Patriotism running in the family
Private Dimuth Warnakumara was born to a family of eight where three of his elder brothers were killed in action while defending the country.
“When I was a young boy, my eldest brother Sergeant Ranjith Tillekeratne who was serving in the Army at that time would come home for the holidays and advise me to join the Army saying that true fighters and brave men were trained to protect our motherland”, he reminisces. Sadly, when Dimuth was ten years old, news from the Army came that his elder brothers Sergeant Ranjith Tillekeratne and Private Manjula Samankumara were missing. They were last reported seen at the Kilinochchi Base where about 200 Army personnel were present.
Private Dimuth Warnakumara
“When we first heard that they were missing, we went to the Army Headquarters to seek more information with the help of my third brother Lance Corporal Shantha Sisilakumara who was serving in the Army at the 70W Regiment during that time”, said the Private.
However, they waited for their return, but all to no avail. So after a year of not hearing about them, the Army concluded them officially missing when the Bindeniya Police confirmed this. “Their disappearance is a mystery to us even today but despite losing my elder brothers, my fourth brother Sanjeewa Sarathkumara decided to join the Army right after he finished school” said Private Dimuth Warnakumara. Sadly, his story was to be a melancholic one as well.
During the liberation of Thoppigala, Sergeant Sanjeewa Sarathkumara was killed in action during an engine blast in the confrontation. Thankfully, Thoppigala was returned to the nation but at a poignant cost. “He left behind his wife and child who was three months old at that time” said Private Dimuth.
Born and brought up in the town of Kotiyakumbura, they all attended the Hanwella Kanishta Vidyalaya. “We always thought that serving our country was important to us and having a respectable and good career in the armed forces was beneficial”, he said. Dimuth’s father was a simple farmer and so it reflects their humble beginnings and the desire to achieve.
Thereafter, they rebuilt their hut after his brothers joined the armed forces and now are financially stable despite ultimates loss of his brothers. “My eldest brother Ranjith left behind his wife and has a son who is ten years old now and I treat him like my own son” said Private Dimuth.
Ranjith Tillekeratne who served the Army for 7 years and Manjula who served for 4 years both were in the same confrontation where they went missing. “My brother Lance Corporal Shantha is now married and works at the Kosgama base and I serve the President in the Presidential Security Unit” he said.
|The late Sergeant Sanjeewa Sarathkumara||The late Sergeant Ranjith Tillekeratne||The late Private Manjula Samankumara|
“Even though at first I was discouraged for joining the armed forces by my mother, I assured her that it was the right thing and I was doing it in the name of my brothers because we should serve our motherland to make it a safe place for our future generations” said Private Dimuth. The late Sergeant Ranjith Tillekeratne, Private Manjula Samankumara and Sergeant Sanjeewa Sarathkumara have been awarded the RWWP for their heroic deed and will be forever remembered as a family of patriots.
Valiant sgt. to the fore
Sergeant K.B.R.A. Peiris is a courageous Air Force fighter who has valiantly defended at the Palali base where he used his dexterous skill and quick-thinking to help fight off enemy confrontations. This is his story when he helped tackle the enemy and his brave deed was awarded with an RSP.
Time : 0130hrs
Date : 02nd August 1994
Location : Palali Air Force Base
It was in the early hours of an April morning when Sergeant Peiris took his position in front of the main guard tower at the Palali Base.
“I was part of a 4-member team and it was our duty to defend”, he said. Just past 0100hrs, a shattering explosion was heard from afar.
“We all took our defensive positions to brace ourselves against a potential enemy confrontation. So we loaded our weapons and held our breath in silence to determine the next move,” recalled the Sergeant.
“Thereafter, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that some of our Air Force comrades on the other side of the defence line near the tower were investigating what was happening yonder,” he went on. It was believed to be LTTE aircraft dropping bombs to attack the base and the LTTE was now trying their best to penetrate the area. “In retaliation, our Commanders gave the green light to send one of our choppers to suppress the LTTE aircraft should it do damage,” he said.
Giving the LTTE a taste of their own medicine was the strategy employed by the Air Force. “An Air Force helicopter was flown near the area where the LTTE aircraft was last seen,” said the Sergeant Peiris went down memory lane.
“It is no secret that the LTTE aircraft are not as sophisticated as we would normally think,” he said. So it was an easy task to bring down the LTTE aircraft which was easily neutralised.
“Our chopper managed to attack the light-weight LTTE aircraft with effective bombs and this made the aircraft crash land,” he leafed back.
Thereafter, according to sightings on radar, the Air Force believed the LTTE terrorists onboard the aircraft had an emergency escape even though the aircraft was badly damaged.
“Our alternate team was deployed to scour the bushes for suspected terrorist casualties and if not any possible signs of escape and report or take action,” he further reminisced. “Our team had to guard the tower and keep a lookout for signs of enemy trespassing.”
While investigating the area around, the team heard some of the cadres crying in Tamil asking those who were saved from the confrontation to join them in escaping. “This confirmed our suspicions and now we knew what way they were trying to penetrate our boundary,” he said.
“Very soon, I saw two faint figures approaching from the horizon and then when we looked closer it was two LTTE cadres coming around from the side of the line so we immediately took aim and fired,” said Sergeant Peiris. They saw them clearly when these terrorists crouched on their bellies and slithered across the barbed wire which demarcated the border.
They quickly brought down the cadres from quite a distance and the Sergeant says, “We could see that they were struck down after we fired because there was a final blast which signalled the end”. Thereafter, the Army troops in armoured vehicles came and investigated the remains where the LTTE aircraft was seen and recovered the loot which consisted of weapons, communication devices and a few battle essentials.
“Our Air Force helicopters which were flying overhead went back after a successful victory”, concluded an ebullient Sgt. Peiris.
Sergeant Peiris hails from the town of Madampe, Ambalangoda and he attended the Madampe Central College. He joined the Air Force right after his O/L’s because he had a strong ambition to serve his motherland. He trained at Morawewa and also Sigiriya, counting nearly 20 years of service. Sergeant Peiris says that by joining the Air Force, he has learned a lot in a specialised sphere. He is married to a teacher and has two children. Presently, he is serving at the Air Force Headquarters as a specialist in Bomb Disposing.
“It is a risk when there is a bomb found in the city because I have to intelligently detonate it. So I am happy to serve where I can use my knowledge to the best of my ability,” he vows.
Fist to Fist at the Forward Defense Line
“With intense training they had given in the army, I learnt proper discipline and the defence moves and landed the heaviest blow which made the terrorist lose control of himself,” said the Corporal. Corporal Sanath overpowered him by shooting him in the leg and then he handed him over to the Navy for information gathering. He said “I handed him over and it was discovered that he was the first cadre to break through the FDL to neutralise the army soldiers to allow more cadres to come in”. However, the enemy plan was foiled with Corporal Sanath’s intrusion.
Corporal T.K. Sanath was a brave fighter who overcame all odds to help protect his country. He was by nature a good defence fighter. His position on guard at the FDL (Forward Defence Lines) with his comrade Corporal Hemantha was a job he took quite seriously. His team members knew they could rely on him while on guard during sudden confrontations. He had superb sense, vision in the dark and knew how to tackle any LTTE trespasser in the FDL.
Time : 0300hrs
Date : 23rd February 2002
Location: Manikulum FDL
It was in the wee hours of the morning just before
daybreak when Corporal Sanath was on duty he thought he had heard a faint rustling sound in the bushes. Suspecting an LTTE trespasser in the FDL, he kept his ears strained to listen as to where the sound had come from.
Sure enough, the rustle grew closer and even though it was pitch dark, Corporal Sanath relied on his ears to determine as to whether he could locate the LTTE cadre. At the back of his mind, he wasn’t sure whether it could have been even one of his men who was loitering.
Eventually, he crept stealthily on his belly to avoid his shadow revealing his movements and managed to crawl closer. But, at this point, the rustling stopped and instead there was a snapping sound of twigs. With built-up courage in the dark, Corp Sanath drew himself up from his hiding place and took the great risk of landing flat on the trespasser.
At this moment, he flashed his pen torch on the man’s face and confirmed his suspicion by the dangling cyanide capsule. With a tough struggle after taking the cadre by surprise, he managed to land a blow at the side of the cadre’s face. The cadre went on the defensive and tried to reach for his weapon. “With intense training they had given in the army, I learnt proper discipline and the defence moves and landed the heaviest blow which made the terrorist lose control of himself,” said the Corporal. Corporal Sanath overpowered him by shooting him in the leg and then he handed him over to the Navy for information gathering. He said “I handed him over and it was discovered that he was the first cadre to break through the FDL to neutralise the army soldiers to allow more cadres to come in”. However, the enemy plan was foiled with Corporal Sanath’s intrusion.
Corporal T.K. Sanath hails from the town of Ambatenna and attended the local school there. He is the youngest of a family of three, who said that he was inspired to join the armed forces because his father was a fallen hero. “It was not because of revenge that I joined the armed forces but for the patriotism and courage. My father did everything he could to serve his country which made him a hero and I was inspired to take after him” he said.
Corporal Sanath joined the army right after his A/Ls. He says that joining the army makes you mentally and physically stable and protecting your beloved motherland is the greatest service one can do. Corporal Sanath has been awarded the RSP for his services. He continues to serve the forces and hopes to be there for as long as he can.
Teamwork and the spirit of the Comradeship
Time : 1400hrs
Date : 09th November 2008
Location : In between PPD and KKS
As the afternoon sky shone upon the waters of the Indian Ocean, the P416 and P461 were making waves patrolling for suspected enemy activity. Sure enough, just past 1400hrs, some suspected enemy movement was detected over the horizon making their way towards where the naval FACs were floating.
Able Seaman Jayaratne who was onboard the P461, said “My commander observed about 7 LTTE boats on the radar and asked us to keep a strong head and not to show that we were intimidated by their presence”. Hence, the strategy that they adopted was to make sure that they were well on target by the time LTTE were in fighting distance. “We took aim and fired as they were about shooting distance from us taking them by surprise because they thought we wouldn’t be ready for the confrontation” said the Able Seaman.
“We had 16 men onboard and a highly effective weapons system where the main gun system was controlled by our Commander” said Able Seaman Jayaratne. However, things started turning sour when more LTTE boats came on from other directions to bring down the FACs. “Despite knowing that we were outnumbered, we managed to hold fort and give it everything we had” he said. “We were able to suppress the LTTE boats in the front with our main gun weaponry system but the situation wasn’t still to our advantage” said the Able Seaman. However, they didn’t give up hope and pressed on with sheer courage and determination.
“However, after intense firing for about an hour and a half, our weapons were exhausted and we were not faced with a tight situation” he said. Nevertheless, the OIC continued to fight with weapons but the LTTE managed to hit them from all sides, severely damaging the FACs.
In a sudden twist of fate, the LTTE wanted to assure them of a victory by sending three LTTE sea tiger suicide boats to make sure the navy was suppressed. “We didn’t panic when we identified the suicide boats but we managed to keep a safe distance on our FACs knowing fully well what they intended to do” said the Communicator Padmalal who was onboard the P416.
The first suicide boat that was approaching them just brushed past the side of the P416 FAC without detonating. “Usually, when the suicide boat touches our FAC, it has an inbuilt time bomb to blow itself up but in this case due to the unplanned strategies on sea, it didn’t explode to our luck” said the Communicator. The next suicide boat caught fire when it exploded on its side as a result of losing control but it didn’t much damage to the FACs. The third one also didn’t do blow up as it moved past the FACs but did eventually catch fire after some time. Thereafter, most of the LTTE boats were now giving up for they were exhausting their resources.
With the last ounce of fighting spirit that was in the Navy, many of the strong navy officers rose up to the challenge and used the existing firepower to supress the LTTE. After losing their suicide boats, the LTTE succumbed to the navy and gave up the challenge. The navy managed to prevent defeat despite losing two of their commanders and a few navy officers.
Able Seaman Jayaratne’s story started when he wanted to join a career to serve his country.
He first applied to the police service and then to the navy as a second option. Karma ensured that his navy application was successful and he counts about 5 years of service. He advises the youth that you can learn a lot and improve as a person by joining the navy.
Communicator Padmalal joined the navy after his OL and counts 5 years of service to the country. His brother, who is in the army, was his role model inspiring him to join the armed forces and in turn, serve his country.
Communicator Padmalal counts about 5 years of service in the navy and advises would-be navy officers that joining the navy opens your eyes to many things and you can learn the best in technology and skills as well as disciplining oneself.
What becomes of a Martyr
Date: 5th October 2000
Corporal N. Tennekoon was a brave army soldier who fought tooth and nail to ensure that a part of Jaffna (under govt. control) didn’t fall into the clutches of the LTTE. Leading his men at the borderline at a time when the LTTE had obtained control of the First and Second Defence Line, Corporal Tennekoon gave his life to prevent their penetration into govt. controlled Jaffna. Here Sergeant Major Chandra relates the story about how Corporal Tennekoon’s valiant confrontation led to his martyrdom.
A key LTTE stronghold was located at the Jaffna Mulli junction where a small village was also situated in the vicinity. Covered by jungle right around, the area was somewhat developed but it had been scattered with large LTTE bunkers.
Sgt. Major Chandra, reminiscing the incident said “At the time of our confrontation, the LTTE managed to obtain control of the first and second defence lines and it was our duty to prevent them from moving further into our territory.” He added that the strategy was to move in little groups of three and destroy the bunkers by surprise offensives while also gaining control of their side.
“We were positioned near a small pond near the Mulli junction and we had decided on which tactic to be employed to take the LTTE cadres by surprise and it was then that Corporal Tennekoon told me to get past the pond and move on towards the left side while he would lead his team to the left” said the Sgt. Leading their three-men team, Sgt. Major Chandra said that Corporal Tennekoon was brave to venture into unknown terrain and take the forefront position.
Sergeant Major Chandra said “When we reached the LTTE bunkers, we found out that some LTTE aircraft flying overhead had been keeping an eye on us and were now giving target positions to the bunkers to hit us”. Intense fighting started but since the army teams were scattered all around, it was difficult for the LTTE cadres to accurately predict where the army personnel were located. “We had an advantage due to our dispersal all around so we defended ourselves with mortar and weapons destroying the bunkers that had been built right in front” said the Sgt. During the attack, Corporal Tennekoon who was trying to destroy the LTTE bunkers from his side was unfortunately caught in by the fire coming from the bunkers.
“I knew there was intense fighting coming from the place where Corporal Tennekoon’s team ventured so I was hoping they would manage to continue on”. However, Corporal Tennekoon was struck at the stomach and he immediately fell down. The other members of his team were injured but alive.
While the fighting continued, word quickly passed to the air force and an enforcement team quickly came in rescue to destroy the air-borne LTTE. Further support from the Gemunu Watch and other armed personnel came as reinforcements to suppress the LTTE. “We came off victorious because of the support from our comrades in the armed forces who rushed to help us since it was a big confrontation as the LTTE wanted to gain complete control over Jaffna” said Sgt. Major Chandra.
After the confrontation, when the army cleared the area, they discovered that five LTTE bodies were caught along with a loot of rations, weapons and communication devices.
Corporal Tennekoon hails from the town of Nikaveratiya and attended the local school there. He counted a little over 10 years of service to the army upon his untimely demise. Sgt. Major Chandra said that Corporal Tennekoon was a disciplined individual who was considerate of others and will not hesitate to lead when asked to confront the enemy.
For giving up his life for his motherland, Corporal Tennekoon has been awarded with the RWP.
Bracing the storm in the face of defeat
The Air Force continued to fight and fired mortar with maximum firepower but as fate may have it, Sergent L.S.Priyalal was struck down at the leg and despite being injured, he fought with his maximum energy from his stationed position. Eventually, the LTTE cadres gave up the fight to close in on their side and drew back. In an act of surrendering, they were left without any weapons and had lost many lives.
On the 2nd of January 1995, 500 LTTE cadres attacked the defence lines of Kanthure which was under the control of the Air Force when they were trying to penetrate from all sides. However, Sergent L.S.Priyalal who was part of a 25 member squad and others tried as much as they could to salvage their side of the lines from the enemy.
Time : 0900hrs
Date : 03rd January 1995
Sergent L.S.Priyalal was at the forward defence line when he marched forward with his men and from there they could see 500 LTTE cadres moving towards them from the horizon. Thereafter, taking their positions at the base, they fought bravely by using mortar weaponry under the supervision of their Air Force Commander. Whilst firing, he managed to use as much courage as he could muster without giving up. Right around, the environment was humid with little bouts of rain but he managed to secure the defence line from his side with the help of his colleagues who were assisting him in the confrontation.
Managing to hold on, the LTTE cadres who initially came with armed force amounted to about 50. After the attack, there were about 10-12 from the remaining band reflecting how successful they were in clinching a taste of success in this pre-battle despite not being well armed when it happened.
The Air Force continued to fight and fired mortar with maximum firepower but as fate may have it, Sergent L.S.Priyalal was struck down at the leg and despite being injured, he fought with his maximum energy from his stationed position. Eventually, the LTTE cadres gave up the fight to close in on their side and drew back. In an act of surrendering, they were left without any weapons and had lost many lives. From that Air Force team, there were some injured officers but nobody was close to death which was a good sign. The Morawa-Trincomalee road was then muddy with rain whilst the battle finished and thereafter, the sun shone towards the end of the day, signalling a victorious fight for the Air Force. The LTTE knew they didn’t have a chance when the defence lines were bravely protected by the Air Force who prevented them from closing in any more.
Sergent L.S.Priyalal comments that there are certain days when the LTTE attacks are opposed to the other days and these can be specific dates in the beginning and at the end of the month, so the Air Force has carefully learnt of the LTTE battle plan and are always ready to face any challenge.
Sergent L.S.Priyalal hails from the town of Anniwatte close to Kandy and has attended Darmaraja College Kandy. His older brother, a veteran in the army inspired Sergent L.S.Priyalal to join the armed forces. So after his Ordinary Levels, he got into the Air Force because it allowed him to train better and understand various aspects of battle from various points. He trained at China Bay and was involved in the Jayasikuru operation. Sergent L.S.Priyalal has obtained extensive handling of weapons and is a ground handler for the Air Force with knowledge of the ways in which the LTTE cadres behave underground. He advises the younger generation that the Air Force is a good career, and for the future you can step up better with regard to your career and help protect your motherland. Today, he offers his services at the Katunayake Base Airport where he is the member of the Air Force security team. Sergent L.S.Priyalal has received the RSP for bravery shown in the face of war.
The Chalai Confrontation
Cdr Asoka Wijesiriwardane was a brave navy Commander who was a junior officer at the time the incidents from 26th to 29th March took place. It was one of the LTTE’s massive attacks to obtain complete control of Jaffna from land and sea. Cdr Wijesiriwardane was commander of the P490 FAC and was based at Kankasanthurai (KKS) in the North Attachment when he had to supress the LTTE on the sea.
Date: 26th March 2000
“We obtained information from FACs deployed at Vettilakani (VTK) that a large number of enemy craft was moving from their stronghold in Chalai towards VTK” said the Commander. He said that every cluster has six boats and were fast approaching towards their base. Cdr Wijesiriwardane aboard the P490 and about 8 other FACs were sent immediately to confront the enemy to prevent their movement towards Jaffna.
