February 19, 1945 Crocodiles of Ramree

To the human participants in this story, this is a tale of four weeks’ combat over a marginally important, tropical island. For the apex predator of the mangrove swamp, it was little more than a dinner bell.


Five hundred feet off the coast of Myanmar, formerly Burma, across the Bay of Bengal from the Indian sub-continent, there lies the island of Ramree, about a third the size of New York’s Long Island.

In 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army aided by Thai forces and Burmese insurgents drove the British Empire and Chinese forces out of Burma, occupying much of the Burmese peninsula and with it, Ramree island. In January 1945, the allies came to take it back.

356-Squadron-RAF-after-bombing-Japanese-positions-on-Ramree-Island
RAF 356 Squadron after bombing Japanese positions on Ramree Island

The battle started out with Operation Matador on January 14, an amphibious assault designed to capture the strategic port of Kyaupyu, and it’s nearby airfield.

By early February, a mixed force of British Royal Marines and Indian allies dislodged a force of some 980 Japanese defenders, who abandoned their base and marched inland to join a larger regiment of Japanese soldiers across the island.

ramree-island2On February 7, the 71st Infantry and supporting tanks reached Ramree town where they found determined Japanese resistance. The town fell in two days. Naval forces blockaded small tributaries called “chaungs”, which retreating Japanese used in their flight to the mainland. A Japanese air raid damaged an allied destroyer on the 11th as a flotilla of small craft crossed the strait, to rescue survivors of the garrison. By February 17, Japanese resistance had come to an end.

The route took the retreating Japanese across 10 miles of marsh and mangrove swamp. Bogged down and trapped in the mire, the soldiers found themselves cut off and surrounded, alone with the snakes, the mosquitoes and the scorpions, of Ramree island.

Throughout the four-week battle for Ramree Island, the allied blockade inflicted heavy casualties on Japanese forces.  The thousand men cut off in the swamp, had more immediate concerns.

article-2013816-0CF9D84B00000578-348_468x559
:Lured by a tour guide dangling kangaroo meat from a pole, the 18ft, two-ton monster was, er, snapped by photographer Katrina Bridgeford, who was on the Adelaide River cruise with her family”. Tip of the Hat for this image, to the UK Daily Mail Note the missing right arm on this monster was probably eaten by one of his own kind.

NationalGeographic.com describes the Japanese’ problem, the nightmare predator,  Crocodylus porosus. The saltwater crocodile:  “Earth’s largest living crocodilian—and, some say, the animal most likely to eat a human—is the saltwater or estuarine crocodile. Average-size males reach 17 feet and 1,000 pounds, but specimens 23 feet long and weighing 2,200 pounds are not uncommon.

Opportunistic predators, they lurk patiently beneath the surface near the water’s edge, waiting for potential prey to stop for a sip of water. They’ll feed on anything they can get their teeth into including water buffalo, monkeys, wild boar and even sharks. Without warning, they explode from the water with a thrash of their powerful tails, grasp their victim, and drag it back in, holding it under until the animal drowns.

ramree-island

British naturalist Bruce Stanley Wright participated in the battle for Ramree, and gave the following account in his book, Wildlife Sketches Near and Far, published in 1962:

“That night [February 19, 1945] 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”.

map_cpor_800b
Current Distribution – Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

The actual numbers will never be known. Skeptics question how so many of these beasts could support themselves in such a small space but, consider this:  Saltwater crocodiles are excellent swimmers and are regularly spotted miles out to sea.  Individuals have even been discovered in the relatively frigid Sea of Japan – thousands of miles from their native habitat.  In 2016, Australian Rangers counted 120 “salties” in a 6-kilometer (3.7 mile) stretch of the East Alligator River, in the Northern Territory.

To the human participants in this story, this is a tale of four weeks’ combat over a marginally important, tropical island.  For the apex predator of the mangrove swamp, it was little more than a dinner bell.

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Author: Cape Cod Curmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, a father, a son and a grandfather. A history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. I started "Today in History" back in 2013, thinking I’d learn a thing or two. I told myself I’d publish 365. The leap year changed that to 366. As I write this, I‘m closing in on a thousand. I do it because I want to & I make every effort to get my facts straight, but I'm as good at being wrong, as anybody else. I offer these "Today in History" stories in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Rick Long, the “Cape Cod Curmudgeon”

10 thoughts on “February 19, 1945 Crocodiles of Ramree”

  1. That probably racked nerves off the charts. Just think. You walk though the jungle, You hear a surging splash. Then you feel the grinding teeth and all the weight in the bite. All you can do is scream, pray, and then you die. just horrible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fun fact: you and I exert a bite force of about 200 pounds per square inch on our dinner steak. Hyenas, lions and tigers bite down at a rate of 1,000 psi. The saltwater crocodile tops them all with a bite force of 3,700 psi, likely equal to that exerted by the greatest land predator of all time – Tyrannosaurus Rex.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I have withdrawn altogether from social media. They’ve always been a mixed bag but they’ve turned into a cancerous atmosphere, run by entities with dangerously authoritarian tendencies. I’ve come to believe these tech giants combined with news and entertainment media are much of what has divided Americans, against one another.

      Liked by 2 people

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