Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Father Travels on the Hakone Maru in 1940: My Internet Travels From 1921 to 1943

Unlike my other internet wanderings and wonderings, the following will not flow from stream of consciousness. Rather, it presents some of my fascinating discoveries after cleaning up some memories my father put down in 1994. Specifically, these track his escape from Europe after World War II began and his travels from Italy (where he had been at university) to the United States, highlighted by several months in jail in limbo in Lisbon. For this wandering, the important point is how he got from Italy to Portugal:
Being stranded in Trieste where we did not know anyone was a serious predicament. We had wasted precious resources on the trip, lost time and parted with some of our belongings. We made the rounds of shipping agents and talked with all sorts of persons in the port. I cannot remember precise details - but somehow we learned that Japanese freighters passed through Naples on their way from the Orient to England and that they might offer an escape route. The information seemed reliable enough to justify the trip by train to Naples where, sure enough, we ascertained that the "Hakone Maru," a Jap half-freighter, was scheduled for arrival from Singapore in early February with final destination Liverpool and intermediate stops at Marseilles, Gibraltar and Casablanca.
Dad writes about his travel on this ship and concerns the ship's purser had with taking several German refugees, but my immediate goal was to see what else I could find out about the ship, and find out I did. My immediate objective to find some pictures was easy:

But looking for more, I found more. See after the jump:

For the broadest facts about the Hakone Maru I quote from Google Translate from a Japanese web site where it says that the ship (and sister ships) were built after:
"1920 as a replenishment ship loss due to war in World War 1 (1920) ton gross of 10,000 was determined to build three ships in February, adopted the turbine deceleration two-stage main engine in a passenger-cargo ship of 16 knots ." Detail on dates and destruction: "221. Hakone Maru (1) Hakone MARU Jhgd 10,423 28453/Shvw → G / T 8,178 / 8,178 SHP 14/16.1Kt1920.7.12 Organization (9) 1921.7.25 Launch (10) completed 1921.10.31 (10) NYK Sno.346 (Tokyo)1st Round Hakone Hakone Maru passengers: 118, and 2:55, and 3: 134 → 1943.11.27 about (Chapter 18) while traveling toward the characters from the Kaohsiung bird hill 12 miles east-northeast of Taiwan Strait Xing (25.04N, 119.40 E) sunk by aerial bombardment in"
Thus, the first irony is that the ship that does start my father out of Europe is later destroyed by the country that sheltered him and drafted him and sent him back to Europe in early 1944. This is confirmed with some bare facts of the ship's final trip:
26 November 1943: OGURA MARU No. 2 departs Takao in convoy No. 222 consisting of HAKONE, AKITSU, HAWAII, NITTATSU, SHUNKO, HOTEN and ROKKO MARUs and tanker SEINAN MARU escorted by torpedo boat TOMOZURU.

27 November 1943: SE of Foochow, China. Three 14th Air Force B-25 "Mitchell" medium bombers attack the convoy and sink HAKONE MARU.
I might wish for more detail about this attack, but maybe another day. The other thing I find that I wish for more detail on is that this ship had also--presumably before its role in my father's life--had taken German and Austrian Jewish refugees the other direction--to Shanghai. Thus, according to one website about the Shanghai migration:
"Not all refugees that left Germany and Austria during the last moments before the war came to Shanghai on Italian luxury liners. A smaller contingence of refugees also booked on Japanese passenger and cargo ships. An example was the TSS Hakone Maru that sailed from Naples, a city and port in southern Italy."

Other Voyages of the Hakone Maru

Although the following stories do not relate to the war and the travails and travels of Jewish refugees, they blew me away with how much one can find on the Internet. Whether one can do the same for any other steamship or ocean liner of the years between the wars, I do not know. How much more I can learn about this one ship and its captains, I also do not know, but here is just a summary of what I found, in chronological order:

A Poet Travels East

I had never heard of the English poet and critic Edmund Blunden, but, according to "Edmund Blunden and the Incitements of Japan" by Miriam J. Benkovitz on "Friday, March 28, 1924 at 4:10 P.M., Blunden left Liverpool Street Station, London, on the boat-train for Southampton, where he boarded the S. S. Hakone Maru to sail by way of Singapore and Hong Kong half-way round the "swaying" world to Japan." Blunden apparently had vivid memories of that day, but I have not tracked those down.

Death of an Ambassador

On March 17, 1931, Charles Elliot ("a learned and accomplished Orientalist" and British Ambassador to Tokyo from 1921 to 1926) died on the Hakone Maru while on his homeward journey from Japan to England. Thanks to an amazing collection of Australian newspapers that are on the web, I also found a detailed description of this from The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW) of May 23, 1931:(which I was able to help clean up the otherwise automatic transcription from the scanned PDF):

