Thames Maru ていむす丸 . 5,873 G/T. Completed 21 July 1920.
Image source: J. Erickson personal collection.
Original photograph copyright A. Duncan, Gravesend, Kent.
On 5 May 1943 a group of 522 Indian prisoners of war and 1,500 Malay, Chinese, and Indonesian laborors were loaded aboard Thames Maru for transport to the Palau Islands. After stops in Batavia, and Surabaya, Java, they reached their final destination of Babelthuap Island on 8 June. Gregory Michno reports in "Death on the Hellships" that 200 died aboard ship. As reported in war crimes trial summaries: "conditions on board the Thames Maru beggared description. It was overcrowded and unhygienic. There were only 2 latrines provided for 2000 [men] on board. This resulted in dysentery and no medical supplies were provided. Food was plain rice in inadequate quantities and maggot infested radishes." Many of the survivors of the voyage were held in the Islands to work until they were liberated. By then, 117 more Indian soldiers had died from beri-beri and dysentery. Still others died while being transported from Palau to New Guinea when the Ikoma Maru was torpedeod and sunk on 21 Jan 44 by the USS Seahorse (SS-304).
Thames Maru was torpedeod and sunk 25 July 1943 off Truk Island (2.46˚N,148.35˚E) by USS Pompon (SS-267). References (1, 2) on Australian War Memorial webpages cite an undergraduate honors thesis* claiming that up to 2,000 Indian POWs died in the sinking of the Thames Maru. I have seen no independent support for these deaths. In the absence of additional evidence, the claim should be treated with due caution.
*Genevieve Thompson, "Nobody’s heroes: Indian prisoners of war in New Guinea", BA Hons thesis, Australian National University, 1996,13.
Thames Maru was a Taifuku Maru #1 class freighter. The Kawasaki shipyards at Kobe built 74 of these ships for Japanese and foreign customers in 1916-1920. They were widely known as Kawasaki stock boats or standard steamers. Based on a British WWI standard ship design, these flush decked ships had a gross tonnage of approximately 5,870 tons, were 385 feet long and 51 feet wide (beam). They were capable of maximum speeds of about 14 knots when built, but 9-10 knots was more typical. Cargo was carried in four holds; two forward, and two to the rear. Each hold was divided vertically into an upper 8 ft "tween deck" and a deeper lower hold, itself often split into two levels creating a lower "tween deck" and the deep hold. The following Kawasaki stock boats are known to have transported Allied POWs: Brazil Maru, Celebes Maru, England Maru, France Maru, Hofuku Maru, Nagato Maru, Pacific Maru, Singapore Maru, Thames Maru, Tofuku Maru, Ube Maru, and Washington Maru.
Information on the hellship voyage of the Thames Maru was extracted from, "Death on the Hellships: Prisoners at Sea in the Pacific War" by Gregory F. Michno, ISBN 1557504822, US Naval Institute Press (June 2001) and from war crimes reports available online at the link listed above.
Photographs and information on Taifuku Maru #1 class ships may by found at Fumio Nagasawa's Japanese language "Nostalgic Japanese Steamships" webpage.