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Rabaul and World War II

The volcanic eruption that destroyed Rabaul in 1994 also buried forever the graves of scores of Japanese war criminals executed for mistreating or murdering allied soldiers and civilians. The exact location of their graves has never been revealed and now will most likely never be known.

Location map for Rabaul

Rabaul's Simpson Harbour is a giant waterway around which sits several volcanoes which could, and would, erupt at any moment. In 1937, a huge eruption on the harbour's eastern shores formed a new spewing volcano which was called Vulcan. at this time, Rabaul itself was effectively destroyed, though its European and native population quickly returned after the devastation. Rabaul constantly lived under the constant threat of the malevolent influences of the Pacific Ocean's fiery volcanic rim. 

An immediate post-war picture of a Rabaul street
corner shows the impact of heavy fighting in the area

In 1942, having survived the 1937 volcanic eruption, Rabaul was again threatened, though this time by Japan's notorious southeast Asian expansion. In February of 1942, Rabaul was invaded and captured by the Japanese. The gallant European defenders, members of the citizens' New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, and all who were scions of Rabaul society were herded onto the Japanese transport, the Montivideo Maru. On the way to Japan, the vessel was tragically sunk by an American submarine and all those on board her died.

Rabaul's Chinese community fared a little better. They remained in the town's Chinatown, but were subjected to the usual Japanese brutality, particularly the women. Britain's Tolai native population were equally brutalized, though a simple Catholic catechist, Peter ToRot, who continued to profess his faith in the face of Japanese intimidation, has already been beatified and is likely to become Papua New Guinea first saint.

Rabaul became a principal target of General George C. Kenney's 5th U.S. Air Force, whose B25 bombers regularly attack the town and its harbour, not the least because it was the occasional headquarters of the architect of the Pearl Harbour attack, Admiral Yamamoto. The U.S. Army Air force also believed that if it attacked the right target in Rabaul, it could trigger another volcanic eruption. Although Rabaul suffered several eruptions in 1942/43, the American bombing was not the cause.     

The prisoner of war camp at Wewak

Lieutenant General Adachi Hataso who had commanded Japan's 18th
Army and who had surrendered at Wewak, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

When Rabaul was ultimately captured by the allies, they decided it should be the site of the majority of the trials against Japanese accused of war crimes in the Southwest Pacific. Of the 188 trials conducted in Rabaul, 390 Japanese accused war criminals were tried, and 266 were convicted. Of those, 84 were hanged and 3 were shot. 

The picturesque Simpson Harbour at Rabaul. The two
rock formations in the middle of the photo have since subsided

The local population of Rabaul still live under the constant threat of volcanic activity

Australian Lieutenant General Vah Sturdee reads
the surrender proclamation to Japanese General Imamura

The location of the graves of the Japanese war criminals was never revealed even though when the Whitlam government was elected in December 1972, the Japanese government made overtures to discover what had happened to the remains of the executed Japanese war criminals so they could be repatriated to Japan. In 1994, the volcano Vulcan erupted and not Turvurvura as expected keeping secret forever the location of the graves of the executed Japanese war criminals.  

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