The Rakuyo Maru was built by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Company in Nagasaki. It was 477 feet overall length with a displacement of 9,500 tons. The ship was equipped with 12 lifeboats, most of these being on the boat deck in the midships passenger area, the remainder were on the raised stern or poop deck. The ship was painted battle grey and flew the merchant marine flag, which was a red ball in the centre of a white field. It had no red cross markings.
The Japan party consisted of 2,250 prisoners, 1,500 were British the remainder Australian, the number who actually sailed with the convoy was 2,217. The Rakuyo Maru held 1317 PoWs and The Kachidoki Maru a further 900 (all British)
On 4th September 1944, the two ships joined convoy HI-72 and sailed from Singapore.
On the 12th of September the convoy was attacked by US submarines and both the PoW hell ships were hit. The Rakuyo Maru was the first to be hit by a torpedo from the US submarine Sealion.
Three steam torpedoes were fired at the Rakuyo Maru at 5.25pm, the target was 1,100yards away, all three hit. The torpedoes struck ten seconds apart, two hitting below the waterline the other exploded into the engine room.
The explosions did not kill any prisoners but the water that covered the deck to a depth of over 6 feet flattened anyone in its way, also making its way into the holds where the prisoners were. The prisoners soon organised the evacuation of the holds and looked for anything that would float, the Japanese taking ten of the twelve lifeboats, abandoned ship. The Japanese that didn’t escape found the prisoners not too sensitive to their pleas of help.
The Japanese rescued some of the POWs from these two ships and they continued their journey to Japan on the Kibitsu Maru.
Sealion Crew Spotting Survivors
When the US Submarines realised that they had sunk ships containing PoWs, they searched for survivors, picking up 63 PoWs from the Rakuyo Maru and . Of these 4 died soon after being rescued.
The Rakuyo Maru lost 1159 prisoners to the sea and the after effects of being in the water for up to 4 days.