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The Saltwater Crocodile and the Imperial Army in Burma

MG is a senior air warrior who has seen combat and is an alumnus of the Staff College and a writer on military matters.



The Second World War has its share of bizarre battles but there is no more bizarre a battle than the battle of Remree Island(14 Jan-22 Feb 45). The battle was launched by the XV Indian Corps. Ramree island lies off the Burma coast, 110 km (70 mi) south of Akyab. The island had been captured by the Imperial Army in early 1942. The battle was between the allies and the Japanese army but there was another factor and that was the saltwater crocodile. The saltwater crocodile is one of the most ferocious reptiles in the animal kingdom. It grows to a length of 18 to 20' and is a carnivorous beast that can smell blood and then move on to its prey. The east coast of Burma and the coastal areas of eastern India are home to this species of animals. Even now if you go to the island of Remree there are boards put up by the Coast Guard and the lifeguards not to venture into the unprotected areas as the saltwater crocodile may prove to be your nemesis.

The Japanese had a lightning campaign. Within a few months, they occupied entire south-east Asia and reached up to the gates of India. The Imperial Army was aided by the Indian National Army and together they made short work of the British Indian Army and occupied entire Burma and more important shut the Burma Road as a supply route to China.

The Japanese supply lines were extended and they had not catered to keep the troops supplied in the offensive in Burma. The country is home to some of the thickest jungles and though initially, the Japanese moved forward they were stuck at Imphal and from there they were pushed back.

One of the reasons for the Japanese retreat was their overextended supply lines and also because by now the British had reinforced the army and Field Marshal Slim began to push the Japanese back.

The island of Remree was thought to be an important position by the allies. Field Marshal Slim thought that this would be an excellent place to construct an airfield to supply the advancing British Indian Army in Burma. The stage was now set for a very historical battle where nature played its own part in the form of the saltwater crocodile that sounded the death knell of the Japanese army on the island.


The Invasion.

In early 1945 plans were formulated for an amphibious assault on the island Remree. Before that, the battleship Queen Elizabeth, light cruiser HMS Phoebe, and 7 other warships began a massive bombardment of the island. The Imperial Army had nothing to retaliate with and moreover they had no air cover and with the heavy bombardment going on the British Indian Army made an amphibious landing on the island. The first to land was the fourth Indian Army brigade commanded by Brigadier JFR Foreman. The battle lasted 6 weeks as the Japanese fought determinedly.

The British Royal Marines along with the 36th Indian Infantry Brigade carried out a maneuver that outflanked the Japanese and isolated about 1,000 Japanese soldiers.The Imperial Army was outgunned and outmanned and retreated from the beaches into the inner jungle. The British had carried out a survey of the island earlier and they were well aware that the island was inhabited by the saltwater crocodile. They made no attempt to pursue the Japanese into the jungle and at the same time, they broadcast messages to them to surrender.

The Japanese commanders were wondering what to do. They were on the horns of a dilemma and they took the decision not to surrender to the British Indian Army. About 1000 soldiers of the Japanese army now entered into swamps to escape the onslaught. There were about 10 miles away from their main force and for that they had to cross the crocodile-infested swamp. The Japanese troops are also short of water and rations and many of them were injured and bleeding, yet they took the decision to try and negotiate the 10 miles of the swamp area.

It was now getting dark and that is the time when the mayhem started. The British Indian soldiers could hear the cries of the Japanese and the firing of the shots as they were accosted by the saltwater crocodiles. They shot many of the crocodiles but many of the Japanese who were injured and could not make it were attacked and eaten by the crocodiles. It has been recorded in history as one of the greatest encounters between human beings and wildlife and there is no record of such an encounter throughout history.

All night the Japanese were attacked by the crocodiles as they moved to traverse the 10 miles distance to the refuge of their main force. No figures are available but it is estimated that about 500 of the Japanese soldiers were eaten and killed by the crocodiles.

As the day dawned about 20 Japanese soldiers who had come back from the swamps surrendered to the British and that is how the British Army Indian Army came to know about what had happened in the swamp at night.

