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Burma Road - Israel

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Burma Road - Israel - The "Burma Road" is the name given to the road built by the IDF to bypass Arab armies that were besieging Jerusalem, and in particular, to bypass the forces of the Transjordan legion which held Latrun in the 1948 Israel War of Independence. The name was taken from the name of the road built by the allies in World War II, between Burma and China. It is probably that the American Colonel Mickey Marcus first used the name. The road was built in June of 1948. It turned off the main road  at Deir Mohsein coming from the direction of Hulda, and returned to the main road opposite Neve Ilan, as shown in the map.  

Burma Road Jerusapem Map

Jerusalem had been intermittently under siege since early in 1948. Shortages of water, fuel, medical supplies and food were acute, and Jewish inhabitants were reduced to starvation rations. Ammunition and weapons were in short supply as well, as the British officered Transjordan Legion and Arab irregulars kept up both nuisance shelling and attempts to attack.

Arab irregulars had blocked the road at Bab El Wad and beyond. This siege was broken for a brief time by Operation Nachshon, but the irregulars soon closed the road again. Though the road was cleared of Arab irregulars after May 15, the Jordan Legion occupied the monastery and police fort of Latrun soon after, and Israelis were unable to dislodge them despite repeated attacks. In Operation Bin Nun, Operation Bin-Nun Bet and thereafter.

Israeli convoys and vehicles had traveled along a path called road called "The Gazelles route" on May 16-18. The Transjordan Legion used this road too. On May 16, a single armored vehicle had traveled this road. On May 17 several Palmach commanders including Amos Horeb, Zerubavel Arbel and Benny Dunkelman had traveled this route. On May 18, a convoy was sent to Jerusalem through this route, but it was hit heavily by enemy fire along the part of the route that was visible from Latrun.

In the absence of road transportation, the Israeli forces had flown in supplies. Originally light planes had landed in a small runway in Jerusalem, but they were unable to carry large quantities of supplies. The arrival of several Dakotas, which could carry over 3 tons of supplies made the task easier, but these planes were too large to land. The supplies had to be dropped by air. The quantities of ordnance that could be brought by air were totally inadequate.  

The Arabs had retained a corridor that ran North - south to Beit Guvrin from Latroun. This was guarded by the villages of Beit Jiz and Beit Sussin. The two villages were conquered on May 28, allowing the newly created Seventh Brigade to the west to link up with with Harel Brigade to the east. Several individuals and groups had already traveled part or all of the way undetected through various paths either from or to Jerusalem. On May 27, one Moshe Eshed of the Givati Brigade and his three comrades had supposedly come from Jerusalem on foot1.

On the night of May 28-29, 150 troops marched from Hulda to Sha'ar Hagay over this bypass route without being detected. IDF archives record that on May 29, Colonel Mickey Marcus, Shlomo Shamir, commander of the Seventh Brigade, the Seventh Brigade operations and engineering officers went out to map a route for motorized vehicles. that would connect Hulda with Sha'ar Hagay (Bab El Wad) and thence to Jerusalem, and that would be safe from Arab attack.

The critical parts of road began after Beit Sussin. The road winds and climbs at a gradient of 12.5%, and then goes down a similar slope. Along the ridge line, the road was visible from Latrun, and it had to be moved to the southern slopes to hide it. The mountain was extremely rocky, and the soil between the rocks was soft. The strip available for paving the road was very narrow. After a steep and winding descent between and over rocks, the road went into a narrow defile in Wadi Abu Abad and hooked up with the road of the gazelles. On the night of 30/31 May 10 Jeeps were sent out from Hulda loaded with munitions and arms - a heavy mortar, 180 shells and four medium machine guns to be supplied to the Harel brigade. The convoy returned after the lead Jeep overturned near Beit Sussin.

On the night of May 31/ June 1, after some improvements were made in the road, a second convoy set out for the Harel Brigade, under the command of "Raanana," the Harel operations officer. The passengers frequently had to hand carry the supplies and push the vehicles over the rocks and pits, but the convoy eventually reached Harel, marking the unofficial breakthrough of the Burma Road.

On June 1, the munitions inventory in Jerusalem regional headquarters indicated that about 40 bullets per gun were left, which might be enough for five days of fighting.  Yitzhak Levi, head of the Jerusalem branch of the Haganah intelligence service, found out about the convoy that had gotten through to Harel brigade headquarters. David Shaaltiel, Jerusalem commander, agreed to send him to Tel Aviv with several Jeeps. Levi managed to find three Jeeps. One of them had been taken as booty and was reputed to be the Jeep of Abdel Khader Al Husseini. The three Jeeps joined the Haganah convoy that had come the previous night. They left Abu Ghush at 22:00 hours and after six and a half hours of pushing vehicles and coaxing them over the rocks and pits, they emerged on the Masmiyeh road, arriving a half hour later in Rehovot. Levi records that Kapulsky's, a local eatery, treated him to strawberries and cream in honor of his journey. From Rehovot, he got to Ramat Gan and the general staff headquarters.

After spending a day requisitioning vehicles, ordnance and a bit of food, Levi had assembled a 17 vehicle convoy with thirty Czech machine guns, 100 three inch mortar shells and other ordnance and food, as well as porters to carry the supplies over impassable parts of the route. The road back, with loaded vehicles and uphill, was much worse than the trip to Tel Aviv, but at 5:30 AM, Levi had reached  Jerusalem with his supplies.

The supply of Jerusalem by the Burma road, and the effort to pave a road, began in earnest. Porters, donkeys and jeeps were used to transport goods. It was soon apparent that a cease fire was approaching. Under the terms of the cease fire, the UN would supervise the movement of goods and arms and no new roads could be built. Therefore, it was imperative to bring as much arms as possible to Jerusalem and to complete the paving of the road by the tenth of June.

The TransJordan Legion soon soon understood what was happening and fired on Beit Sussin and vicinity, but the cannons were firing blindly as the road beneath the ridge could not be seen. Arab sharpshooters had better luck. On the night of June 5-6 they killed one person working on the road and wounded three. A Legion patrol was out in the vicinity of Beit Sussin. One of its men got lost and was captured. 

On June 8 the Solel Boneh construction company began working on the road in earnest, despite Arab artillery fire and sniper activity, which killed two of its workers and wounded two. On June 9 the Arabs made a major attempt to control the road, attacking Beit Sussin. The Israelis lost 8 dead and 20 wounded but held the road. By this time the road was being use to transport many tons of food as well as military supplies, but until June 11, about four kilometers of the road had to be traversed by donkeys and porters.

On June 11, the first day of the cease fire, the road was used for the first time by completely motorized vehicle transport. However, potholes kept opening up after the hasty paving job, and it was not really complete until June 14, when UN inspectors pronounced the road paved. A second stretch of clandestine road was laid for smuggling arms past the UN inspection post.  At the same time, pipes were laid along this route for bringing fuel and water to Jerusalem.2

Ami Isseroff

September 16, 2008

1.Eshed, Eli, "Haish Shegilah et Derekh Burma" (the man who discovered the Burma road), e-mago magazine, May 28, 2005. (Hebrew)

2. Based on Levi, Yitzhak, "Tisha Kabin" (Nine Measures), Tel Aviv, Israel Ministry of Defense, 1986 pp 285-292. (Hebrew)

 


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:


Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.


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Burma Road