The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

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Sewer King
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The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Sewer King » 19 Nov 2006 16:41

Does anyone know of any illustrations of the Ishii water filter?

It seems almost too much to hope for photos or illustrations of this obscure thing. But with the high level of expertise here, in particular our esteemed Japanese-speaking members, I would not be completely surprised.

This filter equipment was of course the one designed by the infamous Shiro Ishii. who headed Japan's biological warfare effort from 1936-45. It was his first claim to fame. By report it was first successfully used to stop the spread of waterborne disease among Japanese troops on Shikoku. Thereafter it was adopted by the Army as standard equipment.

The Ishii filter used layers of finely-pored ceramic filters through which water was forced under pressure by a mechanical crank. It was said to have been built in more than one size, the larger of which could be truck-mounted like the pumps of a fire engine.

A Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Area report from 1946 shows a water-filtration truck on the Bonin Islands. But my microfilm copy from the US Naval Historical Center is very poor for photo quality.

The only illustration I have seen of any Army water filter is the small kit in the US War Department Handbook of Japanese Military Forces, TM-E 30-480, 1 October 1944. However, this is squad equipment. The entry on pages 351-352 described treated filter wads through which water was siphoned, but if Ishii designed it there is no hint.

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Water purification is obviously an important job in field support, but a mundane one that gets almost no historical attention. Most armies assign the job to their engineer troops, but I have the impression that the Imperial Army used their medical troops for it.

The Handbook reported water purification units of 50-150 men at division-level medical support, and other units at field army-level. Ishii's biological warfare centers -- not just the well-known Unit 731 in Manchuria -- hid behind the title of "water purification and disease prevention". Postwar investigation identified these division- and area-army-level units as potential germ warfare troops (see Yuki Tanaka's book Hidden Horrors, Westview Press, pages 146-147). But there is little hint anywhere, in any source, of how they were meant to serve in this role.

Does anyone have opinions on how they might have done so? On equipment, operations, tactics.

I expect that water purification troops simply ended up as ordinary infantry as Japan was driven to the defensive, and suffered the same fate.
Last edited by Sewer King on 23 Nov 2006 14:56, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Inquiry into Army water purification, and the Ishii filt

Post by Akira Takizawa » 20 Nov 2006 06:19

> Does anyone know of any illustrations of the Ishii water filter?

I uploaded. Ishii water filter had 5 models, Ko to Bo. Upper is Otsu model. Lower left is Bo model. Lower right is the box of Otsu model.

Model Ko
It was used for regiment-size unit. It was equipped with Type 94 four-wheeled truck.
Model Otsu
Used for battalion-size unit. It was carried by wagon or packed by horse.
Model Hei
Used for company-size unit. It was a smaller model of Otsu. It was packed by horse.
Model Tei
Used for squad-size unit.
Model Bo
Personal model

> A Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Area report from 1946 shows a water-filtration truck on the Bonin Islands, but my microfilm copy bought from the US Naval Historical Center is very poor for photo quality.

I uploaded. The left is water-filtration truck and the right is water-filtration Motorcycle.

> Water purification is obviously an important job in field support, but a mundane one that gets almost no historical attention. Most armies assign the job to their engineer troops, but I have the impression that the Imperial Army used their medical troops for it.

Yes, it belonged to medical department.

> Does anyone have opinions on how they might have done so? On equipment, operations, tactics.

Each division had a water purification unit. Its OOB is as follows.

5 officers, 1 doctor, 10 NCOs, 3 engineers, 30 civilian employees
1 passenger car, 1 water-filtration truck, 3 handy filters, 1 repair car


Source : "戦場の衣食住", Gakken
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Sewer King
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Post by Sewer King » 22 Nov 2006 22:09

Many thanks to you for this information!

In the past several years I have been trying to follow up different areas of Japanese BW and CW, both of which are limited in sources. The Ishii water filter is one of them.

So far as I know there is not one published illustration of this filter equipment anywhere in the west, even though it is almost always included with detailed mention of Ishii himself.