2230hrs: The FACs reached the place where enemy clusters were lined up and they observed that 10 were present to take on the navy. “We were not intimidated by such a huge number of LTTE boats because we knew that their weapons and manpower was less than ours”, said Cdr Wijesiriwardane. The navy’s FACs were equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and the Commander took his position in the front, leading all the other FACs to battle with the enemy clusters who were now penetrating from all sides. “I had 18 men onboard and I communicated with them through a loud speaker during the confrontation, so that whenever I made a move, I made sure they knew what I was doing so that the fighting could go smoothly” he said. “We started attacking the enemy clusters as we approached them and the other FACs also assisted me in this” said the Commander.
0117hrs: “However, in the midst of the fighting, the main weapon armament system onboard our FAC, the Typhoon System gave up on us because it was exhausted due to the intense heat of the firing,” said the Commander. He didn’t lose control of the fight but pressed on with the stand-by weapons and by using other guns to supress the enemy. “At this point, it was difficult to bring down the enemy boats because without the Typhoon weapon, the distance of weapon effectiveness was less” he said. Hence, Cdr Wijesiriwardane had to steer forward to a dangerous distance of 400 metres near the LTTE boats to make maximum use of the weapons in order to bring them down. “I was more bothered about attacking the LTTE boats rather than my life since they were now gaining advantage so I carefully thought of a strategic technique where I could fool them with my actions” he said. The Commander confused the enemy boats by not taking traditional battle strategies but by surprising the enemy with different fighting methods.
0200hrs: After intense fighting, the 50 enemy boats who were planning to defeat the navy had decreased to less than 20 boats and the rest abandoned their sea induction due to the navy securing a victory spearheaded by Cdr Wijesiriwardane’s defensive strategy.
After this incident, it was predicted that many enemy boats would soon come in as reinforcements and will try to take on the navy in another attack. The then Commanding Officer of the FAF-4 (Fast Attacking Fortilla) Manoj Jayasuriya took the decision of positioning the FACs along the east coast from Chalai to VTK in four sub divisions. Cdr Wijesiriwardane took the position at the southern attachment closest to the LTTE stronghold of Chalai and steered his FAC, which was the first one to move forward. In lieu of securing a victory for this attack as well, the Commander said “I was heading my sub division which was called ‘Ashoka’s Group’ and it was the first time in navy history that I was leading commanders of the FACs who were much senior to me”. He was given such a distinguished position and task of leading the commanders because he showed bravery in the first incident that made the Commanding Officer think him eligible to carry on the rest of the attack against the LTTE. “I was honoured but at the same time, determined to bring down the LTTE even though it was a formidable task” he said.
In that formation, the FACs attacked the enemy clusters which were coming from the Chalai area. Enemy monitoring revealed their inability to tackle any sea induction due to the effective victory secured by the navy in both incidents.
2245hrs: Cdr Wijesiriwardane decided to take matters into his own hands and decided that it was best to attack Chalai. “I spoke to Commander Jayasuriya that the LTTE boats will attack us and that we should enforce a defensive plan” he said. Even though nobody in history had thought about attacking LTTE’s stronghold base Chalai, Cdr Wijesiriwardane thought that since it was an ambush, they can supress them with brute force and destroy their boats so that would not even think of retaliating.
Cdr. Asoka Wijesiriwardane being awarded the RSP from the President
“After my Commanding Officer gave the approval, I was aboard the P490 and I closed up to a distance of 8 cables to the LTTE’s Chalai base” said the Commander. It was a shock to the LTTE and since they were caught by surprise, the navy secured a victory in this confrontation as well. Cdr. Wijesisirwardane was happy that his strategic defensive plan worked and saved the day.
For these separate incidents, Cdr Wijesiriwardane garnered two RSPs (Rana Soora Paddakkama) for the 26th to 28th incident and one for the 29th incident also. He remains as a modern day hero who overcomes any obstacle to defeat the enemy to save his motherland.
Cdr. Asoka Wijesiriwardane hails from Matara and attended Rahula College. Having joined the navy as a cadet officer in 1998, he trained at the Naval Maritime Academy, Trincomalee where he was commissioned as an Acting Sub Lieutenant. Today, he has a Master in Hydrographic Survey and is a qualified hydrographer where he has established the base point in the Northern Islands. He has done a seismic survey onboard the ‘Polar Dune’ with the aim of hydrocarbon exploration resources in the Gulf of Mannar basin. The Commander was also onboard the ‘Geo Searcher’ to claim Sri Lanka’s continental shelf and also is a member of the Sethusamudra Project Impact study committee.
Cdr Ashoka Wijesiriwardane is now married to a lawyer and has two children.
He is the highest decorated officer in the navy with gallantry awards on 7 occasions with the RWP (Rana Wickrama Padakkama) and was given a special field promotion to the rank of Commander for services rendered.
Other awards include Deshaputhra Sammanaya, North East Operation Medal, Riviresa Medal, Long Service Medal, Poornaboomi Padakkama, 50th Independence Medal and 50th Navy Anniversary medal.
Foiling a LTTE penetration bid in Omanthai
Corporal Pathirana hails from Ambepussa and attended Kandagamuwa Maha Vidyala where he studied till his Ordinary Levels. He was the first to serve in the Armed Forces and had support from his family to venture into this career.
Date: 30th July 1998
Time: 07:30 hrs
“We had been notified by the security police that LTTE cadres had trespassed the area and were sure to be lurking about.So everyone had to be on the guard” said Corporal Pathirana. Checking out for suspicious activity, Corporal Pathirana was with his colleagues Corporal Nimantha and Corporal Minuwanpitiya on duty. “We were part of the 100 -member Air Force squad under the purview of Squadron Leader Commanding Officer Chandrasekera where our duty was to protect the area which consisted of thick jungle” said the Corporal.
08:00 hrs: Afterwards, a rustling in the bushes was heard as they were scouring the place and noticed that these sounds were drawing near. “Whilst we were clearing, we heard some voices coming from a side and we crouched low to figure out what was going on” said the Corporal. Eventually, they saw three LTTE cadres venturing through the thicket to their side. “By the look of them, we knew they had to be a Reki team because there were only three and they had communication equipment and data-gathering tools which are normally used to obtain information and location status” said Corporal Pathirana.
When the Corporal and his comrades were in close proximity to the cadres and just before they crossed their immediate territory,firing stared.
Corporal Pathirana said “We used T56 weapons and machine guns all at once which took them by surprise.” Having no time to even think, the LTTE cadres were struck down as the fire caught them unawares. “We knew that a surprise attack was needed in this instance and we managed to bring all three down at once which was good” said Corporal Pathirana.
They uncovered their T56 weapons, their communication and data-gathering equipment and also some food and clothes.
“Only when we cleared the area and discovered the bodies that our suspicions were confirmed that they were indeed a Reki team” said the Corporal.
09:30 hrs: The confrontation ended and they handed over the bodies and loot to the Commanding Officer who took control of the situation.
Corporal Pathirana hails from Ambepussa and attended Kandagamuwa Maha Vidyala where he studied till his Ordinary Levels. He was the first to serve in the Armed Forces and had support from his family to venture into this career.
He has been awarded the RSP for services rendered to his nation and his mother has got the highest honour for giving birth to a victor being awarded the Weeralanka Matha given by the former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. “I joined the Air Force on 23rd June 1996 and professed an interest because I always indulged in sports and underwent cadetting for 4 years” said the Corporal. He said that he was fascinated by the Armed Forces for as long as he can remember and he advises would-be Air Force officers that you can learn a lot. “I hope people will realize how important it is to liberate our country from terrorists because we are a small country with very few Sri Lankans left in the world” he said. Corporal Pathirana, who is now stationed at the Katunayake Air Force base, is married, has two children and hopes to continue his service to the country for as long as he is able.
Beating the Odds in Silence
Corporal H. G. R. Gamalath was one the brave air force fighters who used his instincts and common sense in the battlefield not only to suppress LTTE cadres that penetrated the FDL, but to be instrumental in capturing one who gave valuable information.
Date: 12th April 1999
Location: Manupurukku (Manakulam)
In the wee hours of the morning, while he was stationed at the bund of the FDL (Forward Defence Line) in the Manupurukku area, Corporal Gamalath was on the night to day shift. “I was on duty with my comrade Corporal Kulasekera and Corporal Kumara and we were assigned sectors (areas) to look out for suspected activity” he said. It was during this time that the air force bunkers were being made from timber and sawdust around the FDL, 10 metres away from the Manakulam road. “Beyond our purview, there are various sectors assigned to members in the air force supervised by section commanders” he said.
“I was on duty near the Mannaram road where there was a footpath. However, as I assumed duty I heard a rustling in the bushes of the jungle and thought it was likely that wild boar must be scuttling around”, he said. Upon hearing this, he stood in silence and wondered what was happening even though wild boar in the jungle was a common occurrence. “I strained my ears to listen but wasn’t too bothered about it but the rustling sound became closer”, he said. Thereafter, Corporal Gamalath heard some hushed voices being spoken but couldn’t determine what it really was. “I still thought about wild boar and the whispers could mean that they were making sounds but I didn’t make any movements like chasing them away, so I just stood and listened” he said.
All of a sudden, he saw a human figure clambering on a tree which was near his post. “I could barely make out the outline because it was rather dark to get a clear picture of who it was” said the Corporal. Nevertheless, he didn’t move or speak but carefully watched from his duty point. “I knew before that there had been some ambush strategy going on because earlier we had heard that some LTTE had penetrated the area” he said. Even though it could have been one of his men, Corporal Gamalath was just watching the movement of this particular person. “I noticed that it was a male figure and he climbed the tree, looked over the horizon, and then climbed back down” he said. Later, he heard whispering sounds coming from the place where he saw the person. “I was wondering what was going on because whispering wasn’t quite the norm when we give our men instructions. Suddenly I detected some suspicion as they didn’t talk that long because our commanders often gave valuable information before moving on” he said.
After this suspicious activity, Corporal Gamalath strained his ears and listened carefully but now it occurred to him that there was a team, moving around the sector where he was stationed. “I knew they had to be an LTTE outfit so instinctively I reached out for the powerful LMG weapon and fired at my fullest capacity” he said. All at once, the LTTE cadres ducked down in the bushes for cover and thought that a bomb had gone off due to the sheer monstrosity of the LMG noise. “But the LMG misfired yet they were afraid of their lives. I used the T81 which we had loaded and kept in case we misfired in the first attack” said the Corporal.
The LTTE cadres then started scrambling for safety. “I saw that there were three in the outfit and that they were now trying to seek refuge under the indigenous ‘Pallu’ tree so I started firing again”, he said. However, with the firepower, one was injured and was trying to amble along but at the next attack he was struck down. One cadre tried to retaliate with a hand grenade but Corporal Gamalath was too quick for him and put him down attacked with the grenade. “The section commander at the next point noticed my firing and called for reinforcements to help me with the confrontation” he said. But the last LTTE cadre who was trying to escape was badly injured and then started waving his arms begging them not to hurt him. “We saw that he was surrendering and we went to capture him” he said. “We cleared the area, we discovered that two more bodies lying which were caught up in the confrontation when I fired the T81” said Corporal Gamalath. They even uncovered loot of communication devices, radio sets, food and weapons.
0515hrs: The confrontation finished as they caught the LTTE cadre and interrogated him for information. He told that he was part of a 14 cadre team that was looking for a UAD aircraft belonging to the LTTE which was apparently brought down. This was near the Puttur area and they had to recover some of the important equipment onboard the aircraft. Apparently, the LTTE outfit didn’t know that it was under the purview of the air force and just travelled by foot for 42 days with their equipment, weapons and rations. After handing him over to the Officer-in-Charge, he was asked to talk to their leader via a communication device to gather information for the air force but to no avail because the LTTE bad suspected foul play. Later, reports claimed that the particular UAD aircraft had been seized by the armed forces after a confrontation. With his bravery and instinct, Corporal Gamalath is a role model for future fighters where they should heed the saying – ‘Silence is Golden’.
Corporal Gamalath hails from Balangoda and attended the Kaldemulla Walahatenna school. He did his OLs and while undertaking his AL, he got a break to join the armed forces.
He selected the air force and assumed duties in 1996. Corporal Gamalath was trained at the Hingurakgoda camp and even did training for 7 months in Puliakulam. He hopes that good air force fighters will help the nation secure victory against terrorism and says that this is the greatest service for our Motherland.
For services rendered, he has garnered the title of RSP (Ranasoora Paddakama).
During the time when the armed forces took hold of key areas as a result of the Jayasikuru operation, Corporal Pathirana of the Air Force was also stationed near the Omantha FDL. Three days before this incident, it was informed that about 300 LTTE cadres had penetrated through the FDL lines that was discoverd when the barbed wire was tampered on one side.
Morale Support Spured Navy On
Prelude – The ‘Pride of South’ vessel carrying 1400 army soldiers came under attack from the LTTE and Lt. Com M. S. D. Perera was the second in command onboard the P462 craft with the P442 to protect the ‘Pride of South’.
Date: 17th September 2001
Location: North East of PPD
“At 0430hrs, we got the call to help in defending the ‘Pride of South’ from Lt. Com. Hevawitharana and together with the P442 manned by Lt. Com. Kirella, we rushed to the scene from the Charlie Barrier where we were stationed” said Lt. Com. Perera. In the twilight, they ventured on forward to defend the ‘Pride of South’ that would have meant a huge loss if it fell into the hands of the enemy. Hence, Lt. Com. Perera steered forward through the Charlie Barrier with his crew of 17 men to save his comrades.
Upon reaching the scene, they were shocked to see the manner the LTTE cadres were now forming their ‘line’ strategy with about 20 boats firing with brutal force. Even though squad gun boats were protecting the ‘Pride of South’, these vessels were fast becoming vulnerable. “By the time we reached there, we started cutting across from the ‘Pride of South’ towards the middle and we were so close to it that we could hear the cheers and cries of the army soldiers onboard”, said Lt. Com. Perera.
“We were the first FACs to rush on the scene and we commenced defending the ‘Pride of South’ in the best way we could”, said the Lt.Com. He said they were about 10 cables away from the ‘Pride of South’ vessel and the cheering of the army soldiers boosted their confidence because of the morale support to fight off the enemy was great. “I had nothing to fear because everyone cheered us on and we went ahead with our strategy” said Lt.Com.Perera.
With an ambiguous effort, the P462 made three strategic turns in the middle of the ‘Pride of South’ against the enemy line on the defensive attack. “I discussed the battle plan on the waters with my comrade (the late) Lt. Com. Nethasinghe and by now we were in a better position to fight” said the Lt. Com. “I used the 23mm main weapon system to defend the LTTE boats which were now forming a line firing at us” said the Lt.Com. Thinking nothing of their lives, they fought tooth and nail until the LTTE boats started sinking and this made them attempt to fight even more. “We suppressed them with every strategic method we could use and this gave us the drive to succeed” said the Lt. Com. Luckily for them, they clinched a victory and saved the ‘Pride of South’ carrying their army comrades.
Lt. Com. Perera hails from the town of Bandaragama and has been fascinated by having joined the armed forces from a younger age. “I was the only one in my family to serve the country by joining the forces and I’m thankful that all supported me” said the Lt. Com. He has done his Bachelor of Science in Defence Studies in the area of Management and passed out from ‘Intake 14’. “At my first posting in Nilaveli from February 2000 onwards, there was an incident where I escaped miraculously an incident which made me decide that a navy career was the ideal for me” said the Lt.Com. He is one of the first to undertake the Sub Lt. course in India and has completed a Loans Communication course at NMA in India.
Lt. Com. Perera is now assigned to the Distributing Authority of the Sri Lanka Navy. He is a Publications Distributing Officer because of his extensive knowledge in this area. Lt. Com has been awarded with the RSP for his service rendered to the nation.
Intelligence is the order of the day
From the corner of his eye, as the cadres presumed that the Air Force men were dead, Corporal Prasad went on the rebound to fire at the LTTE cadres using his T56 weapon. “I fired with every ounce of energy left in me and somehow wanted nothing more than neutralising them” he said.
Then and there, the cadres were struck down and it was then that Corporal Prasad realised that the LTTE team’s leader was burnt to death by his own weapon.
Corporal Prasad G.H.J. is a weapons instructor at the Air Force Training Camp, Diyatalawa. Following is an account of one of his brave experiences where he defeated an LTTE leader who was one of the intelligence informants.
Date: 7th July 1999
As the day of July 7 dawned, on the Kanthurai FDL (Forward Defence Line), Corporal Prasad was busy leading a team of six which had been assigned with the task of protecting the lines from enemies. They were followed by a support team at a safe distance who were also on the look out for suspicious activities.
“We were guarding the Defence Lines when we heard a rustle in the jungle coming from the Mundimurruku road that leads to Vavuniya”, recalled the Corporal. They crept stealthily towards the road and located the voices coming from a barely visible footpath leading to the jungle.
“We were at a distance of about 15 metres from the LTTE band that included three”, he said. From the look of things, the LTTE cadres seemed to have been part of the LTTE intelligence unit that collects data and survey of the area of the Air Force for future battle strategies. “We saw them mapping locations on their devices and taking positions via GPS. They didn’t seem to be trained fighters unlike us who were mentally and physically ready to tackle any challenge” the Corporal beamed.
Thereafter, Corporal Prasad made his way towards the enemy on his own to launch an ambush attack, hoping to take them by surprise. Some dead tree logs were in the way so I had to jump over and it was at this time that the cadres saw me and started hurtling hand grenades. Corporal Prasad’s comrades thinking of the worst were now on the defence by using their weapons against the cadres.”However, eventhough the cadres fired at me, they weren’t successful in their attack and I sought refuge under a thicket” said the Corporal.
From the corner of his eye, as the cadres presumed that the Air Force men were dead, Corporal Prasad went on the rebound to fire at the LTTE cadres using his T56 weapon. “I fired with every ounce of energy left in me and somehow wanted nothing more than neutralising them” he said.
Then and there, the cadres were struck down and it was then that Corporal Prasad realised that the LTTE team’s leader was burnt to death by his own weapon.”When I found the leader’s body, he defused two hand grenades. One was for the device he had with him to carry information, which was his lifeblood and the other, he detonated in a suicidal attempt” said Corporal Prasad. It was apparent that the leader’s choice was to surrender or die, of which he chose the latter. After the confrontation, the Corporal’s comrades were happy to see him alive and confirmed that the other two cadres were also struck down with the intense firing, seeming that they were unprepared.
“The success of overcoming this attack was that I received good advice from my comrades like Corporal Cooray and Corporal Rathnasiri, who were in my team”, said the Corporal. They uncovered a loot of food, civilian clothes, 8 handbombs and some weapons including several technological devices that the LTTE used to help gather information about their camp. “We destroyed all modes of communication when we found the loot” said Corporal Prasad.
When the LTTE bodies were given back by the Air Force through the Red Cross, they refused to claim them. “It was like more of a shame to them because these LTTE spies were especially sent to gather important information for the enemy and that they were of no use to the LTTE after their death concluded the Corporal.
