to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

9.14 Not all white

The crew of the SS AMERICAN LEADER were at the Bicycle Camp but were never integrated into the Tharp contingent in that they arrived after that group had departed. Their story as POWs is similar:

On 7 SEP 1942, American Leader was in Cape Town where she received orders from the British Admiralty. She was sent westward – unescorted – toward the Straits of Magellan to the Pacific. At that time the German Raider Michel had been operating in the South Atlantic with impunity. On that dark night OF SEP 10th the American Leader became her 10th victim. Following the sinking, the Michel returned to the scene. From three liferafts, 47 survivors were picked up and taken prisoner. Eleven men were lost.

On 7 OCT 1942 the 72 American and British seamen on board Michel were transferred to a Kriegsmarine resupply ship Uckermark and were handed over to the Japanese at Tandjong Priok on 6 NOV 1942. They first went to the Bicycle Camp, and later some were sent to Kampong Makassar.

In 1944, eighteen American Leader survivors were among 1,000 prisoners selected be sent to Japan. On 27 JUN 1944 their transport Tamahoko Maru was torpedoed by the USS Tang. The ship sank in just two minutes and only five of the American Leader crew members on board survived.

At about the same time, 15 other crew members were sent to Sumatra via Singapore to work on the Pakan Baroe railway where more died. On SEP 15, the ancient coal-burning Junyo Maru left Batavia carrying the almost unbelievable total of 2,300 Allied prisoners, 4,200 conscripted Javanese laborers, and hundreds of Japanese, including the ship’s crew and the guard detail. Nine American Leader crew members were present.  In the late afternoon of the 18th, in the Indian Ocean, 14 miles off the Sumatran coast, the Junyo Maru was hit by two torpedoes from HMS Tradewind. Most of the Javanese drowned, as did more than 1,500 of the prisoners. Of the 9 American Leader personnel aboard the Junyo Maru only 5 survived; one of those died on Sumatra in DEC 44.

When the fighting came to an end, American Leader survivors were scattered throughout the Far East. Captain Pedersen was in Manchuria. On Kyushu were 5 men, on Sumatra 9, and still on Java, 13. Of the 58 American Merchant Seamen and Naval Reserve Gunners who left New York in April 1942, only 28 returned home.

Crew KIA in sinking 10; USNR 1

POW: Crew 9; USNR 4; lost on Tomahaku Maru

 Crew 3; USNR 1; lost on Junyo Maru

 Crew 5 to Pakan Baroe; 1 died on Sumatra DEC 1944

           Crew 11; USNR 2; liberated from Java

One of the unique aspects of this particular group of POWs is that it include two Negroes (using the parlance of the day). Two of the galley staff: Chief Cook Neville Sutherland and Messman George Bowens. It is thought that they were among a very small number of Merchant Marines who were not Caucasians. The Japanese did not seem to treat them any differently than their compatriots. 


Of course, there was another non-Caucasian member of the 2/131. That was SSG Frank Fujita who was full-blooded Japanese and is thought to be the only American of Japanese heritage to be taken prisoner by the Japanese.

However, one other 2/131 member was of Chinese extraction [PVT Eddie Fung] as were four mess stewards from the HOUSTON [Chie Ah, Kun Yu, Su Marco & Tsao Chu Lin].


It also is worthy of not under this topic heading, that the majority of KNIL (Dutch Army) soldiers were Eur-Asians. Only the officers tended to be European Dutch.

On Java and the other islands of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), the Japanese were first lauded as ‘liberators’ from long decades of colonial rule. But the islanders soon realized that rather than be liberated, they were being even further enslaved. Tens of thousands of Javanese civilians were exported to multiple sites across SEA as ‘economic soldiers’ (aka romusha).

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