to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

17k. River Kwai Bridge

First the wood and bamboo bridge then the iron span that was looted from Java, these spanned the Mae Klong River just to the northwest of the walled city of Kanchanaburi. Each of them was damaged and repaired over the course of months of Allied bombing, until they were finally destroyed beyond repair in JUN 45 and the operation of the TBR ceased.

Of course, there never was a Bridge on the River Kwai, because there was never a River Kwai.

When in the 1960s, tourists began arriving in Kanchanaburi looking for The Bridge over the River Kwai, the locals were somewhat perplexed in that there is no such river. The main raiver has always been named the Mae Klong (not to be confused with the MeKong that forms the border with Laos). Near the ancient walled city of Kanchanaburi, the smaller Kwai Noi River joins the Mae Klong which then wends its way to the Gulf of Siam just south of Bangkok.

Partly to appease those seeking the bridge and river of novel and movie fame, the Thai Government officially renamed the river west of the intersection of the two tributaries as the Kwai Yai (translated as large tributary). After their joining the original name Mae Klong was retained.


With apologies to William Holden, despite the fiction of the novel, No US POWs were directly involved in the construction of the famous Bridge. The single exception was that a CAPT Pomeroy (see Sect 3d.9) was a US citizen serving in the Indian Army and was on LtCol Toosey’s staff.

A minor controversy

A minor controversy has developed concerning the ‘adornments’ at the River Kwai Bridge. My Thai co-investigator, TS, published an essay that centered on the two bombs that stand at the ThaMarKam end of the bridge. It seems that they are not ‘real’. As with most things TBR-related, there is little to no information readily available on them. Since the area belongs to the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), we can only assume that they erected them. One might be tempted to speculate that they are somehow connected to the bridge. Not likely! Given the general lack of interest of the Thai government in the TBR story, it is highly unlikely that these are in any way directly related to the bridge. IOW, they would not be artifacts from the era and certainly not related to the actual bombing of bridge.

Moreover, it seems that they are not even ‘real’ bombs. TS relates a conversation with someone who has studied and researched these two items. It seems that the configuration is wrong. The black portions do indeed seem to be consistent with WW2-era 1000 pound general purpose high-explosive bombs. (Hopefully with the H-E part removed!) But the red-painted tail fins are all wrong. Catalog photos of era weapons show a different fin pattern.

It would seem as though the SRT came into possession of the casings (black section) of two 1000 pound bombs. But you can’t put those on display because they don’t look enough like a bomb that people would recognize. So the SRT faked it! They had someone fabricate fins to add to the casings. But those fins do not match the WW2-era style. They might even be simply someone’s concept of what tail fins could look like! Because they are so generic, it is hard to tell if these are even WW2-era (or more likely later) bomb casings. Remember that Thailand was a major launch-point for the US air war against Vietnam in the 60s and 70s. I’d speculate that these are more likely VN-era than WW2-era military surplus items.

So the SRT likely had a fabricator add tail fins (no historical accuracy needed) and placed them on display purely for the dramatic effect than any attempt to emulate history!

1944-45 repairs

These photos seem to show the iron bridge under repair and a bomb hitting the west end of the wooden bridge. Also note bomb smoke and a crater visible between the two bridges.

Also of note is the shallowness, narrowness of the water line at this time. This is obviously in the Dry Season.

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