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Thousand-POW prison break

On August 5th, 1944, more than a thousand Japanese prisoners of war broke out of the Cowra POW camp in eastern Australia. It was the biggest prison break of World War II.

Cowra

Australian War Memorial [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

The Cowra camp contained Japanese, Italian, and Korean POWs that had been captured in action in the Pacific and Middle East (there were also a few Indonesian civilians). The Japanese officers were separated from the lower ranks, and it was men from the lower ranks who staged the breakout.

The sequence of events here is a bit strange: the Australians heard a rumour that a mass escape was being planned, so they told the Japanese prisoners that they were going to be moved to another camp. The next day, a bugle sounded, and the escape began.

(Incidentally, the bugle was sounded by the very first Japanese soldier to be captured in WWII, Hajime Toyoshima. He was a Zero pilot in the bombing of Darwin and was captured when his plane crash-landed.)

The POWs were armed with knives, baseball bats, and garottes; the Australians had machine guns. You can imagine the bloodbath: 231 Japanese soldiers died (including Toyoshima), and more than three hundred escaped. It didn’t stick, though: all of the remaining escapees were caught later.

Categories: History Military Modern history Oceania Places

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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