USAAF November 1943
Justin Taylan 2006
Tunnel Hill (Tunnel Hill Road) is located on the Gazelle Peninsula at the northeastern tip of New Britain Island that connects Rabaul to Talili Bay cutting through the ridge line at Observatory Ridge (Volcano Observatory). Today located in East
New Britain Province in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Built by the German administration as a tunnel known as "Ratavul Tunnel" or "Ratavul Pass Road". Originally, the tunnel was dug by hand and shored up with wooden timbers. After an earthquake, the tunnel collapsed. Later, it was dug out again and expanded into a road cut known as "Tunnel Hill" or "Tunnel Hill Road".
During the Japanese occupation of the area, laborers dug tunnels into the sides of Tunnel Hill Road to shelter troops and equipment. During early March 1944, one tunnel was used to detain Allied Prisoners Of War (POW) with the Japanese Army 6th Kempei Tai (Military Police) in the adjacent tunnel.
Tunnel Hill POW Camp (Cave Camp)
This tunnel is a single shaft roughly 5' wide, 6' tall and 25' deep wide dug into the eastern side of Observatory Road off Tunnel Hill Road. In early March 1944, due to the heavy bombing of Rabaul, the Allied Prisoners Of War (POWs) from the Rabaul Prisoner Compound (Rabaul POW Prison) were transported to this location. This location became known as "Tunnel Hill POW Camp" or "Cave Camp". The single entrance was secured with a door made of coconut logs with guards outside. Inside, the prisoners were detained in cramp conditions with a single toilet bucket with little food. The tunnel nearby was used by the Japanese Army 6th Kempei Tai (Military Police).
Talili Bay Massacre / Tunnel Hill Massacre / Tunnel Hill Incident
After the heavy bombing of Rabaul, thirty-one Allied prisoners were removed from Tunnel Hill and were never seen again by the prisoners who survived captivity. On March 4, 1944 and March 5, 1944 two group of prisoners were removed from Tunnel Hill POW Camp and walked to Tanoura at the edge of Talili Bay and executed. Afterwards, the victims were buried. Afterwards, this execution became known as the "Tunnel Hill Massacre" or "Tunnel Hill Incident" for the Tunnel Hill POW Camp. Also known as "Talili Bay Massacre" for the site of the executions at Talili Bay. All refer to the same execution event.
The Allied Prisoners Of War (POWs) executed include:
- Major Ralph Cheli pilot B-25D 41-30117 (Medal of Honor) group burial Jefferson Barracks
- 2nd Lt Thomas F. Doyle bombardier B-24D 41-24101 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- 2nd Lt Alston F. Sugden navigator B-24D 41-24101 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Sgt Raymond J. Farnell Jr. gunner B-24D 41-24101 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Sgt Michael H. Kicera engineer B-25D 41-30094 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- TSgt John M. Barron radio B-25D 41-30094 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- SSgt William C. Harris gunner B-25D 41-30094 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Major Frederick K. Koebig navigator B-24D "Pretty Praire Special" 41-24186 remains recovered postwar
- 1st Lt Anthony Kuhn bombardier B-24D "Pretty Praire Special" 41-24186 remains recovered postwar
- SSgt Lawson Stewart engineer B-24D "Pretty Praire Special" 41-24186 remains recovered postwar
- Cpl Vincent Wasilevski asst engineer B-24D "Pretty Praire Special" 41-24186 remains recovered postwar
- SSgt Edward T. Constantin gunner B-24D "Pretty Praire Special" 41-24186 remains recovered postwar
- SSgt Romulus F. Mull gunner B-24D "Pretty Praire Special" 41-24186 remains recovered postwar
- Lt. Joseph W. Hill pilot P-40F 41-19838 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- Captain Alexander R. Berry pilot TBF Avenger 06109 group burial Jefferson Barracks
- 1st Lt. Andrew J. Borders, Jr. pilot P-40F 41-14107 executed March 4/5, 1944
- 1st Lt. John P. Cox pilot P-38H 42-66892 executed March 4/5, 1944
- 1st Lt. Donald L. Stookey pilot B-25D 41-30561 executed March 5, 1944
