Paul Langley's Nuclear History Blog

Japan’s Unit 731 and the Atomic Bombing of Japan. Prelude.

In regard to events in Europe as World War 2 entered its final stage, advancing Allied troops witnessed first hand the horrors of the German concentration camps and slave labour. The use of such slave labour by companies such as Volkswagen and many others led to the eventual payment of compensation to the victims.

It is acknowledged that the use of concentration camp inmates and other slave labourers took place at Peenemunde, the site of Nazi Germany’s rocket and aircraft research centre:

“The development of the V–2 missile flowed from the core ideals of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, including the quest for military domination and the ruthless exploitation of forced labor. The German Army first commissioned Wernher von Braun to develop liquid-fuel rockets for military purposes in late 1932, two months before the Nazis came to power.

In 1936, the Army, as part of the Nazi government’s military expansion, began a secret program to develop ballistic missiles at Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea coast, a program that took on magnified importance when World War II began in 1939. The primary task of the engineers was to develop the A-4 ballistic missile, renamed in 1944 the V–2 vengeance weapon, a wonder weapon that Germany hoped would win the war.

The system of exploiting slave labor to assemble missiles began in 1943. It expanded dramatically after the August 1943 bombings of Peenemünde by the British Royal Air Force. The widespread destruction led the Nazi leadership and the missile staff to move underground and use forced labor. The chosen site was a mine/fuel depot near the town of Nordhausen in Thüringen. Slave laborers from the Buchenwald concentration camp came to extend the tunnels for an underground V–2 factory called Mittelwerk. The new concentration camp outside the tunnels was code named Dora and was later renamed Mittelbau. More than 60,000 prisoners were interred at Dora. Some of them built 6000 V–2 rockets between August 1943 and April 1945. They experienced squalid housing, starvation diets, and draconian discipline with frequent executions.

In April and May 1945, many of the engineers surrendered to the United States, while most of the remaining Dora prisoners endured brutal death marches. The United States Army liberated Mittelbau-Dora on April 11, 1945. Over 20,000 slave laborers died in the Mittelbau-Dora camp system.”
From the same source we learn the following:

“On April 11, 1945, the US Army’s 3rd Armored Division and 104th Infantry “Timberwolf” Division entered Nordhausen and the Dora–Mittelbau camp. The GIs found 3,000 corpses and 750 starving and sick prisoners left there after the SS led the rest of the prisoners on death marches. Among the Timberwolves was Huntsville’s John Rison Jones, an Army rifleman, who took snapshots of the dead. He also participated in the burial details, when the GIs ordered local German civilians to dig mass graves. GI film teams also captured ghastly scenes, and thousands of Americans saw the propaganda film but heard the name “Nordhausen” rather than “Dora” or the “V–2.”

Following combat units were teams associated with various American intelligence groups intent on capturing German technology and experts. The US Army collected parts of 100 V–2s from the underground factory and, under a larger program best known as Paperclip, brought more than 125 German V–2 missile engineers, scientists and technicians to America. The Army interrogated them to determine their involvement in Nazi organizations and war crimes. However the Army wanted their expertise for the Cold War, so officers sometimes consciously overlooked or buried incriminating information.

Similarly, the US–led Dora war crimes trial at Dachau in 1947 led to no heightened American understanding, in large part because the US media had lost interest in such trials. The Dachau proceeding tried guards, kapos and the Mittelwerk general director, but its convictions narrowly focused on individual cruelty to prisoners. US Army Ordnance shielded its German missile engineers from public scrutiny by preventing Wernher von Braun, the leader of the group, from traveling to Germany to testify. Afterwards the Army classified the trial records as secret to guard information about Mittelwerk.

Dora and Nordhausen reentered American consciousness in the 1970s in part due to media coverage of the 1967 Eichmann trial. Late in the decade, Congress and the Carter administration became concerned that Nazi war criminals resided in the US. The US Department of Justice investigated Arthur Rudolph and several other living V–2 engineers in the early 1980s. Rudolph, fearing a trial to revoke his citizenship that could deprive him of his pension and result in his deportation, signed a voluntary agreement to renounce his US citizenship and leave the country. He moved to Germany in 1984. His case, and efforts by his friends to restore his citizenship, brought Dora to American memory permanently.”