Sir Charles Eliot, British Ambassador in Japan from 1918 to 1926, who died on board the Hakone Maru on March 17, was buried at sea later that day about half-way between Penang and Colombo (as reported in the "Times"). The commander, Captain Y. Okuno, who had met Sir Charles Eliot on previous voyages and knew something of his intense interest in Buddhism, decided that as there was no Christian priest on board the burial service should be according to the rites usually observed at funerals of Japanese passengers. A platform was erected on the lower deck, and an artificial wreath from the captain, officers, and crew of the Hakone Maru placed upon it. On a table were two bowls, one containing burning incense and the other incense powder. The only words spoken during the ceremony were an invitation in Japanese from the purser to every person who had come into contact with Sir Charles Eliot to pay respect to the dead. The first to be invited was Sir Charles Eliot's personal servant, a Japanese, who carried a small bowl of sacred water which he placed beside the incense. He was followed by the captain, and then came each officer and member of the crow who had had direct dealings with Sir Charles Eliot, down to the cabin steward and the table steward. Each walked up to the small table, bowed, took three pinches of thc incense powder from the unlit bowl and crinkled them on that already burning. The bier was then slowly raised and the body slid into the sea. With this simple but impressive ceremony a great scholar and noted diplomatist was buried by a people whom he knew and loved.

Sea Rescue

On May 18, 1932, the ship helped rescue passengers from the fire and ultimate sinking of the Georges Philippar, a maiden voyage disaster of a lesser-order than the Titanic as reported in issues of the Canberra Times, "The Hakone Maru hurrying to the scene passed a number of lifeboats, while the Otranto and Kalsar-i-hind raced to pick up passengers...." and "Nearly all the survivors who landed at Aden from the rescuing steamers Contractor and Mahsud have left for Marseilles by the RMS Comorin and the Japanese steamer Hakone Maru."

Suicide of A (The?!) Japanese Tennis Star

On April 5, 1934, Japanese tennis star Jiro Satoh (Sato) killed himself aboard ship as it left the port of Singapore in Penang direction crossing the strait of Malacca; Sato was captaining the Japanese Davis Cup Team as it headed to Europe to play Australia in the second round. There is a long Sports Illustrated article from 1971 about Satoh--"Death En Route To Wimbledon"--that, among other things, provides the following shipboard setting prior to his death:
On a still, tropical evening in April 1934 the liner Hakone Maru, recently out of Singapore, steamed through the Malacca Strait toward Penang. Passengers mingled in the main lounge and bar after dinner, gossiping, ordering nightcaps, reading, playing cards. But lawn-tennis champion Jiro Satoh, the most celebrated Japanese sportsman of the day, confined himself to his first-class cabin, below. There, dressed in white flannels and the official blazer of his national Davis Cup team, he humbled himself before an improvised shrine. On a small table that served as an altar were a vase holding orchids, photographs of his father and fiancee, and two burning candles. A bowl of Japanese sweetmeats was placed in the center as an offering. In the background hung the national flag of Japan, the rising sun.

Pre-war Arms Shipments

As a mixed passenger and cargo ship, I have found only one story about cargo. According to a debate in the British House of Commons in February 1938, on November 13, 1937 "Messrs. Vickers, Armstrong shipped 26 machine-gun sets" aboard the vessel. Oliver Stanley, as President of the Board of Trade avoided answering any specific questions ("it is not the Government's practice to publish information which would disclose the business of individual firms.") and I have not found out more about what caused this to become a subject of Question Time.

War Time and Moving Japanese Refugees

As befits my starting place of moving German Jewish refugees, my last information prior to the sinking of the ship relate to war politics and to its use of taking Japanese refugees from Singapore and Australia back to Japan. Thus, a news story tells how, on September 30, 1940, "the Japanese steamship Hakone Maru, enroute to the United States from Lisbon, was ordered by the British to halt at Bermuda, where it arrived on September 30 and was released on Friday. The ship proceeded to Baltimore and is due on Monday.The impression prevails that Bermuda is not a regular halting port for the vessel, which originally was proceeding to Liverpool but went to Lisbon instead on account of war conditions and regulations in regard to the British Isles."

Finally, an Australian intelligence summary reports that the ship had been detained in Bombay on August 20, 1941 but
was released and left with about 60 evacuated Japanese for Singapore where she was to embark an additional 104 Japanese for Japan. This vessel was later reported to have been detained at Singapore pending assurance for the reciprocal treatment of British subjects to be evacuated from Japanese territory. Latest reports state that the vessel was allowed to sail yesterday 21st Sept.
From US Defense reports, "The Foreign Minister advised the Japanese Consul at Manila on September 26, 1941 that the Hakone Maru would soon call at Manila and Davao. The Foreign Office was to be advised of the number of Japanese withdrawing from that district as well as other details of the evacuation." and that "an agreement with Ambassador Robert Craigie in Tokyo, safe transit for the Hakone Maru, sailing through the Persian Gulf en route to Bombay, was assured. In exchange, English ships, sent to Japan and China for the evacuation of British and Allied nationals, were granted similar facilities."


  1. I have a Post Card of S S Hakone Maru Which is Addressed to a Mrs Danby Wheatlely which is a typed message which briefly states this is my temporary home traveling between Singerpore and Hong Kong ending I propose to write a bok about it i don`t think signedD.A.D. 19/6/30 postcard is different to thoose shown but simuler. do you know if it is possible to get passenger lists this far back I collect various postcards find the message side of them fasinating {}

  2. My mum travelled from Manila to Sing Tao on the Hakone Maru in 1941. We have a photo somewhere. Thanks for this additional information.