There aren't many ways to die in war that could be called good ways to go. Few wars compare to the horror-a-minute of WWII. Chemical weapons, carpet bombing, flamethrowers, and of course the dropping of 2 nuclear bombs on civilian targets are all par for the course.
That's why it is so shocking to find the deadliest animal attack in recorded history occurred as part of the war. Ramree Island was captured by the Japanese in 1942. The island would become relevant again in the final year of the war.
The Battle for Ramree Island
Burma, modern Myanmar, was one of the countries conquered by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War.
Ramree Island is the largest island in Myanmar, only 1,350 km2 in diameter. The island is situated just off the mainland, technically attached by a mangrove swamp. That swamp will become important later.
British forces wanted to set up an airstrip on the island. They were planning to invade the mainland in an effort to dislodge the Imperial Japanese forces. Of course, the Japanese weren't taking it lying down.
On 14 January 1945, British reconnaissance planes spotted the Japanese soldiers setting up artillery positions in the caves overlooking the Northern beach. They were clearly aware of the intentions of the British forces.
The invasion was set for the 22nd January. Hoping to avoid a repeat of the carnage of D-Day, the commanders ordered a bombardment of the Japanese artillery positions before sending in the infantry. Their plan worked, and the beach was taken unopposed.
From there, the Allied forces fought their way south. The Imperial Japanese soldiers defended the island with zealous ferocity. Their defense was doomed. Losing land every hour.
Eventually the British forces managed to outflank the final Japanese stronghold on the island. Roughly 900 Japanese soldiers found themselves facing defeat. They were battle-weary, many of them wounded, and a good number of them sick. At this point the battle for Ramree had been raging for 6 weeks.
The Japanese faced enemies on all sides, save for the Mangrove swamp leading to the mainland. Beyond that swamp was salvation. The bulk of the Japanese army waited on the mainland.
He ordered his men to retreat into the mangrove swamp. Ahead of them lay a 16 km (9,9 miles) march through deep sucking mud, venomous critters galore, and an infestation of the biggest predators on Earth.
Did we mention they attempted the crossing at night?
The Massacre of Ramree
Today, historians and zoologists agree that the tale of the massacre is largely apocryphal. Once upon a time it was believed that nearly all 900 of the Japanese soldiers fell to the crocodiles.
Japanese military records indicate that 500 soldiers made it out to join the main forces. So the death toll is lower than originally reported. The truth is that there was a massacre in that swamp.
Mangrove swamps are a deathtrap to begin with. Tangled roots snare your feet, and in places those roots stick straight out of the mud in sharp points. Lose your balance here, and you would be lucky to find yourself drowning in mud and not skewered.
This swamp was home to several species of venomous animals. Snakes, spiders, and scorpions were all waiting in the dark. Ready to strike out at any intruders who strayed too close.
We come now to the most famous characters in this story, the saltwater crocodiles. Growing to roughly 7 m (22.97 feet) in length, these are the biggest lizards on the planet. These behemoths are ambush predators, and they are well-known man eaters.
Add to this the patrol boats full of British soldiers hunting for the enemy, and you have a recipe for a massacre.
According to the tale, the Japanese entered the swamp soon after nightfall. They moved silently through the mud and brackish water, growing more confident with each stride that they would make it to the mainland.
That's when the screaming started. Dozens of massive crocodiles surging up from the dark water and snapping their powerful jaws shut around the bodies of men. They pulled them down, and executed the soldiers with a death-roll.
Crocodiles don't bite their prey to death. They also lack the ability to chew. Instead, they roll their bodies while keeping their jaws locked around the prey. Body parts are torn off in one of nature's most grizzly displays.
“That night was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. 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 the 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.”
Crocodiles can live for a very long time. So it stands to reason that some of the crocodiles that participated in the attack on the Japanese soldiers are still alive, lurking in the swamps of Ramree Island.