- 2nd Lt. Herschel D. Evans co-pilot B-25D 41-30561 executed March 5, 1944
- 1st Lt. Walter T. Mayberry pilot F4U 02351 executed March 4/5, 1944
- Pfc Paul F. Mc Cleaf gunner SBD-5 36230 executed March 4/5, 1944
- 1st Lt Roger Hugh Brindos pilot F4U Corsair 17914 remains recovered postwar Manila American Cemetery
- Cpl John Fenwick W/AG Catalina A24-43 group burial E, C, 5-11 Bita Paka Cemetery
- F/Sgt Henry L. Murphy W/AG Catalina A24-34 executed 3/5 burial E, C, 5-11 Bita Paka Cemetery
- F/O Frank R. Pocknee navigator Catalina A24-34 executed 3/5 burial E, C, 5-11 Bita Paka Cemetery
- Sgt Fred Woolley engineer Catalina A24-34 executed 3/5 burial E, C, 5-11 Bita Paka Cemetery
- Sgt Ernest Hubert Kraehe engineer Catalina A24-34 executed 3/5 burial E, C, 5-11 Bita Paka Cemetery
- F/Sgt Donald C. Kirkwood navigator Beaufighter A19-141 executed 3/5 burial E, C, 5-11 Bita Paka Cemetery
- F/Sgt Colin E. Wein pilot Beaufighter A19-141 executed 3/5 burial E, C, 5-11 Bita Paka Cemetery
- F/Sgt Gordon R. Thomas W/AG Boston A28-15 executed 3/5 burial E, C, 5-11 Bita Paka Cemetery
Afterwards, twenty-two prisoners remained at Tunnel Hill POW Camp. During late March 1944, the prisoners were moved to a wooden shed at a nearby location dubbed "Death Valley" were twelve died. In early November 1944 the remaining prisoners were moved to a wooden shed at "Banana Plantation" compound. At this location, Japanese conduct malaria medical experiments on the prisoners and four more die (two from the experiments).
On September 2, 1945 when Japan officially surrendered only seven Allied prisoners survived captivity at Rabaul.
- 1st Lt. Jose L. Holguin navigator B-17E "Naughty But Nice" 41-2430 POW July 17, 43 to Sept 2, 45 survived
- AOM2c John B. Kepchia radio TBF Avenger 23987 POW May 21, 1944, survived
- 1st Lt. James A. McMurria pilot B-24D 41-24101 POW March 13, 1943, survived
- Lt(jg) Joseph G. Nason pilot SBD Dauntless 06524 POW Nov 1943 to Sept 2, 45 survived
- SSgt Escoe E. Palmer engineer B-24 pilot Haire POW March 5, 1944 to Sept 2, 45 survived
- 2nd Lt Alphonse D. Quinones pilot P-38H 42-66911 POW Nov 7, 1943 to Sept 2, 45 survived
- Captain John J. Murphy, Australian Army
Recovery of Remains
Towards the end of the Pacific War, to cover up the executions and war crimes, the Japanese claimed that approximately forty Allied prisoners were killed by Allied bombing during an air raid while at Talili Bay after being evacuated from Tunnel Hill and their bodies were cremated and their ashes placed into a single box. The Japanese rehearsed a story that the prisoners were killed when an Allied bomb scored a direct hit on their shelter. This was a lie to cover up the murders.
In September 1945 when the Allies occupied the Rabaul area, they interrogated personnel from the 6th Kempei Tai who claimed the Allied prisoners who died during the Tunnell Hill Massacre (Talili Bay Massacre) were killed by an Allied bomb and turned over the box with their cremated remains. The Allies divided the cremated ashes the Japanese claimed were those killed at Talili Bay proportionally based on the number of victims (22 Americans and 8 Australians) with 3/4 of the ashes to the Americans and 1/4 of the ashes to the Australians.
The Australian ashes were buried at Bita Paka Cemetery at collective grave E, C, 5-11.
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.
Despite interrogations of 6th Kempei Tai officers and personnel, the Allies did not prosecute the massacre or deaths at Tunnel Hill as war crimes.
Hostages To Freedom The Fall of Rabaul (1995) by Peter Stone pages 295, 296 (map), 297
The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida pages 19 (footnote 12 - Tunnel Hill Massacre), 42 (6th Kempei Tai), 88 (6th Kempei Tai C.O.), 93-96 (Rabaul's Military Prisoners)
M.I.A. Over Rabaul South Pacific (1996) by John B. Kepchia page 61
Target Rabaul (2013) by Bruce Gamble pages 323-329
Jose L. Holguin, Joseph G. Nason, John B. Kepchia and Henry Sakaida for additional information.
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March 12, 2019