South-East Asia was of great importance to the world because of the natural resources that Malaya possessed. In 1939 Malaya produced 40 per cent of the worlds rubber and nearly 60 per cent of its tin, most of this went to America.
In June 1941 America, Britain and the Netherlands East Indies froze Japanese assets, and this cut off her oil supplies. Japan was also deprived of her iron, bauxite and shipping interests in the peninsula. Vichy France provided bases in southern Indo-China for the Japanese which gave them a naval base 750 miles from Singapore and airfields only 300 miles from northern Malaya.
Japan needed these resources for their war effort and take them she did by invading Malaya in December 1941.
Map by Ron Taylor
Japan put itself under pressure as it widened its hold on the Far East, as its forces had to be supplied. Burma had a natural supply line for its troops, the Irrawaddy River which runs the full length of Burma and boats could therefore supply the Japanese forces pushing towards India, but this was slow. The Burmese railway also ran the full length of Burma, the only problem being there was no line between Malaya and Burma, this had to be bridged quickly. If this was joined to Malaya the Japanese forces could be supplied quickly and could carry on with the invasion of India.
The map shows the natural line of the railway would be south from YE in Burma, but the route South East was impossible as it lay over 200 miles of mountains before Siam was reached. The Southern Army Railway Corps were now very interested in a route previously devised between Thanbyuzayat and Bangkok, this would join up with the Bangkok to Singapore line already there.
The route ran on the east bank of the Mae Khlong River from Bangkok until it reached the Khwae Noi River, the track was then to cross the Mae Khlong and hug the east bank of the Khwae Noi until it reached the mountains in the north and cross the mountains at Three Pagodas Pass. It would then snake out of the mountains towards Thanbyuzayat. With this plan the river was a great advantage as it could help supply materials and the labour force needed to build the railway.
In peace time, plans to build a railway from Bangkok to Burma had been shelved because of the cost involved. Now, with over 100,000 prisoners taken in its advance, Japan had a workforce, to do with as it pleased.
A railway could now be built to help supply its forces on the Burma front and its advance into India for little cost to themselves, this was to prove a huge deficit in prisoners lives.