Yet it was readily available in Japanese. To me it is an example of an unfortunate technical gap between military history in Japan and in the west. Many American sources might not be easily available to a Japanese historian. But I think that Japanese sources are even further from westerners for many reasons.

It seems that a Japanese authority could easily write a book in English on things of this kind. Not just the Ishii filter -- but many other areas of Imperial uniform and equipment that are not well-covered in western books. Particularly with translation, and in combination (or correction) of foreign sources, such a Japanese-authored book could become very authoritative. It is not only a personal opportunity, but one that would close the gap I suggested above. As Akira Takizawa has done for me with this matter.

Consider the wide range of Schiffer Military History source books on uniforms and equipment, especially those of the Germans. As a few examples, Schiffer published many books written only about specialized things such as antitank rockets, airfield handling equipment, or Opel trucks. In English language I don't think there is nearly as much great detail and photography of most Japanese equipment.

Schiffer books may be expensive but they are detailed. And above all, they exist and are available. What comparable books are there for Imperial military equipment today?

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The nearest one I know of is a Japanese-language book, Tadao Nakata and Thomas B. Nelson’s Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment (Hong Kong: Chesa Ltd, revised second edition 1987, 330 pages). The book is almost entirely illustrated with color photos and diagrams, although many photos are small. It also has a pamphlet for limited translations in English.

Although Nakata and Nelson shows many items of individual and technical field equipment, it shows less unit equipment – such as the Ishii water filters. But that would be natural since engineer and medical equipment can be less collectible. Also, some things were probably “used up” after the war, or were more valuable as scrap metal.

Drinking water is so common to modern life that we don’t think of it. Even when we know that field troops must be supplied with water, it does not first come to mind when we study how those soldiers lived. We are more likely to discuss what he ate than where he got his water.

It is often said that Ishii urinated into one of his own filters to show how effective it was. Some versions of this story say that Ishii offered a glass of this to Emperor Hirohito, who attended a demonstration but declined the glass. Then Ishii drank it himself as good faith and personal proof that his filter truly worked. By many accounts he was a show-off, but where the Emperor was concerned this sounds highly unlikely.

This matter of urinating into the filter was dramatized in the only film about Ishii, Men Behind the Sun (1997). Also released under the title Black Sun 731, this fictionalized account compresses the history of Unit 731 into a short time but is based on various known incidents there – and the experimental atrocities of course. However, the small “Ishii filter” in the film was imagined and not based on anything like the diagrams Akira Takizawa provided for us.

Daniel Barenblatt’s recent book A Plague upon Humanity: the Secret Genocide of Axis Japan’s Germ Warfare (HarperCollins, 2004, page 66) cites a hygiene specialist who had served with Unit 731 : “Ishii, the unit leader, was an exalted man … I thought he was a great man because of the water filtration system he had invented. I almost cried from appreciation.”

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Other Japanese BW veterans are quoted in Hal Gold’s unique book, Unit 731 Testimony (Tuttle Publishing, 1996; 255 pages), naturally makes many other mentions of the Ishii water filter. It is the context that is interesting, although they did not work directly with the filters.

An anonymous virologist, page 153: “The water filter that Ishii developed in Pingfang was used in Kyoto in the Fushimi district for sake brewing. The bacteria filter was checked at the army school, and after it passed the checks, it was sent to Manchuria. The checking was done by Naito Ryoichi.”

[Note: Naito was a bacteriologist colleague of Ishii, who founded Japan’s Green Cross blood services company from the demands of the Korean War, and which was implicated with a scandal of AIDS-contaminated blood in the 1980s. Ishii developed his filter in Japan rather than Manchuria. But it seems likely that he would have seen that it used in Kyoto, where he had attended university.]

A soldier who was stationed at Pingfang, page 229: “… We were drilled in a scientific curriculum that included courses in human anatomy, disease prevention in the military, army hygiene, the Ishii system of water purification, the essentials of river water supply, emergency disinfection including emergency antidotes for poisoning, disease prevention patrol, and water-testing patrol.”

