Death in the Swamps of Ramree
In the rotting jungles of Burma, WW II war took on a primal kind of savagery that has seldom been witnessed in modern time. The Burmese mangrove swamps of Ramree, filled with every kind of lethal creature and disease, became the enemy as much as any man armed with a weapon. And while this killing ground became a special kind of hell, what took place in that mangrove swamp on 19 February, 1945 rivals any of the legends that took place in the shark infested waters of the Pacific.
During February of 1945 the British launched a massive attack against the Japanese presence in southern Burma. As part of the attack, the heavily defended island fortress of Ramree was assaulted – and ultimately outflanked – by Royal Marines. Realizing they were cut off, the commander of the Japanese garrison ordered his force of between 900 and 1,000 Imperial infantry to retreat approximately ten miles through the mangrove swamps in an effort to synch-up with a larger defensive force.
The breakout was ordered at dusk on 19 February, but as the Japanese made their move they were subjected to immediate and effective harassing fire from British air, ground and sea units. Desperate to make their escape and suffering substantial casualties as they fled the Japanese force slipped away on foot into the ominous darkness of the mangrove swamp. Dark and infested with scorpions, poisonous spiders and snakes, leeches and every kind of stinging insect the force continued through the waist high water of the mangroves. Harassed by continuous artillery fire, the Japanese marched through the night using the darkness and the dense mangroves as cover.
As the force descended deeper into the swamp, the British sitting off the island in their patrol boats began to hear screams. It lasted all night. These were not the cries of wounded men. Instead they were the guttural screams of terror. As legend now has it the retreating force of men were descended upon by salt water crocodiles that averaged fifteen feet in length. The mangroves were the nesting grounds to these giants and it was reported that there were thousands of them in the nearby area at the time. Drawn by the noise and thrashing of the retreating infantry, the crocodiles took one man after another.
Wounded Japanese had no hope of getting out.
British naturalist Bruce Wright, attached to a Royal Marine division, made the following notes of what he witnessed:
“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.”
Written by Gary Mortensen
Author Bio: Founder and Executive Editor for research and publications at World War II History - focused on preserving the history of WWII and providing related data and materials to the public.