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The Horrific Crocodile Massacre of Ramree Island

In the annals of our World Wars, there have been many atrocities committed by our kind against each other. The South Pacific during World War II holds a special distinction for being an especially brutal and savage killing ground the likes of which humankind has never seen before or since. Yet one of the bloodiest and most horrifying massacres in the history of the war came not from the hands human beings, but from the jaws and teeth of the animal kingdom. During World War II on one remote island in the South Pacific, a platoon of nearly a thousand armed Japanese troops entered crocodile infested swamps and most never returned; a disappearance that, if reports are to be believed, would make it the single greatest instance of carnage caused by animals in history.

Cocodrilos en estero

For 6 weeks during January and February of 1945, the swamp-covered island of Ramree, located in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Burma, was the setting for a bloody battle between Japanese and Allied forces. The Battle of Ramree Island was part of the Burma Campaign during World War II, and was launched for the purpose of dislodging Japanese Imperial forces that had invaded the island in 1942. On January 26, 1945, British Royal Marine units accompanied by the 36th Indian Infantry Brigade pushed into the enemy occupied island in an effort to establish an airbase there. They were met with stiff resistance from the Japanese, and vicious fighting ensued.

After a long and bloody battle, the Allied troops managed to gain the upper hand, flanking a Japanese stronghold and flushing out an estimated 1,000 Japanese troops. The defeated Japanese soldiers abandoned their base and made a beeline across the island in the hopes of merging with a much larger Japanese battalion on the other side. Since the British were flanking them on all sides, the Japanese decided to cut straight through 16 km of dense tidal swampland to reach their objective, ignoring all appeals by the British for their surrender. It was to be the beginning of a horrific ordeal for the enemy troops, and most would never be heard from again.

The soldiers quickly became slowed by the thick, muck-filled swamps that impeded their progress. In addition, many of the men began to succumb to tropical diseases carried by the swarms of mosquitoes as well as the various poisonous spiders, snakes and scorpions that skittered and slithered through the muddy underbrush. Over the course of several days of struggling through the swamps in this manner, starvation and a lack of drinking water became a very real threat as well. All the while they were harassed by sporadic artillery fire from British forces positioned at the edges of the swampland.

Japanese forces retreating.

Japanese forces retreating.

This was to be merely the beginning of their nightmare. One night British troops patrolling the periphery of the swampland reported hearing panicked screams of terror and gunfire emanating from within the darkness. It quickly became apparent that somewhere out there in the dark swamp, the Japanese troops were being ravaged by some evil menace. The British troops stationed there cringed in horror despite the fact that it was being unleashed upon their enemy.

Unfortunately for the Japanese troops, the swamps of Ramree were infested by countless, very large saltwater crocodiles, which can grow upwards of 20 feet long and over a ton in weight. The weary and bloodied soldiers thrashing clumsily through the swamps may as well have been a dinner bell ringing. The soldiers were viciously and mercilessly attacked by the reptilian beasts, and survivors reported how swarms of the aggressive animals descended upon them as terrified soldiers fired blindly in all directions in a futile effort to drive off their ravenous aggressors. Some reports from survivors described how the crocodiles would often appear out of nowhere from the murky water to drag screaming and thrashing men to their doom. The mosquito-clouded air was reported to be filled with the sounds of gunfire, snapping jaws, and the horrible gurgling cries of men being ripped to shreds, as the soldiers tried desperately to escape a fate worse than Allied troops. The naturalist Bruce Stanley Wright described the scene unfolding in his 1962 book Wildlife Sketches Near and Far:

That night was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [marine launch] crews ever experienced. The crocodiles, alerted by the din of warfare and the smell of blood, gathered among the mangroves, lying with their eyes above 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 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 1,000 Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about 20 were found alive.

Crocodile-attacks-5

Of the nearly 1,000 Japanese troops that had entered the swamp, it was said that only 20 harried survivors crawled out alive, some of them badly injured and mauled, although this figure has been sometimes disputed and estimates of just how many soldiers died within the swamp vary. It is also uncertain just how many of the doomed soldiers met their demise in the gaping, fanged maws of crocodiles rather than the myriad other dangers lurking in the swamp. Regardless of what the numbers are, the incident was impressive and horrifying enough for the Guinness Book of World Records to crown it with the distinction of being the “Most Number of Fatalities in a Crocodile Attack.”

The remarkably violent and ominous incident at Ramree Island has earned it an almost legendary status right alongside similar stories from WWII such as mass shark attacks on the shipwrecked crew of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35), which holds the distinction of being the largest amount of shark attacks on humans in history. Ramree Island still continues to instill a sense of fear even all of these years later. For now, the island is quiet. The crocodiles are still there, and perhaps so are the ravaged ghosts of the fallen soldiers that met their bloody doom there all of those years ago.

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  • Bear1000

    I’ve heard of this story all right. Being that World War II was the deadliest war in human history, I guess it’s only natural that mother nature had to have a hand in the carnage and in biggest way she could with animal attacks like that. A horrible way to die, though, regardless of who it was that got it that night.

