to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

8.19 RAF destroys RKB

24 June 1945 was a banner day for the RAF.

AAF and RAF planes flying mainly out of India and Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) had been bombing the various bridges (there were over 600 of them) along the TBR since late 1944. When they weren’t bombing, they would fly along the route and strafe anything that they saw moving. Sometimes this included POW work parties. The construction phase of the TBR had been completed in OCT 1943, but work crews – particularly romusha – were scattered up and down the length doing maintenance and stockpiling wood for fuel.

Because they were the longest and most visible of even the 6 largest TBR bridges, [see Sections 8.18 & 10.5]  the bridges on the “River Kwai” particularly attracted the attention of the Allied planners. Destroying these two bridges would seriously disrupt operations on the entire TBR.

The first such raid took place on 29 OCT 1944. Little damage was done to either bridge. Unfortunately, some bombs feel short into the POW camp just a few dozen yards away and killed a number of Dutch POWs. The US POWs were housed next to the Dutch and actually closer to the bridges, but they suffered no casualties.

There were five documented attacks on these bridges using different tactics: high and low altitude bombing runs.

Raid #2 occurred on 13 DEC doing only slight damage. This is thought to have been a low altitude run with the planes flying east to west up the river. On 25 JAN 45, the AAF tried a completely new tactic: the AZON[1] guided bomb. Once again, the damage was light and POWs were set to work doing repairs.

Heavier damage was done to the wooden bridge on 4 FEB 45, but it was back in operation within 2 weeks.

The final blow came on 24 JUN 1945 (the 5th raid). An RAF flight led by Sqrd Ldr Leslie Evans, of the 358th Bomber Squadron flying the B-24J Liberator bomber named Z ZOLA out of the Cocos Isles[2], managed to destroy the center spans and piers of the iron bridge and heavily damage the wooden bridge. Trains on the TBR came to a halt. It was never successfully brought back into operation.

The TBR had lived just over 600 days (17 OCT 43 – 24 JUN 45). It had taken 13-16 months to build (depending on what date one uses as the start date[3]) and had a life span of 20 months.

In an incredible act of serendipity, I stumbled onto the daughter of Sqdr Ldr Evans during a FACEBOOK discussion of the TBR. She sent me a clip of the entry in his 1945 flight log where he catalogued his historic achievement. Like many side-stories to the TBR, his is hardly known or mentioned.


[2] An Australian External Territory in the Indian Ocean SW of Sumatra

[3] 5 JUN 42 = 0Km marker at Nong PlaDuk; 5 JUL =survey teams deployed; 16 SEP = stone marker at Nong PlaDuk; 1 OCT = construction begins in Burma

I recently found this depiction of a B-24 LIBERATOR battling a swarm of Zeroes. It may or may not have any link to the TBR (likely not) but it provoked a thought: Why didn’t the Japanese attempt to protect the bridge more so that with just AA-guns. We have recon photos and eyewitness accounts that there were AA-guns just NW of two bridges and even on the hill (mountain?) a bit to the north of the camp. There was a small aerodrome somewhat east of the main camp area. But that seemed to be used mainly for supplies and VIP visits.

There are no POW accounts of any fighter planes attempting to protect the bridges at any time. The first raid was in OCT 44 and they continued until the iron bridge was all but destroyed in JUN 45. Of course, by that point in the war the Japanese air forces were severely depleted; both in planes and competent pilots. Perhaps there simply weren’t sufficient planes or pilots available to dedicate to this mission. There would have had to have been a companion early warning system of some sort; most likely spotters stationed sufficiently far away to allow time for the fighters to launch to meet the bombers near the bridges. Apparently, the flights used the rivers as a guide to locate the bridges usually coming in from the SE up the Mae Klong River. But had there been any true resistance, they could have been vectored in from any point on the compass. Had there been fighter cover used, likely long-range P-38 pursuit/attack planes would have been used to fly cover for the bombers. They would have been the only fighters with the range to make the round trip flight.

It does seem as though the lack of adequate protection of any of the bridges along the TBR was another ‘logistics’ failure for this project.