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The Ramree Island Crocodile Massacre

That night was the most horrible that any member of the motor launch crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left.... Of about one thousand Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about twenty were found alive.

The above extract, describing the horrific events of the night of February 19, 1945, is taken from the 1962 book “Wildlife Sketches Near and Far” by eyewitness Bruce Stanley Wright, who was one of the participating soldier of the British army in the Battle of Ramree Island, that took place during the waning days of the Second World War.

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Allied troops run ashore after the amphibious assault on Japanese-held Ramree Island. January 21, 1945

In early 1945, Allied forces started pushing back against Japanese aggression in the British colony of Burma. An important objective of the Burma campaign was the capture of Ramree Island and Cheduba Island that would allow the allies to have a strong foothold in the region. The island of Ramree, located just off the coast of Burma, was a large swampy island that was occupied at that time by the Imperial Japanese Army.

In January 1945, a force consisting of British Royal Marines and their Indian allies landed on the island in an attempt to take it back from the Japanese. With the Navy blocking any possible escape routes by sea, the army and the Royal Air Force drove about a thousand Japanese defenders off the Island and into the treacherous mangrove swamps.

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Captain Eric Bush of the Royal Navy describes the hazardous condition in the mangroves in a report submitted to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty on the 2nd May, 1945:

Disadvantages to the Japanese lay in the indescribable horrors of the mangrove swamps. Dark during the day as well as during the night, acres of thick impenetrable forest; miles of deep black mud, mosquitoes, scorpions, flies and weird insects by the billion and—worst of all—crocodiles. No food, no drinking water to be obtained anywhere. It can hardly be possible that in their decision to quit the Island the Japanese could have been fully aware of the appalling conditions which prevailed. It proved to be beyond even their endurance to exist for more than a few days. Prisoners taken out of the mangroves during the operations were found to be semi-dehydrated and in a very low physical condition.

Of the thousand or so Japanese soldiers in occupation on the island, only about twenty were taken as prisoners. The rest were either killed in battle or drowned in the mangrove swamps and eaten by crocodiles. Some sources suggest that as many as 500 soldiers could have escaped the island.

While the crocodile attack is well documented, the actual number of deaths attributed to the reptilian attack is impossible to know and is a matter of debate. A figure that’s frequently cited is “400”, but many scientist and historians dismiss it as improbable.

Despite the accuracy of Wright’s reported figure, the statistic has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Record as the “worst crocodile disaster in the world” and “the most number of fatalities in a crocodile attack”.

saltwater-crocodile

A saltwater crocodile.

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