How Massive Saltwater Crocodiles Ate Hundreds Of Japanese Soldiers In Burma During World War II
In 1945, the Imperial Japanese invasion of Asia was drawing to a close. Allied forces began launching full-scale attacks against them on all fronts.
However, the Battle of Ramree was one of the deadliest battles for the Japanese soldiers. Not only did they face the masses of the British Army, but they also had to deal with ferocious saltwater crocodiles.
Burma Under British Rule
Burma underwent three Anglo-Burmese Wars in 1825, 1852, and 1885, which led to its colonization by the British. From the 19th century until 1948, the British were the rulers of the region until it eventually gained independence.
However, during these years, Burma was made a province of British India. This was a period of disdain for many Burmese people, who did not want to be under British rule.
Burma Eventually Became a British Colony
On January 1, 1886, Burma was established as an official colony under British rule. The British governed Burma as a component of India from 1919 to 1937 before designating it as a crown colony in 1937.
The British wanted to use it as a protective barrier between India and the remainder of Asia. Despite this, during the Second World War, when the Empire of Japan took control of East and Southeast Asia in 1942, Burma was not exempt.
The Burmese Enlisted the Japanese to Help Them Get Out from Under British Control
The Burma Independence Army was formed with Japanese assistance. The Thirty Comrades, who founded the modern Armed Forces, were trained by them.
The Burmese aimed to gain the support of the Japanese in driving out the British. The ultimate goal was for them to achieve independence. However, this would not be such an easy task, as there were many years of bloodshed ahead.
In 1943, It Became an “Independent State”
On August 1, 1943, Japan established Burma as an independent state. The region was then under the leadership of Ba Maw’s political regime, though they still lacked independence and autonomy, effectively controlled by the Japanese.
Nevertheless, a growing number of Burmese were ready to fight back. They knew that Japan had never truly intended to grant them complete independence, and they needed to do something about it.
Opposition Began Plaguing the Japanese in 1944
The tables turned n August 1944, when Aung San, the father of the future opposition leader and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, established the Anti-Fascist Organisation with a coalition of other nationalist leaders. Aung San is often considered the father of modern-day Myanmar.
He was instrumental in securing Burma’s independence from British colonial rule, negotiating with the British government for a transitional period before Burma became an independent nation. However, at this time, he urged the United Kingdom to create a coalition with other Allies against the Japanese.
The British Attempted to Maintain Control on Ramree Island
Ramree Island is located on the south coast of Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma, in the Bay of Bengal. In 1945, the British launched an offensive to recapture Ramree Island and its neighboring island, Cheduba.
The Japanese occupied Ramree Island in 1942 after defeating the British navy. However, the British forces, under the command of General Frank Messervy, faced a formidable enemy in the Japanese troops, who were determined to hold their ground.
They Arrived to Construct a New Airbase in 1945
In 1946, British troops began construction on a new airbase on Ramree Island, which was strategically important during World War II. The airbase was meant to serve as a base for reconnaissance missions and other operations in the region.
As the British forces pushed the Japanese back, around a thousand soldiers retreated into the surrounding mangrove swamps. The British pursued the retreating soldiers and engaged them in combat, forcing many of them deeper into the swamps.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, This Route Was Dangerous
The mangroves provided cover for the Japanese soldiers but were also home to numerous saltwater crocodiles. In fact, Ramree Island is home to one of the largest populations of saltwater crocodiles in the world.
The saltwater crocodile, also known as the estuarine crocodile, is the largest living reptile species and is known to be extremely dangerous. They are very opportunistic predators and will attack almost any animal that enters their territory, including humans.
These Crocodiles Were Massive
As some of the largest living reptiles on Earth, adult male saltwater crocodiles can reach lengths of up to 20 to 23 feet and weigh up to 2,200 to 2,600 pounds. Females are typically smaller, at around 10 to 13 feet long and 880 to 1,100 pounds in weight.
They are also considered one of the most dangerous species of crocodiles. It certainly wasn’t good news for the Japanese.
They Had a History of Attacking People
Even at this time, they had a dastardly history. Saltwater crocs were known for attacking and killing humans who entered their territory, particularly those who swam or waded in their waterways.