Corporal Prasad hails from the town of Welawawe and he joined the Air Force whilst studying for his A/L. “As I was the only son in my family, I had to face opposition from my parents in joining the Air Force but I was determined to make it through”, he reminisces. Even though his relatives from his mother’s side are in the armed forces, he had to brave his own challenges to make his mark.
“I joined the Air Force in 1998 and underwent immense training with the Air Force by following all required courses and obtaining the needed qualifications to cement my career”, he said.
Corporal Prasad says that the Air Force is the best place to learn about fighting skills because you are mentally and physically trained in overcoming challenges. “I initially never realised how much I can learn from the Air Force but once I made it, the experience was invaluable to me” said the Corporal. Today, Corporal Prasad is a Weapons Instructor, of Air Force cadets to handle and understand various fighting tools to brave the storm in the face of fire. His wife is a former Air Force officer and now is at home bringing up their two sons. Corporal Prasad has been garnered with the title of RSP for services rendered to his beloved motherland.
Defending the P482
“We are given professional training in First Aid, Practice and Live Training, Blindfold training and Movements Training which are immensely beneficial when we are at the war zone”, explained LCDR Rumesh Gomes.
LCDR Rumesh Gomes is the first to become a notable navy hero from a distinguished family hailing from the southern town of Matara. Having attended St.Aloysious College right after he finished his AL, he joined the Navy on the June 20, 1994. His wife was also in the Navy but preferred to stay at home to take care of their children.
LCDR Gomes was one of the OICs aboard the P482 called in as reinforcements to help protect the ‘Pride of South’ vessel that was taking 1400 army officers from KKS to PPD.
Date : 17th September 2001
Time : 0630hrs
Location : Near the port of KKS
“When the call came in to protect the ‘Pride of South’, I was assigned to supervise the P482 FAC which was a temporary vessel that I wasn’t familiar with”, said LCDR Gomes. “Nevertheless, I decided to sail forth with my men to defend our army comrades because the lives of the whole battalion were at stake”, reminisced.
LCDR Gomes steered forward towards the situation of terror and mustering every inch of courage, he got his men in their positions. Attacking the enemy fleet that was rising in numbers, they too came with their reinforcements to bring down the ‘Pride of South’.
“We could barely make out the sea tigers even as the sun rose but we used maximum firepower to suppress them”, said LCDR Gomes. They fired using weapons in the range of 20mm calibre and 12.7mm calibre and finally brought down some enemy ships.
0900hrs: Suddenly, the P482 was hit on the roof of its vessel by enemy attack. LCDR Gomes managed to duck for cover at the head. Even before first aid reached him, he was presumed as dead.
Fighting intensified for 4 hours and thereafter, they successfully defeated the LTTE boats with their weaponry. “We did as much to put them down by fighting on the defensive attack and used their strategies against them” recounted LCDR Gomes. The trick is to use the opponents’ strategies against them so that they are caught by surprise. This made the navy victorious in defeating the LTTE. “We saw them withdrawing in the face of our onslaught”, he concluded.
The Lt.Commander mentioned that the sea tigers, who were thought to be dangerous as they are suicide bombers in the sea, have only young and inexperienced blood. They aren’t knowledgeable at all and have been brainwashed to kill themselves and taking the lives of several others. However, the navy today trains personnel in these areas with brains as well as brawn to suppress enemy attacks intelligently.
“We are given professional training in First Aid, Practice and Live Training, Blindfold training and Movements Training which are immensely beneficial when we are at the war zone”, explained LCDR Rumesh Gomes.
For his bravery shown in defending his nation and overcoming all obstacles to serve his Motherland, LCDR Rumesh Gomes was awarded the RWP (Rana Wickrama Paddakama).
Overcomming the hurdle to secure victory
Corporal Weerakoon said “I was stationed at the bunkers over the bund which overlooked the thick jungle below”. There was a road leading to the Malawi LTTE camp which they were closely monitoring and Corporal Weerakoon was on duty at the time.
Corporal Weerakoon was a brave air force ground fighter who was posted at the Mallawi FDL (Forward Defence Line). Below is an account of how he helped the air force secure a victory in the area near the FDL at the location of the bund.
Date: 13th April 1999
Location: Mallawi FDL
While the country was preparing for the traditional new year celebration, the Air Force was preparing for enemy trespassers right above the Mallawi FDL which was stationed right above a bund.
Corporal Weerakoon said “I was stationed at the bunkers over the bund which overlooked the thick jungle below”. There was a road leading to the Malawi LTTE camp which they were closely monitoring and Corporal Weerakoon was on duty at the time. “I noticed some rustling movement amongst the jungle bushes and then alerted the 80 member Bravo 2 team that was positioned on the other side of the bund” he said.
By this time, word got out that suspected enemy activity was taking place and the air force personnel were in their positions to defend.
“We took aim at the LMG weapon point and fired at the road leading towards the LTTE camp where the faint noises of scampering had been heard” said the Corporal. At this point, the LTTE cadres were now somewhat visible and they defended themselves. “We knew they were trying to penetrate the bund but they miscalculated our ready air force fighters and support personnel to help us” he said. Nevertheless, not giving up, the fighting intensified and eventually, the air force had more strength in winning the encounter.
0600hrs: “Since we were right above them at the bund, we easily secured a victory” he said. He remembers how the LTTE cadres surrendered, and how an injured cadre was crying out for help in broken Sinhala and his comrade Corporal Rajapaksa went to seize this cadre into custody. “When we cleared the area, we found 8 bodies in the thicket including the injured cadre and also uncovered a loot with rations, weapons and some communication devices” said the Corporal. The air force soldiers also uncovered claymore bombs the LTTE cadres were planning to use to penetrate the FDL.Corporal Weerakoon hails from Minipe and his elder brother is in the police force while his younger brother joined the Navy recently. He has trained in the Air Force for about 12 years and his first duty was in Vavuniya. “Here I was selected to serve at the Mallawi FDL where this incident took place”, reminisces Corporal Weerakoon.
Speaking about his life at the Air Force he said “After joining the Air Force, did I know that one could learn a lot”. He said that it was his childhood dream to join the armed forces and serve his country in whatever way he could. He is now married and has two children.
Corporal Weerakoon was awarded the RSP (Ranasoora Padakkama) for bravery evinced in operations and service he has rendered to his beloved motherland.
The Navy’s Most Decorated Hero
In addition to this, attacking troops during the transfer is difficult because inaccurate target could take place as they move on the sea. “I know I was putting the lives of my 20 men, including my own, at risk but instinct told me that I could pull this off”, reminisced the Commander.
Meeting one of the navy’s most decorated officer is definitely an honour.
Cdr Asoka Wijesiriwardane has been decorated with the RWP (RanaWickrama Padakkama) and the RSP (Ranasoora Padakkama) on 7 occasions. Following is one his victorious encounters with the enemy where he took them by surprise, suppressing the transfer of troops to their enemy base in Mullaitivu.
*Date: 6th March 2000
Cdr Asoka Wijesiriwardane was commanding the P490 which embarked from the Trincomalee base where they were assigned to defend the SLNS Shakthi. By taking their positions in the usual formation comprising 4 FACs on either side, the convoy was on the way with the SLNS Shakthi that was carrying navy personnel from Trincomalee to the north.
2330hrs: The Commander Eastern Naval Area has then detected, under radar movement near the Mullaitivu area and dispatched P490 and P465 to the Black Point area for investigation. “We had to protect the SLNS Shakthi that has another two hours to reach the north and so we headed towards Black Point, suspecting enemy attack”, said Cdr Wijesiriwardane.
2350hrs: Under their radar, P490 detected the movement of 4 clusters from Kokilai moving on the naval route towards the LTTE stronghold of Mullaitivu.
It was believed that each of these clusters had at least 4 enemy attack craft and that it was the transfer of the newly-trained LTTE troop to Mullaitivu.
However, due to a defect in the main armament, the P465 FAC was not in a position to attack the enemy and had to withdraw. With one FAC, the odds were stacked against them and a decision had to be made as to what strategy was going to be implemented because the LTTE boats would reach Mullaitivu within 2 hours. In addition to this, attacking troops during the transfer is difficult because inaccurate target could take place as they move on the sea. “I know I was putting the lives of my 20 men, including my own, at risk but instinct told me that I could pull this off”, reminisced the Commander.
With valiant attempt and a brave heart, Cdr Wijesiriwardane, ambushed the 4 enemy clusters and fired with maximum power. “I was using the main gun system and the rest of my crew used the other weapons onboard”, he said.
Teamwork and dedication made them victorious because the enemy didn’t even have time to think of defending themselves.
One attack craft, one log craft sank and the rest of the craft caught fire with the heavy firing that came from P490. During the engagement, the enemy was determined to withdraw from the area as a result of this surprise fire from P490. Monitoring showed that four officer cadres and six other cadres were dead including 41 injured. This incident remains one of the only confrontations in the navy’s history to take place where one FAC took an enemy fleet by surprise, securing a victory.
Born and bred in Matara, Cdr Asoka Wijesiriwardane studied at Rahula College. He joined the Sri Lanka navy as an cadet officer in August 1988 and trained at the Naval and Maritime Academy, Trincomalee where he was commissioned an Acting Sub Lieutenant. This distinguished Commander served for more than two years in the Fast Attack Craft Squadron and has led his men to defeat the enemy at every opportunity. Cdr Asoka Wijesiriwardane is married to a lawyer and they have two children.
“The secret of my success during confrontations is the fact that I’m the only OIC who has a loudspeaker in my craft” said the Commander. He said that he describes his tactics with the rest of is men so that they know what strategy he uses against the enemy, making them better prepared to face the challenge. Another trick is that the Commander fights at a close range of 1000m where the usual distance is 2000m. “I’ve even fought at a distance of 400m but have never been intimidated by the enemy”, said Cdr Asoka Wijesiriwardane.
Other brave victories that have paved way for Cdr Asoka Wijesiriwardane to get medals:
*****06th October 1999: Destroyed enemy craft off the Mannar Sea after a long chase
*****7th October 1999: Destroyed a heavily armed enemy attack craft where LTTE’s Charles Anthony brigade leader ‘Nirojon’ was commanding
*****16th February 2000: Destroyed enemy craft in an area close to VTK land
*****06th March 2000: Above incident
******26th March 2000: Acted as the lead boat in sub division and destroyed enemy clusters approaching VTK
******29th March 2000: Masterminded a plan to attack LTTE stronghold Chalai where 8 LTTE enemy craft were destroyed.
Fighter with a keen sense
Corporal Karunayake who is now posted in the air force security division at the Colombo Airport, Katunayake was a jungle fighter overcoming rugged terrain to destroy terrorists lurking in the hidden corners.
Time : 0600hrs
Date : 22nd July 1992
Location: Omanthai, Vavuniya
Assigned by their commander to patrol the FDL, Corporal Karunayake was assigned to dutifully guard the area should it fall prey to the clutches of the terrorists. Together with a 10 member team, they were supposed to start watch from 8 a.m. onwards and were given the cue to wait in ambush.
Air Force Base
It was at around 6 a.m. that while they were washing themselves that they discovered three LTTE terrorists hiding in the jungle due to the fact that a grenade was thrown at them. “Luckily enough, we weren’t harmed because their aim was miscalculated due to the fact that their location was well hidden and so they missed us” said the Corporal. However, the air force men were taken by surprise but they didn’t falter and went on the defensive attack by taking their weapons in their hands to determine where the position of the enemy was.
Afterwards, one of Corporal Karunayake’s colleagues discovered that amongst the thicket of thorny bushes was a clearing which was suspected to be where the enemy was seeking refuge. Upon discovering this, the 10 men were now alert with senses and started firing with massive power that one of the LTTE cadres who was now fleeing the scene was struck down.
The other two were now trying to camouflage themselves and was within 25 metres away from his dead colleague. Quick to notice this escape plan, Corporal Karunayake quickly threw a hand grenade at the LTTE cadres and almost instantly he fell down.
|Brave Fighter looking up at the sky|
The rest of the 10 member team drew a line which separated the safe area to the place where the terrorists were lurking. Carefully they hid in the jungle and prepared to ambush the last of the three member terrorist team by launching a surprise attack with maximum firepower which took the last terrorist by surprise.
He was struck down as he was climbing to the opposite direction to possibly fire at the air force soldiers. “All in all, it was a good thing we were always on our guard and alert even though we were washing ourselves in the morning. As a soldier you need to have a keen sense otherwise your life will be at stake”, says Corporal Karunayake. They uncovered the terrorists’ radio box which they quickly destroyed, weapons like T56s and hand bombs including some rations and clothing.
Corporal Karunayake hails from the town of Hathaddeliya and attended the Rambukkana Maha Vidyalaya till he completed his O/L. Having 5 siblings, one of his sisters is married to a soldier but for the Corporal, it was the instilled patriotism he had that drew him to join the armed forces.
He says “I always liked to join the armed forces from a young age and once the decision was to choose the air force, I thought I made the best decision”. From 1996, Corporal Karunayake has been of service to the nation and has trained at China Bay and been posted at various locations around the country fighting for his beloved motherland in whatever way he can. “Our President can defeat terrorism and it is this fact that I request for anyone joining the armed forces is that victory will be ours soon” he concluded.
For services rendered, Corporal Karunayake has been awarded the RSP.
Bracing against the storm of defeat
Lance Corporal Rajapaksa R.M.C.R was a brave action soldier who overcame the odds to suppress an enemy attack amidst severe challenges. However, as fate may have it, he was killed in the attack.
Date: 4th December 2007
Lance Corporal Rajapaksa
A four member team was despatched to the area of Mannaram, headed by Lance Corporal Ranaweera was heavily under attack by the LTTE after their bunkers were being cleared. Reinforcements were called because the team was dispersed in an open area in the forest and was difficult to keep the Tigers at bay because every time a soldier turned up, death was certain from the attacks.
While the enemy was using full firepower, Lance Corporal Ranaweera called for reinforcements to help them suppress the enemy. As the Lance Corporal was stuck down in his vain attempt to salvage the situation, Lance Corporal Rajapaksa who was in the front, tried his best to defeat the LTTE by using whatever weapons were available at hand.
However, after an intense struggle, Lance Corporal Rajapaksa was hit in his right leg and rolled over all the while asking for help through Lance Corporal Ranaweera. Reinforcements came in the form of an eight-member team under the command of Lance
Corporal Thilak W.K.P.S. Assigned to help his injured comrades, he took charge of the situation by covering the ground safely, camouflaged by blending in the foliage to get to his comrades. Careful instructions were given to every man and they were quick enough to locate the area where their colleagues were hiding.
‘We cleared a pass where we crawled on our bellies and then suddenly lost communication with our comrades as a result of the approach of the enemy’, he said. However undeterred, they pressed on with the intention of saving their men. Eventually, one of the members of that team, Corporal Sarath was found with injuries to the head but with his pulse beating.
Near the bunkers
Lance Corporal Thilak said, ‘We took him in safely and sent him back to the camp when we heard Lance Corporal Rajapaksa’s voice crying out for help?. They quickly went over but the enemy suspected movements and started firing about 4 metres away from the bunker. At this moment, more attack was coming from all sides and a strategy had to be found, otherwise it would have been impossible to save their men.
Even though Lance Corporal Thilak was in a crouching position, he was shot on his left leg. Corporal Thilak mustered enough courage to get near Corporal Rajapaksa despite both being injured at this point.
Army soldiers searching the area
However, as fate may have it, in the midst of the fighting, Lance Corporal Rajapaksa said that it wasn’t necessary to save him but to continue to crush the enemy.With great courage and determination the team that came in as reinforcements did finally secure a victory and came to the aid of all those who were injured. They were rushed to the base where they were admitted to the Army Hospital.
Lance Corporal Thilak reminisces, ‘Even though I joined the armed forces in 1999 and Lance Corporal Rajapaksa joined in 1998, we were very close comrades and trained together in Kudawe’. He hails from Ambewela near Nuwara Eliya and was married to his childhood sweetheart. Sadly at the time of his demise, his wife was pregnant with a baby girl.
Lance Corporal Thilak comments ?Lance Corporal Rajapaksa was a brave fighter who did the job he was assigned to and would never say ?No? to anything. He was courageous and determined to strive on even during a challenge?. For services rendered for the army, he was posthumously awarded the PWWP and the RWP medals.
Dignified in true spirit
A misty midnight engulfed the rippling waves of the Indian Ocean when an army passenger boat made its way from the naval base of KKS (Kankasunthurai) to PPD (Point Pedro). Navy Able Seaman D.S.Ariyaratna who was posted to the P465 FAC was transferred to the said passenger boat in order to protect his colleagues of the armed forces.
Date: 16th September 2001
Location: Near PPD
Observing the waters carefully, they journeyed silently across the sea. However, despite noting their surroundings, the LTTE discovered the boat and went quickly to launch an ambush attack. As the enemy ventured close, they started firing at the navy passenger boat and the soldiers ducked for cover safely hidden in the compartments.
The brave Navy force with Able Seaman Ariyaratna at the main gun, went on rebound on the defensive attack to save their men. Immense fighting continued as the enemy came close and all of a sudden, a direct hit to Able Seaman Ariyaratna’s colleague who was next to him at the main gun set a blow to it.
However, Seaman Ariyaratna wasn’t afraid and continued to fight at the rear gun once the opportunity was there to changeover.
Later, upon reflecting on the incident, he remembers “I was utterly shocked and continued fighting till the end until I was struck down. My whole world collapsed when I lost my eyesight in the left eye”.
Everything drew a blank until he found himself at the army hospital at KKS.
The Navy’s courageous men brought down two powerful LTTE boats and the rest turned away when they knew they lost the fight. Sadly, the navy lost 9 men of a team of nearly 20 with several having injuries. The passenger boat was saved and all 1500 soldiers made a successful journey thanks to the navy team on board the ‘Pride of South’.
Navy Able seaman Ariyaratna is now attached to the Naval Admissions Division as an administration officer despite his eyesight loss. His hometown is Galenbidunuwewa located in the Anuradhapura district but he also grew up in Morawawe which is near the war zone.
Ariyaratna attended the Padikadamadumma Maha Vidyala and is the second out of a family of three boys. His elder brother is in the army but he went to the navy because he had a special liking to venture out into the open sea.
He was an inspiration to his younger brother who has also just joined the armed forces. Now married and with a baby boy, he likes to enlighten children and teenagers on the career of joining the navy and protecting our homeland from the sea.
Able Seaman Ariyaratna’s patriotic words are “I will always continue to help my beloved motherland in whatever way. Even though my eyesight was lost, they cannot take away my dignity”.
High flying action hero
Date: 19th November 2001
Location: Mannaramadu North
Lance Corporal Gunathilake was a brave Air Force soldier who has given 12 years of his life to protect his nation. After 9 years on the ground, he won the first place in a training that was conducted in one of the divisions of the Air Force.
A ‘May Day’ warning came for the Air Force that 8 army troops on a mission to attack the LTTE had been trapped in the heat of fighting. The call for reinforcements came because some had been badly injured in a location that was impossible to reach, they were in need of assistance from the Air Force because the only mode of escape was from above.
There was continuous fighting on both sides of the field and the Air Force troops had no way of going back because they were 40 kms from the base. It was to their advantage that an experienced Major General was in the team but until he gave the call in the morning at 1000hrs only did the Lance Corporal and his team get the message that this was a serious situation.
Immediately, under the supervision of Wing Commander Mirando, those who were deployed as reinforcements included Captain Pilot Flight Lt. Kaluarachchi, Flight Lt. Pamantha, Corporal Jayasinghe and Lance Corporal Gunathileke himself .
They had to save their comrades and salvage the situation. Corporal Gunathileke said “It was raining heavily and the presence of large rain clouds prevented us from flying smoothly to reach our distressed comrades but we somehow overcame the stormy weather never giving up to save them”.
1345hrs: Their strategy was to fly towards the Anuradhapura Base where they were given the information of their colleagues who they had to save. Further, they were briefed on location and mapping information and were armed with the MI24, MI17 and Bell 112 helicopters.
“The MI24 was supposed to hover behind the Bell and MI17 as a fuel tank while the mission was going on”, said the Lance Corporal. The word came from the Captain Pilot to fly down to the base as it came in view and to keep a watch on suspected enemy attack. Thereafter, they pressed on to the area where the fighting took place.
Upon reaching the target location, Lance Corporal Gunathileke said “We couldn’t land properly because the soil was very muddy after the wet weather so with the expertise of the Captain Pilot, he managed to manoeuvre the aeroplane about 6 feet off the ground and some of us climbed down the ladder to help our injured comrades”.
Eventually, while they airlifted their comrades to safety, the MI17 and Bell choppers were defending their men from the clutches of the enemy and somehow managed to neutralise them with their firepower. After the Air Force won the fight, they flew on to the Anuradhapura Army Base Hospital where they rushed the injured army comrades that were part of the 8 member team for emergency treatment.
Lance Corporal Gunathilake reminices “I originally hail from Moragolla, close to Kandy but I attended a school in Wattala near Colombo because my parents worked in the city.”
The Lance Corporal states that he initially underwent training at China Bay and thereafter, at the Pallali Base when he was stationed at Hingurakgoda and even trained in India as part of his position as an Air Force soldier.
“I always wanted to join the armed forces and one of my relatives was also a Lt.Com in the Navy which further increased my desire to help my country”, he said.
Today, Lance Corporal Gunathileke is part of the main security Air Force team at the Katunayake International Airport and helps in ensuring that security is normal. He is married with a child and has garnered the decoration of RSP for services proved as a dignified Air Force fighter.
Taking into the skies!
P.G.G. Asela Indrajit is in every respect an air force hero who weathered many a storm in order to protect his motherland. Under the guidance of the then squadron leader Wing Commander C.K.Siriwardena and Sergent Somasiri, Corporal Gamage learnt the best way to be an air force fighter.
Date: 6th February 1999
While continuous fighting with the LTTE caused many forces to be despatched to the war zones, Corporal Gamage and his colleague Corporal Bandara flew over to the Mundimukku area.
Having reached a gravel road, they started to crawl on the ground at a stationed point and planned the perfect attack from their side. 500m away, they could see 2 LTTE terrorists throwing grenades and that they were bombing all over the place.
Thereafter, Corporal Gamage and Bandara started attacking the enemy with maximum firepower from a distance of 10m. As they began to fire, the 2 terrorists were attacking them at a rate. Corporal Gamage then went forward, leaving behind his colleague and did as much as he could to bring the terrorists down.
He fought until the end of the line to allow the rest of the air force to cross this point so that they can get to the other side.
Finally, after about half an hour of fighting from both sides, the terrorists were brought down and fighting stopped. Corporal Gamage said “Once we uncovered the area, we discovered that there was a lot of ammunition that amounted to nearly 600 grenades, a helmet, a torch and clothes”.
Eventually the fighting at this point stopped as the area was taken over by Infantry and then onwards the air force cleared the area. The incident was to hold the Mundimukku area which was under severe attack. “Out of 35 men who fought against the LTTE, we eventually had only 11 strong men left” the Corporal said.
Corporal Gamage underwent training at Diyatalawa and after 6 months of training, he was attached to Puliankulu Defense (FTL). Having been married for 5 years, he is a father of a daughter. Corporal Gamage is the second in a family of four where his elder brother is also in the air force.
For his bravery and patriotism, Corporal Gamage was awarded the Ranasura Padakama (RSP).
Heart of Courage – Sergent Kulatunga
The Air Force continued to fight and fired mortar shells with maximum firepower but as fate may have had it, Sergent Kulatunga was struck in his leg and despite his injuries fought from his stationery position.
Eventually, the LTTE cadres did give up the fight to close in on their side and drew back. In an act of surrender, they were left without any weapons and had also lost many lives. From the Air Force team, there were some injured officers but not so serious.
On the 2nd of January 1995, 500 LTTE cadres attacked the Kanthure defence lines which was under the control of the Air Force when they were trying to penetrate from all sides. However, Sergent S. Kulatunga who was part of a 25 member squad tried as much as they could to salvage their side of the lines from the enemy.
Date: 03rd January 1995
Sergent S. Kulatunga was in the forward defence lines when he along with his team could see around 500 LTTE cadres moving towards them in the horizon.
Eventually, he took his position at the base and was fighting with the mortar under the supervision of an Air Force officer. He fired and fought as much courage he could muster and didn’t give up.
Right around, the environment was humid with little bouts of rain but he managed to secure the defence lines from his side with the help of his colleagues who was assisting him in this fight to hold on.
The LTTE cadres who initially moved from one side numbered to about 50 and after the attack, there were about 10-12 left which reflected how much they were successful in this pre-battle.
The Air Force continued to fight and fired mortar shells with maximum firepower but as fate may have had it, Sergent Kulatunga was struck in his leg and despite his injuries fought from his stationery position.
Eventually, the LTTE cadres did give up the fight to close in on their side and drew back. In an act of surrender, they were left without any weapons and had also lost many lives. From the Air Force team, there were some injured officers but not so serious.
The Morawewa-Trincomalee Road had turned muddy with rain whilst the battle finished and thereafter, the sun shone by the end of the day, signalling a victorious fight for the Air Force. The LTTE knew they hadn’t got a chance when the defence lines were protected by the Air Force who prevented them from closing in any more.
Sergent Kulatunga hails from Udakumburu close to Kandy and had attended Vimalawardana Maha Vidyalaya. His older brother, a veteran in the Army inspired Kulatunga to join the forces. So after his Ordinary Level, he joined the Air Force because it helped him to train better and understand the various aspects of the battle from various points.
He was trained at China Bay and was also involved in the Jayasikuru Operation. Sergent Kulatunga had also received extensive training in handling weapons and is a ground handler for the Air Force with knowledge of the ways in which the LTTE cadres behave underground.
He advises the younger generation that the Air Force gives you a good career, and encourages you to protect your motherland.
Today, Sgt. Kulatunga serves at the Katunayake Base Airport where he is a member of the Air Force security team. Sgt. Kulatunga received the RSP for bravery shown in the face of enemy. He remains committed to help save the country from the claws of the terrorists.
The Wave of Bravery and Courage…
FAC P495 returning from patrolling in the Manakkadu area indicated the presence of upto 15 LTTE boats. One of the FACs that assisted in the attack was the former P422 that was renamed P402 after the vessel upgraded. This incident took place on 21st April 2001.
Navy Lieutenant D.L.S. Mohan Dias was the Officer in Command that was aboard the P402 that saved 12 lives of the people aboard the P495.
The bravery and courage to save his people is evident in his performance. He is a Science faculty graduate from the Kelaniya university and was taken in as a development assistant under the graduate scheme.
Deciding to join the navy because his father and brother also served in the armed forces, this incident took place seven days prior to his wedding. However, he gave his best to his country and proved that he could face the hallenge amidst all obstacles.
The usual patrolling on Sri Lankan waters was done by P495 and P497 at their normal times and they were about to changeover when it happened. Then P495 detected an echo on its radar and when she ventured near to see what it was, discovered the presence of LTTE sea tiger armed craft that sent the echo. It was near their territorial sea tiger bases, three nautical miles off the shores of Mullaitivu and Challi areas.
Once three of the LTTE FACs closeby detected P495, they started attacking it and it was struck. It was at this point when P402, a less sophisticated vessel than the other FACs but who had its share of speed, weaponry and crew onboard saw the enemy vessels on its radar. It was at this time that Lieutenant Dias decided to help save the men onboard the P495.
Lieutenant Dias then launched a surprise attack on the two enemy boats that was closest to him and started firing at them from the port side. The crossfire took between 15 to 20 minutes.
Eventually, he took a route that initially started with firing as the priority and then passed the boat from the other side to save the men. After attacking, he took the same route to save the men who were onboard and the two who were thrown overboard due to the fierce fighting.
The determination and courage of Lieutenant Dias shows how guts and prompt decision-making can save the day. Lieutenant Dias weathered a storm first to attack the enemy to keep them at bay and then came again back to save his colleagues.
It is this courage that has been recognised by the Navy for his bravery.
Lieutenant Mohan Dias was awarded the Weera Wickrama Vibhushana (WWV) and has now garnered the title of Lieutenant Commander for his courage and bravery.
Thou shalt not be forgotten…
Hailing from the southern town of Matara, Corporal M. G. Mangala was a brave man who gave his life for Sri Lanka.
Operation: Jayasikuru Date: 13th July 1998
Location: Matiyamadu Division 53
set off during the wee hours of the morning to capture the LTTE Gajabapura camp. Under the command of OIC Captain Major Wimalasena, the men set off on a gravel road covering their tracks as they went along.
However, a severe drought affected the area which made it difficult to fight properly but also made the enemy weak.The armed forces then came to a ‘Weeragaha’ junction where the LTTE, upon realising that the army were now on their territory, had positioned bunkers so they couldn’t get through.
Once the LTTE saw them approaching, they fired with maximum power so that the army couldn’t cross the road. However, with the determination and bravery the armed forces possessed, after 20 minutes, they successfully secured a victory at the bunkers. When these were cleared, they discovered four LTTE bodies but six soldiers were injured in the attack.
Thereafter, they moved on to see the LTTE camp about 500 metres away from the junction which led to a dense jungle. Says Corporal Piyasena who was part of the team “We saw small groups of LTTE positioned everywhere but we couldn’t identify the civilians from the armed LTTE terrorists because they were hiding in the jungle.”
However, many LTTE terrorists started attacking from the jungle as the armed forces moved along towards the camp after the Infantry held the ground of the bunkers. As Corporal Mangala, Sergeant Karunadasa and two other army personnel started fighting on foot, the terrorists were now using maximum firepower.
Sadly, in this instance, Corporal Mangala was hit on the head from the right side and fell down. “During fighting we didn’t realise that he was struck down but later as the casualties team that collects the injured and dead came along, they presumed him to be dead”, said the emotional Sergeant.
Date: 16th July 1998
The drought was severe but nevertheless, the armed forces fought on. The next operation was underway as this area was secured but without Corporal Mangala whose absence was felt by his colleagues.The unmarried Matara-born Corporal Mangala joined the army in 1993 and possesses an unblemished record of four years of service to his country.
He received the same training as his batch mates at the Ampara Army Training Camp. “He wasn’t afraid of fighting for his country and laying down his life”, reminisces Corporal Piyasena. He said that Corporal Mangala was disciplined and very courageous.
“If we are given the duty of securing a target then Corporal Mangala will always be willing to do it to his utmost best” says Corporal Piyasena. Corporal Mangala will remain a hero forever.
(Names have been changed to protect identities)
‘Do or die’
The battle against terrorism:
Date: September 16, 2001
Time: 0430 hours
Location: Off Kankesanthurai harbour
Persistent drizzle and gloom overhung the atmosphere. “Pride of South”, the passenger ship, ferrying nearly 1500 military personnel, reporting back for duty after leave, was approaching its destination, the Kankesanthurai harbour.
Officer-In Command (OIC) of P 442 Fast Attack Craft (FAC), Lt. Premakumara Kiriella, was very vigilant. “I didn’t allow anyone in the FAC to sleep that night. This was our duty and it was in our blood.” Coming from a family where all three of his brothers were in the Forces, Lt. Kiriella joined the Navy in 1994.
A graduate of the Kotelawala Defence Academy (KDA), he received further training of two years at the Naval and Maritime Academy. P 442 and another FAC were on their way from Kankesanthurai harbour to Nagarkovil, patrolling the stretch between “Pride of South” and the coast.
“At 0430 hours we got the message that the ship was under attack by the LTTE.” The two FAC sped at full speed and reached the scene within an hour. “We were outnumbered, there were nearly 17 LTTE boats. We had only two FAC and five gun boats to protect the ship. We were helpless.” said Lt. Kiriella. Since it was a passenger ship, it carried no weapons.
“We were clearly in a very difficult position. Then, I had to make a decision.” With a crew of 14, with enough ammunition at hand and the training and courage he acquired from the Navy, he made the crucial decision of saving “Pride of South”. He ordered his team to launch an attack on the LTTE boats, strategically placing P 442 between the ship and the LTTE boats. It was a suicide mission.
While attacking, Lt. Kiriella used the manoeuvring techniques the Navy had taught him, with the experience he gained from studying other OICs. “I told my team one thing – do or die doing it.” as this was their turn to make or break the back of the terrorists.
P 442 was in good condition and his men were extremely supportive. “The cheering of the unarmed officers on board the “Pride of South”, the smell of gun powder and the sea breeze, mixed with the sound of gun fire made us forget everything except the desire to defeat the terrorists.
It’s always a game between life and death, but at a moments like this it does not matter to any of us whether we are going to live or die.” One sailor in P 442 got shot but another managed to pull him to safety. P 442 and its crew fought valiantly, with only one engine functioning. “My men worked like machines.”
“As the Commanding Officer a slightest error on my part could jeopardize the whole battle.” His tasks included communicating the information shown on the radar via communication system, keeping watch over vital engine parameters, which are crucial for the manoeuvrability, such as exhaust temperature and fresh water temperature, keeping account of the status of the weapons, quantity of ammunition left, while also giving full operational and tactical commands. “Some of these confines we can override, if it’s called for.
The ability to make the right decision comes with experience and a little bit of luck.” Believe it or not at the end of the day an OICs’ decisions could lead to the victory or defeat in a battle. It was one of those battles to go down in history books as one of the most fiercely fought during the height of the war between Forces and LTTE cadres, lasting well over five hours.
Three LTTE boats were destroyed. Only one sailor in P 442 died. “He was shot in the abdomen and there was no exit wound. I knew that if he was not transferred at the earliest, we would lose him.” But the battle which started at 5.30 a.m. went up to almost noon and there were only two FAC between the LTTE boats and “Pride of South”.
It was a choice between one life or 1500. “When the Second-in Command was giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the injured sailor, he began vomiting blood. “We knew then there was no longer any hope.” These sailors, at times face situations, with which only the hard core training will help them to cope with. One hour into the battle we got reinforcements from Kankesanthurai.
General Officer Commanding 53 division, in a letter to Navy Commander in 2005, commended the Navy Officers and sailors involved in the “Pride of South” battle, for fighting to save the military personnel in the ship at the risk of their own lives.
A soldier, who witnessed the battle first hand on board the ship, in a heart warming letter to the Navy Commander in 2001, says that medals for appreciating such bravery, as depicted by the Navy Officers, have yet to be created and that it will be forever etched in their minds.
“Our greatest achievement was probably killing the man who was commanding the entire LTTE fleet. I and my team felt like that we have done something for our country.
Commanding Officer of an FAC should have the ability to lead people. And I would do it all over again if it was called for.”
This is a true story of courage and determination shown by Lt. Premakumara Kiriella for which he received the ‘Weera Wickrama Vibushana, award this year at the Gallantry awards.
Mankulam chapter of 1999 best remembered by heroes
Date: November 06, 1999
Time : 09: 30 hrs
Location: FDL East of Mundumurippu-Naddaankandal Road
November 1999 – as the Army moved forward to Forward Defence Lines where it was weaken in some areas.
The main objective of the Mission Jayasikuru was to defend the A9 main supply route, from Jaffna to Vavuniya. Squadron Leader Chandika K. Siriwardene and his team Bravo, including Leading Aircraftsmen, Udaya Kumara, Prasanna Weerasinghe – Aircraftsman and three other teams were deployed to cover an area of 16 km, leaving the team Bravo to account for a stretch of 5 kms.
“We were just linked to the west of Mankulam, nearly 2 km away from Naddaankandal. The sky was obscured with thick black smoke, rising from artillery fire.” The FDL manned by the Army and Navy were breaking up and recapturing, but they weren’t able to hold on. The infiltration of some terrorists were unavoidable.
November 01, 5.45 a.m. The LTTE started their attack. There were 120 troops in all at the beginning. 17 were injured, three dead on the spot. Squadron Leader Chandika K. Siriwardene had only one option if he wants to save his men – to retreat. He asked his men whether they want to retreat or die and they shouted in unison ‘Die’.
This is where the story begins, Squadron Leader C.K. Siriwardene in his capacity as Officer Commanding Bravo wing was at the HQ, approximately 500 meters behind FDL, in close proximity to Mundumurippu -Naddaankandal road.
The attack increased as the terrorists had breached the FDL with a heavy volume of small arms fire was also directed towards the wing. With their experience despite the heavy attack troops decided to hold the line at any cost, on instructions from the officer commanding Bravo wing. This did boost the morale and fighting efficiency of the troops to great extent.
Seven hours of heavy attack continued and they steadfastly held on to holding the ground, whilst counter attacking the enemy, with troops manning the FDL had already fallen back and the wing HQ directed small arms fire from the approaching enemy.
The communication went on with the Tactical Headquarters of group HQ 02 located at Mundumurippu junction. Although the linking towards the rear had fallen back the bravery and steadfastness did help to face the confrontation, which created a gap of approximately 1.2 km at the FDL.
Reports showed that a large number of terrorists had been killed and over 60 injured as a result of the confrontation. Since the number of own troops had fallen back and failed to get reinforcements.
At this stage Squadron Leader was Senaratna who was the officer commanding Charlie wing with five other officers, two SNCO and eleven airmen volunteered and reinforced the Bravo wing under a massive LTTE attack. To establish the defence line was led by the Squadron leader, Deputy Group Commander C.B. Labrooy.
Around 16:20 hrs instructions came from the Director Operations to fall back, since holding further was infeasible and that the terrorist have surrounded the wing.
‘Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya’, ‘Rana Wickrama’ and ‘Ranashura Padakkama’ medals were awarded at the Gallantry Awards 2008 for the officers who were involved in this mission.
Corporal Nuwan Tharanga
Fallen hero at Thoppigala:
Corporal Nuwan Tharanga, Captain Thushara Wettasinghe and the 2nd Commando regiment, after their operations in Muhamale relocated immediately to Vakarai at the beginning of year 2007, for the operations in the East. One after the other the Sri Lankan forces were making their way to capture Thoppigala.
The Alpha group of 2nd Commando Regiment, Sri Lanka Army, including Corporal Tharanga and Captain Wettasinghe, along with 6th Gemunu Regiment captured the Unnachchi tank, Which was a face-to-face battle, lasting well over three hours. It was commonly believed that Vavunathivu and Kohombagasthalawa could not be liberated.
But the Alpha group, with the help of 6th Gemunu, was successful at linking Vavunathivu and Kohombagasthalawa to the Vavunathivu STF Camp, through a road traversable by vehicle. Nearly 33 km of the A5 route was captured in April 2007. Moreover, the Alpha group blocked and captured Thoppigala road, on April 11, with the aid of 6th, 7th and 8th Gemunu Regiments.
Corporal Tharanga joined the Sri Lanka Army as a recruit soldier, then got his training from Diyatalawa. During the operations in Muhamale, Kohombagasthalawa, capture of Unnachchi tank, A5 route as well as Thoppigala road, Corporal Tharanga depicted outstanding character and bravery. This week’s memento of appreciation is dedicated to Corporal Nuwan Tharanga who laid down his life for the country.
Date: Arpil 24, 2007
Time: 0400 hours
Location:FDL (Forward Defence Line), Mannar
After the success in Thoppigala, Captain Thushara, Corporal Tharanga and his team was standing by in Mannar, when an LTTE base was identified, in front of Giant Tank, close to the FDL in Galkanda. Captain Thushara, Corporal Tharanga and his team was chosen to embark on a 20-day reconnaissance mission in the said area.
04:00 hours: The team left the camp to recce the area. “It was an expanse of 1500 metres, but recceying it was a demanding task because it was an open area, with no cover.” says Captain Thushara. “We crawled over the bund and crossed over to LTTE territory.”
05:30 hours: 400 metres from the LTTE camp, the recce team detected one main bunker on the bund. “I asked Tharanga to move his command closer.” They could not cross over from the drain, because they didn’t know how deep the water was. And anti-personal mines and booby traps were placed on the side of the bund. The team disarmed some, but there were too many mines and traps.
The group ultimately decided to cross over from the drain. Water level was a little above the waist. After wading through the water approximately 15 metres, the team detected the first few terrorists.
After crossing over the drain, the team realized that they were detected and immediately opened fire. Corporal Tharanga attacked the bunker and captured it.” Says Captain Thushara. “I lost four men and the LTTE lost a few.”
07:30 hours: The group was attacked again, this time apparently from an underground bunker complex located on the opposite direction, towards the tank. Corporal Tharanga and Captain Thushara tactically split up and attacked from both sides, while they were attacked with grenades by LTTE cadres within the bunkers.
10:00 hours: The Alpha group had to withdraw ten to fifteen metres to reorganize. Then Corporal Tharanga with a few others reentered the complex, attacked and clearing the bunkers, while Captain Thushara secured the outer area.
10:30 hours: Just as Corporal Tharanga was coming out to rendezvous with the rest of the Alpha team, he was shot on the upper part of his body. “I assessed that he was in critical condition and made arrangements to transfer him.” It took the military many years to get to this position and Corporal Tharanga, even while being in much agony due to his wound, pleaded with Captain Thushara not to put the mission in jeopardy under any circumstance.
The LTTE commenced a fresh assault with a 120/81 Mortar attempting to do as much damage as possible. For Corporal Tharanga duly came first. Corporal Tharanga’s wife was seven months pregnant with their first baby.
Immediately after the attack Corporal Nuwan Tharanga was taken to the Anuradhapura general hospital but unfortunately, died before he could get there. His intrepidness was remarkable, for him country came before him at all times, and until his last breath served the Commando regiment.
Captain Thushara Wettasinghe was also injured in the same battle by a anti-personal mine. Over all the mission was a success as Corporal Tharanga hoped it would be.
According to the KIA (Killed In Action) Monitoring, 24 LTTE cadres have been reported dead and many casualties.
Seaman who faced the brunt single-handedly
Date: November 22, 2000
Time: 0500 hours
Location: Off Mullaithivu shore
FAC (Fast Attack Craft) P 495, was on her way from Trincomalee on a detachment to the North. Leading Seaman U.G.T Kumara, a gunner of P 495, was the eldest in a family of three children, with one younger brother in the Sri Lanka Air Force and a sister who is married to one of his batchmates in the Navy. For Leading Seaman Kumara, joining the Navy has always been his dream.
“I remember when we were small my brother challenged me, saying that he would come in an Air Force aircraft and shoot me, I just put a lid on it, realizing that, that would be the best and only reply I could give, at the time.”
Hailing from Matale district, he had little exposure to the military, though his enthusiasm was heightened by a few documentaries he had watched on TV at the village temple. His first sight of the Navy was when he arrived at the Galle Face on a school trip, when he saw a real SL Navy ship for the first time.
He had promised himself then and there that he would some day join the Navy. After receiving his ordinary level education at Ehelepola Veera Madduma Bandara College, Matale, he joined Pallewela Maha Bodhi Vidyalaya for his Advanced Level and went on to join the Navy on April 24, 1997, as a recruit.
FAC, P 495 was just returning from patrolling the Manakkadu area when the radar indicated the presence of some 14 to 15 LTTE boats. The OIC (Officer In Charge) of P 495, Lt. Commander Rajive Senaratne ordered his crew to get into firing position. Two other FACs P 422 and P 494 along with P 495 sped towards the LTTE fleet.
The LTTE boats commenced firing at the FACs and the three FACs retaliated with a counter attack. P 495 raced towards the sea for reloading and returned with a fresh assault. “That’s when we detected two suicide boats heading our way.” Suicide boats are easily detected via the radar because other LTTE boats stay clear from FACs, at a 500 to 900 metre range.
Both engines of P 495 took a hit, sending it out of control momentarily, in a flat spin. But the crew of the P 495 proved exceptionally brave and proactive, eliminating any possibility of the suicide boats getting anywhere near enough to do major damage. “The sailor behind me got shot on the head and the abdomen.
On board an FAC there is no place to take cover. The LTTE used 20 mm guns as their assault weapons.” The gun mount of his MPMG (Multi Purpose Machine Gun) – the kind Kumara was using – took a bad hit, his right thumb chopped off and, fell on the deck. “There was a towel in the wheelhouse and I wrapped it around my hand.”
All other guns on board were too heavy for Kumara to handle. But his yearning to serve the country at a time of need was greater. His only choice was to supply ammunition to other sailors engaged in combat and firing at enemy targets using an AGL (Automatic Grenade Launcher). It was very easy to handle, he held it with his left hand and fired with a slight yank of his elbow. By this time there were several casualties, with two bodies.
The towel wrapping on Kumara’s hand was drenched with blood and was getting heavier by the minute, a liability at such a vital moment. He squeezed the blood out of the towel every now and then, replacing it on the wound. “We never gave up firing.”
Three men dead. The LTTE was 3.5 to 4 nautical miles from the Mullaithivu shores. This meant easy reinforcements for them. When they ran out of ammunition, reinforcements turned up from the shores in no time at all. “It was like home for them.”
And Sri Lanka Navy was close to enemy land area. “It was like a dream. There were three suicide boats and we didn’t let them come anywhere near us.” The Third Officer In Charge took a hit to his leg and fell into the water. Leading Seaman Kumara threw him a rope and pulled him back on board. He told the officer not to shoot but to just sit tight.
“I gave a good backing to others as best as I could and performed first aid on the wounded.”
After a while the LTTE fleet started to retreat. But by that time much damage was done. “There were splinters of glass, gut and flesh everywhere.” By this time P 495 was flooded, a height of almost two metres. “I was deeply disturbed.
The dead colleagues were my friends. We ate and had practically lived together.” On an average P 495 launches 50 to 60 attacks a year. No one on board was ever killed until this particular attack. “But we were trained for this. Lt. Commander Rajive Senaratne, was very tough and always boosted our morale.
He was the kind of officer who simply refused to wear body armour and insisted on fighting side by side with his fellow sailors.” The other FAC, P 494 helped out with the casualties who were later transferred to a hospital.
Leading seaman U.G.T. Kumara was awarded Rana Wickrama Padakkama for ‘going beyond the call of duty’, by saving the life of his third Commanding Officer, performing first aid and extracting his fellow sailors who were injured and continuing to fire at the LTTE boats, while being injured himself.
This week’s token of gratitude is once again dedicated to a national hero of the Sri Lanka Navy.
Rescue Mission In Air
The atmosphere was misty with very low visibility. The ground had turned muddy, due to pouring rains.
The Commando team had picked out a secure clearing in the middle of the woods, made a makeshift helipad with felled forest trees and were standing guard nearby. One lit up a smoke signal, just as the Bell 212 was approaching, to draw the attention of the helicopter. The LTTE opened fire as they lowered.
Eight men of the Army Commando Regiment Forward Reccee party were scouring in the Vanni Periyamadu area, 20 miles up enemy territory to gather military intelligence.
20th November, night; one of the soldiers of the eight manned team stepped on a pressure mine. The information was communicated to the Army and the latter called for assistance for evacuation from the Air Force and in turn the message was transferred to Air Force Operations. The Number 7 Helicopter Squadron was selected for the rescue mission.
Date: November 21, 2001
Time: 1100 hours
Location: Air Force Base, Hingurakgoda
Wing Commander Bernard Perera, two Bell 212 pilots and two gunners were briefed by Major Wijesinghe of the Commando Regiment at the Hingurakgoda Air Force Base. Major Wijesinghe knew the terrain quite well and described how the rescue should be attempted, with the help of maps and GPS (Geographic Positioning System) coordination.
All was in place except the ‘go ahead’ by the stranded Reccee team. They were in LTTE held area more than 20 miles up and there was no way for them to turn back or any way of moving ahead with the casualty.
The noise of the blast, would have also announced their presence in the area to the LTTE, since they were inside LTTE held area. The team wanted the rescue team to hold back until they reached a secure location, two to three miles away so as not to jeopardize the safety of the rescue team.
“They did not want to put us in any danger under any circumstances, not even if it meant that they had to sacrifice their own lives.” said Corporal Batuwatta Jayasingha, Number 7 Helicopter Squadron – one of the gunners who was detailed to go in the Bell 212. Corporal Batuwatta Jayasingha had joined the Air Force in 1990 as a recruit.
Two MI 24s came as escorts and a MI 17 came as a back up, for the Bell 212. But they had to stall the rescue mission for another day – till November 22, due to heavy and persistent rains. The leg of the soldier had to be amputated below the knee, by his colleagues, and was wrapped with field dressing to arrest the bleeding.
Date: November 22, 2001
Time: 0800 hours
Location: Air Force Base, Hingurakgoda
The Bell 212 with two pilots, two gunners along with Major Wijesinghe flew out on the rescue mission from Hingurakgoda Air Force Base, but had to be stalled yet again because of rains. Permission was granted to go only upto as far as Anuradhapura.
1100 hours: As directed by Major Wijesinghe the rescue party found the eight man team exactly at the rendezvous point as planned. The atmosphere was misty with very low visibility. The ground had turned muddy, due to pouring rains.
The Commando team had picked out a secure clearing in the middle of the woods, made a makeshift helipad with felled forest trees and were standing guard nearby. One lit up a smoke signal, just as the Bell 212 was approaching, to draw the attention of the helicopter.
The LTTE opened fire as they lowered. Fortunately, because of the stealthy move by the Commando team the LTTE were not in a position to check on the helipad. “They were so agile that they clung on to the helicopter in a matter of five seconds and were able to lift off ASAP.” said Corporal Batuwatta Jayasingha.
1145 hrs: The eight manned team – thanks to the assistance of the rescue party – reached Colombo, where the injured soldier was given the necessary medical attention. “Despite three days of bleeding the injured soldier flat refused to be carried on a stretcher to be moved to an ambulance, but hobbled with one foot.”
Todays Heroes Forever is dedicated to the brave airmen who were detailed on that rescue mission on November 22, with four of whom being awarded the Rana Sura Medals for rescuing the eight who were stranded in the LTTE territory at great risk to their own lives.
Sgt. Batuwatta Jayasingha of the Number 7 Helicopter Squadron, has now been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, was one among them.
Certain names have been changed in order to withhold identity.
Exhibiting real meaning of heroism
Out of the gloom and drizzle appeared Pride of South, the passenger ship carrying 1310 troops that were reporting back to duty from leave. The ship was approaching its destination – the Kankasanthurai harbour.
The two Fast Attack Crafts (FACs) P 462 and P 442, on their way from Kankasanthurai harbour to Nagarakovil, patrolling the Chalai area was informed of her movements around 0800 hours.
Date: September 16, 2001
Time: 0430 hrs
Location: Off Kankesanthurai Harbour
Accompanied by two gunboats from Trincomalee and another one with a small boat and another small boat from the North, Pride of South made its way northward.
At 0430 hours: CEO of one of the gunboats detected few unidentified vessels heading towards the ship. By then Pride of South was 30 miles northeast of Point Pedro. The two FACs were informed of LTTE movements and made for the ship at full speed.
“I had always wanted to join the Forces since childhood,” said Lt. Commander Nilantha Hewavitharane, OIC (Officer-in-Command) of P 462. Officer with six years experience in the FAC squadron, during which he had commanded three FACs.
He received four years training at the Kotelawala Defence Academy (KDA) from 1990 to 1994, one year training at the Naval and Maritime Academy, received his Sub-Lieutenant training in Bangladesh, specialised in Anti-submarine warfare in India.
Near Nagarkovil, few LTTE boats attempted to direct them. But the two FACs were able to avoid engaging in combat, not losing sight of what was most vital. The FACs reached the scene within an hour, at full speed.
0600 hrs: They discovered that they were outnumbered. It was two FACs against nearly 20 LTTE boats. There were only five gunboats to protect the ship. But the Pride of South would have been left at the mercy of the LTTE boats had the FACs backed out. The FACs avoided the fleet of LTTE boats and made straight for the ship.
“We saw that the ship was moving towards the sea and the LTTE boats were following her.” The LTTE boats had formed a crescent around the ship and were shooting at her hull. The Pride of South was a passenger transport vessel and did not haveheavy weaponry.
Army personnel on board were shooting at the LTTE boats, with short-range light weapons. The two FACs were high on their heels. When they reached the scene they strategically placed themselves between the ship and the LTTE boats.
Lt. Hewavitharane told his crew of 14, that they had to somehow save the 1310 passengers on board. LTTE boats were too close to the FACs that it was difficult for them to manoeuvre. The gap between the ship and the LTTE fleet was approximately 100 metres. Lt. Hewavitharane manoeuvred P 462 around the ship and fired at the LTTE boats.
“I could hear the Army personnel on board the ship cheering. I attacked from one side of the ship while Lt. Kiriella, OIC of the other FAC, fired from the other side.” Most of the LTTE boats were hit. At 0650 a sailor of P 462 got hit in the head. “I couldn’t transfer him, because that would mean jeopardizing the mission. He was conscious for over half an hour.” There were two other casualties as well.
0700 hrs: Just two FACs had fought against nearly 20 LTTE boats for a full hour, beating the odds, when reinforcements from KKS (Kankesanthurai) finally arrived. By which time Pride of South was quite safe, the two FACs managed to maintain a considerable distance between her and the LTTE boats.
0930 hrs: The situation was almost under control. The sailor who got shot was transferred to KKS via the other FAC – P 442. But P 462 held on. The whole battle lasted for over five hours. It went on until 1130. Pride of South was finally saved.
1130 hrs: P 465 got hit during the battle. “I had run out of ammo and fuel and my guns got jammed .” P 442 had run out of fuel as well by then, since they came for the rescue straight from a patrol the day before. P 442 was sent to KKS to bring back a fresh supply of ammunition, but was held off. “We could see that P 442, making her way towards us.”
As soon as P 442 arrived with the ammunition the FACs reloaded and braced themselves for a fresh attack. All the FACs lined up in an attempt to rescue P 465. They were successful in their endeavour, the LTTE boats retreated. Another FAC started to tow P 465 to safety.
Their objective of saving Pride of South and the 1310 on board was achieved against all odds. Lt. Hewavitharane, who had been presented with a Rana Soora Medal for acts of bravery he had accomplished earlier, was presented with a Weera Vickrema Vibhushana, for the contribution he made to saving Pride of South and was promoted to the rank of Lt. Commander.
As the saying goes “If heroes are made and not born, who or what makes them? But if they are born and not made, how shall we know them?”
Lt. Commander Hewavitharane confirmed the real meaning of heroism by displaying courage and the will for self-sacrifice and as a result this week the memento is dedicated to him.
Bravery All throughout his career:
In 1995, Air Force officials decided to advance the Forward Defence Line (FDL) of the Palali Air field unit, since the FDL was too close to the unit, making it susceptible to artillery and mortar attacks by the LTTE. After six days of capturing new ground, the LTTE was unfortunately capable of recapturing the area.
Then, Leading Aircraftsman M.T.K Dharmawardana was on stand by in the Palali Air Field unit for rescue operations and Flight Lieutenant Dilhan Perera was engaged in supporting the ground troops on the advancement of the FDL.
He received his education at D.S. Senanayake College and was a leading schoolboy cricketer. After he left school he played for the Nomads Sports Club. He got married in 1994 October 20.
Date: July 14, 1995
Time: 0730 hrs
Location: FDL Palali Air field unit
Palali Air Field unit received the message that the Pukara carrying Flight Lieutenant Dilhan Perera had gone down in LTTE territory. Squadron leader Commander Buwaneka Abeysooriya, Leading Aircraftsman M.T.K Dharmawardana and their team was called upon to launch a swift and major rescue operation.
According to radar displays the Pukara had gone down in the Alaweddi area. Air Force intelligence strongly believed that Flight Lieutenant Dilhan Perera was still alive.
But his life was at stake because he had gone down in enemy territory. Consequently a brisk rescue mission could mean a difference between life and death for Flight Lieutenant Dilhan Perera.
Squadron leader Buwaneka Abeysooriya and a team of eight, including Leading Aircraftsman M.T.K Dharmawardana took a helicopter to the location where the Pukara was said to have crashed.
Leading Aircraftsman M.T.K Dharmawardana joined the Air Force in 1989. He received a six year training at Diyatalawa and was stationed in Ampara in 1994. By 1995 he had five years experience in the front lines.
The helicopter reached the crash site from Mallagama direction. They landed at a safe distance from where the aircraft crashed, just five minutes after it was reported. They all hoped that Flight Lieutenant Dilhan Perera would be alive and did not want to risk the LTTE discovering him, before they did.
The eight manned team planned their entry to the area, referring to a map and made their way to the site on foot. They knew that they were putting themselves at the mercy of the enemy. The LTTE knows that any crash landing will bring forth rescue operations.
When they got there the LTTE was already engaged in combat with the Army. “The Pukara was already burning by the time we got there.” said Leading Aircraftsman M.T.K Dharmawardana.
Although they hoped that Flight Lieutenant Dilhan Perera would still be alive, it was not so. “We pulled out a sack from one of the abandoned houses in the area and tried to extinguish the fire”.
After retrieving the body with difficulty the team had a distance of nearly one km, scattered with anti-personnel mines, where they were to rendezvous with the helicopter.
Squadron leader Buwaneka Abeysooriya was the team’s only contact with the helicopter, that was to come and pick them up again.
It was a jungle area but there was a village and a few people could also be detected. Dogs from the village were barking at the team, threatening to blow their cover.
