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Shirō Ishii
June 25, 1892(1892-06-25) – October 9, 1959 (aged 67)
General Shirō Ishii
Place of birth Chiba prefecture, Japan
Place of death Tokyo, Japan
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Service/branch War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Imperial Japanese Army
Years of service 1921 -1945
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands held Unit 731, Kwantung Army
Battles/wars Second Sino-Japanese War
World War II
In this Japanese name, the family name is Ishii.

Shirō Ishii (石井四郎 Ishii Shirō ?, June 25, 1892 – October 9, 1959) was a Japanese microbiologist and the lieutenant general of Unit 731, a biological warfare unit of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War and accused War Criminal.



Early years

Ishii was born in the former Shibayama Village of Sanbu District in Chiba Prefecture, and studied medicine at Kyoto Imperial University. Although he was considered a selfish, pushy, and sometimes disturbed individual, he excelled in his studies, and in 1922 was assigned to the 1st Army Hospital and Army Medical School in Tokyo. There his work impressed his superiors enough to gain him, two years later, post-graduate medical schooling back at the Kyoto Imperial University.

Beginning in 1928, Ishii took a two-year tour of the West. In his travels, he did extensive research on the effects of biological warfare and chemical warfare developments from World War I onwards. It was a highly successful mission and helped win him the patronage of Sadao Araki, Minister of the Army.

Biological warfare project

In 1932, he began his preliminary experiments in biological warfare as a secret project for the Japanese military at Zhongma Fortress. In 1936, Unit 731 was formed. Ishii built a huge compound – more than 150 buildings over six square kilometers – outside the city of Harbin, China. The research was secret, and the cover story was that Unit 731 was engaged in water-purification work. The film Men Behind the Sun (Hong Kong, 1988, directed by Mou Tun Fei) includes a scene in which Ishii demonstrates to his fellow soldiers a machine he has invented to purify urine into drinking water.

From 1940, Ishii was appointed Chief of the Biological Warfare Section of the Kwantung Army, holding the post simultaneously with that of the Bacteriological Department of the Army Medical Academy.[1]

In 1942, Ishii began field tests of germ warfare agents developed, and various methods of dispersion (i.e. via firearms, bombs etc.) both on Chinese prisoners of war and operationally on battlefields and against civilians in Chinese cities. Some historians estimate that tens of thousands died as a result of the bio-weapons (including bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax and others) deployed. His unit also conducted physiological experiments on human subjects, including vivisections, forced abortions, and simulated strokes, heart attacks, frostbite and hypothermia.

From 1942-1945, Ishii was Chief of the Medical Section of the Japanese First Army[1]

In 1945, in the final days of the Pacific War and in the face of imminent defeat, Japanese troops blew up the headquarters of Unit 731 in order to destroy evidence of the research done there. As part of the cover-up, Ishii ordered 150 remaining subjects killed. More than ten thousand people,[2] from which around 600 every year were provided by the kempeitai,[3] were subjects of the experimentation conducted by Unit 731. These were called by Ishii and his peers maruta (丸太) "logs," a reference to their view of subjects being inert, expendable entities, or is possibly related to the cover story told to locals that the facility contained a sawmill.


Arrested by the American occupation authorities at the end of World War II, Ishii and Unit 731 leaders received immunity in 1946 from war-crimes prosecution before the Tokyo tribunal in exchange for germ warfare data based on human experimentation. On 6 May 1947, Douglas MacArthur wrote to Washington that "additional data, possibly some statements from Ishii probably can be obtained by informing Japanese involved that information will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as 'War Crimes' evidence."[4] The deal was concluded in 1948.[5]

Ishii was never prosecuted for any war crimes. According to Richard Drayton, a Cambridge University history lecturer, Ishii later moved to Maryland where he conducted research into bio-weapons.[5] But according to Ishii's daughter Harumi, he stayed in Japan,[6] where he died of throat cancer at the age of 67.[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b Ammenthorp, The Generals of World War II
  2. ^ – Book on Japan’s germ warfare crimes published.
  3. ^ Yuki Tanaka, Hidden Horrors, Westviewpress, 1996, p.138
  4. ^ Hal Gold, Unit 731 Testimony, 2003, p. 109
  5. ^ a b Drayton, Richard (May 10, 2005). "An Ethical Blank Cheque: British and US mythology about the second world war ignores our own crimes and legitimises Anglo-American war making". The Guardian. Retrieved June 4, 2009.  
  6. ^ Daughter's Eye View of Lt. Gen Ishii, Chief of Devil's Brigade, Japan Times, 29 August 1982
  7. ^ Doctors of Depravity


  • Barenblatt, Daniel. A Plague Upon Humanity: the Secret Genocide of Axis Japan's Germ Warfare Operation, HarperCollins, 2004. ISBN 0-06-018625-9
  • Gold, Hal. Unit 731 Testimony, Charles E Tuttle Co., 1996. ISBN 4-900737-39-9
  • Williams, Peter. Unit 731: Japan's Secret Biological Warfare in World War II, Free Press, 1989. ISBN 0-02-935301-7
  • Harris, Sheldon H. Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare 1932-45 and the American Cover-Up, Routledge, 1994. ISBN 0-415-09105-5 ISBN 0-415-93214-9
  • Endicott, Stephen and Hagerman, Edward. The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea, Indiana University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-253-33472-1
  • Handelman, Stephen and Alibek, Ken. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World—Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It, Random House, 1999. ISBN 0-375-50231-9 ISBN 0-385-33496-6
  • Harris, Robert and Paxman, Jeremy. A Higher Form of Killing : The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Random House, 2002. ISBN 0-8129-6653-8
  • Barnaby, Wendy. The Plague Makers: The Secret World of Biological Warfare, Frog Ltd, 1999. ISBN 1-883319-85-4 ISBN 0-7567-5698-7 ISBN 0-8264-1258-0 ISBN 0-8264-1415-X

External links

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