  • Fascinating story which I haven’t heard before. I presume that the majority of the attacks occurred in the middle of the 16 km swamp, which would have made it impossible for the Japanese to get to the edge of the swamp and the safety of the Allied troops. Did the Allies make any attempts to determine the nature of the attacks, or did they decide not to go into the swamp?

  • sickofthebs

    The japs also performed medical experiments on POWs. vivisection without anesthesia and the like. Karma.

  • leewacker

    I have heard this story off and on since about 1945, when I first read about it in a U.S. War Correspondent’s article in either one of the men’s magazines or Reader’s Digest! I also believe there was a LIFE Photo story on it, too—just showing how big the Estuarine Crocs really are! My uncle was a Signal Corpsman with the British 14th Army in Burma about this time, too, and he mentioned it several times after he got home. He always felt the Japanese were incredibly brave for even trying to get across the island!

  • leewacker

    As I recall stories from our soldiers in the area, and the Brits and Aussies, they were not about to even try to go in to help the Japanese! They could hear the poor devils screaming, dying, their cries mingled with the gnashing of great teeth, and the roars of the reptiles, too! It must have been terrible for the Allies to listen to fellow humans being eaten by monsters, but, war is war, and the Japs did not do their homework!

  • leewacker

    The only story I have ever heard that comes close to it was a battle in Vietnam in which the Marines had a pitched battle with creatures they called “Rock Apes,” a creature similar to our Sasquatch, but much meaner and more apt to attack! I would have given a pretty to have heard the radio message the leader of the Marine group sent to headquarters, begging for artillary, tanks, helicopters, ANYTHING to help, the shrieks of the Rock Apes as they attacked, the yells and screams of the Marines, all the shooting, and other noises, there is no telling WHAT the officers in the headquarters thought was going on!

  • leewacker

    During the American bombing raids over Japan, the Japs would herd American POWS out to stand without cover in the target areas, and let them suffer the bombings of their own people. The idea was, I think, to frighten them into submitting to even more torture and humiliation, but the POWs fooled them—they treated the raids as sport, whooping, cheering, and jumping around as if they were at a ball game. The Japs didn’t know what to think!

  • leewacker

    When I was an undergraduate, I had two classmates from Guam. They told of being prisoners of the Japs, and some of the things they had to endure. I think however, the commandant of this particular camp lost his entire family in an American air raid, and turned to the children of the prisoners. My friends said the man was pathethic in his grief, so their mother and a couple of their aunts took him in.

  • JEng

    I think they also mutilated their faces. In the memoirs, the former FEPOWs describe having their eye sockets broken and their mouths smashed and their nose broken. I think that being uncommonly tall which is depicted in Changi the Australian miniseries merited immediate and severe beatings on a daily basis from the very beginning. I think being uncommonly good looking would also invite violence. Mark Felton’s Coolie Generals repeatedly states that the officers arrived at the conclusion that the Japanese were intimidated by White men.

  • traveler543

    This was the first I heard of what happen to those Japanese soldiers running away from the Allie forces into the swamp and that all but 20 survived that massacre from the Crocodiles. WWII did have their share of war atrocities by the Germans and mostly by the Japanese. The Bataan Death March was extremely brutal by the Japanese. But to be in a swamp in the dark and being attacks by those huge crocodiles is something no one would want to see or hear. As for making a movie about this incident would not be right and who would want to see that kind of death being committed on humans?

  • Jim Davis

    Drunken idiots? Doesn’t that account for half of Australia? LOL!

  • JEng

    I don’t understand the benefit of protecting sharks. I don’t want to eat any shark fin and am glad that area of spendthrift was discouraged by the Chinese ban but sharks killed so many American sailors bombed by Japanese subs and kamikaze in the pacific.

    Do these natural deterrents serve to protect areas in the Pacific and ASEAN from invaders?

  • JEng

    I guess those crocodile/alligator movies will have to suffice. Japanese sicced large animals on their victims – so did the Germans – I don’t get cable for the Walking Dead but that tiger would have been used on human beings during WW2 by the Axis.

    Japanese would have no problem doing the same to the British soldiers and certainly did worse to the British than the British did to the Japanese in the war.

  • Winter Dao-gas

    Omg, such a terrible story, I’ve never heard about it before.
    Thought those horrific stories are just happening in movies but some are true.

  • Chuck Cagle

    I had a first cousin in that group. My aunt grieved until her last breath as she never had the closure of burying him. His remains are still on Luzon somewhere.

  • lumbee1

    They are indeed, to the extent that they tacitly agree to uphold the unspoken tenets of white supremacy, that is.

    Read about “The Mississippi Chinese”.

  • JEng

    that just sounds like the beginnings of the Chinese massacres by the Spanish in the Philippines – it’s like the Tutsis manipulated to be more hated by the Hutus than hating the Belgians.