Crocodiles may not be dinosaurs, but they sure do have supremacy over other animals like them. These massive reptiles can reach over 20ft in length, weigh 2,000lbs, and have an immensely powerful bite. On average, it’s believed that crocodiles kill as many as 1,000 people per year around the world. However, during the largest crocodile attack in human history, somewhere between 500 and 900 people were eaten by these creatures in the span of a few days.
Today, we’re going to look at the Battle of Ramree, the site of what Guinness World Records claimed was the most fatalities in a crocodile attack. Before we get into the attack, we need to know why several hundred people were in a place infested with crocodiles.
The Battle of Ramree Island: Setting the Stage for the Largest Crocodile Attack
The largest crocodile attack in human history occurred as a result of Operation Matador, an attempt to take back Ramree Island from the Japanese army in 1945. The British and Indian forces attacked Ramree Island with 6,000 soldiers, pitting them against roughly 1,000 Japanese soldiers.
After several weeks of fighting, the British and Indian forces overwhelmed the beachhead and forced the Japanese to abandon their stronghold. Unfortunately, the Japanese fled into mangrove swamps.
These individuals were stuck between harsh swamps and soldiers ready to attack them. Some of them pushed through and escaped, but 500 or so did not. These elements of the story are all historical facts. We know that many soldiers fled into the swamps and never came out. Witnesses reported nights filled with screams, gunshots, and the sounds of feasting crocodiles.
Casualty reports state that 500 Japanese soldiers died, 500 fled, and about 20 were captured. We can’t say for certain that all 500 were killed by crocs, though. Now that we have set the stage, we need to take a closer look at other factors.
The Claims for the Largest Crocodile Attack in History
Depending on the source, it’s believed that crocodiles killed and ate between 500 and 1,000 people during the Battle of Ramree Island. Most, if not all, of the casualties, happened over the course of a few nights during the waning days of the battle when the soldiers were stuck in the swamps.
If true, this would be the largest crocodile attack in history and one of the bloodiest animal-human interactions to ever occur. Yet, we have to raise and answer some questions about this supposed attack. Let’s start by pinning down how many people died during the battle overall.
How Many People Did Crocodiles Kill During the Battle of Ramree Island?
A contemporary account of the Battle of Ramree from Canadian biologist Bruce Wright claims that over 900 soldiers may have died on a single night. He contends that the Japanese army was pushed into the swamps after their resistance failed on February 17, 1945. Overnight on February 19, 1945, the crocodile attacks began, and by the next day, only 20 of those soldiers were found and taken prisoner.
Wright may not have realized that 500 Japanese soldiers apparently escaped to the mainland. After all, he was not present on the island at the time of the attack. He probably heard the story through others.
If the attack did occur, then over 500 soldiers were killed throughout the night. We have to ask, though: did crocodiles kill all of the soldiers during that time? That seems somewhat unlikely since the Japanese were marching blindly into unfamiliar terrain.
Some soldiers probably became disoriented and shot at each other or drowned while bogged down with gear.
Of course, the saltwater crocodiles inhabiting the swamps on Ramree Island could easily kill a human. They’re large, powerful, and would have the benefit of hiding in the water. A quick bite and death roll is enough to take down any person. Humans could probably scream before being dragged underwater, too. The gunshots that the British heard during the night could have been a last-ditch attempt to kill crocodiles.
Still, 500 soldiers are a lot to eat in a night. Crocodiles form groups called basks that include 20 or more large reptiles. Spread out over the 10 miles of mangrove swamps, it’s possible that hundreds of these crocodiles could have been waiting for a fresh meal. But were they?
Did the Largest Crocodile Attack in Human History Actually Take Place?
New evidence makes it clear that the largest crocodile attack in human history probably never took place. At least, not to the extent that it was originally reported. Although oral histories and claims say that 500 or more people were eaten by crocodiles, several problems exist with that idea.
First off, the number of deaths is inconsistent. Some claim over 900, and others claim 500. The official casualties for the Battle of Ramree say that 500 soldiers died.
Ignoring gunshots, mosquitos, insects, disease, and drownings, the crocodiles would have had to kill and eat thousands of pounds of humans in a single night. The average crocodile eats up to 5lbs of meat per day. That means enormous numbers of crocodiles would have to be in the water to kill all those people.
Why would all those crocodiles be there? How would they all have survived without the supposed buffet of humans that walked into the swamps? It’s not feasible for all those crocs to be in those swamps.
The more likely outcome was that Japanese soldiers fled into the swamps and died in a variety of ways. Certainly, crocodile attacks could be among them since they were seen feasting on bodies the next day.
Yet, many soldiers probably died of gunshots, exhaustion, snakebites, drowning, and previous injuries. The crocodiles may have taken some lives. Yet, they almost certainly didn’t eat 500 men in a single night or over the course of several days.
Now for an interesting fact. Even if crocodiles killed just a few dozen humans or a hundred over a few days, which is not outside the realm of possibility, that would still qualify as the deadliest crocodile attack in human history.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/SteveByland
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.