How was it that nearly 1000 US POWs were associated in some way with the Thai-Burma Railway? There were four distinct groups. The largest were the members of the TXNG 2/131 FA BN that was en route to the Philippines in DEC 41 and were then diverted to Australia in the early days of the war. Within weeks, they were sent to the island of Java to assist the Dutch in staving off the pending Japanese invasion. This was a futile effort and there were destine to become POWs by mid-March 1942.
The Heavy cruiser USS HOUSTON with its 1000-man crew was forward deployed in the Philippines when hostilities commenced. They immediately sailed south and were assigned to a combined American, British, Dutch and Australian flotilla called ABDACOM. In the early weeks of the war, they provided escort to military convoys moving between Australia and the Dutch East Indies (later Indonesia). ON 27 FEB 42 they were the largest ship in an Allied squadron that attempted to stave off the Japanese invasion force. Out-numbered and out-gunned most were sunk. On the evening of 28 FEB, the HOUSTON and the HMAS PERTH were heading for safety in Australia when they sailed directly into that invasion fleet. In an intense but futile naval engagement both ships were sunk in the Sunda Strait off the NW coast of Java. A few hundred men survived the sinking but were taken as POWs upon reaching shore.
These two groups would soon be joined together and would become known as the LOST BATTALION since it was months before their true fate was known to their families.
To these, we add a few dozen Merchant Mariners who survived the sinking of their vessels. There were also three US civilians caught up in this net of prisoners. The total being just under 1000 men, 700 of whom were sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. Most of the remainder were sent to Japan while a few dozen remained on Java.
133 of the POWs died of conditions on the TBR. Others died of disease and mistreatment in their assigned places of work. In all, 171 of the 1000 perished, including 19 who were lost at sea when the ships carrying them to Japan were torpedoed.
The full story of these various groups is long and complex. Among the POWs there are some unique stories that should be remembered. In subsequent videos we will attempt to relate the journey and suffering of these remarkable men.