Battle of Ramree Island

The Battle of Ramree Island was fought for six weeks during January and February 1945, as part of the British Fourteenth Army 1944/45 offensive on the Southern Front of the Burma Campaign during World War II.

Ramree Island lies off the Burma coast and was captured along with the rest of Southern Burma, during the early stages of the Burma Campaign, by the rapidly advancing Imperial Japanese Army in 1942. In January 1945 the Allies were able to launch attacks to retake Ramree and its neighbour Cheduba, with the intention of building sea-supplied airbases on them.


The battle started with Operation Matador, an amphibious assault to capture the strategic port of Kyaukpyu – located at the northern tip of Ramree Island, south of Akyab across Hunter's Bay – and the key airfield near the port. Reconnaissance carried out on 14 January 1945 disclosed Japanese forces busily placing guns to sweep the landing beaches on Ramree, so the Royal Navy assigned a battleship and an escort carrier to provide heavy naval support to the task force.

On 21 January, an hour before the Indian 71st Brigade was to land, the battleship HMS "Queen Elizabeth" opened fire with her main battery while planes from the escort carrier HMS "Ameer" spotted for her. The light cruiser HMS "Phoebe" also joined the bombardment, along with B-24 Liberators and P-47 Thunderbolts of No. 224 Group RAF, (under the command of HQ RAF Bengal and Burma), which strafed and bombed the beaches. The assault troops landed unopposed and secured the beachhead; the following day, the Indian 4th Infantry Division landed.ref|DANFS

On 26 January in Operation Sankey, a Royal Marine force landed on the Island of Cheduba, which lies to the south of Ramree, to find that it was not occupied by the Japanese. On Ramree the Japanese garrison put up tenacious resistance. The 4th, 26th, 36th and 71st Indian Brigades landed, with RAF and Royal Navy Marine units, and when the Marines outflanked a Japanese stronghold, the nine hundred defenders within it abandoned the base and marched to join a larger battalion of Japanese soldiers across the island. The route forced the Japanese to cross 16 kilometres of fetid mangrove swamps, and as they struggled through the thick forests the British forces encircled the area of the swampland. Trapped in deep mud-filled land, tropical diseases soon started afflicting the soldiers, but worse was the presence of huge numbers of scorpions, tropical mosquitoes and thousands of, on average, 4.6-metre-long (about 15 feet) saltwater crocodiles [Alan Heath The Massacre of Ramree] .

Repeated calls by the British for the Japanese to surrender were ignored: the Marines holding the perimeter shot any Japanese attempting to escape, while within the swampland hundreds of soldiers died over the course of several days for lack of food or drinking water. Some, including naturalist Bruce Wright, claimed that the crocodiles attacked and ate numerous soldiers::"That night [of the 19 February 1945] was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [marine launch] crews ever experienced. 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."ref|mbc

However, these claims are disputed, and interviews with senior residents of Ramree deny that crocodiles attacked the beleaguered Japanese soldiers. When the British eventually moved in on the swamp, they found that of the nine hundred troops that originally fled into the swamp, only around twenty seriously wounded and weakened Japanese soldiers were "captured". In all, about 500 Japanese soldiers escaped from Ramree despite the intense blockade instituted to stop them. If Wright's claim is true, however, the Ramree crocodile attacks would be the worst in recorded history.ref label|DANFS|1|b

(The Guinness Book of Records lists the Ramree crocodile attacks under the heading "The Greatest Disaster Suffered from Animals" (2550). The British Burma Star Organisation ( seems to lend credence to the swamp attack stories but appears to draw a distinction between the 20 Japanese survivors of one attack and the 1,000 Japanese who were left to fend for themselves in the swamp.) ref|SWW




# note label|DANFS|1|b [ DANFS: HMS Ameer]
# [ massacre by crocodiles on Ramree Island]
# [ Ramree]

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