Tunnel Hill is the name of a road cut that connect Rabaul to Talili Bay cutting through the ridge line near Observatory Ridge (Volcano Observatory), connecting Rabaul to Talili Bay.
Built by the German administration, the tunnel was known as the "Ratavul Tunnel" or "Ratavul Pass Road". Originally, the tunnel was dug by hand and shored up with timbers. After an earthquake, the tunnel collapsed. Later, it was dug out and expanded into a road cut. Still, the feature is known as 'Tunnel Hill'.
During the Japanese occupation of Rabaul, the Japanese dug tunnels into the sides of Tunnel Hill Road to shelter troops and equipment. One tunnel was used to detain Allied Prisoners Of War (POW) during early 1944 until the end of the Pacific War.
Tunnel Hill POW Camp
During early 1944, the prisoners from the Rabaul Prisoner Compound (Rabaul POW Prison) were transfered to this location which became known as "Tunnel Hill POW Camp" guarded by the Japanese Army 6th Kempei Tai (Military Police).
A tunnel dug into Observatory Road off Tunnel Hill Road was used to detain the Allied Prisoners Of War (POW). The prisoners were held in crowded conditions without medical supplies, little food and no facilities.
Tunnel Hill Massacre
After the heavy bombing of Rabaul, thirty-one Allied prisoners were removed from Tunnel Hill and never seen again by their fellow prisoners. During March 4, 1944 and March 5, 1944 two group of prisoners were executed near Talili Bay and buried. This massacre became known as the "Tunnel Hill Massacre" or "Tunnel Hill Incident". Afterwards, their remains were buried.
At the end of the Pacific War, the Japanese exhumed their remains and cremated them. Postwar, the Japanese erroneously claimed the prisoners were killed during an Allied air raid while at Talili Bay after being evacuated from Tunnel Hill. This was a lie to cover up their murder. Postwar, some of their remains were located and exhumed. The creamated ashed were divided proportionally between the Americans and Australians to represent who was kill.
Those executed included:
- 1st Lt Roger Hugh Brindos, F4U Corsair 17914 Plot D Row 4 Grave 259 Manila Cemetery
- Major Ralph Cheli (Medal of Honor) B-25D 41-30117 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Captain Alexander R. Berry pilot TBF Avenger 06109 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Sgt Michael H. Kicera, B-25D 41-30094 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- TSgt John M. Barron, B-25D 41-30094 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- SSgt William C. Harris, B-25D 41-30094 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Major Frederick K. Koebig, B-24D 41-24186 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- 1st Lt Anthony Kuhn, B-24D 41-24186 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- S/Sgt Lawson Stewart, B-24D 41-24186 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Cpl Vincent Wasilevski, B-24D 41-24186 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- S/Sgt Edward T. Constantin, B-24D 41-24186 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- S/Sgt Romulus F. Mull, gunner B-24D 41-24186 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Lt. Joseph W. Hill, P-40F 41-19838 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- 2nd Lt Thomas F. Doyle B-24D 41-24101 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- 2nd Lt Alston F. Sugden B-24D 41-24101 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Sgt Raymond J. Farnell Jr. B-24D 41-24101 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- 1st Lt. Andrew J. Borders, Jr. P-40F 41-14107 executed March 3/4, 1944
- 1st Lt. John P. Cox P-38H 42-66892 executed March 3/4, 1944
- 2nd Lt. Herschel D. Evans B-25D 41-30561 executed March 3/4, 1944
- 1st Lt. Donald L. Stookey B-25D 41-30561 executed March 3/4, 1944
- 1st Lt. Walter T. Mayberry F4U 02351 executed March 3/4, 1944
- Pfc Paul F. McCleaf SBD-5 36230 executed March 3/4, 1944
- Sgt Fenwick PBY Catalina A24-43 group burial E, C, 5-11 at Bita Paka Cemetery
- Murphy, Pocknee, Woolley and Kraehe.
After the executions, the Japanese cremated remains and placed the together in one box. Postwar, the Japanese claimed that these prisoners were aboard a ship bound for Japan, but ninety minutes later they were bombed by the Allies and all the prisoners, 23 Americans and five Australians were killed. This was false.
The Allies decided the cremated ashes would divide with 3/4 deemed to be Americans and 1/4 to Australians. The American ashes were transported aboard USAT Albert M. Boe as part of shipment SF-167-R to the United States. On March 21, 1950 the American ashes were buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at group burial section 78 grave 980-934.
M.I.A. Over Rabaul South Pacific page 61
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February 4, 2018