(this link also provides a further link to an explanation of Project Paperclip)

Werner Von Braun is credited as being the father of the US Space Program, and his achievements are lauded. His role in the use of concentration camp slave labour in Nazi Germany prior to his “escape” to the US under Project Paperclip is, as we shall see, prototypical. I am not aware of any Japanese scientist who was taken to the US and similarly rewarded. Those scientists in Japan who were of use to the West were indeed rewarded (as will be shown). However, it appears that for some reason, probably relating to propaganda, the Japanese scientists had to stay in Japan. In Europe, the European Allies had a substantial say over many of the war crime prosecutions. In Japan, the US was pre-eminent and had a far freerer hand.

Traditionally populations in the West have been schooled to believe (I believe) to view German science and technology to have vastly superior to that of the Japanese during World War 2. This is not the case. It is certainly true that Japanese scientists worked with Bohr in Germany prior to outbreak of war, and these scientists made many breakthroughs in nuclear research at that time. Otto Hahn acknowledges this fact in his Nobel speech.

Prima Facie, if there was a need to use German military science and German military scientists in the West in the post war period, then there was a similar “need” to use Japanese scientists. It is well known that the USSR also took German scientists to Russia in the post war period. The USSR, denied a role in the occupation Japan, had no such opportunity to use Japanese science and science located in Japan. The only Japanese personnel it returned to the USSR were those Japanese personnel and documents captured in China during August 1945. In the main, the most noteworthy such personnel and documents belonged to Unit 731 and the Japanese Special Weapons program. The USSR did not display gentle treatment toward these scientists (largely chemical, biological and medical scientists). It gained the information it needed by Stalinist techniques and used the captured documents. The surviving scientists were either excuted or imprisoned for very lengthy sentences. I cannot find any source describing the return to Japan of any of these scientists.

In contrast, the US paid large sums of money to Unit 731 scientists in Japan in exchange for information. Only one or two stood trial for war crimes. None were executed. In addition to cash payments for information and documents, the US placed Unit 731 scientists in executive positions in Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi and Green Cross.

As we have seen the US also had direct access to the headquaters of Unit 731, including its stocks of weapons material, its files, its human effects records, including photographs.

Though the US didn’t do a “Project Paperclip” with the Unit 731 scientists (as far as anyone knows), it certainly took tons of Unit 731 documentation to the US. The documentation was used at Dugway Proving Ground and the Pentagon. Over the decades many documents came to be destroyed. Those that remainded (still some number of tons of documents) remained uncatalogued and therefore beyond systematic use by unauthorised researchers.

The indications are then that the modern Western defence capablity results from the not so secret use of German Nazi knowledge (excluding German Nazi human effects data) and the secret/unacknowledged use of Japanese Fascist data including Japanese Fascist Human effects data on Japanese dissenters, Asian civilians/slave labourers in Japan, POWs (esp US Air Force, Kyoto) held in Japan, Asian civilians and POWs in China and throughout Asia. These documents include photographs of the death process (as caused by various substances and tests, including deliberate X ray over exposure.) Disgusting material and illegal, under the terms of Nuremberg, to use. Similar in many respects to the studies and photographs conducted and created in the aftermath of the atomic bombings.

The moral boundaries of the victors applied to the defeated must apply to the victors also.

In any event, it was in my search for the original Hiroshima radiation survey documents created by Prof S. Shimizu and confiscated by the USA in September 1945 that I found a Chinese press report.

The press report reveals that the Shimizu documents were returned to the USA and are currently located in an uncatlogued series of Unit 731 documents located in the Library of Congress.

A nice way to keep one of the very first surveys of Hiroshima out of reach of any FOI request. A nice way to deny this document to rightful owners, the University of Kyoto. Prof Shimizu, I again highlight, was never a member of Unit 731.

The Unit 731 documents, documents which, for many decades, did not officially exist, appear to have served as a hidding place for radiation survey documents which would have blown apart the official view of the results of the atomic bombing for the critical period 1945 to the 1990s. That is, the period of the Cold War.