A Youth Corps member who worked at Pingfang, page 167: “Before we came to Pingfang, we studied the water filtering device developed by Ishii. We did this at a brick building outside of Harbin and near the medical examination section. We went to Pingfang before the facilities were completed [note: this would have been between 1936-38] …”

Among other accounts of offensive BW field operations, Hal Gold mentions that Ishii had to keep close to true military medicine because of disease outbreaks during Japanese expansion into China:

“Ironically, Ishii, virtually all of whose career had been devoted to developing offensive biological warfare, played an important role in this brief return to defensive medicine. An invention of his, a portable water filtering system, was finally allowed to accompany the troops. The machine was a cylindrical mechanism about one meter in length and forty-five centimeters in diameter. Water was fed in at one end, and a hand crank forced the water through a filtering system of unglazed diatomite. This was the same material used in his bombs."

[Note: this apparently refers to Ishii’s Uji series of BW bombs that needed only a weak burster charge so that the bubonic plague fleas inside it would survive the detonation. But it seems unlikely that bomb shells would need to be made of exactly the same material.]

“Ishii’s device had not proven effective against cholera germs in tests to date, but the sense of urgency brought about by the combination of increasing numbers of incapacitated soldiers and Ishii’s typically heavy-handed insistence convinced the army to put his system into operation. Five trucks carrying water filtration units and a team of about 200 men started supplying water to the Japanese fighting men, and, for reasons that remain unclear, cholera cases dropped sharply. Ishii was decorated and received a monetary award for his contribution to Japan’s fighting forces.

“The praise he received caught the attention of American intelligence personnel who were interested in why the work of an army doctor was so highly regarded. This was the first time Ishii’s name came to the attention of the American military.”

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One of the leading English-language books on Imperial BW, Peter Williams and David Wallace’s Unit 731: Japan’s Secret Biological Warfare in World War II (US: Free Press edition, 1989, or UK: Hodder and Stoughton, complete version) places Ishii’s filter in more detailed context:

“During his time at the Army Medical College Ishii was to make himself famous, perhaps surprisingly, as the inventor of a water filter. This was also to five an unseen hand in raising the status of the [medical] department in the military hierarchy. He built his first successful prototype in 1931, the year after he returned from Europe. Perhaps it was the encephalitis epidemic in Shikoku which had impressed him with the need for effective filtration methods. He developed a ceramic water filter, dramatically improving on existing technology. It overcame the archaic technique of boiling water in the field, or of using unpleasant chlorine purifying compounds, as well as the slow and cumbersome equipment then in use. Inevitably, troops irritated by the nuisance of the old methods had frequently resorted to drinking water from pools or puddles contaminated with germs. Many outbreaks of diseases such as dysentery resulted. Ishii’s filter machine was a revolution making safe both foul and river water.

“To demonstrate the effectiveness of the ‘Ishii filter’, Ishii urinated into it, then drank from its output. Army and Navy chiefs attending Ishii’s bizarre presentation were duly impressed. Later, after a number of modifications, both services decided in 1936 to adopt the device for field use. It was on display when the Emperor visited the Army Medical College on March 10th, 1933. It was also on board a naval ship during an Imperial inspection and the Emperor, too, reportedly drank from the device.

“Ishii’s filters were built in many sizes, the largest being tank-sized and mounted on a truck. To meet the massive demand for his filter a company called Nippon Tokusho Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha, Tokyo, was engaged to assist in production design, and to become sole manufacturer. The company had a factory a few hundred yards from the Army Medical College and for his continued cooperation and patronage Ishii was paid handsomely, with a [kickback] somewhere in the region of 50,000 yen. He proceeded to spend the money in style …”

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I have at least one reservation about the often-repeated mention of Ishii urinating into his own filter. However effective it was, I do not think it would have desalinated the water passing through -- at least not solely through ceramic filters. As suggested in the testimony from Hal Gold's book, there may well have been other filter elements besides those.

Japanese forces operated in widely-separated regions where fresh water was unreliable or unavailable. It seems that Allied forces would have captured an Ishii filter at least once, but there seems to be no mention in published sources. There may be something in Allied Technical Intelligence Service reports. But as I said earlier, water purification is not an area of wider military history interest.

