WWII: Singpore used as base to spread bubonic plague that killed thousands of people in China

Rat fleas carrying the bubonic plague that killed thousands of people in China during World War II were bred in Singapore.

A branch of the nefarious Japanese biological and chemical warfare research and development Unit 731 was housed in the College of Medicine Building during WWII.

Little had been known about the Singapore branch OKA 9420 until history researcher Lim Shaobin acquired Japanese war records and texts.

Mr Lim, who reads and speaks Japanese fluently, learnt from Japanese WWII documents that Singapore served as a base so rats and fleas could be transported overland to two places in Malaya – the 251ha Tampoi Mental Hospital built in the middle of a forested area in Johor by the British and a secondary school at Kuala Pisa, near Kuala Lumpur.

They were also sent to a facility, in Bandung, Indonesia, by air.

Malaya became Unit 731’s largest breeding ground outside of Japan and China. The unit’s research found that rat fleas thrived in temperatures between 27 deg C and 30 deg C, and at 90 per cent humidity. It also noted that 10,000 mice could produce 10kg of fleas.

Mr Lim, who was invited by the Singapore Society of Asian Studies to speak on the topic at the National Library Building on Nov 4, dug out this information from a 2009 research report in Japan.

Records show that the bubonic plague killed 3,031 people in China’s Jilin province in June 1940 and 9,060 people in Zhejiang province’s Qu County on Oct 4 in the same year. The fleas had been dropped from air by Japanese military aircraft.

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