In Kyoto during 1927, Dr. Shiro Ishii had a decisive revelation. He was following his regular routine of looking through stacks of research journals in order to keep up with the latest discoveries in his field. While browsing through a medical journal, he found an article on the Geneva Convention of 1925, which Japan had signed but the Diet had not ratified. The treaty banned the use of biological warfare. The reason Japan had not ratified the treaty is it recognized the potential for this field in modern warfare. It was during his time at Kyoto University that both the Japanese army and navy became impressed with the theoretical concepts of biological warfare drawn up by Shiro Ishii. Ishii had designed this new division thoroughly; every detail was accounted for including the availability of test subject in Manchuria.
Ishii saw prisoners as subhuman and expendable, a view shared by the Japanese military after World War I. One reason Japan refused to ratify the Geneva Convention was that it felt no Japanese soldier would allow himself to be captured; therefore, the code of death before dishonor was placed deep in the Japanese soldiers’ minds. Japan was not willing to take the burden of caring for prisoners of war upon themselves, especially if its own men would not be in the same situation.
When a bomb of unknown origin ripped the Japanese railway near Shenyang (then known as Mukden), the Japanese Kwantung army guarding the railway used the incident as a pretext to occupy S Manchuria (Sept., 1931). Despite Japanese cabinet opposition and a pledge before the League of Nations to withdraw to the railway zone, the army completed the occupation of Manchuria and proclaimed the puppet state of Manchukuo (Feb., 1932)
Zhongma fortress was outside Harbin as it was a major railroad hub for the whole region, a fact that Ishii would put to great use.The rail system became the transport of death for thousands of convicts destined for Ishii's units. The first laboratory of the Togo unit proved to be too public, though, so Ishii continued legitimate medical studies there and prepared for a more secret location for his bio-war experiments. Ishii organized his secret group, the Togo Unit, to conduct these secret experiments. The Togo Unit made its headquarters in the Chinese village of Bei-inho (or Beiyinhe), 100 Km south of Harbin. The local inhabitants were forcibly evacuated and their village burnt down. Immediately a 100-room living quarters building and several smaller labs were constructed while work began on the true facility.
When Ishii wanted a human brain to experiment upon, guards were assigned to acquire the organ. Grabbing a prisoner, the guards held him down, while another cleaved open his skull with an axe. The organ was clumsily removed and rushed to Ishii’s laboratory. The remains of the “sacrificed” prisoner were then “disposed” of in the camp crematorium. Other prisoners could look forward to equally horrific experimentation. Live dissection was common-place.
Ishii and other members of the Togo unit would draw 500 cc of blood from selected prisoners every few days. Once they had grown too weak to be of further use, they were “sacrificed” by lethal injection. Prior to disposal in the Zhong Ma crematorium, it was usual for the cadaver to be dissected. Ishii’s first crude attempts on biological weapons focused on three contagious diseases: anthrax, glanders and plague. Plague infected fleas lured from mice were used to produce a bacterium that was injected in to prisoners. Within ten to twelve days the infected “logs” were writhing with temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius. One prisoner survived in these conditions for nineteen days. All were eventually dissected while alive.
The Unit was also keenly interested in “frostbite” experimentation. This was a particularly important project. Frostbite degraded military efficiency during the bitter Manchurian winters. By the time Ishii’s research facility was relocated to the massive Ping Fan complex in 1939, frostbite tests were routine. Echoing similar work by the notorious Nazi, Dr. Josep Mengele, naked prisoners - males and females - were subjected to sub-freezing temperatures. Later they were “defrosted” by a range of experimental techniques. It was usual for these “logs” to have their limbs beaten with sticks until they resounded with a hard, hollow ring - signifying the freezing process was complete.
In all, Ishii personally patented over two hundred discoveries, benefiting handsomely from his research.
released thousands of plague-infected rodents and other disease-infected animals. The resulting outbreaks of the plague killed at least 30,000 people in the Harbin area from 1946 through 1948. Tons of toxic chemicals were also dumped into rivers or buried. Most of the buildings at Ping Fan were then either razed to the ground or destroyed with explosives.
Sanders was desperate for information concerning Japanese bio-weapons. But as he continued to delve into the subject, he found that the people he interviewed would tell him nothing unless they were promised some kind of protection from prosecution for their activities. Making matters even more complicated for Sanders was the fact that the man assigned to be his interpreter was none other than Lieutenant Colonel Ryoichi Naito, a former member of Unit 731. Sanders appears to have been unaware of this at the time. Being neither a Japanese speaker nor a scientist, Sanders also did not know that Colonel Ryoichi actively participated in weaving a web of half-truths and outright lies concerning Unit 731. Colonel Ryoichi eventually persuaded Sanders that witnesses would talk only if they were promised immunity from prosecution. The result, according to the scholar Tien-wei Wu, was that
"Sanders approached General Douglas MacArthur saying: 'My recommendation is that we promise Naito that no one involved in BW will be prosecuted as war criminal.' The recommendation was readily accepted by MacArthur. By September, Sanders discovered that Unit 731 was involved in human experiments and he took the issue to MacArthur whose response was, 'We need more evidence. We can't simply act on that. Keep going. Ask more questions. And keep quiet about it'."