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Parish Watch
Staff member
Oct 29, 2002
East of Suez
The Battle of Ramree Island was fought for six weeks during January and February 1945, as part of the Indian XV Corps 1944/45 offensive on the Southern Front of the Burma Campaign during World War II. Ramree Island (Yangbye Kywan) lies off the Burma coast and in 1942 the rapidly advancing Imperial Japanese Army captured the island along with the rest of Southern Burma. In January 1945 the Allies launched an attack to retake Ramree and its neighbour Cheduba, with the intention of establishing sea-supplied airbases on the islands. The Japanese garrison of Ramree consisted of the 121st Infantry regiment, part of the Japanese 54th Division. The regiment's commander was Colonel Kanichi Nagazawa.[1]

The battle is also associated with reports of many Japanese soldiers being eaten by the thousands of saltwater crocodiles lying in wait in the inland swamps. The Guinness Book of World Records has listed it both as "Worst crocodile disaster in the world"[2] and "Most Number of Fatalities in a Crocodile Attack"


Section of interest:

Repeated calls by the British for the Japanese to surrender were ignored. The Marines holding the perimeter shot any Japanese attempting to escape, while within the swampland hundreds of Japanese soldiers died over the course of several days for lack of food or drinking water. Some British soldiers, including naturalist Bruce Stanley Wright who participated in the battle, claimed that the crocodiles attacked and ate numerous Japanese soldiers. Wright's description occurs in his 1962 book Wildlife Sketches Near and Far:

"That night [of the 19 February 1945] was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [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."[2][4]
When the British eventually moved into the swamp, they found that of the nine hundred Japanese troops that originally fled into the swamp, only around twenty seriously wounded and weakened Japanese soldiers were alive. In all, about 500 Japanese soldiers escaped from Ramree despite the intense blockade instituted to stop them. If Wright's claim is true, however, the Ramree crocodile attacks would be the worst in recorded history.[1] The British Burma Star Association seems to lend credence to the swamp attack stories but appears to draw a distinction between the 20 Japanese survivors of one attack and the 900 Japanese who were left to fend for themselves in the swamp.[3]Furthermore there is no corroboration of the event by British military reports or by interviewed Japanese soldiers and local Burmese.[4] These figures are disputed and the event has been described as an urban myth by British historian Frank McLynn, who opined that only a few wounded Japanese had been consumed by the crocodiles, although he did write that the saltwater crocodiles of the region were both "known man-eaters and opportunistic killers".[4] McLynn's criticisms of the account primarily stem from his personal incredulity that the "Japanese firepower, which tore such holes in British tanks and armour", would be incapable of killing large numbers of crocodiles during the night. His suspicions are not cited to any other source, nor are they echoed by other historians. McLynn accused Bruce Wright's account as being "unverified". Wright's career in the Royal Canadian Navy and subsequently as a scientist and author is described in many additional sources. McLynn's doubts are notably not echoed by other historians.[5]

Not being an expert on Crocodiles - Saltwater or otherwise - I find myself wondering:
a) Is there a likely upper figure for a community or is this wholly dependant on food availability?
b) Do crocodiles save food for later? Would there be a point at which they'd simply stop killing available Japanese?

Opinions? Under what sense of 'incredible' ought this be classified?
AFAIK, crocodiles don't need to eat that often.
Do they kill for fun as well? or territory say?
... Opinions? Under what sense of 'incredible' ought this be classified?

I've never been convinced the Ramree Island death toll from crocodiles was as high as popular accounts would suggest. Here's why ...

(1) The assumption of a massacre is based on two factoids: (a) that circa 800 - 1000 Japanese soldiers attempted to evacuate their outflanked positions; and (b) only circa 20 survivors were accounted for later.

(2) There seems to be a complete lack of authoritative data from Japanese sources (e.g., IJA archives) to either confirm or dispute this assumption.

(3) Everyone cites Wright's florid account of the horrible noises heard during the night of 19 February, and almost no one mentions the operation to contain the attempted Japanese retreat stretched over a couple of weeks (8 - 22 February). As a result, many jump to the conclusion there was a brief and violent massacre around the 19th - circa 10 days after the IJA began retreating across 16 km (some accounts say up to 19 km) of mangrove swamps.

(4) Some historians claim as many as 500 of the retreating Japanese soldiers made it through the swamps - greatly diminishing the probable number of deaths.

(5) The Allied forces progressively surrounding the retreating Japanese occasionally bombarded / strafed them using field artillery, naval guns, and / or attack aircraft.

(6) Perhaps most importantly, there were plenty of ways to die in those swamps (scorpions, thirst, hunger, gunfire, disease, etc.) without falling victim to the crocodiles.

(7) The most detailed timeline of the battle's events I've found is the record of associated naval operations at:


This account mentions that during the early phase of the evacuation the Allies could not reliably seal off the beaches and that the tides were advantageous for slipping evacuees out by small boat.

I suspect Wright's account is truthful, but reflects little more than the fate of isolated stragglers - not the wholesale slaughter of the entire force that originally entered the swamps circa 10 days earlier.

The available facts indicate this isn't a story of a known massacre, but rather the story of a large-scale 'disappearance' for which the most lurid possible outcome has been taken as the complete explanation.
Not being an expert on Crocodiles - Saltwater or otherwise - I find myself wondering:
a) Is there a likely upper figure for a community or is this wholly dependant on food availability?
b) Do crocodiles save food for later? Would there be a point at which they'd simply stop killing available Japanese?

Opinions? Under what sense of 'incredible' ought this be classified?
Croc populations, if unmolested by man are largely linked to available prey. Where prey is scarce crocodiles are distributed over a wider area. They will congregate in an area with a large or season food source. They mass to catch migrating zebra and gnu and do the same with fish. They will mass around the carcass of a big animal and can smell it from several miles away. Crocs do store food, lodging it between roots or even in riverside burrows.
Saltwater crocs get allot bigger than 20 feet as well. The biggest measured one was 28 feet 4 inches. There have been unconfirmed sightings of ones over 30 feet.
What a horrifying situation those men endured!!