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Colton Taylor
Colton Taylor

Rail Of War ##BEST##

In early 1942, Japanese forces invaded Burma and seized control of the colony from the United Kingdom. To supply their forces in Burma, the Japanese depended upon the sea, bringing supplies and troops to Burma around the Malay peninsula and through the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. This route was vulnerable to attack by Allied submarines, especially after the Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway in June 1942. To avoid a hazardous 2,000-mile (3,200 km) sea journey around the Malay peninsula, a railway from Bangkok to Rangoon seemed a feasible alternative.[7] The Japanese began this project in June 1942.[8]

Rail of War

The project aimed to connect Ban Pong in Thailand with Thanbyuzayat in Burma, linking up with existing railways at both places. Its route was through Three Pagodas Pass on the border of Thailand and Burma. 69 miles (111 km) of the railway were in Burma and the remaining 189 miles (304 km) were in Thailand. The movement of POWs northward from Changi Prison in Singapore and other prison camps in Southeast Asia began in May 1942.[9] On 23 June 1942, 600 British soldiers arrived at Camp Nong Pladuk, Thailand to build a camp to serve as a transit camp for the work camps along the railway.[10][11] After preliminary work of airfields and infrastructure, construction of the railway began in Burma and Thailand on 16 September 1942.[12][13] The projected completion date was December 1943.[9] Much of the construction materials, including tracks and sleepers, were brought from dismantled branches of Malaya's Federated Malay States Railway network and the East Indies' various rail networks.[14][15][16]

The railway was completed ahead of schedule. On 17 October 1943, construction gangs originating in Burma working south met up with construction gangs originating in Thailand working north. The two sections of the line met at kilometre 263, about 18 km (11 mi) south of the Three Pagodas Pass at Konkoita (nowadays: Kaeng Khoi Tha, Sangkhla Buri District, Kanchanaburi Province).[17] A holiday was declared for 25 October which was chosen as the ceremonial opening of the line.[18][19] The Japanese staff would travel by train C56 31 from Nong Pladuk, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat, Burma. A copper spike was driven at the meeting point by commanding General Eiguma Ishida, and a memorial plaque was revealed.[19]

On 16 January 1946, the British ordered Japanese POWs to remove a four-kilometre stretch of rail between Nikki (Ni Thea) and Sonkrai.[21][22] The railway link between Thailand and Burma was to be separated again for protecting British interests in Singapore.[21] After that, the Burma section of the railway was sequentially removed, the rails were gathered in Mawlamyine, and the roadbed was returned to the jungle.[21]

Since the 1990s various proposals have been made to rebuild the complete railway, but as of 2021[update] these plans had not been realised. Since the upper part of the Khwae valley is now flooded by the Vajiralongkorn Dam,[19] and the surrounding terrain is mountainous, it would take extensive tunnelling to reconnect Thailand with Burma by rail.

Japanese soldiers, 12,000 of them, including 800 Koreans, were employed on the railway as engineers, guards, and supervisors of the POW and rōmusha labourers. Although working conditions were far better for the Japanese than the POWs and rōmusha workers, about 1,000 (eight percent) of them died during construction. Many remember Japanese soldiers as being cruel and indifferent to the fate of Allied prisoners of war and the Asian rōmusha. Many men in the railway workforce bore the brunt of pitiless or uncaring guards. Cruelty could take different forms, from extreme violence and torture to minor acts of physical punishment, humiliation, and neglect.[29]

The number of Southeast Asian workers recruited or impressed to work on the Burma railway has been estimated to have been more than 180,000 Southeast Asian civilian labourers (rōmusha). Javanese, Malayan Tamils of Indian origin, Burmese, Chinese, Thai, and other Southeast Asians, forcibly drafted by the Imperial Japanese Army to work on the railway, died in its construction.[30][31][32] During the initial stages of the construction of the railway, Burmese and Thais were employed in their respective countries, but Thai workers, in particular, were likely to abscond from the project and the number of Burmese workers recruited was insufficient. The Burmese had welcomed the invasion by Japan and cooperated with Japan in recruiting workers.[30][33]

In early 1943, the Japanese advertised for workers in Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies, promising good wages, short contracts, and housing for families. When that failed to attract sufficient workers, they resorted to more coercive methods, rounding up workers and impressing them, especially in Malaya.[34] Approximately 90,000 Burmese and 75,000 Malayans worked on the railroad.[30] Other nationalities and ethnic groups working on the railway were Tamils, Chinese, Karen, Javanese, and Singaporean Chinese.[33] Other documents suggest that more than 100,000 Malayan Tamils were brought into the project and around 60,000 perished.[35][36]

