1Murdoch University, Perth, Australia
The executions of captured Allied air crew who had crash landed in Japan constituted a distinct category among war crimes committed by Japanese military personnel in the Second World War. During the intense bombing of the Japanese main islands in the last year of the conflict, over 700 Allied planes, mostly B29 bombers, crashed in Japan. Official U.S. sources identified about 450 survivors, who were then taken prisoner. Captured airmen brought the enemy directly to the Japanese people for the first time. They were captured in non-battle zones and were often highly visible to Japanese civilians; they were sometimes captured by civilians or civil police. The fate of the prisoners was closely connected with the endgame of the Pacific conflict. Some were court-martialled by Japanese authorities and then executed but others were summarily executed, in a context in which air raids were a constant occurrence, an Allied invasion was expected in the near future, and transport and communication were disrupted. Fed by press and military insistence on the idea that the air crew were war criminals who had engaged in indiscriminate bombing, Japanese public opinion was extremely hostile to the air crew.
Sandra Wilson is Academic Chair of History at Murdoch University and is a specialist on modern Japan. She has written widely on Japanese nationalism and, with Cribb, Trefalt and Aszkielowicz, is the author of the book Japanese War Criminals (2017).