There might be some small chance that an Ishii filter still survives somewhere in Japan. But if so, I would think that it would already be known by now. Also, its association with the infamous BW general may work against publicizing it, even in the limited world of Japanese militaria.

More opinions are welcome!

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Post by Djeezus1 » 30 Dec 2006 23:49

About Ishii's Filter, I scanned a picture from Seiichi Morimura's, translated in french, Section 731 Expérimentations japonaises sur des cobayes humains, (Éditions du Rocher, 1987, 175p.) ISBN 2.268.00347.7. It reads: ''Experiment of Ishii's water filter. Its efficiency was such that it could rapidly transform tainted water into drinkable water.''

Image

In page 143, it reads that Imperial Medical Instruments was the only company building these, thus providing a huge amount of funds for Ishii to spend on Geishas. After the Nomonhan incident in 1939, these filters were mass produced varying in sizes from the truck-sized filters to the portable ones, as big as a water pistol. The book also specifies the tale where Ishii filtered his urine, brought it the the Japanese High Command and drank it.

I don't have any information about the Nomonhan incident; if someone has information, please send it to me.

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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Peter H » 26 Apr 2008 05:42

Burma-pumping river water for some purpose.Could be for drinking,or washing,or construction,or for steam engine purposes etc.

Filtered?
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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Peter H » 26 Apr 2008 05:44

Japanese "water cart" New Guinea,1944.From the AWM.
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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Sewer King » 13 May 2008 04:30

The photos in China(?) and Burma are intriguing for showing IJA water equipment in use. But they do not show enough detail to explain military water filtration, or even confirm that this is in fact what these troops are doing.

Once full, how are those heavy containers of water to be lifted or moved? The China photo shows some smaller canvas cans in metal frames that might be easier to move. The crate on the truck in the Burma photo seems to have some printing on it, but if so it might not be readable.

If the larger Ishii water filters were examined by Allied forces, I cannot imagine where to begin to look for any reports about them.

From the common US War Department Handbook of Japanese Military Forces TM-E 30-480 1 October 1944 (US Government Printing Office, 1944; as reprinted by Greenhill Books, London, and Presidio Press, San Francisco, 1994), pages 351-352:
...Water Purification. (a) Water filter purifier. This item is issued to Japanese troops in the field for purifying drinking water. It is not considered safe enough for use by Allied troops. The use is illustrated in figure 412. Two chemically treated wads, one either green or blue and the other white, are located on the inside of the plastic body. The end of the rubber tube is placed in the mouth, and untreated water is sucked past the chemically treated wads. When the water begins to flow, the tube is placed into a canteen or other receptacle and alllowed to siphon. The cotton wadding must be replaced after 5 canteens have been filled.
Image

Item 4 in the illustration seems to be the following:
(b) Water purification kit. Phials of water purification chemicals and a measuring spoon, contained in a flat tin, are provided as additional equipment for use in an emergency or when large quantities of impurities are found in the water.
I thought that this filter and its siphon tube illustrated here might be Ishii's individual model Bo that Taki listed earlier, but am unable to connect the two. Ishii's porcelain filters are neither mentioned nor shown in its design. Nor were there any photos of actual models.

-- Alan

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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Akira Takizawa » 13 May 2008 05:58

Sewer King wrote:I thought that this filter and its siphon tube illustrated here might be Ishii's individual model Bo that Taki listed earlier, but am unable to connect the two.
No, it is not Ishii's filter. Though I cannot confirm it by photo or drawing, I think that it is Okazaki's filter, because its characteristics are coincident. Okazaki's filter was widely used from 1920s.

Taki

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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Sewer King » 15 May 2008 04:56

Thanks still again, Taki. If this is the older design of water filter, it implies that the Americans had captured some examples of it since no photos are shown. It is reasonable to assume that they knew nothing of Okazaki's filter before the war. I would expect that the Bo model of Ishii's filter was larger than that one.

But, I expect it is the same in most armies where newer improved equipment is "standard" issue, yet the older equipment no longer made is still issued as "limited standard" until exhausted.

Which troops would have received the Bo model for their personal use?

