Survivors of the Shinyo Maru

“Crowded into the foul and steamy holds of an unidentified ship were 750 U.S. POWs, most of them survivors of POW Camp #2-Davao, Mindanao, Philippines. Since February 29, 1944, 650 officers and enlistees labored on a Japanese airfield at Lasang. The other 100 had similarly worked on another airfield south of Davao. All 750 were marched shoeless to the Tabunco Pier on August 19. On August 20, they were packed into the holds of the ship.

Late in the afternoon of August 24, the ship arrived in Zamboanga. The prisoners had no idea of where they were until the men who went topside to empty the latrine cans returned to tell them. The men were all very dirty, many suffering from heat rash and frequent blackouts.

After ten days of waiting in the harbor, they were transferred to the Shinyo Maru on September 4. On September 7, hatch covers were placed more closely together and secured by ropes to prevent lifting from below. They sailed for fourteen hours without an air raid alert, and many felt that the worst part of the journey was over.

There was a terrific explosion, followed by a second one.  Heavy obstacles came crashing down from above. Dust filled the air and bleeding men lay all over each other in mangled positions, arms, legs, and bodies broken. The deck was strewn with mangled bodies.

Japanese soldiers fired at Americans swimming in the water or shot at those struggling up from the holds.  A terrific cracking sound was heard.  The boat seemed to bend up in the middle and was finally swallowed up by the water."

The local Filipinos and members of the "Volunteer Guards" risked their lives to assist the eighty-three men who made it to shore.  One of the eighty-three died the next day.  After nursing the survivors back to health, they, then, assisted the survivors in returning to the United States.

The death of Shinyo Maru was duly noted by a Japanese cipher clerk at 1650 hours on September 7, the victim of a "torpedo attack." An intercept of September 10 reported 150 Japanese army casualties. Lt. Commander Nowell later reported that ‘this is probably the attack in which U.S. POWs were sunk, and swam ashore.’”

National Archives: Winter 2003, Vol.35, No. 4 (edited for brevity)


Ms. Mary June Bugante is the director of tourism for the Zamboanga area and her email is  She heard for the first time from Jim Zobel, the archivist at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA, the story of the sinking of the Hellship Shinyo Maru during WWII only a mile off Sindangan Point in her district. The unmarked ship was carrying 750 American POWs from Davao to Japan when torpedoed by the USS Paddle.


Mary June was riveted by the story of 83 American survivors making it a mile or more to shore through machine gun fire from surrounding Japanese convoy ships, also lifeboats full of Japanese firing rifles at the men in the water, and even a float plane strafing from overhead. While one POW died shortly after crawling ashore, Filipino natives cared for the survivors on the beach until Filipino guerrilla forces arrived to protect them. A month later eighty-one survivors were taken aboard the USS Narwhal and eventually made their way back to the USA. It is said that the 82nd survivor wanted to stay behind "so he could kill Japs".


Mary June has recently traveled from Zamboanga City to Sindangan to inform the mayor there about this event and investigate the possibility of a monument or memorial of some sort at the beach where the survivors came ashore. In locating the site with GPS coordinates, her Department of Tourism group came across an 86-year old woman who was 16 at the time of the event and remembers the rescue. It may be that the small stone chapel still standing on the spot is the very one in which the survivors were hospitalized. (The chapel today employs the large hollow shell of a WWII bomb as their "church bell".) Further research will tell much as more aging eyewitnesses are found, but the mayor was enthusiastic about the idea as it is surely a worthwhile commemoration at a historical site right in his front yard, so to speak.


Mary June would be very interested to find out if there are more stories to be found about this tragedy from any survivors or descendants of the survivors, any descendants of the perished any members of the USS Paddle and the USS Narwhal crews or their descendants who may have memoirs or recollections of the event.


This is not a solicitation for anything except information, and to inform. It may be that the idea may never come to fruition, but it is worth mentioning here so anyone who wants to can themselves contact Mary June directly with any further information or questions they may have. This coming September 7th, 2014, will be the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Shinyo Maru. 


If you wish to contribute stories and anecdotes, or if you wish to make a comment or recommendation, please contact Ms. Mary June Bugante.  She will be very happy to hear from you. 


Contact Mary June Bugante