Accidents happen, be it in our everyday lives, and especially in times of war. While it was almost inevitable for lives to be lost during the times of conflict, there were times when the loss of these lives was unnecessary and could have been prevented, just like the time when Lisbon Maru sank, costing the lives of almost 1000 Allied soldiers.

About to be Transported

In September 1942, the Japanese troops had with them 1816 British and Canadian prisoners of war who were to be transported from Sham Shui Po Camp in Hongkong to Japan, where they would work as slave laborers in the dockyards and ports of Japan. Hong Kong fell in late 1941, and these soldiers were captured. The prisoners were hoping for early release, but at that point, it was apparent that it would not be happening. Even though Sham Shui Po was an overcrowded and filthy camp with no medical supplies and death was a common thing, the prisoners of war didn’t want to leave the place to be transferred to Japan.

Most of these prisoners were from the Royal Scots, Middlesex Regiment, and Royal Artillery under Lieutenant Colonel HWM Stewart, the Officer Commanding of the Middlesex Regiment. Before boarding the Lisbon Maru on September 27, the prisoners were divided into groups of 50 men and given a thorough but ineffective medical exam.

The prisoners knew not to expect anything good aboard, and they were right. All 1816 men were stuffed into the three holds on the ship, each divided with wooden separators with no more than 18 inches of living space for each person. If you’re out of luck, you would be placed on the lower levels, where they were basically showered with human wastes from the sick soldiers above.

Apart from the prisoners, 778 Japanese troops and 25 Japanese guards were also onboard.

There were only four lifeboats that were reserved for the Japanese troops. Four of the six life rafts were for them, too, so the remaining two were left for the more than a thousand prisoners in case something came up.

They sailed in good weather. The prisoners were sometimes allowed on deck so they could breathe some fresh air or stretch a bit.

Hit by USS Grouper

On the night of September 30, the USS Grouper sighted a group of nine sampans and a large freighter in the East China Sea, but they were not able to launch an attack immediately because of the moonlight. The next morning, as the prisoners were getting ready for the roll call, the Americans only saw the Japanese troops on board, unaware that they were, in fact, carrying prisoners. Grouper fired four torpedoes, one of which scored a hit. The freighter changed course and was left lying dead in the water, but it started firing at the submarine with a small-caliber weapon.