War Crimes in Hong Kong | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

War Crimes in Hong Kong

Summary: If you have any information related to Hong Kong's War Crimes Trials held in the late 1940s, Ms Suzannah Linton (suzannah.linton@hku.hk) would like to hear from you. She is currently researching this part of Hong Kong's history.

The Crimes

The crimes date back to the World War 2, and the Japanese invasion and occupation of Hong Kong. There are three main groups:

1. Crimes during fighting

During fighting on Hong Kong island, Japanese soldiers committed several massacres. Victims included unarmed, captured allied soldiers, patients in military hospitals, and medical staff.

2. Crimes against Prisoners of War & Internees.

After the fighting ceased, the allied soldiers became prisoners of war (POW), and allied civilians were interned in Stanley Camp.

The single incident that claimed the most POW's lives was the sinking of the Lisbon Maru, a Japanese ship transporting POW's from Hong Kong to Japan. The ship was torpedoed by an American submarine. Japanese soldiers prevented the POWs from leaving the holds. As the ship finally began sinking, the POWs forced their way out, only to be shot at by Japanese on nearby ships. There were more than 1800 POWs on the ship, and over 800 died.

Other crimes related to the treatment of prisoners and internees in the camps.

3. Crimes against local residents

Outside the camps, the Kempeitai or Military Police were to be feared. Many local residents, including Chinese, Indian, and Eurasian, faced brutal interrogation by the Kempeitai during the occupation.

The Trials

The British resumed control of Hong Kong during August 1945. After the Japanese were rounded up and moved into camps, one of the first tasks was to identify any former Kempeitai, and hold them for trial.

The War Crimes Trials lasted from March 1946 til March 1948, and tried 123 Japanese. Of those, 22 were sentenced to death, 14 were acquitted, and the remainder given prison sentences. Among the 22 were Noma and Kanazawa, the two commanders of the Hong Kong Kempeitai.

Current Research

Suzannah Linton, currently teaching law at the University of Hong Kong, is compiling an online archive of documents related to these trials. She plans to put her research online by the end of this year, and make it publicly available. (Though the original case notes, sourced from Britain's National Archive, will only be viewable from a computer on one of Hong Kong's universities' computer networks.)

Best to move on?

Why bring these crimes out into the light again? Especially today, with nationalist feelings on both the Chinese and Japanese sides running high over the Diaoyu islands. Isn't there a risk that stories like these will fuel those passions, and make it even harder to find a peaceful solution?

I'd hope that people reading about these crimes will see them as a result of war, not of any one country. That "To fight in a war is terrible - you see terrible things, you experience terrible things, you do terrible things."

Can you help?

Here's more detail on the type of information Suzannah is looking for:

She is particularly interested in documents from those who directly participated, i.e. judges, prosecutors, defence, accused and witnesses.  Even better, if such persons are still alive, would be to be able to interview them.  Observer notes, for example, by media who attended, would also be greatly appreciated. Please contact Associate Professor Linton at suzannah.linton@hku.hk

Further reading:

Tony Banham's books cover several aspects of this time in detail:

For a broader view of this time, including events leading up to the war, the experiences of the Hong Kong population during occupation, and the effects post-war, Philip Snow's 'The Fall of Hong Kong' is a good read.

The war crimes were covered in detail in the local newspapers of the time. You can read them online.

Suzannah's research has been reported in several of the local newspapers. if you have access to the SCMP website, they ran an article on 13th September. They also have a simplified version on their 'Young Post' website, which is open to the public.


Dear David,

Thank you very much for your great summary about my project on Hong Kong's War Crimes Trials, funded by the Hong Kong SAR Government. 

If you don't mind, I'd like to make some corrections/clarifications:

1.    There are several ways to divide out these British trials.  You've kindly listed the Hong Kong cases.  On this geographical basis, there are actually two categories: trials in relation to events in Hong Kong and trials in relation to events outside Hong Kong - Formosa, China (Shanghai and Waichow), Japan and the High Seas. 

2.    In relation to the Hong Kong cases, I have not found any cases covering the Stanley Internment camp.  The Hong Kong cases that I do have cover the invasion, POW camps, Kempeitai and Army attacks on villages such as at Silver Mine Bay.

