Sep 29

Interrogating Japanese POWs in World War II: “You can get a lot out of them”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 2:40 PM


In September 1942, the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics interviewed Col. R.F.C. Vance, the Senior Army Air Corps Staff Officer at Port Moresby, New Guinea. Vance primarily spoke about the role of Intelligence Officers, and the difficulties they experienced in debriefing Allied plane crews after combat missions. He noted the most difficult problem was when the officer did not “get along with the crews of the aircraft,” which was “fatal.” After all, the crew often comes in “very shaken up – the only way you can get information is just to wait awhile and let them quiet down.”

The same applied to interrogating captured Japanese air crews. Col. Vance noted that once you got the right psychology going, “there’s no question that, given the opportunity, they’ll talk.” And it was a simple approach – all they had to do was treat them well so the prisoners understood they weren’t about to be tortured and killed. Since the Japanese had been taught not to be captured, and that once captured they believed they could never go back to Japan, they would talk in great detail.

Col. Vance explained one case where a prisoner talked for almost three months on the details of fighter squadron operations. They then “found we had more questions” and brought him back again for another month long series of interviews. As he put it, “You can get a lot out of them, because the Japs [sic] can’t very well teach them what not to say when they’re not supposed to be captured.”