series. The number shown after the title provides the identifying number applied to the agency.

7. Item title – the title given to an item within the series. The title is usually applied by the person or agency creating the record. Agencies created the file titles for their own internal use and often did not title them systematically or with details that would necessarily assist future researchers. Some items have very general titles such as 'War Crimes Investigation' often because the agency or section concerned had very few files on the subject and so had little need to be more specific. The National Archives has supplemented these titles where resources have allowed.

The date of the item contents is included at the end of the title. The item's identifying number (control symbol) appears on the right-hand side, along with the number of the series to which it belongs. In this example, the series number is A2937 and the control symbol
is 304.

Wherever there are references to series in this guide, it is likely that a researcher will need to conduct further research to identify particular records within the series. This research can be conducted online using RecordSearch, or by checking hardcopy indexes or lists in National Archives reading rooms. Reading room staff can help with this research. Some series are only described at series level, with no individual items listed in RecordSearch.

In this guide the agency, series and item titles used on RecordSearch may have been modified to help with accessibility. Therefore, when searching for series or items it is recommended that a researcher uses series numbers and control symbols rather than titles.

Citing records

The correct citation of records is important, both when requesting records and referring to them in written or published works. Using proper citations not only helps staff locate records more readily, but also assists other researchers to find material. The correct form of citation for records held by the Archives is: 'National Archives of Australia' followed by a colon and a space, the series number followed by a comma and a space, then the item control symbol. For example:

National Archives of Australia: A2937, 304

'National Archives of Australia' may be abbreviated to 'NAA' provided the full name has been used in the first citation. Further details about correctly citing records are available in 'Fact sheet 7 – Citing archival records' available on the National Archives' website (

Japanese names

Japanese names in this guide are given following Japanese custom, with surname first, except in the case of any authors who are more widely known for their English-language writings under their Western-style names. Macrons (such as ō, ū) have been included in names where the kanji (characters) for those names could be identified and read. Macrons have not been used in the case of well-known place names such as Tokyo.

Terminology for currency and measures

In 1966 Australia introduced a system of currency based on dollars and cents to replace pounds, shillings and pence. From the early 1970s the metric system of weights and measures began to replace the imperial system. No attempt has been made to convert those units expressed in imperial terms, however the following conversion scales may be applied:

  • one pound (£1) = two dollars
  • one shilling (1/–) (or 12 pence) = 10 cents
  • one mile = 1.6 kilometres
  • one acre = 0.4 hectares.

Military terminology

The Australian War Memorial has a helpful online glossary of military terms, available at