IMMEDIATELY AFTER the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri on the 2nd of September 1945, steps were taken for the rescue and repatriation of prisoners of war from Japanese prison camps.
Two Australian ships, Warramunga (Commander M.J. Clark DSC) and Bataan (Commander H.M. Burrell) were chosen to join Task Group 30.6.1, for the removal of prisoners of war from Northern Honshu and transport them as quickly as possible to Yokohama. Ships of the Task Group included HMS Wizard, HMS Tenacious, USS San Juan, USS Nicholas, USS Taylor, USS Runels, USS Gosselin and the American Hospital Ship Rescue. Ports visited were Hamamatsu, Sendai and Kamashi where the POWs were given medical attention, delousing bathing and reclothing aboard Rescue. After these attentions the destroyers came alongside Rescue and embarked as many POWs as possible and then headed for Yokohama at full speed. Where the physical condition of the POWs did not come up to reasonable standard they were retained aboard Rescue until they were fit to be moved.
Each destroyer was to provide one ‘light’ meal aboard while en route to Yokohama. This was a cause for concern to the ship’s cooks and supply staff, as provisions were already in short supply. However, fresh bread rolls were baked on each trip and in conjunction with hot tea, tinned beef and tinned butter, the POWs were no doubt far better off than they had been for some time.
Several trips were made over a period of about 20 days. During one operation Commander Burrell learnt that some of the POWs taken from the Takushima camp were from HMAS Perth. They were given top priority in the cleaning up process aboard Rescue before joining Bataan and no words could express their joy at deliverance.
On a trip from Sendai, Warramunga embarked 179 persons, not a bad load on top of the existing crew. They included 32 women and 15 children. The doctor and sick bay staff were kept very busy treating seasickness in the kids. Of the 179 embarked, the largest one nationality was 79 English persons. Other nationalities included 5 Australians, African Natives, Indians, Malayans, Americans, Spaniards, Greeks, Arabs and Javanese. Commander Clark described the passenger list as a ‘very mixed bag’ and in many ways reminiscent of the Tobruk Ferry run.
The majority of the POWs just could not believe the war was over. Naturally conditions on board were very cramped and they sat and lay down in every conceivable deck space that was available to them. Stories were told to the crew, who were hard pressed to believe the atrocities and shocking treatment that had been given them.
On arrival at Yokohama, with tears in their eyes, the now ex POWs shook hands with as many of the crew as they could and crossed the gangway, looking forward to joining families and loved ones that they had not seen for some time and resuming as normal life as possible.
The ships refuelled and straight away were off again for their next batch of passengers. On completion of the evacuation of all POWs from Northern Honshu, Task Group 30.6.1 was dissolved mid September and Warramunga and Bataan rejoined Task Group 70.9. For the role in this most essential part of post war operations, Commander Clark received a commendation from the Commander, Third Fleet, Admiral W.F. (Bull) Halsey, USN.
The text of the following letter from Commander Clark of Warramunga includes this commendation.
HMAS Warramunga Kure Honshu JAPAN. 19th February, 1946 The following is an extract copy of a letter received by me through the Australian Naval Board, from the COMMANDER THIRD FLEET, US NAVAL PACIFIC FLEET. ADMIRAL W.F. HALSEY.
The Commander Third Fleet, United States Pacific Fleet, takes pleasure in commending Commander M.J. Clark, DSN, RAN
For services set forth in the following
‘For outstanding service in the performance of his duty as Commanding Officer of the destroyer Warramunga while operating with a special task force for the evacuation of Allied prisoners of war from Japan in 1945 he skillfully executed the various duties assigned him. His initiative and devotion to duty assisted materially in the prompt liberation and in many cases the saving of lives of thousands of Allied prisoners of war and was in keeping with the highest tradition of the United States Naval Service.
Signed W.F. HALSEY ADMIRAL US NAVY I wish it to be understood by the officers and Ship’s Company that I do not consider this to be a personal honour to me but to Warramunga and her entire company.