Enoura Maru

The Enoura Maru was attacked by American planes on the morning of January 9, 1945. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day when the sound of the ship’s machine guns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship were also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship. According to John Jacobs, “A young captain stood up and told the prisoners to sit where they were, that they were just as safe in one place as they were in another.” Moments later, “there was a blinding orange flash and a deafening explosion followed by blindness.” Planks, hatches, and other debris flew through the air. One bomb hit the ship and exploded in the corner of the rear hold. One floor gave way dropping the POWs 30 to 40 feet. In all, the attack resulted in the deaths of 285 prisoners. The Japanese would not allow the POWs to remove the dead from the ship’s holds.

One Navy Seaman recalled, “I shall never forget the prayer that Father (Cummings) asked that night after the bombing when the Japs would not let us move the bodies. Before, many men had not paid no attention, but this night the minute he stood up there was absolute silence. I guess it was the first real and complete silence that there had been since we left Manila. Even the deranged fellows were quiet. And I remember what is opening words were. He said, ‘O God — O God please grant that tomorrow that we will be spared from being bombed.’ The last thing he did was to lead us in the Lord’s Prayer. I think every man there, even the unbalanced ones, managed to repeat at least some of the words after him.” The surviving POWs remained in the hold for three days with the dead, and the stench from the dead filled the air.

On January 11 a work detail was formed and about half the dead were removed from the hold. The dead were unloaded from the ship on a barge and taken to shore. The POWs were too weak to carry the bodies, so ropes were tied to the legs and the corpses were dragged ashore and buried in a mass grave on the beach.

The living were left on the ship and began to steal sugar from the middle hold of the ship. The Japanese officer, Lt. Toshino, wanted those stealing sugar turned into in and threatened to starve the POWs. Lt Col. Curtis Beecher, USMC, called the officers together and said, “We’ve got to have two men who are willing to go up and offer themselves as hostages for all the others. I don’t have any idea what Toshino and Wada will order done to those men. They may have them shot. I just don’t know. The only thing I can promise is this: If they survive whatever the Japs do to them, I will see to it that they are taken care of and don’t go without food the rest of the trip.”  An English sergeant and a husky medic volunteered and were sent on deck. Each man was repeatedly beaten and if he passed out, he was slapped until he regained consciousness. When the Japanese were finished, the men were thrown back into the hold. Both men survived, but would later die in Japan.

The surviving POWs were moved to a third ship, the Brazil Maru on Saturday, January 13. The ship sailed at dawn on the 14th as part of a convoy. Sometime after noon, the POWs received their first meal of a quarter cup of red rice for each POW. The POWs found the first night on the ship was extremely cold. What made it worse was that most of the POWs had dysentery. During the trip, the POWs received two meals a day which consisted of each man receiving a third of a cup of rice and eight teaspoons of tea.

During this part of the trip, as many as 30 POWs died each day. The ship also towed one or two other ships that had been damaged. Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan.