Those Who Sow The Wind

By John Vogel

Kami, within the Shinto philosophy, is the driving force of nature throughout the world. It uses everything, the ground, the air, the sea—and utilizes those things as tools to fulfill its will, which is unknown to us. The Empire of Japan believed very much in the spirit winds, as they themselves believed their forces to be driven by the kami as they took over most of Asia under the reign of Emperor Tojo. The Japanese tactic of flying planes into naval ships, kamikaze (divine winds), finds its roots in the belief of the winds being the guiding force to victory.

There’s almost something beautiful to it, this harmony with nature. But in February of 1945, on Ramree Island, Burma, the kami bit the Japanese in the ass.

Burma proved to be a difficult, if not miserable, landscape to fight through. The British Empire dedicated well over 1,000,000 soldiers, marines and sailors over a 3-year period to penetrate and take back a terrain that didn’t want to be conquered in the first place. Dense jungle, disease, monsoons, extreme heat—not to mention the lack of tea and tea sandwiches available. Ramree Island was no different.

The Japanese had held the coastline for quite some time and had found themselves dug in as a tick. But by ‘45, the Japanese army was struggling to hold on to key islands and atolls. When British marines started their invasion of Ramree, only 1000ish Japanese troops defended a 520 square mile area. The middle of the island was mostly mangrove swamps which defended themselves.

On January 16th, the British marines and Indian Rifles began island hopping through the chain finding many of the islands to be void of soldiers. Resistance was met on Ramree, but after a few days of volleys from the navy, Japanese troops began their 10-mile retreat to the opposite end of the island to regroup.

Driven by the winds of nature, 1000 Japanese soldiers went inland, into the very mangrove swamps they refused to protect, only to find the winds of nature blew them into a trap.

Ramree Island at the time played host to an impressive and natural population of saltwater crocodiles. A saltwater male can reach lengths of 20’ and weigh as much as 3000 lb. Those very crocodiles, who were as in touch with nature as the average 1968 Woodstock enjoyer, began a feeding frenzy that laid waste to many of the invaders. For four weeks, British troops allowed the kami to do its thing.

Naturalist Bruce Wright, who happened to be present at the time, wrote on the event.

That night was the most horrible that any member of the M. L. [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 one thousand Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about twenty were found alive.

After a month, the British began to encourage what was left of the living crocodile-feed to make their way out and be captured. As my grandpa learned in the Philippines, Japanese troops would rather swallow a live grenade than surrender. Twenty managed to find their ways out and were taken prisoner. Five hundred were believed to have made it through, leaving roughly 480 soldiers decimated.

Today, many of the deaths are believed to be the work of fever, bad water and no food. Despite the kami deniers, none can discount the local megafauna playing a part in the demise of the Japanese forces on Ramree.

So maybe it’s true that those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.

From the FE Films Archive

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