The Horrifying And Lethal Experiments Of Unit 731

In World War II, Japan created a top-secret project named Unit 731. Officially called the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army, Unit 731 carried out human experiments on unwilling subjects.

Japan committed many horrors throughout WWII, but arguably the most gruesome acts occurred in Unit 731. Located in the Pingfang district of what is now China, most of the test subjects for Unit 731 were Chinese.

By the end of WWII, as surrender became imminent, the Japanese involved with Unit 731 attempted to destroy all evidence of the acts they committed. Unlike their German counterparts, the scientists running Unit 731 were never punished for their human experimentation. It would be many years before witnesses started speaking out about the unit, and only now does the public understand what really went on there. 

Photo: 松岡明芳 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

  • People Were Vivisected

    In order to investigate the internal effects of a newly developed injection, Unit 731 performed live dissections on thousands of test subjects without the use of anesthetic. None of the victims survived.

    Scholars and former unit members estimate that about 3,000 people perished in this and other medical experiments performed by Unit 731.

  • Victims Were Infected With The Bubonic Plague

    Victims Were Infected With The Bubonic Plague
    Photo: Margaret Parsons / Pixnio / Public Domain

    The unit studied anthrax, cholera, and other pathogens by infecting victims. One such experimentation was with the bubonic plague, which the Japanese exploited using infected fleas and various delivery systems.

    The weapons they developed were used to infect Chinese cities, with varying degrees of effectiveness. 

  • Unnecessary Amputations Were Performed

    Victims' limbs were sometimes removed in order for doctors to observe the range of effects and "learn the limits of the human body." Severed limbs were at times reattached to other parts of the person's body.

    As in the other experiments, all subjects were alive and no anesthetic was used.

  • Victims Were Put Into High-Pressure Chambers

    To test the effects of intense pressure on the human body, Unit 731 would lock people into large pressure chambers. Pressure would gradually increase until the subject perished. 

  • Some Subjects Were Injected With Seawater

    Doctors of Unit 731 would inject seawater into subjects to test whether or not the seawater could be used as a substitute for saline solution. These seawater injections proved to be fatal. Experimenters continued the tests with different substances, such as animal fluids.

    Air was even injected into some subjects in order to induce embolisms which the doctors would then study.

  • The Frostbite Experiments Actually Yielded Results

    Modern medical knowledge prescribes that frostbite should be treated not by rubbing, but by immersing the affected area in water between 100 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit. This discovery was a result of Unit 731's experiments. 

    Subjects were left outside in the elements or dunked in cold water to induce the condition, after which doctors would test various treatments, some of which proved to be fatal.