Crocs and WW2

This guide isn’t about the zoo, but about a certain species of crocodile known as the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). This is a saltwater species, a thing of which I wasn’t aware. In India, the reptile is the alligator and it infests the fresh water lakes and ponds in the Ganga to the Cauvery. However there’s a sprinkling of saltwater crocodiles along the east coast of India. The Al Ain zoo includes a saltwater reptile and he seems a ferocious monster.

The saltwater crocodile is the most ferocious of the reptiles and grows to gigantic size. Additionally it is a meat-eater. 1 particular episode during World War II, brings out the ferocious character of the monster. The saltwater crocodile has its habitat in swamps and mangroves near the sea in the complete East Indies, Burma and the Philippines. There’s one tale of an encounter with the Imperial army on the island of Ramree, which can be hair-raising and incredible.

The saltwater crocodile as I have previously mentioned is a voracious meat-eater. Additionally it’s extremely strong and large and it isn’t unusual to have a reptile growing to a size of 15-30 feet and weighs over 2000 pounds. It’s the largest reptilian predator on earth. The island is near the coast of Burma on the Bay of Bengal. In 1942 the Imperial army struck and not just captured the islands of the Andamans, but also the island of Ramree. The conflicts in Burma are well recorded and the British Indian army went to retreat as the Imperial army struck all across Burma. Countless soldiers of the 8th army were seized.

The island of Ramree was occupied by the Japanese, who put a garrison there. The island remained under Japanese occupation for 3 decades. The overall staff headed by the C Field Marshal William Slim was excited the island of Ramree be seized and an airfield be constructed there for distribution lines to the troops operating in Burma.

In early January 1945, the Indian 26th division under Major General HM Chambers seized the town of Akyab. A decision was taken to get a frontal attack and landing with a gun barrage from ships of the Royal Navy.

On 14 January the strategy was set into operation and the Royal Navy started a heavy bombardment of Japanese positions. Under cover of the heavy barrage the 71st Indian Infantry brigade of Sikhs under command of Brigadier RC Cotterell attacked the island. It was a success for Indian arms since the Japanese gave up the shore defences and retreated inwards. Maybe they thought they’d be safe from the advancing Sikh troops of the British Indian army.

A history of the conflict reveals the naturalist Bruce Stanley Wright was and the Indian military and made meticulous notes. He records the night of 19th January was especially harrowing as the Japanese troops retreated towards the swamps. This was a terrible disaster for the Imperial military as the swamps were infested with the salt water crocodiles. Pupils of natural history tell us that the largest concentration of saltwater crocodiles in the world is from the swamps and mangroves of Ramree.

It was a terrible moment. The notes of the period show that there was occasional shooting all night with cries of Japanese soldiers as they were attacked and eaten by the crocodiles. No specific figures are available, however, the Guinness book records it as the single most important crocodile attack on people. It’s estimated that anything from 500-1000 Imperial army soldiers were devoured by the crocodiles. Bruce Stanley Wright has recorded that just about 20 Japanese military soldiers survived and were rescued and according to him up of 1000 Japanese soldiers were attacked and eaten by the crocodiles.

Many historians debunk the narrative of the massacre, but some details do point to a veracity of the episode. However the only authentic source of the information of a crocodile attack would be the notes of Wright. Most soldiers who participate in the attack were illiterate and have expired long ago. All the same this narrative makes interesting reading. I do feel that there’s some truth in this episode and though the amount of one thousand soldiers being eaten, may be an exaggeration, Maybe the figure could be near 80-100.

The crocodile certainly inspires awe and I can envision the plight of those Japanese soldiers that were literally between the devil and the deep-sea as they confronted the Indian troops and naval bombardment on one side and the crocodiles on the opposite side. That is what makes war background so interesting.

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