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The Unsolved World War II Mystery of Yamashita’s Gold

Ravi loves writing within the realm of relationships, history, and the bizarre—where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

A real-life high-octane mystery of World War II involving tons and tons of gold, a secretive Japanese General, an elusive royal family, a locksmith, and a bloodthirsty Philippine dictator, still unsolved for the past 75 years.

A real-life high-octane mystery of World War II involving tons and tons of gold, a secretive Japanese General, an elusive royal family, a locksmith, and a bloodthirsty Philippine dictator, still unsolved for the past 75 years.

A Real-Life High-Octane Adventure Story

“Yamashita’s gold," as it is called, has all the elements of a Clive Cussler bestseller. Tons and tons of gold, a secretive Japanese General, an elusive royal family, a locksmith, and a bloodthirsty Philippine dictator. In addition, add in the turbulent times of World War II, and you get a real potboiler.

It was nearing the end of the war, and the Japanese were losing everywhere. As the American troops started to close in, The Japanese had another problem looming over them. Over the last eight years of conquests over Asia, the Japanese imperial army had amassed tons of gold, gems, and artwork systematically plundered from conquered countries like China, Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The treasures were of such massive proportions that a special team was created to supervise and organize the loot. The team was called “The Golden Lily” after a poem written by the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. The team was led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Japanese Imperial Army, who worked directly under the orders of Prince Takeda of the Japanese Royal family.

General Yamashita planned to hide the treasure in a series of tunnels specially built in the Philippines and then transfer it to Japan via warships once the war ended. Unfortunately, Yamashita never had the chance to reclaim his treasure. He was convicted of war crimes and executed by the Americans in 1946.

And to his grave, Yamashita also took with him the secret locations of Yamashita’s treasure, a secret still hidden even today.

General Yamashita planned to hide the treasure in a series of tunnels specially built in the Philippines and then transfer it to Japan via warships once the war ended.

General Yamashita planned to hide the treasure in a series of tunnels specially built in the Philippines and then transfer it to Japan via warships once the war ended.

The Systematic Looting by the Japanese Imperial Army

World War II reached its darkest chapter in 1943, with the Japanese army's brutal massacre of 30 million Chinese, Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians, and Burmese.

The cruelty was bone chilling with widespread gang rape, arson, and murder. Contests were held among the Japanese soldiers for beheading people, and pregnant women were mercilessly bayoneted in the stomach. Thousands of women were captured and forced to be sex slaves for the Japanese army. Known as the 'comfort women,' their story is one of the most horrible crimes ever perpetuated in history.

And along with the murders came systematic looting.

The looting was colossal. Museums, temples, houses, schools, banks, government buildings, and shops were stripped of all money, artifacts, paintings, and gems and carted away in big truckloads to the army headquarters, where they were handed over to the "Operation Lily” team led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita.

Yamashita, along with Prince Takeda of the Japanese Royal family, had 175 treasure caves created across the Japanese-occupied islands of the Philippines. Each cave site was carefully selected and built by specialist engineers along with enslaved Filipinos and POWS who were forced to work under horrifying conditions.

The routine was simple; build the cave, fill it with treasure, and blast the cave entrance with dynamite. All the workers and POWs working at the site would either be suffocated or shot dead if alive.

Unfortunately, neither Yamashita nor Prince Takeda could ever retrieve the hidden gold. As American troops closed in, Yamashita took what was left of his army to the north of the country, where he surrendered after bitter fighting on September 2nd, 1945. Later in 1946, he was tried and executed for war crimes. Prince Takeda was also killed in the war.

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And probably the world would have never known about Yamashita’s treasure had his personal driver not revealed the location of 12 of the vaults in the north of Manila city. What the Americans found there was mind-blowing.

They found rows and rows of gold bars neatly stacked and cataloged, priceless paintings, gold statues of buddhas, platinum artifacts, and dazzling arrays of diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and lapis lazuli. The estimated value of these 12 vaults alone was billions of dollars in 1946.

Again, these were only 12 vaults.What treasures are there in the remaining undiscovered vaults? Over the past 75 years, Yamashita’s gold has triggered a frantic treasure hunt across the Philippines that continues to this day.

Yamashita took what was left of his army to the north of the country, where he surrendered after bitter fighting on September 2nd, 1945. Later in 1946, he was tried and executed for war crimes.

Yamashita took what was left of his army to the north of the country, where he surrendered after bitter fighting on September 2nd, 1945. Later in 1946, he was tried and executed for war crimes.

The Curious Story of Ferdinand Marcos

In 1971, Rogelio Roxas, a locksmith, came across a map drawn by a Japanese soldier who was killed during the war. The map showed a tunnel complex hidden behind a hospital in the mountain resort of Baguio. After months of digging, Roxas and his friends found a passageway full of skeletons.

And beyond the skeletons, he found a 1-ton solid gold Buddha and four crates of solid gold bars. And inside the Buddha’s head, he found piles of uncut diamonds and gems. It was a spectacular find. But Roxas's happiness was short-lived. Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator who ruled the Philippines with an iron fist until 1986, heard about the treasure. He had Roxas and his friends put in jail, where they were allegedly tortured to reveal the treasure's location.

Rumors are that Marcos managed to get hold of the treasure, which was again hidden in several places by him. In 1992, Ferdinand’s widow, Imelda Marcos, admitted to her close associate that Marcos had owned more than 7000 tons of gold. But she remained tight-lipped about the location until she died in 2017.

Roxas later managed to pick up a lock and escaped from his prison. He fled the Philippines with his family. The months of torture had reduced him to a physical wreck.

In 1971, Rogelio Roxas, a locksmith, came across a map drawn by a Japanese soldier who was killed during the war. The map showed a tunnel complex hidden behind a hospital in the mountain resort of Baguio.

In 1971, Rogelio Roxas, a locksmith, came across a map drawn by a Japanese soldier who was killed during the war. The map showed a tunnel complex hidden behind a hospital in the mountain resort of Baguio.

Conspiracy Theories?

Over the years, many conspiracies have sprung up to confirm or debate its existence.

According to one theory, the Americans were given all the treasure as a wartime deal by the Japanese Royal family and others for their freedom. Compared to post-war Germany, where many Nazi criminals were tried and executed for war crimes, only a handful of criminals were tried in post-war Japan. The Japanese royal family was portrayed as innocent victims and forgiven by the American tribunal. All this leniency raises suspicions about secretive underhand deals.

Another theory talks about Ferdinand Marcos finding all the treasure and keeping it in several personal bank accounts worldwide. It is worth noting that Marcos started exercising strict control over all treasure-hunting expeditions after the Roxas incident. It is interesting to note that despite the hordes of treasure hunters scouring the Philippines, not even one of them has found anything tangible in the last 60 years or so for their efforts except Roxas.

Yes, there are treasure hunters who have dedicated their entire lives to finding this elusive treasure. But despite the efforts, there is no proof of any substantial gold being found to date. Yamashita’s treasure remains one of the most intriguing mysteries of World War II.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan

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