Thai-Burma Railway


Thai-Burma Railway
   Railway built by the Japanese during World War II, which connected the Bangkok-Singapore line at Bangpong, Thailand, with the Ye-Moulmein (Yay, Mawlamyine) line at Thanbyuzayat, in what is now Mon State. It was 415 kilometers (257 miles) long, ran through Three Pagodas Pass, and made it possible for the Japanese to have direct rail links between Singapore, Malaya, Thailand, and Burma. At a time when shipping was increasingly threatened by Allied submarines, the railway was a top strategic priority and was completed in record time, between October 1942 and August 1943. Service began on October 25, 1943.
   It is often called the "Railway of Death" because so many Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and Asian slave laborers perished during its construction. Of 61,806 POWs, 12,399 (over 20 percent) died of starvation, disease, and maltreatment. The number of Asian laborers, known as romusha in Japanese, probably exceeded 300,000, of whom as many as 100,000 may have died. POW and Japanese sources agree that the romusha, who came from Burma, Thailand, Indonesia (mostly Java), Malaya, and Vietnam, were treated even more harshly than the POWs, and lacked any sort of medical care. On the Burmese side of the border, laborers were forcibly recruited into the Chwe Tat or "Sweat Army" of Dr. Ba Maw's government. The rail line was repeatedly attacked by Allied aircraft and fell into disuse after the war. A popular novel about the railway, Pierre Boulle's Bridge on the River Kwai, contains a number of inaccuracies. During the 1990s, a new rail line constructed between Tavoy (Dawei) and Ye by the State Law and Order Restoration Council, which also used forced laborers, is often compared to the original "Railway of Death."
   See also Forced Labor; Ye-Tavoy Railway.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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