The largest number of human deaths by an animal in a single attack may have occurred during the Battle of Ramree Island, on February 19, 1945, in Burma. Nine hundred Japanese soldiers attempted to retreat from a Royal Navy attack across ten miles of mangrove swamps inhabited by thousands of Saltwater Crocodiles. Twenty soldiers were later captured alive by the British, and almost five hundred escaped, but many of the remainder may have been eaten by the crocodiles, although it is impossible to know how many deaths can be directly attributed to the crocodiles instead of to combat-related causes or thirst. The hellish experience of the retreating soldiers was compounded by huge numbers of scorpions and tropical mosquitoes.
The naturalist Bruce Wright, who was fighting with the British, claimed that the crocodiles attacked and ate numerous soldiers:
- “That night was the most horrible that any member of the motor 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.”
Note: The Guinness Book of Records lists the Ramree crocodile attacks under the heading “The Greatest Disaster Suffered from Animals”.
- Another candidate for the worst animal attack must go to a number of incidents involving whitetip sharks which attacked large numbers of helpless people after their ships were sunk during WWII. More here
Books about Crocodiles
To my knowledge there is only one book on the Ramree disaster which is a Japanese novel Dragon of the Mangroves (thanks to Ryan for putting me on to this).
There are also some very reputable guides to the world’s crocodiles. Pick of the bunch:
Crocodiles and Alligators of the World (Of the World) (More expensive)