One of the earliest and most respected accounts is ex-POW John Coast's Railroad of Death, first published in 1946 and republished in a new edition in 2014.[47] Coast's work is noted for its detail on the brutality of some Japanese and Korean guards as well as the humanity of others. It also describes the living and working conditions experienced by the POWs, together with the culture of the Thai towns and countryside that became many POWs' homes after leaving Singapore with the working parties sent to the railway. Coast also details the camaraderie, pastimes, and humour of the POWs in the face of adversity.[47]

In his book Last Man Out, H. Robert Charles, an American Marine survivor of the sinking of the USS Houston, writes in depth about a Dutch doctor, Henri Hekking, a fellow POW who probably saved the lives of many who worked on the railway.[48][49] In the foreword to Charles's book, James D. Hornfischer summarizes: "Dr. Henri Hekking was a tower of psychological and emotional strength, almost shamanic in his power to find and improvise medicines from the wild prison of the jungle". Hekking died in 1994.[50] Charles died in December 2009.

After the completion of the railroad, over 10,000 POWs were then transported to Japan.[56] Those left to maintain the line still suffered from appalling living conditions as well as increasing Allied air raids.[57][58]

Estimates of deaths among Southeast Asian civilians subject to forced labour, often known as rōmusha, vary widely, because statistics are incomplete and fragmented.[60] However, authorities agree that the percentage of deaths among the rōmusha was much higher than among the Allied military personnel. The total number of rōmusha working on the railway may have reached 300,000 and according to some estimates, the death rate among them was as high as 50 percent.[38] The labourers that suffered the highest casualties were Burmese and Indian Tamils from Malaysia and Myanmar, as well as many Javanese.[30]

At the end of World War II, 111 Japanese military officials were tried for war crimes for their brutality during the construction of the railway. Thirty-two of them were sentenced to death.[63] The most important trial was against the general staff. Lieutenant General Eiguma Ishida, overall commander of the Burma Railway, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. His subordinates Colonel Shigeo Nakamura, Colonel Tamie Ishii and Lieutenant-Colonel Shoichi Yanagita were sentenced to death. Major Sotomatsu Chida was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.[64] Hiroshi Abe, a first lieutenant who supervised construction of the railway at Sonkrai where 600 British prisoners out of 1,600 died of cholera and other diseases,[65] was sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison, as a B/C class war criminal. He served 11 years.[66][67] No compensation or reparations have been provided to Southeast Asian victims.[32]

One of the most notable portions of the entire railway line is Bridge 277, the so-called "Bridge on the River Kwai", which was built over a stretch of the river that was then known as part of the Mae Klong River. The greater part of the Thai section of the river's route followed the valley of the Khwae Noi River (khwae, 'stream, river' or 'tributary'; noi, 'small'. Khwae was frequently mispronounced by non-Thai speakers as kwai, or 'buffalo' in Thai). This gave rise to the name of "River Kwai" in English. In 1960, because of discrepancies between facts and fiction, the portion of the Mae Klong which passes under the bridge was renamed the Khwae Yai (แควใหญ่ in the Thai language; in English, 'big tributary'). On 26 October 1942, British prisoners of war arrived at Tamarkan to construct the bridge. Initially, 1,000 prisoners worked on the bridge and were commanded by Colonel Philip Toosey.[68] In February 1943, 1,000 Dutch prisoners of war were added to Tamarkan.[69] An unknown number of Malayan workers were housed in a nearby camp.[70]

The two bridges were successfully bombed and damaged on 13 February 1945 by bomber aircraft from the Royal Air Force (RAF).[74] Repairs were carried out by forced labour of POWs shortly after and by April the wooden railroad trestle bridge was back in operation. On 3 April, a second bombing raid, this time by Liberator heavy bombers of the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), damaged the wooden railroad bridge once again.[75] Repair work soon commenced afterwards and continued again and both bridges were operational again by the end of May. A second air-raid by the RAF on 24 June finally severely damaged and destroyed the railroad bridges, and put the entire railway line out of commission for the rest of the war.[76]

The new railway line did not fully connect with the Burmese railroad network as no railroad bridges were built which crossed the river between Moulmein and Martaban (the former on the river's southern bank and the latter to the opposite on the northern bank). Thus, ferries were needed as an alternative connecting system. A bridge was not built until the Thanlwin Bridge (carrying both regular road and railroad traffic) was constructed between 2000 and 2005.[77] 041b061a72


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