Conditions on these ships were indeed hellish. In many instances the Japanese packed as many as 1,000 prisoners into a ship that should have carried perhaps 250. The holds were so crowded that it was impossible to lie down, and there was insufficient fresh air, food, or water. The heat in the holds was often unbearable, and the small number of buckets allotted for human waste quickly overflowed, causing hundreds of cases of dysentery. In these circumstances, many prisoners suffocated or went insane. The Japanese often refused to allow the prisoners to bury their dead at sea.
Casualties on the hell ships were often horrendous, because the unmarked ships fell prey to Allied aircraft, surface vessels, and submarines. Only 8 men out of 1,782 survived the 24 October 1944 torpedo attack on the Arisan Maru. Prisoners attempting to swim away from the sinking ship were shot by their Japanese captors from above decks. On 18 September 1944, only 200 prisoners of 750 survived a British submarine torpedo attack on the Shinyo Maru. In the autumn of 1944, more than 4,000 Allied prisoners were killed or drowned aboard hell ships sunk by Allied submarines.
Giles, Donald T. Captive of the Rising Sun: The POW Memoirs of Rear Admiral Donald T. Giles, USN. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994.; Hubbard, Preston. Apocalypse Undone: My Survival of Japanese Imprisonment during World War II. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1990.; Kerr, Bartlett E. Surrender and Survival: The Experience of American POWs in the Pacific. New York: William Morrow, 1985.; Wright, John M. Captured on Corregidor: Diary of an American P.O.W. in World War II. London: McFarland, 1988.