Nagara Maru 長良丸
Nagara Maru passing through the Panama Canal
Courtesy: Gregory F. Michno, "Death on the Hellships: Prisoners at Sea in the Pacific War"
Early on the morning of 11 Aug 1942, 179 American POWs, including most of the senior officers in the Philippines, left Tarlac POW camp for Manila by train. They arrived at Pier 7 in the early afternoon and boarded Nagara Maru. The general officers, including Generals Wainwright and King, were billeted one level down from the main deck next to a group of Japanese officers. The remainder of the men were placed in the upper levels of a forward hold where they placed on the rough wooden shelves typically used to berth troops on Japanese ships. The ship departed for Takao, Formosa, at 5:00 PM that evening, arriving on 15 Aug. The men stayed aboard overnight before being transferred to Japanese Army transport #107, Suzuya Maru
The short journey to Taiwan aboard Nagara Maru cannot realistically be termed a hellship voyage. The men were well-treated, well-fed, and not overly crowded. The generals were provided with the same food as the Japanese officers. They slept on comfortable mats, had access to a clean bathroom, and were permitted on deck at any time. The colonels and enlisted men found their accommodations in the hold less satisfactory. Fourteen men were forced to sleep toe-to-toe in each of the 13 foot deep berths. and they were required to take their meals in the same berths nearly "sitting on each others legs". Meals consisted of rice with small pieces of fish, pickled vegetables or fruits and seaweed. Water was provided during the trip and there was a constant source of hot tea in the hold. Sanitation was relatively primitive, a tub was provided in the hold, but adequate. The men also had relatively free access to the deck and the outhouse-style toilets located there.
The experiences of the senior officers aboard Nagara Maru, and later, aboard Oryoku Maru, provide stark contrast with those of the lower ranking officers and men on the hellships that followed. Whereas the men aboard Nagara Maru had good food and drink in adequate amounts, most subsequent ships provided little of either. On Nagara Maru, the two levels of shelves in the hold were occupied by about 165 men. On Nissyo Maru, a similarly sized hold was occupied by nearly 900 prisoners. In mid Oct 1944, 259 men, including most of those who were aboard Nagara Maru, suffered in the sweltering rear hold of the Oryoku Maru during transport to Japan. Two months later, in Dec 1944, 800 men were packed into the very same space. Perversely, the more men, the less was the concern for sanitation. Prisoners in more crowded ships found it impossible to reach the undersized receptacles which were often carelessly spilled back into the holds when raised to be emptied. Access to the upper decks was severly restricted, limiting the use of the primitive latrines on the deck, and often forcing POWs to remain in the fetid confines of the holds for days, weeks, or even months at a time.
The caricatures by Col. Malcolm Fortier provide a unique visual record of "the most trying conditions" under which the men ate, slept and existed. They provide some of the clearest depictions of the 3-1/2 ft high wooden 'kennels' in which POWs were often held. Fortier recorded that they "were packed down in the hold like sardines", but the sobering reality was that, two, three, or even four times as many men were packed into the same sized confines on most hellships.
Completed in 1934, by Yokohama Dock, the ship was the first of six Nagara Maru class freighters. These 446 ft. 7,100 G/T vessels were fast freighters capable of almost 19 knots. On 14 Nov 1942 Nagara Maru was attacked and sunk by US aircraft while transporting troops to Guadalcanal. The six vessels of this class were Nagara Maru 長良丸 7,142 G/T; Noto Maru 7,185 G/T; Nako Maru 7,139 G/T, Noshiro Maru 7,184 G/T, Naruto Maru 7,142 G/T and Nojima Maru 7,184 G/T. Informative images can be found at the links: Nagara Maru 1, 2, 3 ; Noshiro Maru ; Noto Maru 1, 2.
Nagara Maru, Noto Maru, and Naruto Maru are known to have carried POWs. It appears that Nagara Maru made a second voyage transporting Allied prisoners when it carried 600 British POWs (the "Gunners 600") from Singapore to Rabaul and Ballale in Sept and Oct 1942. Noto Maru carried 1,135 American POWs to Japan in Aug 1944. Naruto Maru carried 79 POWs from Rabaul to Yokohama, Japan, in July 1942. Nineteen of the POWs were women including six Australian nurses.
Beebe, John M., and Falk, Stanley L. "Prisoner of the Rising Sun: The Lost Diary of Brig Gen. Lewis Beebe"
Braly, William C. "The Hard Way Home"
Quinn Michael A. Love letters to Mike, forty months as a Japanese prisoner of war, April 9, 1942 to September 17, 1945: the diary of Colonel Michael A. Quinn" Vantage Press, New York, 1977.