One can well imagine the plight of the Japanese soldiers negotiating the swamps through knee-deep water with complete darkness all around and crocodiles attacking them. They were unable to see their enemy and firing at random. It was indeed a gruesome battle in which the Imperial army suffered grievous casualties.

The demoralized Japanese force then vacated the island of Remreee and was pushed back. The 14th army then continued its drive towards Rangoon.


Last word

This battle has not been given much importance by Western students but its significance cannot be underrated because it gave the 14th Army a springboard to enter Burma from the Centre. This was the springboard for the drive to Rangoon which was occupied and plans were being made to continue further to Singapore. But the atomic bombs changed all that and despite occupying thousands of miles of territory as part of the Imperial empire the general staff had to surrender and as the saying goes it was all over bar the shouting

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The Burma campaign is a classic example of an enemy marching forward with the momentum but without building up a proper supply chain. The same thing happened to Field Marshal Rommel when he advanced almost close to Alexandria without a proper supply chain and then was pushed back. Like Rommel had no second line of defence the Imperial army, so confident in their invincibility had not catered for a retreat and the second line of defence and when the British Indian Army moved against them they had to retreat with no fixed defenses to stop the advancing 14th army. Another lesson is that when a soldier is given a choice of surrendering or taking chances in a crocodile-infested swamp, choose surrender. It's not worth messing with mother nature.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

RoadMonkey, That's nice news. Great to know about it.

RoadMonkey on October 22, 2020:

I sent the link to my sons, who like war history. One of them said he had worked with an ex military man (now retired) who knew someone who was involved with that!

Jane Doe on October 21, 2020:

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 20, 2020:

RoadMonkey thank you. Yes it was a terrible end for the Japanese soldiers.

RoadMonkey on October 20, 2020:

That must have been a terrible death for the Japanese soldiers. This is the kind of historical story I have not seen in the history books.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 20, 2020:

Pamela, thank you for an appreciative comment. I love it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 20, 2020:

The Japanese sure suffered with those crocodiles. I have not heard of this battle before and what a terrible way to die for the Japanese soldiers. You always have such good, interesting historical articles.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 20, 2020:

Tom, thanks for this bit of information.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 20, 2020:

Tom, this is interesting information and I am sure readers will like it.

tom on October 20, 2020:

mountbatten plan landing in andaman ,ramree deception,later changed to land at ramree ,jacobs autobiography has details

tom on October 20, 2020:

jews in indian army. lt gen russell director bro, lt col jirhad mvc 1965,major gen sampson,iaf wing cdr erulkar, air marshal llyod,wing cdr ezekiel,fllt sasoon

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 19, 2020:

Tom, thank you for the information about Lt gen Jacob. If I remember correctly he was a bachelor throughout his life and ended up as governor of Punjab and Haryana. He was the only Jew general in the Indian Army. Israel also honors him.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 19, 2020:

Tom, thanks for adding info. COL Parduman will be happy to read itJoint forces of 36th Indian Infantry Brigade and units of British Royal Marine were dispatched on 26th of January, 1945 to Ramree with one main task: Push the Japs out. I think the Thimmayya would have been a lieutenant colonel at that time. Yes China is very much there now.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 19, 2020:

Liz, sweet of you to have commented.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 19, 2020:

Your article gives an interesting analysis of how the Japanese army failed. Supply chains are a vital cog in the machinery of war that can not be overlooked. Crocodiles are deadly foes too.

tom on October 19, 2020:

chinese bases in ramree today,jfr jacob in queen elizabeth,36th indian bde goc thimayya

tom on October 19, 2020:

rommel was halted at el alamein,at one stage brtish wanted to retreat from alexandria,monty halted them,jfr jacob was arty observer in ramree ,his auto biography mention this,15th corps goc was lt gen christison, i have read official history of indian armed forces in ww2 ,volumes burma campaign

tom on October 19, 2020:

lt gen jfr jacob was present here

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 19, 2020:

Thank you Colonel for commenting. I will certainly write a more detailed account in a subsequent post.

Lt Col Parduman SINGH on October 19, 2020:

I liked reading your article but I wonder if you could make it a little longer with more details. My great uncle was one of the young officers who landed in the first wave with the Indian battalion at Ramree Island. He used to tell so many tales about it.

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