In February and March 1944, while Sakonji was commanding the 16th Cruiser Squadron, the Southwest Area Fleet carried out surface raiding operations into the Indian Ocean. Sakonji issued orders that all crews and passengers in Allied ships encountered be killed. This came about from a request of German leader Adolf Hitler, who on 3 January 1942 had suggested to Ambassador Oshima Hiroshi that the Axis powers kill the crews of Allied ships to help counter superior Allied shipbuilding capacity. Hitler told Oshima that he had ordered his U-boat commanders to carry out this policy. Oshima relayed Hitler's request to Tokyo, and one year later the Japanese navy Combined Fleet received oral instructions from chief of the Imperial Naval Staff Admiral Nagano Osami to execute crew members of captured ships, except those who might be able to provide useful intelligence.
During the February 1944 operation, Captain Mayuzumi Haruo of the cruiser Tone sank the British merchant ship SS Behar and rescued 108 survivors, of whom 4 subsequently died. Thirty-two of the captives were disembarked at Batavia in mid-March. En route to z on 18 March on board the Tone, Sakonji reprimanded Mayuzumi for not carrying out the orders of the Southeast Area Fleet to kill any survivors, whereupon 65 survivors still on board the Tone were executed.
Promoted to vice admiral in October 1944, Sakonji became chief of staff of the China Area Fleet. After the war, a British Military Court in Hong Kong tried both Sakonji and Mayuzumi for the Behar incident. The two held that they were carrying out a direct order, but Sakonji was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on 21 January 1948. Mayuzumi was also convicted and sentenced to seven years of hard labor at Sugamo Prison, Tokyo. Hirama Yoichi
Krug, Hans J., and Yoichi Hirama. Reluctant Allies: German-Japanese Naval Relations in World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2002.