WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC DETAILS
DECEMBER 11, 1937: Japanese forces began the Rape of Nanking – massacring 200,000 men and sexually assaulting at least 20,000 women in China’s former capital.
Most of the rape victims were mutilated or killed while almost the entire ancient city was burned to the ground during one of the 20th century’s most sickening war crimes.
The devastation of Nanking, which is now called Nanjing and lies 600 miles south of the present capital of Beijing, was designed to break the spirit of Chinese resistance.
The six-week rampage followed the fall of the city after the Japanese Imperial Army had left a trail of destruction as it marched up the Yangtze River from Shanghai.
A British Pathe newsreel shows gunboats steaming up China’s longest waterway after Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek evacuated the majority of his troops.
Few could imagine the fate of the remaining 150,000 soldiers, who were butchered after commander Prince Yasuhiko Asaka issued an order to “kill all captives”.
On top of this, some 50,000 male civilians were also massacred, despite the German-led International Committee setting up a Nanking Safety Zone for their protection.
Among the gruesome spectacles witnessed by some foreign diplomats were Japanese officers engaging in beheading contests.
Two Tokyo newspapers published an account of two “heroic” lieutenants who - after tying each other in a race to kill 100 people by sword – went into “extra innings”.
Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda, who were tried and executed by the Chinese in 1948, allegedly settled their contest by persuing 150 more decapitations each.
Yet it was the mass rape that most epitomised the horror and provided the iconic name to an act of almost unparalled barbarism.
Soldiers went from door to door searching for female victims, including young girls who were often cut open so that they could be penetrated.
Women were routinely mutilated and often killed afterwards by troops stabbing them in vaginas with objects ranging from bayonets and bottles to bamboo sticks.
Pregnant women were also bayoneted in the stomach.
Chinese survivor Tang Junshan later revealed one of the most gut-wrenching cases of this after he watched a group of civilians be murdered.
“The seventh and last person in the first row was a pregnant woman,” he testified to the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal.
“The soldier thought he might as well rape her before killing her, so he pulled her out of the group to a spot about ten meters away.
“As he was trying to rape her, the woman resisted fiercely ... The soldier abruptly stabbed her in the belly with a bayonet.
“She gave a final scream as her intestines spilled out. Then the soldier stabbed the foetus, with its umbilical cord clearly visible, and tossed it aside.”
John Rabe, a German businessman who was elected to lead the Safety Zone because of Japanese sympathy to his Nazi Party membership, recorded the horror in a diary.
In one excerpt, he wrote: “Last night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped, about 100 girls at Ginling College Girls alone.
“You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they're shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiers.”
Rabe, who was credited by the Chinese for helping to save around 250,000 lives, was arrested by the Gestapo when he returned to Germany at the end of February 1938.
They seized film he had made and banned him from speaking about the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s World War II Axis partner.
Following Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies, they finally ended fighting in China, which allowed Communists forces under Mao Zedong to seize power there.
Japanese war crimes were both investigated by the Chinese and the U.S.-led International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo.
However America’s General Douglas MacArthur gave the royal family – including Prince Asaka – immunity from prosecution in a bid to maintain peace.
Japan continues to refuse to pay compensation to China for its brutal occupation, which at least 23million Chinese died.