When I first heard of the Hell Ships of WW II, I thought of pirates. It took a few minutes of research to strip that cutesy idea out of my head. Hell Ships sailed from the Philippines loaded with Bataan POWs. As the survivors aged they started writing down their stories, and they were bone chilling. I immediately knew I had to put Katarina Stahl’s husband in The War Nurse on one.
First a brief recap of events after the first bombs dropped:
The military left Manila and called it a ‘open city’ for civilians, so the Japanese wouldn’t come in fighting. They didn’t. McArthur did this to save American and Filipino lives. The troops were split between Bataan and Corregidor.
Corregidor was McArthur’s stronghold. It had a massive underground tunnel system. Bataan was a malaria-infested jungle with a few structures. On Bataan the men fought eye-to-eye, and on Corregidor they faced daily bombardments underground. Food stores were kept on Corregidor. By the time General King surrendered the Bataan fighting force, they were starving to death. Corregidor did not surrender right away.
The Japanese weren’t prepared to feed and house so many men. The Bataan death march was the result. Believe me, only the strong survived. Again here is the wicki lite version of the Bataan death march.
Survivors of the death march were farmed off to POW camps. But why feed men to sit around? Japan decided to bring them to their homeland as slave labor. The Hell Ships were transport vessels. The POWs even watched Japanese families being loaded on the boats in their colorful kimonos before they were crowded into the dark and searing-hot holds below deck.
The Hell Ships didn’t immediately set sail. Heck no, they puttered around, loading and unloading for weeks. The men remained below in the cramped holding areas. They were kept where livestock were held before the war.
The only good thing about the Hell Ships is they didn’t transport all the POWs. Many were still scattered in POW camps.
One ship was torpedoed by US subs: Oryoku Maru. This is the wicki lite definition of the Hell Ships. Please be sure to read the italics under the Oryoku Maru. If that’s not hell, what is? It’s the only Hell Ship to be torpedoed by a US sub, giving the POWs a brief opportunity to escape. Some made it home, many died, and others were picked out of the water and reloaded on other Hell ships. The men who survived the Hell ships and didn’t escape or die became slave laborers and some were tortured in medical experiments.
December 7th for me is a time to remember the Battlin’ Bastards of Bataan, their death march trek, and they’re hellacious sail to Japan. I won’t forget and people who read their stories won’t forget either.
Have you ever heard of the Hell Ships?
To read what happened to Jack Gallagher on the Oryoku Maru, you’ll have to read The War Nurse.
Please check out the War Nurse’s virtual book tour and leave your comments on the book blogs that host it. Here’s a link to where you can find The War Nurse on Tour by date.