3.    In relation to the database, it will contain my casenotes that will be available online to everyone.  These will summarise the case files.  Due to restrictions imposed by The National Archives in the UK, the scanned copies of the files themselves will only be viewable from a computer on one of Hong Kong's universities' computer networks.

4. My statistics are 21 death sentences carried out after confirmation of the judgement and sentence, and 14 acquittals.  In total, 122 judgments and sentences were confirmed.

Thank you very much, and I do hope to be able to have some good feedback!

Best wishes and congratulations on this terrific website,


Will local Chinese/Sikh/Macanese, etc collaborators and their trials be of interest too, I wonder? There was a visitor to Gwulo.com recently who was looking up an ancestor who was with the Hong Kong Bank and locked up  for being a collaborator, which was a very interesting story and explored for a while on one thread.

Dear Adam,

Thanks.  No, I have not got those files, just the ones from the British Military Courts dealing with War Crimes.  The locally based collaborator trials were handled by the civilian courts, i.e. Supreme Court.  They were tried under the Treason Act.  I have seen some of the files on microfiche at the Public Records Office in Hong Kong, others may well be part of the Supreme Court's own archive or at Kew.



Dear  80skid,

What terrific photographs!  The HKWCT website will have some photos from the Public Records Office, but these are great ones.  Thanks for alerting me about them. 



Suzannah, thanks for the corrections and extra information. If you haven't read it already, I recommend the Snow book mentioned above. He gives copious notes and references, which may provide some further areas to research.

I didn't know there wre also trials held here but related to events elsewhere. Any idea how they decided if someone would be tried in Japan or Hong Kong for instance? I'm guessing the events outside Hong Kong were mainly connected with POWs from Hong Kong, which is why the trials were held here.

To add another geographical twist, Snow mentions there were also trials regarding Hong Kong, but that were held elsewhere. In particular the three Japanese who had led the Japanese administration at different times over the 3 years and 8 months. They were all tried by the Nationalist forces on the mainland. Two were shot, one imprisoned.

Surprisingly the person in charge of the soldiers that committed most of the massacres in the fighting got away with a prison sentence.

The figures above came from the SCMP interview - I should have checked them with you first! Snow gives the figures as 129 tried in 48 cases, with results:

  • 21 death sentences
  • 28 prison sentences (10+ years)
  • 57 prison sentences (< 10 years)
  • 14 acquitted
  • 9 charges dropped

Regards, David

PS Here's the story Adam mentioned.

Dear David,

Many thanks.

I count only confirmed judgements and sentences; there were two judgements that were not confirmed (one went for retrial, one went to the Supreme Court as a treason case).  So, if Philip Snow counted them as 2 trials, that explains why he has 48 and I have 46. 

The thinking that led to the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals also envisaged ‘minor’ alleged war criminals being tried in the countries where they committed the crimes.  Under the British Royal Warrant, military commanders could exercise jurisdiction over persons found within their area of control against whom there was credible evidence of participation in war crimes.  Jurisdiction was also exercised on the basis of nationality of the victim, and sometimes consent of the state of nationality.  Hence, we have the mishmash of cases in Hong Kong, although most do involve crimes against British and Commonwealth nationals.

There were parallel Australian war crimes trials here in Hong Kong, 13 of them from 1947-1948. Gerry Simpson and colleagues at Melbourne University are working on the Australian WWII trials programme, including these Hong Kong cases.  None of them concerned crimes in Hong Kong, it seems to have been a location of convenience after the trials in Rabaul closed down, possibly because the accused were arrested in this area of command.  Hong Kong crimes were covered at the IMT Tokyo.  In China, there were at least the following trials that raised Hong Kong events:  The ‘Conqueror of Hong Kong’ Takashi Sakai before the War Crimes Military Tribunal of the Ministry of National Defence in Nanking in August 1946; former Governor Rensuke Isogai before the War Crimes Military Tribunal of the Ministry of National Defence in Nanking in July 1947; and General Tanaka Hisakasu and five others before a US Military Commission in Shanghai in September 1946.  Philip Snow refers to the trial of former Hong Kong Governor Tanaka in Canton but I don’t have any records of that and can’t currently be sure this is the same person as the General Tanaka who was actually tried in Shanghai.

Statistics and tables, and a more detailed account of the trials will go up on the Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials Website, at the University of Hong Kong Libraries, hopefully on 25 December 2010.

