Lt. Onoda, The Story of a Survivor

Lt. Onoda

Hiroo Onoda emerging from the jungle after being personally ordered to do so by he WW@ commanding officer.

For those of you who don’t know about Lt. Onoda, he was a Japanese soldier who survived for 29 years in the Philippine jungles after World War 2 ended.  He died about a year ago at 91 years of age.  The following is a post sent to me by a friend.  It was originally meant as a comment on Supporting Your Firearm, Especially After TEOTWAWKI, but I decided that more people would see it if I made it a separate post.


Probably the most ‘famous’ of all the WW2 Japanese holdouts, Lt. Hiroo Onoda, an Intelligence Officer, was the only survivor of a group of four who came out of the jungle on the island of Lubang, in the Philippine Islands, 29 years after Japan’s formal surrender, and 15 years after his being declared legally dead in Japan.

Lt. Onoda maintained his Type 99 rifle while evading, using only boiled water, coconut husk and coconut oil. When he came out of the jungle on February 20, 1974 his Type 99 rifle and kit were still serviceable and he estimated that he still had a 20-year supply of ammunition left.

Lt. Onoda’s book was required reading for US Navy personnel attending the jungle survival school in the late 1970s. Read the book review 

Lt. Onoda maintained his rifle by wiping it daily with palm oil and hanging it out of reach of rats on vines strung over the fire. Ammunition was stored in glass food jars hidden in caves, covered with stones. He fashioned ammunition pouches from a pair of villagers discarded rubber sneakers, placing cartridges in cloth sacks tied with string and pulling the top of the rubber pouch over the opening, fastening with a metal hook to keep the contents dry. He normally carried five rounds in his rifle, 5 rounds in his shirt pocket, and 50 rounds in pouches in case he got into a firefight. His usual tactic upon contact was to “shoot and scoot,” firing one shot at the nearest armed villagers and then to retreat into the jungle and disappear.

When he originally retreated into the jungle in 1945 he had 300 regular rimless 7.7mm rifle rounds and 600 rounds of rimmed machinegun ammunition. On the MG rounds, he filed the rims so that they could be loaded singly and fired in his Type 99 for hunting purposes. Misfired rounds were pulled down and the powder used to start fires using a magnifying glass. When he came out of the jungle in 1974 he still had nearly 400 rounds either cached nearby or on his person. On average he fired only 16-20 rounds per year to shoot cows for meat, which he dried, or a few only when necessary, to kill armed soldiers or police who got too close, or to scare away villagers.

Knowledge, a survivor’s mindset and practice of good field craft beats carrying “too much equipment.”

I highly recommend his memoir: “No Surrender, My Thirty Year War,” originally published by the Naval Institute Press. The Wikipedia entry on Lt. Onoda is also a good read.


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2 Responses to Lt. Onoda, The Story of a Survivor

  1. Security Guy says:

    I’ve heard some of LT Onoda’s story before but never heard how he maintained his weapons (he had more than just the rifle). I did hear about his caches of ammo in glass jars hidden in the jungle. People should remember that 1 of the biggest reasons he maintained his rifle so carefully was because it was property of the emperor placed in his trust and care. The emperor was the god on earth and his property must always be maintained to the highest standards or it was disrespectful. At the end of the war all imperial japanese weapons had to have the imperial chrysanthemum removed before it was surrendered to the allies or destroyed, so as not to insult the emperor.

    It is good to know improvised ways to maintain, repair, and clean your weapons. In Afghanistan the muj used a rag, boot lace, and motor oil to clean their weapons. When they cleaned the barrels they put a few knots in the boot lace, coated it in motor oil, and pulled it through a few times. I’ve used 15W 40 motor oil to lubricate weapons when we were out of CLP in the field (it flows out a lot faster when the weapon heats up). I knew people that used WD-40 as their CLP (don’t know if I would recommend that because I am not sure of it’s flash point). Here is a video produced by the US Army during Vietnam about improvised cleaning items for the M-16A1 rifle:
    Part 1/2
    Part 2/2

    Personally I am not going to rely on field expedients as my first choice. I know some people will, just like there are people that plan to go full cave man scavenger if things would fall apart. After I would expend all my supplies then I would try the expedients. Hopefully a disaster would not last that long though and I would never have to bust open a 2nd can of ammo.

  2. ke4sky says:

    When I was in Italy a few years ago, the EOD team from Carabinieri I was working with recovered SOE drop canisters stored in limestone caves since WW2, containing STENs, PIATs, BRENs and S&W Victory Model revolvers in .380/200 with ammo, which had been preserved in ordinary SAE30 non- detergent motor oil and wrapped in waxed paper and shelter halves before stowing in the drop canisters, and everything we tried on the range went BANG!!!!! The PIATs in particular were a big treat, though I prefer the AT4.

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