Is it true, as some English-language accounts mention, that the Imperial Navy also adopted the Ishii filters?

-- Alan

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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Akira Takizawa » 15 May 2008 08:57

> Which troops would have received the Bo model for their personal use?

Water purification units of divisions. See my previous message. Handy filter means Bo model.

I don't know the example that combatant units received it.

> Is it true, as some English-language accounts mention, that the Imperial Navy also adopted the Ishii filters?

I have never heard of it.

Taki

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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Sewer King » 21 May 2008 04:40

My apologies, Taki. I did review the range of sizes of Ishii water filters, but mistakenly thought that the small Bo model might have been meant for issue to certain individuals. Even if it was so, that would not necessarily mean it was widely done.

I am disinclined to believe that the Navy used the Ishii filter, since it seems that they would have needed it much less. Navy ships, bases, and shore stations would have distillation plants, local waterworks, condensers, rainwater cisterns, and reservoirs for fresh water. IJN forces would have been less likely to operate far inland where fresh water was scarce.

General Ishii himself was openly scornful of the Navy. He did not think that its officers could manage a biological weapons program like his. If the Navy did use his water filter, however, the manufacturer would probably have been happy to sell them some anyway.


==========================


Is this older IJA water filter known from any other sources?

From Colonel Valery Havard, M.D., US Army Medical Corps, retired, Manual of Military Hygiene for the Military Services of the United States 3rd revised edition (New York: William Wood & Co, 1917), pages 303-304:

Image
THE JAPANESE FIELD FILTER (Eshitzi filter).

During the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese used another simple and practical adaptation of the principle of the mechanical filter. It consists essentially of a conical canvas bag of a capacity of 24 gallons, with two spouts or filters near the point; these spouts are filled with chemical and sponge disks and constitute the filters proper; the point, or apex, receives the sediment. The whole apparatus is suspended between the branches of a tripod.

Two powders are used. The first (A) consists of potassium permanganate and (to give bulk) aluminum silicate; the second (B) chiefly of aluminum silicate and of small amounts of tannic acid and hydrochloric acid. The filter having been filled, a suitable quantity of powder A, enough to plainly discolor the water, is added and stirred up; after a few minutes, about half as much of powder B is stirred in until the discoloration caused by the first has been removed. Then the water is allowed to stand 15 or 20 minutes for the bactericidal action and subsidence of the precipitate, after which the lateral spouts are untied and the water allowed to pass through. The hydrochloric acid in powder B facilitates the decomposition of the permanganate, while the tannic acid removes the odor imparted to the water.

The result is quite satisfactory with comparatively clear water, but much less so with turbid water. The output is small and the disinfection of the apparatus difficult.
Might this name “Eshitzi” be incorrect in romaji? There is no original Japanese writing of it to compare here.

Havard described various patent water filters. But he does not compare the Japanese one to those used by contemporary armies of the time.

Turbid water is natural surface water which has become brown with microscopic silt particles. Ordinary mechanical filters did not remove silt, which was instead trapped with a chemical coagulant to settle it out en masse. Then it would be sent through the filtration devices.

-- Alan

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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Akira Takizawa » 21 May 2008 05:05

Sewer King wrote:Might this name “Eshitzi” be incorrect in romaji?
It is "Ishiji"(石地式濾水器), correctly. It was originally a civilian merchandize, but the IJA purchased and used it during the Russo-Japanese War.

Taki

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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Peter H » 24 May 2008 10:31

An off topic post has been removed.If anyone wants to discuss Shiro Ishii's warcrimes do so in the War Crimes section of the main forum.

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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Akira Takizawa » 22 Sep 2008 05:02

Ishii 731 Unit sent water purification units to Nomonhan. These photos were taken at that time.

Taki
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Re: The infamous General Shiro Ishii's water filter

Post by Akira Takizawa » 24 Sep 2008 02:42

Ishii's water filters are displayed at JGSDF Museum Shokokan.

Image
From right, Model Ko, Model Tei and Model Otsu

From http://homepage3.nifty.com/ki43/index.html

Taki

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