Imagine this: You’re a soldier who’s part of a force that was outflanked by the enemy on a faraway tropical island. The plan was to meet up with another group of soldiers on the other side of the island to strengthen your forces. But to do this, you would have to brave your way to a thick, muddy swamp that was basically the dining room of crocodiles. If you choose to stay, then that would mean enemy troops would soon find and capture your small group. Which would you choose?

This exactly was the dilemma of the Japanese soldiers on Ramree Island during the near end of World War II, which resulted in the deadliest crocodile feast ever.

Operation Matador

From January 14 to February 22, 1945, an encounter known as the Battle of Ramree Island or Operation Matador ensued between the Japanese and British forces as part of the XV Indian Corps’ offensive in the Burma campaign. At that time, the British forces wanted to create an airbase on Ramree Island to launch more attacks against the Japanese forces, which in turn chose to hold the island. This caused a battle that lasted for six weeks.

Men of the 26th Indian Infantry Division preparing a meal beside a temple on Ramree Island, January 1945
Men of the 26th Indian Infantry Division preparing a meal beside a temple on Ramree Island, January 1945. (Wackett A (Sgt), No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ramree Island in the Bay of Bengal is now known as Rakhine State. It was an area separated from the mainland Arakan coast by a strait about 150 meters wide. In early 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army captured the island during the invasion of Burma. In January 1945, the Fourteenth Army arrived on Ramree and its neighboring island Cheduba, ready to establish airfields that would be the supply area during the mainland campaign.