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Death Railway

Designation for the Thailand-Burma Railway built by the Imperial Japanese Army during WW II and which ran from Nong Pladuk in Thailand to Thanbuyuzayat in Burma, with its main section running through the Thai province of Kanchanaburi and crossing the border near the Three Pagoda Pass. During WW I Japan gained a foothold in China when it captured the German fortress of Tsingtao in northeast China (wartime maps). The Japanese army subsequently became well established in Shantung and Manchuria and by the mid 1930's Manchuria had become the Japanese protectorate of Manchukuo. The Japanese envisaged a similar fate for the whole of China. However, further territorial demands by the Japanese on a weak and divided China subsequently led to war. In an attempt to force Japan to end this war Britain, Holland and the United States imposed a trade embargo on Japan. At the same time they provided the Chinese forces led by Chiang Kai Chek with weapons and supplies via a road across the foothills of the Himalayas. In order to cut this vital supply link and to obtain the raw materials of Burma for themselves, the Japanese needed to enter Burma. After the Japanese offensive, which began in December 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Malaya, the Imperial Army's forces were by mid ‘42 fighting the British in Burma, their aim being to cut the above mentioned Allied supply link into China and ultimately an offensive against India. To maintain their armies in Burma the Japanese needed a more secure supply route than the vulnerable sea-lines between Singapore and Rangoon through the Andaman Sea, where Allied forces operating from Ceylon were attacking their supply ships. Thus realizing the need for a safe land route the Japanese decided to construct a 415 km long railway through dense jungle and mountains. Work on the line began in southern Burma in October 1942 while at the same time construction also started in Thailand. To build the railway the Japanese assembled a multi-national workforce of approximately 250,000 Asian labourers and over 60,000 Australian, British, Dutch and American prisoners of war (POWs). On 16 October 1943 the two ends of the railway were joined at Kongkiwtah in Thailand. Of all POWs who worked on the railway 12,399 died (about 20%), and between 70,000 and 90,000 civilian labourers are also believed to have died, mainly as a result of lack of proper food, totally inadequate medical facilities and, at times, the brutal treatment from their guards. The appalling death toll that arose during construction −it is said one life for each sleeper− led to the use of the name ‘the Death Railway’. See also Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, Hellfire Pass Memorial, Don Rak and Chong Kai. In Thai called Thahng Rot Fai Mareutayu. See also samurai.