More on this later.

A non technical version of my earlier report on the Shimizu survey of Hiroshima is available for free download from the Friends of the Earth here:

(click on the “Sacred Ground” pdf to download it.)

It is time to ask again : Even if Werner Von Braun was not a Nazi, he was in command of thousands of concentration camp slave labourers. Was it right to import him into the United States and employ him government service ? His first fruit was the Red Stone Missile for the US Air Force. His wartime exploits included assigning work to slave labourers, thousands of whom died. He was never prosecuted or questioned in an open court. He designed the V2 rocket bomb.
By these actions did he participate in the Final Solution and should his service to the USA excuse him from the application of the Nuremberg Conventions? Was it appropriate to overlook his history? To what extent did such military and political dishonesty lay the ground work for both the Human Radiation Experiments as examined by Clinton’s ACHRE comittee (see previous posts) and if so, to what extent did projects such as Paperclip lay the groundwork for a radiacally changed relationship between the government and the governed in the USA? Does anyone doubt that this relationship changed in 1945? To what extent did the use of Fascist thinking cause the creation of the entity President Eisenhower warned of – the Military Industrial Complex? How does the financial relationship between government and MIC differ from the financial relationship Hitler and Germany Industry enjoyed? Did Paperclip weaken democracy and is the MIC in, in other words, the “Shadow Government”. History, including the ACHRE Presidential Report, suggests MIC is a Fascist technique of research and production. Einsenhower perhaps couldnt come right out and say that. But read his speech and see.

Therefore, what did the USA gain by suppressing Prof. Shimizu’s 1945 radiation survey of Hiroshima? What was gained by promoting the personality cult of Werner Von Braun? (Consider that Von Braun based his work on that of the American Goddard, who the US government ignored. Was it really needed to employ a Nazi when the basics had already been solved years before in Virginia? )

So much for the myth of the “Good German Nazi” and the “Bad Japanese Fascist”. There were definately German resistors within science. Hahn is one case in point. The full facts will not be known until the UK government declassifies the documents detailing the activities of the agent known as the Griffin. That there were Japanese resistors in Japan should go without saying, but, so hidden are the Japanese ar time torture chambers and places of death, so hidden is the story of internal dissent in War time Japan, so crusched by the Occupation forces were these dissenters (being largely left Wing) that the history of the battle for Japan is devoid of any reference to internal dissent. Unlike the record in Europe and Germany.

Japan was to be isolated until at least 1953. The story of the effects of the atomic bomb would remain hidden and obtuse as far and as long as possible. In the meantime the atomic bomb spread its wings and proliferated. As did its fuel production facility, the nuclear reactor.

It didnt take a Nazi to do it, just a Military Industrial Complex. Or are those two the same thing? Before World War 2 – no standing army and no permanent means of making weapons. After World War 2? Take a look around.

The whole planet is a Unit 731.

Eike’s Military Industrial Speech (or, how to turn a major section of an economy over to Fascist Principles)

And so it was that Project Paperclip, and whatever the equivalent was regarding Japanese Fascist military tech was called (with the personnel staying in Japan, and only documents moving to the US in secret) laid not only the foundation of various weapons technologies, but also the economic and security structures which enabled the permanent construction and deployment of the weapons.

As my home state moves increasingly toward a Military Industrial dominated economy, I watch in horror as fewer and fewer South Australians, due to the security relatedness of their employment, become less and less free to speak. I watch as Senior Ministers of a supposed Social Democrat State government cheer when protestors were illegally locked in a cargo container in the Australian desert even though they had done no wrong nor broken any law (as found by the SA Supreme Court). Of all the findings of Ralph Nader against nuclear industry, which is a dual use (civil/military) one at every point, this one stands out: that nuclear industry reduces civil liberty. As a key component of the modern means of producing weapons and inflicting harm, this is the one we could without. I note that the Minister most responsible, Kevin Foley, has lost his position and is in the USA right now seeking a new one. This is cold comfort.


Specifics about the Shimizu case and the suppression of the harms of Hiroshima until the 1990s.