Japanese War Crimes Trials, Darwin 1946.
by Norman Cramp
Director of Darwin Military Museum.
Prior to the trials proceeding, the Defence Counsel argued the trials were unconstitutional and illegal, and as such should not be allowed to proceed. His objections were overruled by the Tribunal members and the cases proceeded.
The First Trial
The accused were:
Captain Kasukane SAIKI
Captain Kisaburo AKUZAWA
Captain Teishu MORI
Captain Raisaku ABE
Sergeant Taizo ARAI (Kempei Tai)
Sergeant Eiji NARUTA
Sergeant Tamotsu KITANO
Sergeant Kunio HARAGUCHI and
Lance Corporal S KAMIMOTO (Unit HQ – 48th Division)
The Second Trial
At the time the crimes were committed, Col. Yutani was a member of the notorious Kempei Tai (the Japanese Military Secret Police) and the senior IJA Officer in Koepang, Timor. As commanding officer, the crimes were committed and under Yutani’s instruction.
The accused in that trial were:
Lt. Col. Yutani Yujiro (Kempei Tai)
Sgt. Kasezawa Toshinobu and
Private Sano Taketomi
The Final Trial
It was a massive and, as it turned out, an impossible mission. Armstrong remained at liberty in the Timor jungle, journeying across the island for nearly a year before he and Martin were betrayed in mid-1943 by locals and re-captured by the Japanese. Once captured and returned to Koepang, Yutani proceeded to torture the two men.
Unable to break the men, or at least extract the required information, Yutani ordered they be executed. As a result of this order, Armstrong and Martin were blindfolded and hauled into a truck under armed guard. They were taken to a secure area (to avoid interruption) just outside Koepang, where they were taken behind a building, lined up and shot. Martin was shot first. When Armstrong realised what awaited him, he made a break for it but, being blindfolded, he crashed into the corner of the building, rendering himself almost unconscious. The guards returned him to the execution spot where, according to a Timorese eyewitness, Yutani shot him in the back of the head.
All of the IJA personnel accused of the various crimes were transported to Darwin on a RAN destroyer to stand trial. It is not known why the trials were held in Darwin, rather than at Manus Island where most trials dealing with crimes in this part of the Pacific region were held.
The trial lasted 14 days, from 15th April to 29th April, during which time the court adjourned to the Koepang prison for on-site investigations and hearings, but the defendants stuck to their story. Finally, one of the accused broke ranks and advised the court that he had heard the senior NCOs discussing, during a heavy drinking session, the execution of the two prisoners. He reported that he was aware that the two POWs had been executed. One by one the accused pleaded guilty, including Yutani, although he argued that he was simply acting on orders from a higher authority.
The Tribunal, after hearing all the evidence and arguments for and against, handed down the following decisions and sentences. Interestingly, no mention was made of, or punishment meted out for perjury against any of the accused even though all had lied under oath during their trials.
The Court's Decision
Saiki: Guilty of 2 of 11 charges and sentenced to 3 months imprisonment with hard labour.
Mori and Abe: Guilty of 2 charges and sentenced to 1 month imprisonment with hard labour.
The other 6 accused were acquitted.
Trial No: 2.
Yutani: Guilty on both charges.
Sano: Guilty on one charge.
Kasezawa: Not guilty.
Trial No: 3.
Yutani: Guilty and sentenced to death by shooting.
Miyata: Guilty and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.
Kasezawa: Guilty and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment with hard labour.
Takahashi: Guilty and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment with hard labour.
Kagayama: Guilty and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment with hard labour.
The penultimate chapter of this tragedy is that information came to light from local natives, that the bodies of Armstrong and Martin had been discovered accidently after the murders, and had been cremated when the natives had burnt the land in preparation for crop sowing. It was reported to the court, that when the bodies were located the heads were missing – meaning the victims had been decapitated after death by firing squad.
The last and possibly saddest part of the story, other than Armstrong and Martin losing their lives for no valid reason, is that James Armstrong’s mother only learned about his fate via a newspaper article covering the Darwin trials. She had not heard from her son since just prior to his capture by the Japanese and had asked the Commonwealth government and the Australian Army for details on his whereabouts and well-being – all to no avail.
James Armstrong and Gunner Martin have no known graves, but Armstrong is commemorated on the memorial cairn within the Adelaide River Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, Northern Territory.