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Japanese paratroopers in Palembang

Japanese paratroopers landing in Palembang, 14 February 1942

The invasion of Sumatra was the initial assault by Imperial Japanese forces on the Dutch East Indies; taking place from 14 February to 28 March 1942. The invasion was part of the Pacific War in South-East Asia during World War II and led to the capture of the island. The invasion of Sumatra was planned to occur prior to the invasion of Java to destroy the west flank of the allies and to give access to Java.

Bombed oil refinery in Palembang

Oil refinery burning in palembang, 1942

Sumatra fell on 28 March 1942 when the Dutch Major General R. T. Overakker with 2,000 soldiers surrendered near the town of Kutatjane in North Sumatra. Many of these allied prisoners were forced by the Japanese to construct a railway between Pekanbaru and Muaro. 


Overakker, and other KNIL, (The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army), officers in captivity,  were shot in 1945 in view of the impending defeat of the Japanese.

Major General R. T. Overakker

Major General R. T. Overakker was a KNIL Territorial Commander for Mid-Sumatra Island.

The original surveys by the Dutch for a railway link between Muaro and Pekanbaru were obtained by the Japanese. With these surveys, as well as surveys undertaken by their own men, the Japanese set out to construct the railway. The Japanese made use of the large amount of slave labour acquired in Java as well as the pow's interned when the East Indies fell to construct this railway. Once constructed this railway would allow the Japanese access to the resource rich interior of Sumatra and also the ability to move troops and supplies between coasts without having to travel through seas heavily patrolled by allied warships and submarines. 

5th regiment training barraks_edited.jpg

Japanese Railway Engineers Training Barracks, Japan

The Japanese tasked with building the railway were those of the 4th battalion, 9th railway regiment engineers, as well as a special Japanese National Railway (Okamura) unit. These railway engineers had been sent from the Thai/Burma railway just prior to it being completed. The regiment consisted of only 2 companies, 7 and 8. For a short time the 1st Battalion, 8th railway regiment worked on the railway heading east from Muaro. This was replaced by the 9th regiment when the 8th was transferred to the Philippines. These engineers worked under the control of the Japanese 25th Army based in Bukittingi, Sumatra.

Sergeant Akira Kani of the 7th company states "Here our job was to build a railway between Pekanbaru and Muaro, a length of 220km. The new railway was to be connected to the existing line at Muaro, as it was essential to move natural resources from Sumatra to Singapore, and some of them on to Japan". 

The railway was completed on the 15th of August 1945. One of the Japanese engineers to attend the completion ceremony was Lieutenant Ken Iwai. He states "I went to the linking up point, 178km from Pekanbaru, where a simple ceremony was to be held attended by a few railwaymen. After the ceremony we drank toasts in small glasses of Japanese beer and then Colonel Kasamatsu gave us a guideline address: 'Whatever big changes fall to the lot of Japan, you must not be dismayed.' From this and some other information i had received, i guessed that Japan is defeated, and the war is over."

At the end of the war many of the Japanese that had been involved with the occupation of Indonesia and the building of the Pekanbaru to Muaro railway were tried in Medan for war crimes. 

Lt. General Moritake Tanabe on trial in Medan

It was found that the Japanese occupation on Sumatra had systemically mistreated prisoners of war. This mistreatment arose out of the Japanese Army's decision to build a railway that could transport coal and move troops across Sumatra.

The general idea behind the prosecutor's charge was that the deaths on the railway were the direct result of the collective mistreatment of pow's and civilians by the Japanese 25th Army. Lt. General Tanabe and Major General Yahagi, the units commander and chief of staff, respectively, had taken no interest in the health and welfare of these laborers. It was also found that General Yamamoto, the head of the army's food and provisions, had failed to give sufficient food and clothing to the men. Compounding this further was the failure of Colonel Fukaya, the 25th armies senior medical officer, to provide adequate care to pow's and civilians suffering from illness.

The trial proceedings for the above officers began on November 24, 1948. Accepted as evidence were the sworn written statements of those who had worked on the railway, as well as evidence from the Red Cross, whose reports addressed the ill health of the civilian internees across Sumatra. 

