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The Bridge on the River Kwai

From Internet Movie Firearms Database - Guns in Movies, TV and Video Games
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The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

The Bridge on the River Kwai is the 1957 World War II film directed by David Lean and stars William Holden, Jack Hawkins, and Alec Guinness. The film is considered by many to be one of the greatest war movies ever made. A huge box office hit upon its release, the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won seven including Best Picture, Best Director (David Lean) and Best Actor (Alec Guinness). A similar premise involving the infamous "Death Railway" was seen in the unrelated 1989 film Return from the River Kwai.

The following weapons were used in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai:


Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk III*

What is interesting to note that in the film, the Japanese guards do not use Arisaka rifles. Instead they are seen using Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk III* rifles! The movie was filmed on Sri Lanka (Ceylon in 1957) and had been a British colony until just a few years earlier. The reality is that the production company was able to get British firearms with ease and the thinking probably was nobody would really notice or pay attention. But for the sake of the story, it can be argued that the Japanese equipped the guards with British firearms because after the fall of Singapore in the spring of 1942 there was an abundance of British equipment. Incidentally the British used American firearms such as Thompson SMGs as well. All the warring nations equipped the P.O.W. guards with second hand equipment. It was difficult enough keeping their front line troops equipped so far away from Japan. So some thrifty Japanese commanding officer decided to equip the guards with British equipment. They wouldn't be in much action and the need for constant re-supply would not be a concern.

Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk III* - .303 British
Japanese sentry with the Lee Enfield and Pattern 1907 bayonet attached as he is saluting the commander of the P.O.W. camp.
Japanese troops keep the POW's at bay.

Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I

Some of the Japanese soldiers are also seen with Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I rifles.

Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I- .303 British.
Lt. Joyce is surprised by the fleeing Japanese soldier armed with the Lee-Enfield.

Submachine Guns

Thompson Submachine Gun

In the opening credits when the British prisoners are marching from the railhead to the camp several of the Japanese guards appear to be equipped with Thompson M1928A1 Submachine Guns! See above for the logical explantion and my explanation to explain such a strange situation in the story.

M1928A1 Thompson with 30-round magazine and early 'simplified' rear sight that would be adopted for the M1 Thompson - .45 ACP
During the opening credits, a Japanese guard (seen on the far right) is armed with a Thompson.
Another shot of the Japanese guard with the Thompson.

Sten Mk. II

Canadian Sten Mk II submachine guns are used by the Commando team tasked with destroying the bridge.

Sten Mk II Submachine gun (Canadian) - 9x19mm.
An idyllic moment. The team stops to take a swim break. Cmdr Shears (William Holden) leaves his Sten Mk II sitting on the rocks.
The commando team opens fire on Japanese soldiers.
Commander Shears (William Holden), Major Warden (Jack Hawkins), and Lt. Joyce (Geoffrey Horne) assess the damage.

Machine Guns


The Japanese guards use a couple different versions of the Vickers Machine Gun. Once again see the Lee Enfield discussion above for an explanation.

A Vickers is seen mounted on a train in the opening credits.
A guard mans the Vickers while he watches over the prisoner detail.
Front end of the Vickers is seen.
A prison guard mans the Vickers gun.


Ordnance SBML 2 inch Mortar

What appears to be a British Ordnance SBML 2 inch Mortar is used by Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) during the attack on the bridge. The exact model of the mortar is hard to identify but it matches a long-barreled infantry version rather than a shortened paratrooper version.

Ordnance SBML 2 inch Mortar
Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) does a hasty field adjustment of the mortar.
A mortar bomb is dropped down the tube by one of the natives. The stubby cylindrical bomb matches the 2-incher munitions.
Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) adjusts his fire.

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