During the second Sino-Japanese War and World War II the Japanese military formed an infamous secret squadron whose goal was to research and develop biological and chemical warfare. This unit showed no remorse and carried out some of the most heinous experiments in human history on men, women, children, and infants. Thousands of civilian and military personnel were subjected to human experimentation.
Ping Fang was the headquarters of the Japanese Biological Warfare Unit 731. Often refered to as the “Asian Auschwitz” the facility had an airport, railway, dungeons medical facilities and an incinerator where the bodies of the victims were disposed of. The Japanese burnt most of Ping Fang to destroy the evidence of their crimes but the incinerator remains and is still used by a local factory that has taken over the complex.
In 1942, Shiro Ishii, began field tests of the germ warfare agents developed by Unit 731, He also began testing various methods of dispersion (i.e. via firearms, bombs, gas, clothing, etc.) on both Chinese prisoners of war as well as, operationally on battlefields and against civilians in Chinese cities. Some historians estimate that as many as, 200,000+ died as a result of the bio-weapons that were deployed. His unit also conducted physiological experiments on human subjects, including vivisections, forced abortions, simulated strokes, heart attacks, frostbite and hypothermia.
Arrested by the American authorities at the end of World War II, Ishii and Unit 731 leaders received immunity in 1946 from war-crimes prosecution before the Tokyo tribunal in exchange for germ warfare data based on human experimentation. Many of the scientists involved in Unit 731 went on to prominent careers in post-war politics, academia, business, and medicine. Ishii never spent any time in jail for his crimes and died at the age of 67 of throat cancer.
Initially set up under the Empire of Japan’s Kempeitai military police to develop weapons of mass destruction for potential use against Chinese, and Soviet forces. Unit 731, was officially disbanded in August of 1945, when the Russian’s invaded Manchukuo and discovered another of the highly secret Japanese programs. Unit 200 was researching bio warfare.
Unit 731 was divided into eight divisions:
Division 1: Research on bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax, typhoid and tuberculosis using live human subjects. For this purpose, a prison was constructed to contain around three to four hundred people.
Division 2: Research for biological weapons used in the field, in particular the production of devices to spread germs and parasites.
Division 3: Production of shells containing biological agents. Stationed in Harbin.
Division 4: Production of other miscellaneous agents.
Division 5: Training of personnel.
Divisions 6–8: Equipment, medical and administrative units.
Some of the experiments conducted by Unit 731 and its subsidiary units included:
Vivisection, victims were subjected to live autopsy without anesthesia whereupon they were purposefully infected with diseases (including pregnant women who were impregnated by doctors). The reasons for this was to study the effect on human organs and avoid decomposition from affecting results, amputate limbs to study blood loss and the effects of rotting and gangrene (some limbs were later attached to the other side of the body), parts of the stomach, liver, brains and lungs were often removed to observe the effects.
Weapons testing, grenades, mortars and other explosive devices were detonated near living targets to determine the effects with regards to different distances and angles. So they could determine how long victims could survive with their sustained injuries while others were tied to stakes and were subject to the use of biological bombs, chemical weapons, and other explosive material.
Germ warfare, male and female prisoners were injected with venereal diseases in the disguise of inoculations (or sometimes infected via rape) to determine the viability of germ warfare, victims were infested with fleas in order to communicate the disease to an organism which could be later dropped onto a populace. Fleas themselves were also tainted with cholera, anthrax, and the bubonic plague, as well as, other plagues. These were later dropped in the guise of clothing and supplies which resulted in the estimated death of another 400,000 Chinese civilians. This was the origin of the “flea bomb” which infected large geographic areas and polluted land and water.
In other experiments victims were hung upside down to observe how long it took for one to die due to choking and the length of time until the onset of embolism occurred after inserting air into ones blood stream.
Many think these atrocities were overlooked because The United States feared that the Soviet Union might acquire Ishii’s expertise and records through a secret deal. Allied POWs had a lot of stories to tell about biological experimentation on humans. Prosecutors at the Tokyo War Crimes trials were warned not to investigate the specific crimes and by 1948, all Unit 731 members were offered immunity in exchange for data and co-operation.
The discovery of the bodies beneath Tokyo, broke a cover-up which lasted for more than four decades. Suddenly, allied servicemen started telling about their ordeals. Joseph Gozzo, a former aviation engineer, had glass rods inserted in his rectum during his internment. He said “Damn right I remember; I can’t believe our government let them get away with it”.
Ex-POW, Frank James, shared his memories with a US House of Representatives sub-committee in 1986: “We were just pawns. We Always knew there was a cover-up”. The House of Representatives hearing lasted just half a day and only one of 200 US survivors was permitted to testify in front of the chief archivist for the US Army. The official report said that files provided by Ishii were returned to Japan in the 1950s and copies had not been made.
Initially, the US and Japanese governments denied that atrocities had occurred but when official information was made public from General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters that stated that the investigation of Unit 731 was “under the direct supervision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The utmost secrecy was essential in order to protect the interests of the United States and to guard against embarrassment.” Finally, in 1993, US Defence Secretary William Perry declassified records of WWII biological experiments.