The team had to be extremely careful to cover their trail, not to leave any sign behind, that the LTTE could trace back to their whereabouts. By this time the LTTE was firing at the team with mortars. The whole mission lasted around two to three hours.
The lost ground of the FDL was reestablished by the Air Force in a matter of days. Leading Aircraftsman M.T.K Dharmawardana, who was now a sergeant, was awarded a Rana Sura Padakkama for his act of bravery. Throughout Lieutenant Dilhan Perera’s career in the Air Force he contributed to the country in numerous commendable operations.
He was killed by the LTTE, in year 1995, July 14. This week’s token of recognition is dedicated to Flight Lieutenant Dilhan Perera who sacrificed his life to defend the nation.
The Courageous Candid Corporal
February 6, 2008, prior to a major operation, the Kovil in Nagar Kovil was filled with soldiers of the Eighth Vijayaba Infantry Regiment, lighting oil lamps. They all prayed as one, before leaving on a mission; once again reminding us of the famous phrase ‘Api wenuwen api’ meaning ‘together for all’.
On one line 16 oil lamps were lit; driving away the darkness, as the group of soldiers who were ready to attack the enemy to protect the nation. One wish, one prayer, one aim gave them that one chance to demolish terrorism…
Private Karunaratne was one of them. He had been a candid, pleasant and dynamic student when he received his education from Pannipitiya Maha Vidyalaya. During year 2003 he joined Sri Lanka Army regular forces and obtained his training from Puttlam as a recruit of the Vijayaba Regiment.
Four, four-manned teams were to be deployed for an attack on the strong point between the Forward Defence Line (FDL) and second defence line in Nagar Kovil, under the command of Lt. Colonel Chamara Kumarasinghe.
Lt. A.I.T Shamal was the Team Commander of the second group. He joined the Kotelawala Defence Academy in 2000 as a Cadet Officer and graduated as a Second Lieutenant.
At nightfall and after a 10-day reconnaissance mission, a sand model briefing was conducted the night before the attack. The operation commenced in the early hours of 7th morning. Their task – to clear the first line, attack the bunkers in the strong point and the second defence line, before successfully withdrawing.
Date: February 07, 2008
Time: 0500 hrs
Location: Strong Point, Nagar Kovil
Private A.G.C Karunaratne was in the forefront. He led the first four-manned team. The teams penetrated the first defence line without any resistance. The line’s booby traps and claymore mines were cleared during reccee.
At around 0500 hours, as they reached the strong point, the firing commenced. Private Karunaratne was the first to get hit, a shot to the head. Then came a hail of gunfire. Lt. A.I.T Shamal was shot both on the chest and the leg.
In spite of the extreme conditions the teams were able to fulfil their task. Corpral Kalpage took over from Lt. A.I.T Shamal as the Team Commander, while the teams withdrew after obtaining their target. The teams were attacked with machinegun fire, hand grenades and 60 mm and 81 mm mortar.
Lt. A.I.T Shamal was immediately transferred to Nagar Kovil, where he received first aid. From there he was yet again transferred to MDS (Main Dressing Station) at Muhamale and taken via helicopter to Palali base where he underwent surgery as he was seriously injured. He was finally transferred to Colombo General Hospital for recovery.
The Eighth Vijayaba Infantry Regiment lost two men that day while six others were injured. According to Military intelligence the LTTE suffered heavy casualties.
Private Karunaratne – who had been awarded Purna Bhoomi, earlier, for serving the 8th Battalion Vijayaba Infantry Regiment for working towards the mission of demolishing LTTE terrorism completely – was posthumously promoted as Lance Corporal (Non Commissioned).
He was also nominated for a Weera Wickrama Vibushana medal for the courageous service rendered through his pursuit of leading, safeguarding his team, attacking and destroying the enemy.
This week’s token of recognition is dedicated to Lance Corporal A.G.C. Karunaratne for the supreme sacrifice he made for the nation.
Certain names have been change to withhold identity.
Ambushed airmen save the day
For most people love for the forces run in the family and LAC (Leading Air Craftsman) G. B. Upul Shantha was no exception. His elder brother, like him, was in the Air Force, while the younger brother joined the police with his blessings.
“I always wanted to join the Air Force. But after my elder brother joined, my parents were reluctant to give their blessings. So I sat for the interview, underwent a medical test and ultimately told them after five days of training in China Bay.” said LAC Upul Shantha reminiscing with a smile.
LAC Upul Shantha joined the Air Force on December, 29, 1997 and was trained as a gunner for three months in China Bay. Then he took the Advanced Gunner Course at KKS (Kankasanthurai), before he was deployed with the rest of the Alpha 2 flight to the front lines of Operation Jayasikuru.
Date: November 19, 1999
Time: 0220 hours
Location: FDL, Munnikulam
The FDL was lying in the middle of the Munnikulam village. “We were defending when the first attack came.” They tried their best to hold their ground but the attack got intense. One of their LACs got hit as they were forced to withdraw, abandoning ten of the thirty members of Alpha one.
0610 hrs: As dawn approached the officers in charge – Flying Lieutenants Dissanayake, Milinda Perera and Kumarasiri decided to regain lost ground. This proved vital to save the ten stranded airmen.
The officers briefed three groups consisting of ten individuals in each. The first group headed towards the bunker line while the second used the road and the third took the woods on the other side of the road. LAC Upul Shantha was in the first group headed for the bunker line.
After advancing approximately 300 metres, a terrorist commenced attack on the first group, from one of Air Force’s abandoned bunkers. LAC Upul Shantha crawled towards the bunker using a canal in the paddy field.
They were assaulted with artillery and mortar to the point that they could not even crawl any more. LAC Upul Shantha crawled behind the mound near the bunker and hurled a grenade inside.
He lunged into the bunker, simultaneously opening fire and killed the terrorist. With it the incessant hail of artillery and mortar also ceased. “It turned out that the terrorist we killed was an LTTE ‘artillery Captain’.” They also found a communication set with the terrorist.
0615 hrs: With one triumph behind them the teams moved forward. Among the airmen who were stranded Corporal Rohana and LAC Kumarasinghe were wounded. “We just couldn’t move forward, the attack was too severe.”
It turned out that they were heading straight for an ambush. The LTTE has got their hands on an Air Force com-set and the necessary call signs, that was in the possession of another Corporal Rohana, a sniper.
The terrorists used the com-set to lure them in to the ambush. The LTTE was attacking the airmen from the other side of the sluice of the reservoir, using small arms and attacked with artillery and mortar from further behind. The airmen counter attacked with mortar and LMG (Light Machine gun).
0720 hrs: The Air Force troops could not rely on reinforcements. The Army and Air Force lines were infiltrated on both sides. And the intensity of the attack did not permit them to advance any further. However the teams were able to succeed in their mission. They rescued the stranded nine airmen – with only one loss, Corporal Rohana, the sniper – before withdrawing, killing ten terrorists along the way.
After a battle that lasted roughly one hour, the casualties were transferred to the Head Quarters of First Gajaba Regiment, Munnikulam for first aid.
For recovering the LTTE com-set, which the Forces have not come across before; and rescuing and bringing the casualties to safety, LAC Upul Shantha was awarded a Rana Wickrama Gallantry Medal in 2002. He is now a Corporal with a eleven year service.
Tribut to heroes – Corporal K. P. Sumithkumara
Corporal K. P. Sumithkumara was a brave gunner who fought as much as he could for his motherland. He was assigned to the Bravo wing and helped out in whatever way he could.
Date: 22nd February 2002
Corporal K.P. Sumithkumara was on duty on the picket at the defence lines when he heard a mortar being fired on a side close in range. While suspecting it had to be LTTE enemy fire, Corporal Sumithkumara with his colleague Corporal Bandara guarded the picket waiting for any signs of enemy activity.
After fifteen minutes, there was a huge bomb explosion that was heard nearby and quickly they jumped into action. From their end, word was out that a part of their defence lines under the Army was under attack and that the Air Force had to evacuate the place for the time being.
The command was then given to take all ammunition and rations and leave the Bravo wing where they were stationed. Corporal Sumithkumara and Corporal Bandara scooped up whatever weaponry they had like mortar, LMG, guns and some food boxes. As they were leaving, they saw LTTE cadres advancing, so they hurried on.
Date: 22nd February 2002
Upon leaving the place, they started venturing into the thick jungle for cover. They were then united with their defence force colleagues that numbered to 600 and they devised a plan to neutralise the enemy.
Their Wing Commander Siriwardena gave the order that they should spread out instead of being concentrated in one area because it was futile. The Army Commander also agreed and they scattered around areas around where they could cover the enemy from all sides.
Date: 23th February 2002
The next day, the Wing Commander Siriwardena gave the order to get back to their Manikulum battle stations and by early morning they all went back including the armed forces. Upon setting off to the stations, the were warned that their path would have been laid with landmines.
Two brave officers Sgt.Wijekumara and Corporal Nisagala from the bomb disposal squad took the initiative to clear the path for the rest and they went on their way.
1000hrs – At this moment, the Wing Commander had obtained control of Bravo 1 and Bravo 2 but a part of Bravo 3 was not fully under control.
At the defence lines when they took their positions at the point, Corporal Sumithkumara and his colleague suddenly heard an alarm sound and thereafter, about 200m away they heard a voice from a speaker giving orders in broken Sinhalese that was giving orders to fire at the enemy and to defend themselves.
However, suspecting enemy infiltration to their area, Corporal Sumithkumara with Corporal Bandara together with the help of three others – Corporal Udayakumara, Corporal M.H.Perera and Corporal L.S.Peiris started firing mortar from their respective positions at the place where they heard the alarm.
At this moment, Wing Commander Siriwardena had ventured inside the battlefield on an open patch and then the alarm sound was heard faintly. He gave the order to defend their positions and use maximum firepower against unknown enemy cadres who would have possibly trespassed in their territory.
Also the command for reinforcements was given and 10 teams were despatched to the area. They also spotted an 81 mortar on the road which was 100m from the front defence lines.
Eventually, Commander Nayakkara came to their rescue to help them out and they took mortar and hit at the enemy. Corporal Sumithkumara, armed with a 60 mortar, used maximum firepower at the jungle area where the suspected LTTE cadres were stationed with a mortar on standby as well.
Corporal Sumithkumara saw a black handkerchief falling from tree nearby and fired mortar at the tree when he saw two LTTE cadres falling down from it.
1800hrs – After the episode, they discovered many LTTE bodies in the deep jungle together with the two fallen LTTE cadres who had hidden on top of the tree. Corporal Sumithkumara is a legendary hero who had helped.
Most of those who fought that day, their lives were spared except for some injuries. Somehow Corporal Sumithkumara released a part of the defence lines from the wrath of the enemy which was commendable indeed.
Corporal Sumithkumara hails from the town of Yatiyantota and studied at the Yatiyantota Maha Vidyala and then for his Advanced levels at the Yatiyantota Central College. He is second in a family of five.
As with the training, his first posting was at Manikulum where this incident took place. Corporal Sumithkumara always liked to joined the armed forces and admits to having a special yearning to serve his beloved country.
He reminisces “From my small days I remember when my family was suffering because we lost our livelihood and I lost some of my relatives to the floods”. He professes to overcoming all obstacles to reach greater heights and this drove him to protect his country.
He says that the challenges you face in life will mould you in a strong person both mentally and physically and this is the key to his success. Corporal Sumithkumara has been awarded the RSP and will continue to serve his country as long as he can.
Guard of Duty at the Borderline
Corporal Rupakumara was one of the air force personnel assigned to protect and guard the Air Force Defence Line at Malawi in the Malakulum area. Along with a 14 man team, they were in charge of protecting the base under the guidance of Commanding Officer Corporal Kumara.
Corporal Rupakumara hails from the town of Medawachchiya in the Anuradhapura District and was educated in the Medawachchiya Maha Vidyalaya. “When I first joined the Air Force in 1996, I couldn’t tell my parents because they would be worried sick, so I just casually told them that I was joining the Air Force band which didn’t put my life on the line.” says he in reminiscence.
“However, my parents discovered that I was based in Palaly base for three months and they realized that the band is not sent to Palaly. They had no choice but to accept it.” Corporal Rupakumara comments “I always wanted to join the Air Force because the action of ‘flying and fighting’ always inspired me and it was a dream come true.”
Date: 13th April, 1999
Time: 0445 hrs
Location: FDL (Forward Defense Line) Malawi
The environment around was a mix of foliage and jungle along with desert-like areas. The weather was arid and humid with a rare exception of monsoons.
The town of Malawi being a settlement of mostly Tamil inhabitants had been at the epicentre of war and protecting this area has been a daunting task. Village houses on either side of the A9 was abandoned out of fear of LTTE terrorism. The terrorists were operating from the abandoned houses, making it difficult to detect their activities.
However, the land was cultivated. Civilians would come to the fields during day and go back to their homes in Mannar where they would be safe. And lying in between paddy fields and cultivated land was the FDL of Malawi.
Just 8 kms from the FDL was the LTTE 14 Base. Consequently there were frequent attacks by the LTTE on the reccee teams, water bowsers and food transportation vehicles of the Forces.
In the wee hours of the morning on the day before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the Sri Lanka Air Force was making a different ‘Avurudu’ preparation. It was to stay ready to fight in order to protect the Malawi Defence Lines which was under frequent attack by the LTTE.
It was very difficult to hold the village of Malawi because of the frequent attacks on vehicles transporting food and other provisions to the FDL. Likewise, it was vital to guard the base round the clock.
While Corporal Rupakumara and his colleagues kept a watchful eye on the base from the sidelines, they detected several terrorists moving towards the FDL. They counted 14. They were making their way to the line between the sections manned by the Army and Air Force.
The airmen saw them approach the line and squat. As soon as they approached the line the terrorists began to fire with their T 56s. Corporal Rupakumara and three other fellow airmen opened fire immediately. It was 14 against four. They were outnumbered but they held their ground. The airmen pushed forth with their attack using maximum firepower. Immense fighting continued for about two hours.
0515 hrs: Corporal Kumara who was fighting at the front took a sudden hit in the leg and he fell to the ground. It was clear that he was conscious, but he could not walk. Corporal Rupakumara had to act fast, because the terrorists were trying to get to Corporal Kumara.
Corporal Rupakumara then rushed to his aid and held him under cover. Corporal Rupakumara was able to drag him to safety. He was administered first aid, while Corporal Rupakumara went back to the firing position. 15 air force personnel came in as reinforcements.
0645 hrs: His comrades also held fort by continuing the fight and they did as much to secure the base. On the sidelines Corporal Rupakumara and his team uncovered three bodies of terrorists. A forth was badly wounded and was wailing aloud due to his wounds. After clearing the area, the Air Force Intelligence personnel gave him first aid and kept him under supervision.
The Air Force also uncovered weapons, batteries, chocolates and biscuits, a loot weighing 10 kgs. Among the apprehended items was an air craft – a UAD – which was used to video record their operation.
It was believed that the data collected from these images were used for air raid strategies and for determining the effective procedure of firing missiles. It was believed that this particular aircraft was a hi-tech aircraft worth more than a passenger air craft, around three hundred million rupees.
It was the first time a UAD was confiscated. It was later discerned that the 14 man LTTE team was indeed a reccee team, responsible for all the looting and attacks in the area of Malawi.
For the courage and bravery shown in the face of the enemy and for the efforts he took to save his men, Corporal Rupakumara, along with three other airmen, was awarded Rana Sura Medals. Corporal Rupakumara has been an inspiration to his younger brother who has also joined the Air Force. He counts nearly 12 years of service to the country and says that he will continue to protect his beloved motherland.
A major strategy of the Jayasikuru operation was to capture the A9 route at Puliyankulam junction, since it was very vital for the Armed Forces as well as the LTTE. The Light Infantry Regiment had tried to penetrate through the front line of the LTTE but all to no avail.
The Army decided to call in heavy artillery. Hence the formidable task of getting a foothold in this area was assigned to the T 55 Main Battle Tanks of Sri Lankan Armoured Brigade, under the leadership of Major General Chandradasa. Captain Ransiri Wijesoma was the Front Tank Squadron Commander.
Date: August 19, 1997
Time : 0800 hrs
On either side of the A9 route near Puliyankulam, consists of shrubbery land. Inside the perimeter of the LTTE base were trenches and a strong bunker line. The Puliyankulam junction was a strong enemy station.
Captain Wijesoma and the T 55 Main Battle Tanks with great difficulty managed to access the junction. Thereafter, LTTE cadres encircled them. They had only six tanks and there were nearly 2000 cadres in the LTTE camp. Despite being outnumbered, they retaliated with maximum firepower and tried to hold fort.
0845 hrs: Reinforcements of twelve more tanks were eventually called in. The front tank that carried the RPG (rocket propelled grenade) was commanded by W. T. N. D. Corporal Gnanasiri who hails from the town of Ambanpola, Kurunegala.
He joined SL Army in 1985 as a gunner operator and he had his initial training in Trincomalee and was later given a position as Tank Commander. Captain Ransiri Wijesoma and Corporal Gnanasiri had worked together since 1992. “Though he was of a lower rank we all fought together as one on the battlefield” he said.
A road block was set up by the LTTE and fighting commenced from there. In spite of the severe threats posed by the anti- tank weapons of the LTTE, to him and his team, Corporal Gnanasiri strove on.
Even though he knew that all odds were stacked against them, he thought nothing of the intense fire coming in his way as he directed the tank forward. However much the LTTE cadres were closing in on him from all sides, Corporal Gnanasiri kept on going.
Despite the fact that this was strong LTTE territory, they still managed to pull together. There were now a few tanks and weapons from the opposition that drew forth much problems. Maximum firepower of the Armoured Brigade was now being used. “Nothing could stop Corporal Gnanasiri until ultimately an enemy anti-tank weapon got him.” said Captain Wijesoma.
After that Captain Wijesoma had to tactically reposition his team. Even though the Captain’s left hand was completely blown off, he had the will to see the end of it until he fell unconscious. They found the body of Corporal Gnanasiri in his tank after the battle.
Thereafter, as a result of the road block, Corporal Gnanasiri fought till his last breath and made a successful attempt to save a superior in his hour of need. If it wasn’t for Corporal W. T. N. D. Gnanasiri and the reinforcements, Captain Wijesoma and his colleagues might not have been alive today. He will be remembered as a hero who went on with the operation through thick and thin.
Captain Ransiri Wijesoma, who had earlier garnered the decoration RSP (Rana Sura Padakkama) was awarded a WWV (Weera Wickrama Vibhushana) for this particular act of bravery. He was promoted Major before he retired. Corporal Gnanasiri was posthumously awarded an RSP (Rana Sura Padakkama) for portrayal of courage and determination.
“Corporal Gnanasiri was very skilled and professional. As military trained personnel, we are equipped to deal with war situations but Corporal Gnanasiri was exceptional. It is indeed difficult to find people like him. He was an invaluable soldier to the army.” said Major Wijesoma. Corporal Gnanasiri was a brave soldier who gave his life to save his motherland, he will be forever etched in our hearts as a true hero who fought until his last breath in order to save his beloved Motherland.