Thanks again. 



Hi Suzannah,

Back in the 1980s, a Japanese publisher published a series of historical documents on Class B and Class C war crime trials:  http://www.fujishuppan.co.jp/ajia/BCkyuusenpankankeisiryoushuusei.html

I don't know Japanese but perhaps you can check out some of the volumes.  Volumes 6 and 7 are about POW camps inside and outside of Japan, respectively; Volumes 9 and 10 deal with trials conducted by the UK authorities; Volume 2 is about war crime tribunals in Guangdong.

Hope this helps.

Best regards,


Dear C,

Many thanks for the tip.



E-mail from Suzannah dated 27 Dec 2010:

Dear friends and colleagues,
I hope this email finds you well rested after a good break with family over Christmas.

I have just launched the website and database that I have been working on flat out for about 2 years.  The Hong Kong's War Crimes Trials Collection website, about the trials in Hong Kong from 1946-1948, is at  http://hkwctc.lib.hku.hk/exhibits/show/hkwctc/home

The University issued a Press Release about it - see below.  I hope that you will find it of to be satisfactory, interesting and a worthy memorialisation of all that tragic loss and suffering so long ago.  I really do hope that much fresh work in this area will be stimulated; I myself am now moving on to the legal research proper.

With best wishes for a wonderful 2011, and thank you for your support of this project!

25 Dec 2010

Launching of Hong Kong's War Crimes Trials website

The Hong Kong's War Crimes Trials Collection  website http://hkwctc.lib.hku.hk/exhibits/show/hkwctc/home created by Associate Professor Suzannah Linton of the Faculty of Law with the assistance of HKU Libraries, will be launched on December 25 (Friday).

The Collection's website provides details of, and access to, the database containing case files of 46 trials involving 123 persons who were tried in Hong Kong for war crimes committed during the Second World War.  This priceless window into Hong Kong's past will enable much fresh and multi-disciplinary scholarship for years to come.

The four British War Crimes Courts in Hong Kong exercised jurisdiction over war crimes, meaning "a violation of the laws and usages of war committed during any war in which His Majesty has been or may be engaged at any time since the 2nd September, 1939". The courts dealt with cases from across Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories, and also from Formosa (Taiwan), China (Waichow and Shanghai), Japan and on the High Seas. The subject matter spanned war crimes committed during the fall of Hong Kong, during the occupation and in the period after the capitulation following the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but before the formal surrender.  They included killings of hors de combat, abuses in prisoner-of-war camps, abuse and murder of civilians during the military occupation, forced labour and offences on the High Seas.

The first trial, concerning the Silver Mine Bay Massacre on Lantau Island, began on 28 March 1946.  The last judgement, in the matter of detainee abuses in Shanghai, was promulgated on 18 February 1949 having been passed on 20 December 1948.  There were a total of 46 British war crimes trials in Hong Kong, of 123 individuals.  Of the 46 judgements issued, 44 were confirmed against 108 individuals, with 14 acquittals.  Two judgements were not confirmed:  there was one retrial following non-confirmation of the judgement, and one judgement was not confirmed but transferred to the Supreme Court. 

The website is part of a project funded by the Hong Kong SAR government's Research Grants Council. Other members of the HKU team involved in this project were Professor Linton's research assistants Ernest Ng, Dixon Tse and Janet Man, and also Dave Low and David Palmer from HKU Libraries.

RTHK is making a television documentary about Professor Linton's project for its Hong Kong Connections programme; it is expected to be screened in February 2011.  Professor Linton is giving a public lecture on ‘Hong Kong's War Crimes Trials' at the Museum of Coastal Defence at Shau Kei Wan on 22 January 2011 (Saturday) from 3pm to 5pm.  Discussions about the publication of a book about Hong Kong's War Crimes Trials are highly advanced.

For media enquiries, please contact: Ms Trinni Choy (Assistant Director (Media), Communications and Public Affairs Office) tel: 2859 2606 email: pychoy@hku.hk  or Ms Melanie Wan (Manager (Media), Communications and Public Affairs Office) tel: 2859 2600 email: melwkwan@hku.hk.

looks interesting. some great photos too, including one of Japanese troops lined up in front of the Cricket Club which is clad in presumably Shinto colours