These massive reptiles have extremely powerful jaws and sharp teeth that can easily crush bones and tear flesh. It doesn’t help that they are also known for their aggressive and territorial behavior, making them a significant threat to humans in areas where they are found.
They Weren’t the Only Killers in the Mangroves, However
According to some reports and eyewitness accounts, Japanese soldiers who fled from British troops died in the mangroves at the jaws of these saltwater crocodiles. Some estimates suggest that up to 400 soldiers may have been killed by crocodiles, although it is difficult to confirm the exact number.
Beyond the crocs, many soldiers perished due to a combination of dehydration, malnutrition, and other illnesses, in the muddy mangrove swamps. The dense jungle was also home to various dangerous creatures, such as scorpions, spiders, and venomous snakes.
Some Say The Wounded Were the First to Go
The saltwater crocodiles lurking in the mangrove picked off the wounded and sick Japanese soldiers as they fell behind while crossing the swamp. How they did so, according to eyewitness accounts, was quite brutal.
When a crocodile attacks its prey, it first clamps down on it with its powerful jaws, exerting immense force. Then, the crocodile will start to twist and roll its body, using its sharp teeth to tear off chunks of flesh and swallow them whole.
One Account Came from British Naturalist, Bruce Stanley Wright
Bruce Stanley Wright was a British naturalist who recounted the events of the Battle of Ramree Island and the crocodile attacks in his book “Wildlife Sketches Near and Far.” In his account, Wright wrote that the Japanese soldiers who fled into the mangroves were attacked by saltwater crocodiles, which dragged them into the water and devoured them.
He described the gruesome scene of soldiers screaming and firing their guns as they were pulled under by the crocodiles. Wright also noted that the crocodiles likely benefited from the abundance of dead bodies in the water, which would have provided them with an ample food source.
These Prehistoric Lizards Had the Feast of a Lifetime
According to Bruce Stanley Wright’s account, the exact number of Japanese soldiers who were killed and eaten by crocodiles on Ramree Island is uncertain. However, it is estimated that around 400 to 500 soldiers perished in the mangroves.
Based on various accounts, it is estimated that between 20 and 50 Japanese soldiers may have been captured alive by British forces. However, these estimates vary, and it was difficult to determine an exact number based on the chaotic nature of the battle.
The Stories Survivors Tell Are Harrowing
Some of the stories survivors have told about the Ramree Island crocodile incident are haunting. It is said that many of the soldiers were attacked by the crocodiles, who dragged them into the water and devoured them alive.
Some survivors have described hearing the screams and cries of their comrades as they were being attacked by the crocodiles. Beyond the crocs, many survivors talk about the other hazards they faced, such as disease, exposure, and drowning.
Investigations Were Launched After the War
While unconfirmed, some sources say that military tribunal investigations may have taken place after the battle, given the significant number of casualties. These were typically conducted by a military court to investigate and adjudicate alleged violations of military law.
The investigators had to make their way through the mangroves during their investigation. Some of the sources from this investigation have also claimed that the water in the swamp contained around 24 percent human blood.
Modern-Day Ramree Island Is Pretty Sparse
Today, Ramree Island is largely undeveloped and remains a remote and sparsely populated region. Tourism is starting to develop on Ramree Island, and visitors can access the island via boat from the nearby town of Kyaukpyu.
However, the island’s remoteness and lack of tourist infrastructure mean it’s not a heavily visited destination. The island also has some small fishing villages where locals live off the natural resources.
Ramree Island Is Still Home to Many Crocodiles
While there are still many crocodiles on Ramree Island, the exact population is difficult to estimate. These animals are largely nocturnal and inhabit some of the densest mangrove swamps on the planet, making them difficult to access.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that saltwater crocodiles are a protected species. Wildlife foundations do their best to carefully monitor them and ensure their conservation.
Today, You Can Also Find Many Saltwater Crocs Throughout Australia
If you want to learn more about saltwater crocs, one of the best places to go in Queensland, Australia. The crocodiles in this region are found along the coast, in rivers, and freshwater and saltwater estuaries, and they are known to be some of the largest and most aggressive in the world.
However, the saltwater crocodile population in Queensland was severely depleted in the mid-20th century due to hunting and habitat destruction. Luckily, conservation efforts helped to protect and restore the population in recent decades.