75th anniversary of the Cowra breakout

75th anniversary of the Cowra breakout

On 5 August 1944 Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) interned at Cowra staged the largest breakout of the Second World War.

At the time, the No 12 POW Compound at Cowra in NSW held 1,104 Japanese prisoners, as well as Koreans, Taiwanese and Italians.

In the early hours of 5 August a bugle sounded and more than 1,000 Japanese POWs launched an attack on the guards.

Armed with knives and improvised weapons, they began breaking through the wire fences.

Sentries of the 22nd Australian Garrison opened fire, killing and wounding escapees, but some 350 prisoners escaped into the countryside.

Privates Benjamin Hardy and Ralph Jones were overwhelmed while manning a Vickers machine gun and killed, but not before Private Jones removed the gun’s bolt, rendering it useless to the escapees.

Five Australian soldiers and 234 prisoners were killed during the breakout, while all living escapees were recaptured over the next nine days.

The escape has been called a “suicide attack” — to a Japanese soldier, death was preferable to capture, and many of the escapees committed suicide or were shot by military and civilians.

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