First Convoy Uses Burma Road Convoy returning to Tzrifin from Burma Road, 1948. Photo: Palmach Archive

June 1, 1948

A convoy passes along the new Burma Road from Kibbutz Hulda to bring supplies to Jerusalem for the first time.

Under the direction of Gen. Mickey Marcus, an American Army veteran, the Israel Defense Forces built the winding mountain road along an animal trail to slip past Transjordan’s Arab Legion and other Arab forces besieging Jerusalem since the U.N. approval of the partition plan for Palestine in November. Since Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14 and the withdrawal of British troops the next day, the Arabs have strangled access to Jerusalem’s Jews and used the fortress at Latrun to repel Israeli relief efforts. The Bab el Wad road into Jerusalem is blocked for much of the war, making the delivery of supplies to the Jewish population nearly impossible. Airdrops by small planes are unable to carry enough supplies, and other methods are largely unsuccessful. Without the Burma Road supply line, therefore, the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem can’t acquire sufficient water, fuel, medical supplies and food, leading to severe rationing. Jerusalem’s Jews also have limited supplies of ammunition and weapons to defend themselves.

Troops began working in May on a road to Jerusalem that would avoid notice by Arab forces. Improvements to the road the night of May 31 enable the first convoy to depart the morning of June 1. The head of Haganah intelligence, Yitzhak Levi, assembles a 17-vehicle convoy with 30 Czech machine guns, 100 3-inch mortar shells, food and other supplies. The road is barely passable, requiring vehicles to be pushed through narrow and steep sections. Porters and donkeys play a crucial role in keeping supplies flowing along the Burma Road while it is widened. Arab snipers kill several road construction workers, and an Arab attack kills eight Israelis June 9. Nonetheless, the next day vehicles are able to make the full journey of more than 3 miles without assistance from humans, donkeys or tractors. The road officially is completed June 14, and water and fuel pipes are laid next to it. The flow of supplies increases from 12 tons a night in early June to 100 tons a night by the end of the month.

The Burma Road remains Jerusalem’s lifeline until the Valor Road opens several months later.