Ramree Island and the legend of soldier-eating marine crocodiles



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Ramree Island and the legend of soldier-eating marine crocodiles

Ramree Island, in Myanmar, during the 2nd World War was the scene of a battle, which lasted six weeks, between British and Japanese troops. Of the thousand Japanese soldiers only about twenty survived, exterminated by marine crocodiles, who struck a massacre in the night between 19 and 20 February 1945, devouring 400 Japanese soldiers who tried to escape the enemy through the marshes of the island.

So, after we read it, could we consider that a truth or only a legend? Ramree Island is located off the Burmese coast and in 1942 the Japanese Imperial Army, advancing rapidly, conquered the island along with the rest of southern Burma.

In January 1945, the Allies launched an attack to retake Ramree and the nearby island of Cheduba, with the intention of establishing an air-naval base there. The Ramree Japanese garrison was made up of the 121st Infantry Regiment, part of the 54th Division.

The regimental commander was Colonel Kanichi Nagazawa. The battle is associated with accounts of many Japanese soldiers being eaten by the thousands of marine crocodiles found in the inland swamps. Although the episode is now considered an implausible legend by historians, the Guinness Book of World Records listed the episode as the worst disaster in the world that occurred due to crocodiles and as the largest number of victims in a crocodile attack.

Some British soldiers, including naturalist Bruce Stanley Wright, who participated in the expedition, claimed that crocodiles attacked and ate numerous Japanese soldiers. In all, some 500 Japanese fled Ramree despite the blockade created to stop them.

If Wright's claims were correct, the Ramree crocodile attacks would still be the most tragic known. The British Burma Star Association seems to give credit to the story of the attacks but makes a distinction between the 20 survivors of an attack and the 900 Japanese left to defend themselves in the swamps.

Furthermore, neither the official British military reports, nor the testimonies of the surviving Japanese, nor those of the inhabitants of Ramree Island corroborate this version. Since Wright's version is the only account that speaks of the crocodile attack, these events are regarded as an urban legend by historians.