Stolen Years: Australian prisoners of war

The war crimes trials

With the war’s end many Japanese guards were charged with war crimes committed against prisoners and civilians. Hundreds of prisoners of war wrote statements describing what they had seen and endured. War crimes trials, in which Japanese guards were tried for acts of brutality, were held throughout south-east Asia. In Australian trials, 922 men were tried and 641 were found guilty. Of 148 sentenced to death, 137 were actually executed.

War crimes trials remain contentious, especially in Japan. Some suggest that Japanese soldiers were convicted under “victors’ justice” – convictions based on inadequate evidence. However, some known offenders were acquitted for lack of firm evidence.

Victims were perturbed to see many convicted war criminals released early, part of the American effort to retain Japan in the western sphere of influence during the Cold War.

Historians continue to examine the process, outcome and significance of the war crimes trials.

AWM 123170
Four Japanese officers awaiting trial for war crimes at Labuan Island, December 1945.

Yamamoto, the commanding officer on the Sandakan–Ranau march, was convicted of murder, and was hanged.

Hoshijima, the commanding officer at Sandakan prisoner-of-war camp, was convicted of murder, and was hanged.

AWM ART22988
Douglas Watson
Second World War enlisted Australian Imperial Force, official war artist
Captain Hoshijima Susumi
brown crayon on paper
drawn in Borneo in 1945
acquired under official war art scheme in 1946

Yamada was charged with having committed murder on Flores Island, in the Netherlands East Indies, but was acquitted.

AWM ART26792
Eric Thake
Second World War enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, RAAF War History Section artist
Lieutenant General Yamada Kunitaro
pencil on paper
drawn in Koepang, Timor, in 1945
acquired in 1947


Prisoners of the Japanese