Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.
(Burden) Ding Dong.
Hark, now I hear them, ding dong bell.

The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2

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The Lisbon Maru

On October 1st 1942, the American submarine Grouper fired six torpedoes at a Japanese troop transport, the Lisbon Maru, off Shanghai. Five of the unreliable Mk 14 fish either passed under the target or failed to detonate, but one exploded against the stern, bringing the ship to a standstill. Grouper immediately came under attack from patrol boats and aircraft, and departed the scene, taking one last look at 700 Japanese soldiers being taken off the stricken vessel.

 

What they didn't see, however, was that the soldiers had battened down the hatches over the holds as they left. In those holds, trapped and waiting to drown in appalling conditions of filth, disease, and malnutrition were over 1,800 British Prisoners of War who had been captured at the fall of Hong Kong nine months earlier.

None need have died, but only 748 returned to Britain alive. This is the story of the ship, the submarine, and the men.

Since Hamilton's original booklet 'The Sinking The Of Lisbon Maru' (sic) was published in the 1960s by Green Pagoda Press in Hong Kong, her loss has been mentioned in many histories of Hong Kong during the war years. However, little real research has been done on the topic. Exactly who was on board? Some authorities claim 1,803, others 1,816. The only file at the PRO in London with might have been truly authoritative is 'missing'. Who died, and exactly how and why? Where did the Lisbon Maru itself come from? Was she built on the Clyde as Carew stated so poetically, or was she Japanese through and through? What of the submarine that sank her? What was her history, and what did those on board think when they later discovered the truth? And what happened to all those involved in the post-war years?

'Friendly Fire: The Loss of the Lisbon Maru' explores all these questions, from the laying down of the Lisbon Maru's hull to the scrapping of the submarine Grouper many years after the war, from a detailed account of the sinking itself to a complete listing of those on board the ship (and their eventual fates).

Proposed Lisbon Maru Memorial

Studying the Lisbon Maru

Top line: Map of the Sinking, Author with Jack Etiemble, Zhoushan commemorative stamps.

Middle line: Paparazzi during the author's visit to Zhoushan in April 2005 (photos: Rowena Banham)

Bottom line: Photo of the islands from 20,000 feet, three fishermen who helped rescue POWs, author's son with Dennis Morley

Lisbon Maru Photo Exhibition

(to be completed)

May 2006.

"The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru: Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy" has now been published by Hong Kong University Press.

I am now in the process of adding a great deal more information (photos, testimonies, etc.)  to this site.

For further details of the HK battle and POWs, updated monthly, please see Hong Kong War Diary.

The author can be contacted here.