World War II Treasure

A Brief History of World War II Gold

War has always seen two things: bloodshed and the transfer of wealth.

Any visitor to the Philippines who asks will readily learn that the nation is filled with rumors of buried World War II loot, commonly referred to asYamashita's Gold or simply The Tiger's Gold. In truth, the "Tiger of Malaya," Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander of Japan's war effort in the Philippines, had almost nothing to do with the gold. It is mainly referred to as Yamashita's Gold because of his military prowess which enabled much of its spoilage on the mainland. Yamashita's plebian upbringing was not well favored by royalty. The red herring of Yamashita's name has misled many researchers in the past.

Recent stories of the late President Ferdinand Marcos' successful attempts to retrieve some of the gold are not without substance and have definitely rekindled gold fever throughout the country. Many recent finds have clearly been documented:

In the state of Hawaii, $22,001,405,000.00 plus interest (accruing to $43,518,812,967.69 plus $11,101,044.65 per day at judgement time) was awarded to the estate of treasure-hunter Roger Roxas in 1996 over Yamashita's Gold. The defeated defendant was the Marcos Estate. The case, won by the Los Angeles law firm of MagaƱa, Cathcart & McCarthy, was the largest single judgement in the history of civil law. Based on the 1974 price of $160 per ounce troy, the $22 billion equated to 4277 metric tons of gold. The centerpiece of the case was a Burmese-style buddha, solid gold except for a small compartment containing jewels accessed by unscrewing the head, less than 3 feet tall and weighing about one metric ton (2200 lbs.) The late Robert Curtis testified in the case that his research revealed that there were 18 such buddhas looted from temples in southeast Asia, distributed amongst a total of 172 major burial sites in the Philippines.

In 1997, an investigative team from Japan's respected Asahi Television filmed and verified core samples of 1800 gold bars. Although this was a minor find of less than 12 metric tons, it was valued at was valued at $150 million.

So, the story of the gold is no myth. Here is how it all began:

As far back as the late 1920s, Emperor Hirohito realized that a new world war was coming. He foresaw that to defeat the United States would require an extraordinary military backed by unprecedented financing. He organized a special team to confiscate the wealth of Asia. The project, entrusted solely to the leadership of the Royal Family (in particular to HIH Prince Chichibu [no miya] Yasuhito Shinno, Hirohito's younger brother) was code named Kin No Yuri, translated Golden Lily.

In the decade preceding the war, Japan introduced hundreds of spies into the twelve Asian nations they would eventually conquer. In guise as civilans from all walks of life, their mission was to locate and map the storehouses of wealth throughout the regions. Targets included museums, treasuries, banks, churches, temples, monasteries, shrines, mining operations and large corporations as well as wealthy families and organized crime syndicates. Detailed reports were sent continually to the royalty in Tokyo who wanted to have one basic thing: A list of whoever held the keys and combinations to the vaults who would shortly become candidates for interrogation and torture.

Their first major project, the December 1937 rape of Nanking, was only the tip of the iceberg. An estimated 6000 tons of gold were looted from Chiang Kai-shek's treasuries within a few days. As the Japanese Imperial Army swept through China and assimilated virtually all of southeast Asia, it thoroughly seized over 4000 years worth of stored gold, silver, precious gems, coins and works of art, including temple statuary.

In fear of Hitler, much of Europe's vast wealth had also been secretly located unsuspectingly into Japan's path. This included the national treasures of the Netherlands into the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), that of France into Indochina (now Vietnam), and that of Britain (with the notable exception of the Crown Jewels) into Singapore. By a seeming series of miracles, all fell to Japan; and Golden Lily agents silently and efficiently swept up the spoils, refined most of the precious metals, and began transporting them back to their homeland.

Much of this vast treasure never made it to Japan. With the Allied victory at Midway, Hirohito became reluctant to risk its transport through waters heavily patrolled by enemy submarines. Instead, it was diverted to the Philippines, most notably aboard the captured Dutch passenger liner Op ten Noort, amongst others disguised as hospital ships. So cautious were the Japanese that they made detailed communications to the Allied Forces of the exact schedules of these treasure-laden ships well in advance of their movements. Even before Midway, gold was taken to the Philippines to be smelted and stored in natural caves and caverns as well as in an extensive tunnel system that had been left by Spanish miners of old.

Headquarters now transferred from Singapore to Manila, the Golden Lily team fell under the direction of HIH Prince Takeda [no miya] Tsuneyoshi, Hirohito's first cousin, who oversaw most of the actual Philippine burial sites, yet still second in command to Chichibu. This is the same Takeda who later became an Olympic equestrian competitor and even president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, his son currently holding this position. The Emperor wisely foresaw Japan's eventual defeat. It was strongly believed that Japan would be able to keep the Philippines as a concession for peace, then use the vast wealth hidden there to rebuild their empire after the war.

Thus, the relocation of the enormous shipments of war treasure to the Philippines was urgently seen as Japan's only hope of ethnic survival. At the close of the war, as Allied vicories were forcing sudden evacuations in the north, many of the complex burial sites were emptied and apparently relocated to the southern Philippines. The three major ports of the island of Mindanao in particular (Zamboanga, General Santos City, and Davao) were suddenly overrun with Japanese ships which frantically unloaded their cargoes into the mountains.

As the history is vastly more involved than can be presented here, interested parties are directed to well-researched published works such as Gold Warriors: America's Secret Recovery of Yamashita's Gold by Sterling Seagrave and his wife, Peggy, and Asian Loot: Unearthing the Secrets of Marcos, Yamashita and the Gold by Charles C. McDougald.

Now, everyone seems to have a site in mind or have some zealous friend who is convinced of imminent wealth. Thousands of holes have been hand-dug in the Philippines in search of this treasure. Precious few have seen positive results. As many of these projects based on dowsing techniques and various forms of superstition have ended in failure, a side industry has emerged based on the fever itself. Foreign investors are often enticed into funding projects of digging holes which are known to be fruitless. In areas of high unemployment, workers are happy to dig meaningless holes for US $2-3 per day. Con men claim to have recovered treasure but will only meet with buyers in secluded rural areas, abduction points for allegedly wealthy travellers. Others will actually try to sell gold-plated brass buddhas and fake bars for thousands of times their actual value.

Nonetheless, Figure Eight has located and investigated a small handful of highly favorable prospective treasure sites.