It may very well not be an exaggeration to say that it was the Burma Road that saved Jerusalem during the War of Independence.
As many of you know, Jerusalem was under siege for months and it was impossible to transport goods from the plain-area to the capital. Hunger and lack of ammunition made the survival of the city precarious. The problematic point on the road to Jerusalem was the fortress of Latrun, from which the Jordanian Legion attacked the convoys that tried to break through to Jerusalem. This point was very well protected, and after several bloody attempts Israel’s young army could not find a solution to this problem. Latrun is a very rare example of a stronghold that the IDF was not able to conquer in any way.
A week after the declaration of independence, it was decided to try and find an alternative access road to Jerusalem. To this day there is no absolute clarity who actually found the way which will later be known as the Burma Road.
One version is that 3 Harel Brigade fighters found a way when exploring on foot the road from Shoresh to Hulda. Another version tells of three fighters from the Negev Brigade who were in Jerusalem and tried to return to their units in the Latrun area.
A week later, after another failed attempt to conquer the fortress of Latrun , 11 Palmach fighters together, with the 7th Brigade commander, Shlomo Shamir, who was himself an engineer, took a jeep to check the route. At the same time, by coincidence, Eliyahu Sela, chief of operations of the Harel Brigade, took a jeep from Jerusalem, also is in search of an alternative road. 8 km of the road were relatively easy to travel, 4 km from each side, but there were still 2 km in the middle which were impassible for vehicles.
For eight days supplies were transported by trucks coming from both directions, which met halfway, with porters carrying the goods for the missing 2 km. during that time engineering works were carried out in parallel to pave a better road. Due to lack of equipment some of the excavations were done with bare hands. Jerusalem was immediately relieved and indeed the supplies allowed the defenders of Jerusalem to hold out till the end of the blockade.
The various forces which participated in the breakthrough suggested various names for this critical route, but the American journalist Kenneth Bilby who was reporting on the Independence War, was the one who’s name stuck, based on a road that the Allied forces in East Asia built in order to outflank the Japanese forces and aid the Chinese.