In May 1942 Japanese “Hell Ships” began transferring Allied prisoners of war to Japan. With conditions not unlike those of the infamous Bataan death march, prisoners were often packed into stuffy cargo holds with little food or water. Many POWs died of thirst, dehydration, asphyxiation and starvation on the long the trip to Japan that might take weeks.
Unfortunately, >20,000 POWs also died at sea when the unmarked Hell Ships were attacked by Allied submarines and airplanes. Although Allied commanders often knew of the presence of POWs on these ships through radio interception and code breaking, attacks were not aborted. Some critics maintain that the interdiction of critical supplies for Japan’s war machine was the highest priority at the time – perhaps higher than sparing POW lives.