World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.


Hsinking (Changchun), Manchukuo February 18, 1932

The Meiji Restoration of Imperial rule in 1868 resulted in the down­fall of Japan’s power­ful mili­tary com­man­ders, the sho­guns, and the Japa­nese samu­rai war­rior class. Partly as a con­ces­sion to the samu­rai, the Japa­nese govern­ment em­barked on an aggres­sive foreign policy in Man­churia in North­eastern China and on the Korean Penin­sula. The Japa­nese defeat of Russia over the latter’s ter­ritorial ambi­tions in Man­churia in 1904–1905 bol­stered Japan’s power, autho­rity, and self-con­fi­dence in the Asia Pacific region. The Treaty of Ver­sailles, which ended World War I, granted Japan rights and con­ces­sions in the Shan­tung Penin­sula in North­eastern China across the Yellow Sea from Korea, a Japanese colony since 1910.

Using an argu­ment similar to the Nazis’ man­tra for Lebens­raum in Eastern Europe, Japa­nese national ex­tre­mists looked west across the Sea of Japan to China for living space. On Septem­ber 18, 1931, Japan’s Kwan­tung Army in China in­vaded Man­churia and on this date in 1932 estab­lished the pup­pet state of Man­chu­kuo, the Kwan­tung Army’s spring­board for further aggres­sion in China. In the same year the Impe­rial Japa­nese Army, with the blessings of Shōwa Em­peror Hiro­hito (on the throne from 1926 to 1989), organ­ized a secret research group in Man­chukuo’s Ping­fang dis­trict for the pur­pose of de­vel­oping chemi­cal and bio­logical wea­pons to be used against the Chinese, Koreans, and other “inferior” peoples whose terri­tory they, compar­able to the Nazis in Europe, intended to conquer.

Unit 731, whose head­quarters’ design was that of a lum­ber mill, was the most noto­rious of these research labora­tories, where epidemic and viral dis­eases such as bubonic plague, cho­lera, and an­thrax were mass-produced. More than 10,000 humans (euphe­mis­tically known as “logs”) were sub­jects of bar­barous experi­ments con­ducted in this and simi­lar fac­tories of death, repeatedly being forced to work to ex­haus­tion and ex­posed to dis­eases, starva­tion, and vivi­section. Hap­less subjects included crimi­nals, ban­dits, anti-Japa­nese parti­sans, poli­tical pri­soners, as well as in­fants, children, the elderly, and preg­nant women. Run by the Kwan­tung Army, Unit 731’s vic­tims also included U.S., British, Dutch, Aus­tra­lian, and Soviet pri­soners of war. Unit 731’s germ and chemi­cal wea­pons pro­grams resulted in pos­sibly as many as 200,000 grisly deaths (to say nothing of extreme suffering) of mili­tary per­son­nel and civil­ians between 1932 and 1945. In a deal struck with U.S. occu­pa­tion forces, most Japanese perpetrators were never brought to justice after the war.

Japanese Puppet State Manchukuo (1932–1945) and Biological Warfare Unit 731

Japanese Manchukuo (Chinese Manchuria)

Above: Map of Manchukuo (Manchuria) in relation to its neigh­bors. The large area labeled “Japan” is the Japa­nese colony of Korea (1910–1945). The smaller area on the south­ern part of the Liao­dong Penin­sula in Man­churia went by the name of Kwan­tung Leased Terri­tory, which included the mil­itarily and econo­mically significant ports of Lüshunkou (Port Arthur) and Dalian.

Japanese propaganda poster Unit 731 headquarters near Harbin, Manchukuo

Left: Propaganda poster promoting harmony between Japa­nese, Chi­nese, and the resi­dents of Manchu­kuo. The cap­tion says (right to left): “With the coopera­tion of Japan, China, and Manchukuo, the world can be in peace.”

Right: Japanese Biological Warfare Unit 731 Head­quarters at Ping­fang (near Har­bin), Manchu­kuo (North­east China). Officially known as the Epi­demic Pre­ven­tion and Water Puri­fi­cation Depart­ment of the Kwan­tung Army (the Japa­nese occu­pa­tion army in Man­chu­kuo), the sprawling com­plex was ser­viced by an air­port and rail­road sta­tions. Leading Japa­nese medi­cal schools assigned doctors to Unit 731, some of whom later com­plained of wasting the best years of their lives on medi­cal research that could not be con­tinued after the war. Almost 70 per­cent of the vic­tims who died in at Ping­fang (there were other Unit 731 instal­la­tions) were Chi­nese, including both civil­ian and mili­tary. Soviets com­prised close to 30 per­cent of the vic­tims. Most of Ping­fang was burnt by the Japa­nese to destroy evi­dence of some of the most grue­some atroci­ties of World War II, but the incin­er­a­tor where the remains of victims were burnt remains today. Unlike war crimes asso­ci­ated with Nazi human experi­men­ta­tion, which are extremely well docu­mented, the acti­vi­ties of Unit 731 are known only from the testimonies of former unit members.

Unit 731—Nightmare in Manchuria (History Channel)