On December 17, 1948, Tanabe along with his officers were found guilty. The sentence of death was issued on the 29th of December, 1948 with the men being informed of this decision the next day.

Lt. General Tanabe

Lt. General Tanabe was the commander of the 25th Japanese Army in South East Asia from 1943. On the 30th of December 1948 he was sentenced to death for war crimes.

To read more about General Tanabe, Click Here

Maj. General Nakao Yahagi, the 25th armies chief of staff. On the 30th of December 1948 he was sentenced to death for war crimes

Yahagi Nakao
Ryohei Miyazaki

Captain Ryohei Miyazaki, who was responsible for the camps along the railway was sentenced to death on 30-05-1948.

To learn more about Captain Miyazaki, Click Here

Below is a list of names and sentences known to have been given after the war for those involved in the building of the railway.

  • General Yamamoto, responsible for food and provisions for the 25th Army was sentenced to death on 30-12-1948

  • Colonel Fukaya, the chief medical officer for the 25th Army was sentenced to death on 30-12-1948

  • Lt. Isamu Doi was sentenced to life imprisonment on 30-05-1948.

  • Lt. Susumu Nagai was sentenced to eight years imprisonment on 30-05-1948.

  • Dr. Haruyoshi Ishi was sentenced to four years imprisonment.

  • Dr. Keji Kusomoto was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.

  • Staff officer Masaji Sukigara sentenced to life imprisonment on 07-08-1948

  • Staff officer Tori Kasamatsu sentenced to 8 years imprisonment on 07-08-1948


Due to many of the guards being known only by their nicknames, or changing their names after the capitulation of Japan, it was difficult to identify them by name. In the end these people were identified in line ups by their victims.

  • Kiyoshin Kaneki (Blood hound) received 7 years imprisonment.

  • Takemitsu Matsuoka received 9 years imprisonment.

  • Gido Satayama (Bertus or Ikan Teri) received 5 years imprisonment.

  • Fukushoku Ohara (Ohara) received 10 years imprisonent.

  • Takeo Kawamoto (Dikkie  Bigmans or The prize fighter) received 12 years imprisonment.

  • Moou Kanemoto (Farmer's son) received 6 years imprisonment.

  • Kaen Yanankigawa received 5 years imprisonment.

  • Mitsuo Uramoto received 7 years imprisonment.

  • Togen Iizumi (Baby Face) received 20 years imprisonment.

  • Taizyntu Kamino (Bawal) received 7 years imprisonment.

  • Eigyoku Iwamoto (Four eyes) received 8 years imprisonment.

  • Shoseki Tanaka (in charge of the Korean guards) received 8 years imprisonment.

No punishment is known for the following people:

  • Nishimura (Korean Commandant).

  • Kobiashi (King Kong).

  • Fuji (Flowerpot or Napoleon).

  • Takajama (Cross Eye) Korean guard at camp 8.

  • Shimamoto (Korean guard at camp 8).

  • Tosaikawa (Korean guard at camp 8). 


A group of semi-military guards were sentenced on 01-08-1948

  • Kejiu Kaneda received 5 years in prison.

  • Masao Kanemoto received 12 years in prison.

  • Eikichi Yoshimoto received 10 years in prison.

  • Nagao Shimamoto received 6 years in prison.

  • Zaimei Okamura received 8 years in prison.

  • Yasukumi Wada received 7 years in prison.

  • Kunchin Matsui received 8 years in prison.

  • Kessei Yanagawa received 14 years in prison.

  • Sumihisa Kaneyama received 5 years in prison.

  • Yukio Matsuyama received 12 years in prison.


The guard nicknamed Pig Head, hated due to his cruelty was mauled by a tiger while on duty along the railway and died from his wounds.


It is questionable as to how many of these people finished their sentences, but all death sentences were carried out.

Lt. Tohji Miura, the commandant of the Aceh group, escaped punishment and returned to Japan on 05-05-1946 from the island of Rempang near Singapore. He died in 1975 in Kyoto.

To learn more about Lt. Miura, Click Here 

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