Saltwater Crocodiles Devoured 500 Japanese Soldiers in Burma During World War 2

Jhemmylrut Teng

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In circa 1945 was the year when the Imperial Japan invasion of Asia was nearing its ends. On all fronts, they were attacked by the Allied forces in full strength, leaving them to either surrender or perish. However, one of the deadliest battles the Japanese soldiers had to endure was the Battle of Ramree, an Island in Myanmar, previously called Burma.

The Japanese then were trapped with two kinds of predators: the British Army and deadly saltwater crocodiles.

Japanese Invasion of Burma

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Since the nineteenth century, the British ruled Burma from 1824 to 1948, from the Anglo-Burmese Wars through the creation of Burma as a province of British India to the establishment of an independently administered colony, and finally independence. After three Anglo-Burma Wars (1825, 1852, and 1885), Burma was conquered and transformed into a British colony.

Burma became an official colony on January 1, 1886. The British ruled Burma as a part of India from 1919 until 1937. In 1937, Burma was made a crown colony of Britain. Britain, in part, used Burma as a buffer zone between India and the rest of Asia.

However, in 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, wherein the Empire of Japan controlled East Asia and Southeast Asia, Burma was no exemption.

The Japanese had assisted in forming the Burma Independence Army and trained the Thirty Comrades, who were the founders of the modern Armed Forces (Tatmadaw). The Burmese hoped to gain the support of the Japanese in expelling the British so that Burma could become independent.

The Japanese nominally declared the colony independent as the State of Burma on August 1, 1943. A puppet government led by Ba Maw was installed. However, many Burmese began to believe the Japanese had no intention of giving them absolute independence.

Aung San, father of future opposition leader and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and other nationalist leaders formed the Anti-Fascist Organisation in August 1944, which asked the United Kingdom to form a coalition with the other Allies against the Japanese.

Battle of Ramree Island

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The Ramree Island is located on the South Coast of Burma; the Japanese occupied the island in 1942 and defeated the British navy. But in 1945, the British struck back and tried to recapture Ramree and its nearby island Cheduba.

British troops arrived on Ramree Island on January 26, 1945, to construct a new airbase. But first, they had to push off the Japanese forces that had already claimed the island. After a bloody but victorious offense against the Japanese, the British troops were able to force nearly 1,000 enemy soldiers into a ten-mile-long mangrove swamp.

Saltwater Crocodile Attack

Unfortunately for the escaping Japanese men, Ramree Island's mangrove forest is home to an unknown number of saltwater crocodiles, the world's most giant reptilian killer.

These prehistoric holdovers can grow to over 20 feet in length and over 2,000 pounds in some cases, and although examples of that size are rare, even a mid-sized crocodile of the species could quickly kill a full-grown adult human.

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In addition, saltwater crocodiles are far from a misunderstood monster. Humans who venture into crocodile territories have a long history of being attacked by the reptiles, who see them as nothing more than taller, more clumsy prey.

Japanese soldiers died of illnesses, dehydration, and malnutrition shortly after entering the slimy mudhole. Mosquitoes, spiders, poisonous snakes, and scorpions hid in the dense jungle, knocking off the soldiers one by one.

Wounded and sick soldiers crossing the swamp were the first to be picked off by the crocodiles as they fell behind the mangrove. The crocs suddenly appeared out of nowhere dragging their victims underneath the water. Once drowned, the vicious reptile started to devour its prey. 

Several British soldiers said that the crocodiles preyed on the Japanese soldiers in the swamp. The most prominent firsthand retelling of what happened comes from naturalist Bruce Stanley Wright, who participated in the Battle of Ramree Island and gave this written account:

“That night [of Feb. 19, 1945] was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [motor launch] crews ever experienced. The crocodiles, alerted by the din of warfare and smell of blood, gathered among the mangroves, lying with their eyes above the water, watchfully alert for their next meal. With the ebb of the tide, the crocodiles moved in on the dead, wounded, and uninjured men who had become mired in the mud…
The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of the 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.” - Bruce Stanley Wri

The giant lizards had a feast of their lives as nearly 1,000 terrified soldiers dripped blood and sweat into the crowded confines of the Ramree mangrove swamp.

Around 500 Japanese soldiers are believed to have fled the mangrove swamps, with 20 of them being recaptured by British forces who had set up a perimeter around the dense jungle. Around 500 of the fleeing men, however, never made it out of the swamp.

Survivors are said to have heard harrowing stories of hundreds of crocodiles assaulting the soldiers in a mass assault, as well as appalling tales of crocodiles attacking the soldiers individually.

A couple of months after the tragedy, a specialized commissioned military tribunal conducted an investigation of what happened. And it was confirmed that the victims of the crocodile attack were the Japanese soldiers, every three meters of the swamp, the water contained twenty-four percent of human blood.

The incident was even included in the list of the Guinness Book of World Records as the deadliest crocodile attack ever recorded in history.

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.

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