(Names have been changed to withold identities)
A patriot all the way
Prelude – The P465 was the vessel protecting the passenger ship ‘Pride of South’ vessel that carried soldiers from KKS (Kankasanthure) to PPD (Point Pedro). However, P465 was surrounded by LTTE gunboats from all sides and was in dire need of help. P472 commanded by Lt. Com. T. P. Halaldeen was one of the FACs that joined the battle as reinforcements.
Date: 16th September 2001
Location: North of Mullaitivu
Commander T.P. Halaldeen was the OIC (Officer in Command) aboard the P472 who came to help the P465 when they called ‘May Day’. Commander Halaldeen who was then stationed at the KKS harbour, rushed to the scene.
At that moment, the battle was taking place near the shores off Mullaitivu was turning intense with the LTTE also calling for reinforcements to secure their end. Meanwhile FACs that came from the Trincomalee harbour were trying their best to keep things from falling apart.
Says Lt.Com Halaldeen “When P472 arrived, it was as if the P465 – protecting the ‘Pride of South’ – would have been overwhelmed by the LTTE boats but the rest of the FACs somehow had to take charge of the situation”.
Once the P472 closed in on the now disabled P465, the LTTE boats had difficulty in keeping the momentum of fire. They were on a mission to save P465. Together the Lt.Com. the team of reinforcements was very strong with Lt.Com. Hewavitarana on the other FAC also leading his men towards the vessel in need of help.
The LTTE were using maximum firepower and bringing in their reinforcements which amounted to nearly 20 boats. This compelled Commander Halaldeen to think of a different strategy.
“The OIC of P465, Lt.Com. G. D. S. Priyantha who was in need of assistance because the vessel had been hit from the left and most of his men were injured. He said that he implemented an ‘Extended Line’ formation which was the manoeuvre for defending their craft side as well as saving their men onboard the sinking FAC.
“The LTTE boats were in hot pursuit of P465 and we were right behind the LTTE boats so we formed a line behind the LTTE boat and opened fire. My craft was in the middle of the line. As we started firing, the LTTE boats started retreating,” said the Lt.Com. Halaldeen. P472 overtook the fleet of LTTE boats and went alongside P465, all the while firing at them.
However, when the Commander came close to the P465, he noticed that only the Lt. Com. Priyantha and one seaman who fell overboard and was drowning in the waters were the only men visible. They saved the seaman and then got the OIC onboard their vessel.
“It takes real patience and quick-thinking to devise a brilliant plan to neutralise the enemy. Also, mathematical calculations are required because the firepower needed
depends on the distance of the enemy,” he said. Fighting alongside the other reinforcements made them secure their victory at this battle.
Lt.Com. Halaldeen is a Sri Lankan Malay by birth who is a born patriot. His ancestors came from Java were entrusted with the task of liberating the country during the British era. He was born in Galle and attended Ananda College, Kottawa and Vidayakara College, Maharagama which used to be a mixed school before.
He is the youngest of a family of three brothers and two sisters. Lt.Com. Halaldeen says “I always had this desire to join the armed forces particularly the navy because I wanted to help my country and also because my cousin was also in the Navy”.
His first breath of navy insight was at the Kotelawela Defence Academy and he joined the navy thereafter for rigorous training after his Advanced Levels. “I joined the navy as a navy service cadet which took me through the drill for one year and then I underwent the soft training aspects”, he says.
At the final year of being commissioned to join navy, he studied 25 subjects and finally obtained the PSD (Defence Studies) in Electronics and Engineering with Telecommunications.
Commander Halaldeen has travelled all over the world to assist the navy in acquiring new battle ships because of his knowledge in specialised communications and telecommunications with a strong emphasis on electronics.
He is grateful to his gurus who taught him the ABCs of fighting – Commander Manoj Jayasuriya and Commanding Officer V. J. Berugoda. Commander Halaldeen’s advice is “You can’t be a navy OIC overnight and possessing skills and expertise is essential in order to be a good Commander”.
Lt.Com. Halaldeen was promoted to the rank of Commander. He has been awarded the WWV (Weera Wickrama Vibushana) and two RSP medals. He says that he is willing to fight for his country with his heart and soul to help secure the nation’s victory in the waters. Commander Halaldeen says that the navy is better equipped to protect Sri Lanka.
Salvage operation under enemy fire
Wing Commander Tyron Silvapulle
Flying Officer Chinthaka De Soysa
December 1999 marked the beginning of the ‘Unceasing waves’ of the LTTE. Killinochchi was captured and they were moving on to Paranthan. Air Force ground troops were stationed at the Paranthan FDL to provide land support for the Army troops and the Air Force aircraft were on the ready at Palali Air Force base to provide air cover.
On December 17, MI 24 CH-618 was dispatched under the command of Squadron Leader Tyron Silvapulle with Flying Officer Chinthaka Prashan De Soysa as the co-pilot and two other gunners to provide close air support to the Army troops deployed at the FLD in Vettilaikerny lagoon.
Date: December 18, 1999
Time: 0700 hours
Location: Air Force Camp, Palali FDL
“I was having my breakfast when I heard the sirens.” Flying Officer S. P. V. K. Senadheera recalled, who had joined the Air Force with the 11th intake of the KDA (Kotalawala Defence Academy) in 1993 and graduated as a Cadet Officer in 1995.
He was posted to China Bay and was trained at Diyatalawa the same year and commissioned in 1996. He was deployed in the Air Force FDL, during the “Jayasikuru Operation” , as a Squadron Commander of the Regiment Field Squadron. Vajira Senadheera is married to a sister of an Air Force officer.
The sirens are normally sounded to indicate an air crash. “I was not told of any specific details at that time.” But later, on inquiry, he learned that MI 24 CH-618 – which was piloted by Squadron Leader Tyron Silvapulle, co-piloted by Flying Officer Chinthaka Prashan De Soysa and carried the two gunners – was hit by an enemy missile and had crashed into the no man’s land of Vettilaikerni lagoon.
It was immediately decided to deploy ten people, for the rescue operation, under the leadership of Flying Officer Vajira Senadheera along with a team of ten technicians led by Flying Officer Thotahevage. An MI 17 was ready to airlift them to the Army camp at Elephant Pass.
0830 hrs: They were provided with a dinghy by the Army, on arrival at the Elephant Pass Camp, but the entire team of more than twenty could not be accommodated. “ So, I selected one gunner and Flying Officer Thotahevage selected three from the technical crew.” All the men who could swim.
0845 hrs: The crash site was in Thamilmadam, a small island in the no man’s land of the lagoon. It had rained heavily for several days forcing the lagoon to swell. The LTTE Sea Tigers operating in the FDL had monitored the dinghy boat and commenced fire. The Army counter-attacked with artillery and mortar from the main land. The whole team was fully soaked by the time they reached the crash site.
The wreck was half submerged in water, requiring assistance of two Naval divers for the salvage. The LTTE tried to reach the island but were not able to, due to repulsive attcks by the Army.
It was clear that there were no survivors but there were still some vital components, in the MI 24, that needed extraction and meanwhile the bodies were moved to the Elephant Pass Army camp by boat.
1030 hrs: It was still raining heavily and the LTTE action had considerably lessened when the team moved into their second mission – retrieving the vital parts of the helicopter. Subsequently the wreck was blown up with the assistance of the Army Demolition Unit.
1700 hrs: The team was able to reach Elephant Pass camp, with the salvaged items, despite continuous shelling by LTTE Sea Tigers. They spent the night at the Iyakachchi SL Light Infantry Camp due to bad weather. That very night Paranthan was captured by the LTTE.
Date: December 19, 1999
Time: 0700 hours
Location: SL Light Infantry Camp, Iyakachchi
Although Flying Officer Vajira Senadheera contacted the Palali Base and requested for an MI 17, due to the large volume of casualties arriving from Paranthan, the team had to give priority to the transportation of casualties and to let the MI 17 be used for that purpose, time and again. Finally they returned safely to Palali Air Force Base, with the salvaged items, by land on Army trucks which were ferrying ammunition.
The two pilots Squadron Leader Tyron Silvapulle and Flying Officer Chinthaka Prashan De Soysa were brave pilots, deployed on many sorties to assist the Army troops at the Paranthan FDL and many other attacks beforehand.
According to his colleagues, Squadron Leader Tyron Silvapulle was an extremely dedicated pilot. Enlisted on May 18, 1986, he flew literally round-the-clock ‘morning, noon and night’, on countless missions, until his death.
According to one of his batchmates “he was a professional pilot, a genuine, down-to-earth person, who was serious about his job as a pilot. He was concerned about the guys in the field, his colleagues in the Army.
A product of St Joseph’s College, he served continuously in the northern and eastern fronts since the day he joined the service with the 16th Intake. He has flown Bell 212, MI 17 and MI 24 helicopters.” He was married and his wife was expecting a child at the time of his death.
He had won several awards to his credit. In addition to all the standard campaign Medals, he was awarded Rana Wickrama and Rana Sura Gallantry Medals in 1994. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Wing Commander.
According to one of his flying instructors, who himself was an MI 24 pilot, Flying Officer Chinthaka Prashan De Soysa, who was enlisted on January 07, 1997, was a very soft spoken guy, very well mannered with very good piloting skills. He was a born pilot.
That was why he was posted to MI 24 by-passing the usual stint at flying Bell 212. He was the youngest pilot in the squadron at the time of his demise.
Flying Officer Vajira Senadheera, who had won many other awards for bravery while serving in the North and East was awarded a Rana Sura Medal in 2008 for salvaging sensitive material from the wreck, preventing them from falling in to enemy hands. He was later promoted a Squadron Leader.
Lieutenant Commander Ediripulige Lalith Prasanna Edirisinghe
The man who stood up for Sri Lanka
Being the Officer-In-Command of P 418, a Colombo Dockyard built FAC, Lieutenant Commander Lalith Prasanna Edirisinghe was responsible for the lives of 18 men. His decision was sure to affect the fate of the other FACs. They all depended on each other. On May 11, 2006, P 418 was assigned to patrol the seas off the terrorists dominated coastline of Chalai in the North-eastern coast of Sri Lanka. His Third-In-Command, Sub Lieutenant Dinesh Harshajeewa Ratnayake was a top-of-the-batch cadet who was trained in Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, UK. He was by his commander’s side when they sensed that the terrorists were up to something. Lalith being the senior officer in the theatre of operation, grasped the developing situation and decided to make the sacrifice his life and those of 18 of his men to stop a suicide boat going for the passenger ship Pearl Cruise with 710 on board.
This is a story that proves the worth of the men in blues – the officers and men of the Sri Lanka Navy’s premier fighting force, the Fourth Fast Attack Craft (FAC) Flotilla which is based in Trincomalee.
One of the officers who was commanding a top of the line FAC was Lieutenant Commander Ediripulige Lalith Prasanna Edirisinghe. A seemingly calm & quiet character, married and with two very young children, he had all the reasons to live rather than risking his life in a highly demanding environment where national security has gone to dogs due to foreign advice and pressure made possible by corruption, incompetence and lack of action by the authorities.
Being the Officer-In-Command of P 418, a Colombo Dockyard built FAC, he was responsible for the lives of 18 men. His decision was sure to affect the fate of the other FACs. They all depended on each other.
On May 11, 2006, P 418 was assigned to patrol the seas off the terrorists dominated coastline of Chalai in the North-eastern coast of Sri Lanka. His crew comprised 18 men including one signalman from Sri Lanka Army. His Third-In-Command, Sub Lieutenant Dinesh Harshajeewa Ratnayake was a top-of-the-batch cadet who was trained in Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, UK. He was by his commander’s side when they sensed that the terrorists were up to something.
The Sea Tigers were observed by the patrolling FACs to be gathering off the coastline of Vettilaikerni, a fishing village at the coastline since mid afternoon. They observed terrorist fibre glass boats fitted with medium calibre and lethal weapons gathering very close to the coastline about 50-100 meters from the shoreline and also the presence of at least four suicide craft. These, distinguishable from their features, had been the most lethal weapon the terrorists used and the Navy has good experience in encountering them in earlier confrontations.
Since the terrorists’ intentions were hostile, the patrolling FACs requested re-enforcements and another two FACs arrived at the location. Having assessed the tactical picture they decided to form a barrier at a distance of 5 nautical miles from land since passenger vessel Pearl Cruise 11 was on the way from Trincomalee with 710 services and police personnel and few civilians on board. This vessel sails almost on a daily basis, transporting servicemen from Kankesanturai to Trincomalee and back.
The ferry was escorted by another two FACs and one Fast Gun Boat. They were about 25 miles from the terrorists gathering which by now had increased to 16 attack craft and 4 suicide boats.
FACs could only observe the grouping and report since attacking the terrorist boats that close to the shoreline could hurt innocent fishing folks of the hamlets along the coast. The SLN has to look after all Sri Lankans.
The terrorists made the first move by speeding towards the passenger ferry. Having realised the gravity of the situation the four FACs single- handedly decided to confront the Sea Tigers without waiting for further re-enforcements.
Against overwhelming numbers of terrorist boats fitted with wide variety of weapons such as 23mm, 14.5mm and supported by terrorists’ ubiquious suicide boats, the balance of power favoured the Tigers.
Undeterred, the men in blues took up their position, donned their body armour and allowed terrorists to approach from land. One of the FACs, P 497 commanded by Lieutenant Lakshitha Ratnatilake reported over the radio that whilst revving up to combat speed, one of his main engines had stopped.
Outstanding officer qualities
The most senior officer on the scene, Commander Edirisinghe who was just 1,500m away from his mate promptly responded and manoeuvred his craft between the approaching cluster of terrorist boats and the troubled P 497. Proving his valour and outstanding officer qualities, he engaged the terrorists cluster in order to give his mate time to get the engine re-started.
Having succeeded in getting his engine going in less than two minutes, Ratnatilake informed his superior officer, Lalith Edirisinghe, that he was ready for action once again. By this time Edirisinghe had spotted an unusually big suicide boat emerging from the terrorists cluster. With his experience he knew what the big suicide boat was meant to do.
Whilst Ratnatilake was pulling out, he observed that his senior officer was heading straight for this large suicide boat dodging several terrorists attack craft. Before he could speak over the radio, there was a crackling in the communication set and a huge explosion was observed some 1,500m away from him. As the smoke cleared he could not see P 418 – not even its pieces.
It was Lalith Edirisinghe, being the senior officer in the theatre of operation, who grasped the developing situation and decided to sacrifice his life and those of 18 of his men in order to ensure that the Pearl Cruise 11 with 710 on board was safe.
Although outnumbered heavily, 20 terrorists boats against 4 FACs, the chances of terrorists slipping through the SLN cordon was high. He had made the decision that saved the lives of the men on the ferry at the risk of crew of FAC. His parting instructions to other two FACs was to engage and stop the terrorists’ dash towards the Pearl Cruise 11. And the two FACs did exactly that.
Many Lankan movie directors and actors have gladly and foolishly accepted foreign-funded opportunities to portray the nation’s defence force heroes as useless cowards in many movies. The statement of the SLMM representative onboard P 421, Mr. Lars Bleymann commending the outstanding performances of Lieutenant Ranjith Walgampaya and his crew is a living testimony to the fighting bravery of the men in blues.
Undeterred by overwhelming numbers Ranjith Walgampaya & Lieutenant Arunashantha Wijayawardena blocked the advancing terrorists clusters by repeatedly engaging terrorists whilst mutually covering each other.
Sooner they heard the on the radio that Lalith Edirisinghe’s boat had come under a suicide attack they altered course to the explosion site in order to hit the terrorists and rescue their own men, if any had survived, in the water.
However Edirisinghe’s boat had sunk without a trace of any survivors. Quickly they focussed on their immediate mission despite the devastating loss. There was no time for grieving and lamenting. The terrorists still could regroup and push for their target.
However terrorists seemed reluctant to press further despite the presence of the three smaller suicide boats. Three remaining FACs placed a barrier between the coast and the ferry and waited for the terrorists to advance. But the attackers seemed bewildered and unsure of what to do after losing the large suicide boat which was to hit the passenger ship.
Meantime further reinforcements were speeding to the area from Kankesanturai and Trincomalee. SLAF fighters were airborne and safety of Pearl Cruise 11 was enhanced with air cover. The first priority was the passengers and further offensive action by the three FACs was considered tactically disadvantageous. However by the time passengers were safely disembarked at Kankesanturai port, the terrorists had retreated to their stronghold on the coast. They were repeatedly engaged by the Air force causing fairly high casualties to the sea-borne terrorist flotilla.
Another remarkable story unfolded onboard the Pearl Cruise 11. The naval liaison officer on board was listening to all the communication over the radio and he quickly closed the air tight doors so the passengers could not hear what was coming over the radio.
Then he placed the handful of naval personnel of the security detail on the weather deck of the ferry without arousing suspicion of the passengers. No passenger knew about the unfolding situation externally until the ferry was berthed safely in harbour.
Just before they disembarked, an officer speaking over the public address system announced that the Navy had sacrificed 18 lives to save 710 passengers on the ferry and narrated details of the drama at sea. The passengers were stunned to hear the story and could only grieve for the brave men who sacrificed their lives to ensure that those on board the ferry would live.
They were full of praise for the naval liaison officer on board Pearl Cruise 11 who prevented pandemonium on board for his resolve not to make the passengers privy to what appeared to be an impending suicide attack on the ferry. A cool head and sensible appreciation of the situation evoked the proper response.
Warrant Officer P. L. S. L. Cooray – Above and beyond the call of duty
“considering the injuries sustained by Lance Corporal Cooray in the crash, his state of shock and the adverse weather conditions, this was a Herculean effort on his part which took approximately 45 minutes of sheer determination and struggle against all odds”
Warrant Officer P. L. S. L. Cooray is a survivor. Having had two brushes with death, this brave soldier is still serving in the Army. He was awarded the decoration, Weerodara Vibushanaya (WV) in 1991 for an act of bravery in 1984.
In November 1984, then a lance corporal of 1 Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment (1 SLSR) Cooray was serving in the Pallaly Camp in Jaffna. On November 30, Col. D.R.A.B. Jayatilaka (then Captain) of 1 SLSR – who was also serving at Pallaly on operational duties – received instructions to proceed on an air reconnaisance mission at about 6.30 in the evening. Accompanied by Cooray and Cpl. R.M. Ratnayake, he commenced the ‘recce’ at 7 p.m. in a helicopter piloted by Fl. Lt. Ajith Dabare.
“We used to fly around Jaffna to see if any LTTE boats were coming in,” explained Cooray. “We were informed that two LTTE boats had been spotted in the process of landing at Madagal Beach and were instructed to destroy them.”
The weather was turbulent with heavy rains and strong winds. And visibility was poor. “We were flying over the lagoon between Mandativu island and the mainland when we were hit by a wave,” Cooray said. “We had not realised that we were flying so low. The chopper was blasted and we were thrown into the water. It happened so suddenly that we had no time to even put on our life jackets. It was around 7.30 p.m.”
Cooray, who had been strapped to the seat, was thrown into the water with the seat. The seat kept afloat. He managed to free himself and keep swimming. “I heard Cpl. Ratnayake shouting,” Cooray said. “He was strapped to his seat and his head was visible amidst the wreckage of the chopper, which was resting on the lagoon bed with a portion jutting out of the water. Cpl. Ratnayake was clinging on to the wreckage.” The lagoon, was about six or seven feet deep.
