Escapes from Prisoner of War Camps in Asia
Escape was far harder for prisoners in Asia than in Europe. Yet escapes did take place, and more than is generally realized. Some of the most impressive escapes of the war, especially by Americans, who did not especially distinguish themselves in escaping in Europe, took place from Japanese prisoner of war camps, in spite of great difficulties. Westerners stood out among the locals, the terrain was more difficult, and distances were greater.
In Japan itself, escape was out of the question. In Southeast Asia, local hostility to Europeans, which could spill over onto Australians and Americans, was sometimes a major problem. Elsewhere, things could be easier. Westerners who got out of prison camps in the Philippines or China and were still in relatively good physical shape--a major qualification!--stood a good chance of reaching friendly territory. Everywhere the biggest obstacles were those created by the Japanese--not so much the physical defenses they constructed against escape, but the awful conditions they imposed on their captives. Twenty-seven percent of Western prisoners of war in Japanese camps died in captivity, against 3 percent of those held by the Germans. This figure may have risen to 40 percent in the case of the Americans. Australians, who kept better statistics on the fate of their men, calculated that of 7,116 men captured by the European Axis, just 242 died, while 7,717 died in Japanese camps, against 13,872 returning alive.