“I swam about 10 metres up to the wreckage,” Cooray continued. “My eyes were burning after the blast and everything was a blur. I could also hear Capt. Jayatilaka and Fl. Lt. Dabare calling out for help. And I could faintly see Capt. Jayatilaka struggling in the heavy swell about 30 metres away. Neither of them could swim. They kept sinking and coming up again.”
Cooray managed to reach Capt. Jayatilleke and Fl. Lt. Dabare and give them his seat and another piece of debris to hang on to. With greatest difficulty, he pulled the Captain along holding on to the seat. Several times the exhausted soldier would let go and fall back into the water. However, Cooray persevered and finally got him to where Cpl. Ratnayake was hanging on to the helicopter. As stated by his Commanding Officer in a citation, “considering the injuries sustained by Lance Corporal Cooray in the crash, his state of shock and the adverse weather conditions, this was a Herculean effort on his part which took approximately 45 minutes of sheer determination and struggle against all odds”.
Leaving Capt. Jayatilaka and Cpl. Ratnayake both clinging on to the debris of the chopper, Cooray went back to look for Fl. Lt. Dabare, who had drifted almost 300 metres away. Although he swam about 20 metres with difficulty, he was unable to rescue Fl. Lt. Dabare who had been washed further away. Cooray then swam back to the helicopter where the other two were waiting. “It was pitch dark and I had only their voices to guide me,” he said.
“We were chest deep in water. Occasionally a huge wave would break over our heads. To add to our woes we were all vomiting. We could see the lights of Jaffna in the distance. We hung on hoping for a rescue party would find us. I could not swim with the other two – the sea was too rough.”
Although a chopper flew overhead twice in search of them, they were not spotted. Somehow the three soldiers managed to hang on through the night, shivering in the cold wind. The next morning, the rain, wind and mist continued and visibility was low as well. A big vallam fishing boat came by around 9 a.m, but did not pick them up, Cooray said. “After 15 to 20 minutes, we saw another vallam. We took off our t’shirts, waved at them and shouted. We were thankful when they came up to us and pulled us in to the boat.” The fishermen took the soldiers to the fishing wadiya at Navandurai. “They gave us hot tea and pittu,” said Cooray continuing his recount of the incident. “We were given sarongs and even some nets to sleep on and they even lit a huge bonfire to warm us. Two of them went to the road to stop the bus. When the bus arrived, they helped us in and the other passengers too were very helpful. Capt. Jayatilaka was so moved by their kindness that he presented them the gold chain he was wearing.”
As they travelled on the bus, they met a troop carrier searching for them. They were transferred to the troop carrier and taken to Gurunagar Camp. Due to the bad weather, a chopper could not take off to search for Fl. Lt. Dabare’s body that night. The next day, Col. Jayatilaka and Cooray flew with a search party in a chopper to locate the scene of the crash.
The body of Fl. Lt. Ajith Dabare was found among some prawn nets about 500 to 600 metres away.
Cooray is grateful to Col. Warusawitana, the doctor who treated him for his ailments at the Army Hospital and to Gen. Sarath Fonseka, then Major of the C company ‘who took great pains to search for us. We could not have survived if not for his perseverance,” Cooray commented.
Lance Corporal Cooray was promoted a full Corporal in recognition of his bravery and awarded the WV in 1991. Recommending him for the medal, his Commanding Officer wrote, “During the incident described, Lance Corporal Cooray has shown rare traits of individual bravery, comradeship, unselfishness and devotion to his superior officer, which could be categorised as being above and beyond the call of duty.”
Undaunted by his experience, Cooray volunteered to serve in Jaffna again when his company was deployed in Thondamannar. There he had another close shave with death three days before they were due to hand over to the Gemunu Watch. The commandos received information that there were three LTTE camps in Nelliady. Since Cooray’s company knew the area, they had to guide the Commandos there. Lt. Dushan Perera, Cooray and eight others travelled to Nelliady in a new bullet- proof vehicle. But at Nelliady, they were caught in a landmine in which Lt. Perera and six others were killed instantly. Three, including Cooray escaped death although he spent ten months in hospital undergoing treatment for his injuries. The indomitable soldier who is now at the Regimental Headquarters of the Sinha Regiment, served in Jaffna again from 1987 until 1993.
The Weerodara Vibushanaya
The Weerodara Vibushanaya is the second highest decoration awarded to members of the Armed Forces. This is granted to all ranks of the Regular and Volunteer Forces of the Army, Navy and Air Force of Sri Lanka for individual acts of gallantry and conspicuous bravery of non-military nature of the most exceptional order, performed voluntarily with no regard to their own lives and security, with the sole objective of saving or safeguarding the lives of a person or persons imperilled by death. It is also given for a meritorious act or series of acts of a humane nature of exceptional order displayed in saving a life from drowning, fire, rescue operations in mines, floods and similar calamities, under circumstances of grave bodily injury or great danger to the life of the rescuer. Recommendation for the award is made by the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
The decoration is conferred by the President at a special investiture.
Captain Saliya Upul Aladeniya
The nation’s highest awards for bravery, the Parama Weera Vibushanaya (PWV) is awarded Saliya Upul Aladeniya in recognition of his bravery.
Lt. Saliya Upul Aladeniya, was just 26-years-old when he sacrificed his life, valiantly defending his camp at Kokavil and standing by his injured troops in the face of a massive attack by the LTTE in 1990. Although Saliya had orders to abandon the camp and withdraw, he refused to do so because the majority of his troops were injured and unable to move. He ordered the able men to withdraw, leaving him with the injured. At 11.45 p.m. the camp was overrun. The last they heard from him were his words, “Don’t worry sir, I will fight till I die.”
Saliya Aladeniya, one of a family of three children, was educated at Trinity College, Kandy. After completing his O’Ls, he worked for a few years on a small estate owned by his family and then joined the Army in 1989. Having trained at Diyatalawa, Saliya served with his regiment in the Nuwara Eliya area until he was sent to Kokavil in May 1990. At the time, Lt. Aladeniya was married but had no children.
“From his young days, Saliya wanted to join the Army,” said his mother, Indrani Aladeniya. His father, a planter attached to the State Plantations Corporation, was a Volunteer officer in the Army. As a small boy, Saliya had got his mother to stitch him an Army uniform, which he wore around the house.
“We were deployed in Nuwara Eliya, when we were asked to take over Mankulam,” recalled Col. Abey Weerakoon who was the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Battalion of the Sinha Regiment, a Volunteer Battalion. One company with three officers took over Mankulam on May 18, 1990. Two officers and 58 men of this company were sent to Kokavil to provide security to the Rupavahini Relay Station there and Saliya Aladeniya, a very junior 2nd Lieutenant was one of the officers,” Col. Weerakoon said.
Col. Weerakoon recounted that in early June 1990, attacks commenced on the Security Forces in the area.
On June 5, a terrorist attack on Mankulam was repulsed by the Army. 43 LTTErs were killed. By June 12, however, Mankulam and Kokavil were surrounded. “On June 16, there was some kind of a ceasefire and negotiation and hostilities were halted,” Col. Weerakoon said. “The Captain in charge of the camp and fifteen others went on leave during the ceasefire, leaving Lt. Aladeniya in charge.”
Kokavil and Mankulam were then surrounded by the LTTE who attempted to overrun the camp. Reinforcements could not be sent and the troops were also running short of ammunition. For 14 days the camp was besieged with men getting killed inside. Medicines were needed for the wounded. Food was scarce and they did not even have water because it had to be brought from outside the perimeter.
Ice and food were dropped by helicopters. Since the LTTE were shooting at the choppers, the supplies had to be dropped from high above the camp. Much of it was therefore lost.
Before the final attack, which started on July 10, the LTTE started building up forces around the camp. “The Air Force was trying to drop whatever supplies they could despite the shooting,” Col. Weerakoon said. “From Vavuniya, I desperately tried to get reinforcements sent in but they were unable to get through because the routes were blocked. Commandos who were sent also could not get down there because it was dark.”
By that evening, there were only 300 rounds of ammunition left in the camp. The choppers could not airdrop ammunition due to the height, much of it fell outside the camp. The attacks continued throughout the night. About fifteen of the men were injured leaving only about fifteen to fight. Aladeniya and the small group left within the camp fought valiantly against the fierce attacks, with even the injured and the civilian cooks adding their mite.
“On the evening of the 11th, communication was lost,” Col Weerakoon said. Although Lt. Aladeniya was given orders to abandon the camp and withdraw, he refused to do so because the majority of his troops were injured and unable to move. He ordered the able men to withdraw, leaving him with the injured. At 11.45 p.m. the camp was overrun. The last they heard from him were his words, “Don’t worry sir, I will fight till I die.”
He fought bravely until the camp was overrun and destroyed by the LTTE. He was declared Missing in Action.
“After the Kokavil camp was taken by the LTTE on July 11, we got a message from Nuwara Eliya to say that all those in the camp were missing,” Mrs. Indrani Aladeniya said. “My husband, who was mobilised in Vavuniya, made inquiries and searched for Saliya because we had information that he was alive, but captured by the enemy. I still feel he is alive. Even those who have been named by the LTTE as being in captivity have not been released yet.
“When my husband was alive we joined the Association for the Families of MIAs (Missing In Action).
After his death however, I find it difficult to go to Colombo for the meetings. We are hoping that if Saliya has been captured, he will be released soon.”
“I recommended Saliya Aladeniya for the PWV soon after the Kokavil attack,” said Col. Weerakoon.
“He was the first to be recommended for the award. Saliya was a very bold officer who always volunteered for the difficult tasks. He had time to escape, but chose to stay by his injured troops.”
Lt. Saliya Aladeniya was awarded the PWV on June 21, 1994.
Lieutenant K.W.T Nissanka
Having seen the enemy advancing towards him, Lieutenant Nissanka decided to give his remaining men an opportunity to withdraw. Ordering them to do so, he unlocked the two hand grenades he had with him and rushed towards the enemy. The hand grenades exploded, killing the terrorists and Nissanka instantly. His gallant action enabled the remaining soldiers to withdraw safely, taking their injured comrades with them.
A young Second Lieutenant Nissanka who was on duty there as Platoon Commander, acted with immense courage in the face of the enemy attack, sacrificing his life to enable his troops to withdraw with their injured comrades. For his gallant act, Second Lieutenant K.W.T Nissanka was posthumously awarded the Army’s highest honour for bravery, the Parama Weera Vibushanaya in 1996.
K.W.T. Nissanka joined the Army in 1990. From his schooldays, he had a great desire to join the Army. He was a cadet officer while studying at D.S. Senanayake School in Gampha. He passed the GCE O’Level examination well in all subjects but on the day of his A’ Levels, he went for the Army interview, missing the exam. Nissanka trained at Diyatalawa for three months and was later sent to Pakistan for further training.
His father cried when he enlisted the Army Gajaba Regiment .
In 1993, the 3rd Battalion of the Gajaba Regi-ment was deployed at Pooneryn, a strategic stronghold in the ongoing war. Pooneryn was continuously under threat from the LTTE.
“On November 11, 1993, at about 1.30 a.m., the LTTE unleashed a sudden and major onslaught on the Pooneryn Camp. The most severe attack was on the security area where Second Lt. Nissanka was in charge of the platoon,” recounted Col. Daulagala, who was the Unit Commander at the time and who also wrote the citation for Nissanka’s Parama Weera Vibushanaya award.
“Nissanka’s platoon was deployed facing Pooneryn, just outside the town. He commanded his men with the greatest zeal and repulsed the enemy, attacking them with RPGs and small arms. However, the terrorists reorganized themselves and unleashed a second furious attack in the front and rear of the defence line.”
Col. Daulagala related how Nissanka moved from bunker to bunker, encouraging his men, paying no heed to the risk to his own life. As the situation worsened, he called for reinforcements from the Battalion Headquarters but it was of no avail, since the HQ was also under attack. Even amidst this severe onslaught by the terrorists, Nissanka managed to engage the enemy leading his men courageously.
But around 5 a.m., a bullet hit Nissanka in the thigh injuring him badly. “Displaying bravery of the highest order and dedication to duty, even in great pain, he commanded his platoon with great valour to fight the enemy,” Col. Daulagala recalled.
As time progressed though, most of the members of his platoon were either injured or killed in the onslaught. The remaining soldiers were unable to even remove the wounded to places of safety due to the continuous enemy assault. Even then, Nissanka had informed his Battalion Headquarters that he was ready to fight the terrorists until death.
Finally, having seen the enemy advancing towards him, Nissanka decided to give his remaining men an opportunity to withdraw. Ordering them to do so, he unlocked the two hand grenades he had with him and rushed towards the enemy. The hand grenades exploded, killing the terrorists and Nissanka instantly. His gallant action enabled the remaining soldiers to withdraw safely, taking their injured comrades with them.
“There is not the slightest doubt that his main aim was to safeguard the lives of his comrades even at the expense of his own life,” Col. Daulagala remarked.
Major Vajira Kariyawasam, who was also at Pooneryn said he was in radio contact with Second Lt. Nissanka almost to the end.
“He was very close to me. He asked me for support but I was unable to help because we were also under attack.” Major Kariyawasam, who was then a Captain, was also injured at Pooneryn and lost an arm.
“I asked him to come over to my side. Although he tried to get across, he was surrounded and could not do so. Some of his men were killed but he sent some of his platoon over to my side. The last he told me over the radio was that the terrorists were very close and he would do what he could.
“I knew then that he was going to do something dangerous. The platoon members, whom he sent to me related how he exploded the grenades, killing the terrorists and himself.”
“It is recommended that 0/61672 2/Lt KWT Nissanka of the Gajaba Regiment, be awarded the Parama Weera Vibushanaya as a reward for his individual acts of gallantry and conspicuous bravery of the most exceptional order in the face of the enemy, performed voluntarily whilst on active service and with no regard to the risks to his own life and security with the objective of safeguarding thereby, the lives of his comrades or facilitating the operational aim of his force,” states the citation presented with Nissanka’s award.
Nissanka’s parents, K.W. Karunaratne and K.P. Dayawathie live at Pahala Imbulgoda, in Gampaha.
After Nissanka’s death, a colleague of his who had been an eyewitness to the incident, visited his parents and told them of their son’s heroism. Although very sad at their loss, the parents are also proud of his bravery. They are grateful to the Army for all the support they have been given. “We received all the compensation and we get his salary monthly,” Karunaratne, said. “The Army helps us in many ways. They are even assisting us to put our daughter’s child into a school.”
The lane they live in was named ‘Nissanka Mawatha’ in honour of their son with approval from the President and the Pradeshiya Sabha of the area. But the name board was broken four times and they finally gave up and brought it back to their house. They have erected a statue of Nissanka at the Nittambuwa temple, where many other war heroes are commemorated.
“It is because of their bravery that the rest of us can live,” they said.
Duty above life
After the Mavil Aru attack the forces had good reason to believe that an attempt would be made on the Kattaparichchan Army Camp.
At exactly 1200 hrs on August 02, 2006 the lights went out. Two four-man teams and two eight-man teams were stationed with immediate effect. Staff Sergeant P.K. Kaluarachchi was the second in command at the time.
He had joined the Army as a new recruit in April, 1987 and received his basic training at Maduru Oya Training School. From there he joined the Third Sri Lanka Light Infantry Regiment.
In June, 1990 he joined the Sixth Sri Lanka Light Infantry Regiment and was promoted Corporal. In January 1993 he was promoted Sergeant and in the year 2000 he was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant, second in command.
The actual attack came in the early hours of August 02, 2006. Their first target was the 24 hour road block situated 200 metres from the Kattaparichchan bridge along Sampur-Muttur Road.
Date: August 02, 2006
Time: 0115 hrs
Location: Kattaparichchan Army Camp
It came from the villages in north of the Camp. And in fifteen minutes the attack started getting severe. The two four-man teams stationed outside the camp and the personnel manning the road block were immediately ordered back to the camp.
Eight bunkers were taken over by the terrorists, leaving seven soldiers wounded and one dead. Captain Vajira Witharana, First In Command and the Second In Command, Staff Sergeant P.K. Kaluarachchi decided to regain control of the eight bunkers.
0530 hrs: With the personnel that had manned the road block and the other two four-man teams they recaptured the eight bunkers. But by then every nook and cranny of the camp was subject to shelling by artillery, RPG and mortar attacks that went on for hours.
1730 hrs: The attack dragged on till evening and the enemy cadres showed no signs of backing off. The terrorists were using the ditch – that led to the camp from the road block – in order to gain access to the camp.
Corporal Hanthanage who was covering the ditch with an LMG (Light Machine Gun), took a severe hit in the forehead as he tried to prevent the LTTE cadres from getting into the camp. He was immediately carried to the main bunker and administered first aid.
Corporal Hanthanage kept on saying that he wanted to go back and rejoin the battle. They were in a critical situation as the attack was relentless and the number of casualties were rising. But Staff Sergeant P.K. Kaluarachchi ordered Corporal Hanthanage to stay, since he was seriously wounded and had lost a lot of blood. But Corporal Hanthanage forced himself back to the bunker despite his condition.
2100 hrs: The attack began to get more intense as the terrorists commenced attack on the bunkers again. Corporal Hanthanage and another soldier who was manning one of the bunkers died instantly.
But due to the dedication and bravery of people like Corporal Hanthanage, they were able to keep the camp from falling into the hands of the terrorists. The attack lasted till the next morn.
Date: August 03, 2006
Time: 0630 hrs
Location: Kattaparichchan Army Camp
The intensity of the attack started to lessen by morning. They came to know that there were nine bodies of terrorists lying around with their weapons, but they couldn’t be retrieved because the camp was still under attack by enemy artillery.
“By August 04 buildings were burning due to continuous shelling. We had long run out of water.” And ammunition was fast running out. A few biscuits from a destroyed canteen and a little water were the only left-over that sustained them.
But no matter how critical the situation they didn’t allow the bunkers to be recaptured by the terrorists. “The personnel that manned the road block including seven women fought side by side with us in the bunkers.” And to their advantage, the bunkers held well against the incessant shelling because they were of good standard.
Reinforcements of sixty men of the Gemunuhewa Regiment arrived on the third day with a fresh supply of ammunition. They had to attack their way through the LTTE cadres to get into the camps, but had to hold the transfer of dead bodies and casualties till the 5th due to heavy enemy fire.
In a battle that killed 82 LTTE cadres, that lasted for four days, four people died and 29 others were wounded. But considering the force of the attack, the casualties were few. It could have turned out much worse had it not been for the dedication of people like Corporal Hanthanage and proper leadership provided by his superiors.
Corporal Hanthanage was married with one child at the time of his death. But for him duty came first. He volunteered to go back into the battle, against orders, in spite of his condition. He did not think of his family or for that matter his own life. His conduct was truly exemplary. “The Army lost an important man at a crucial moment.”
Corporal Hanthanage was posthumously awarded the Rana Sura Medal and promoted to the rank of Junior NCO (Non Commissioned Officer). Staff Sergeant P.K. Kaluarachchi, who is now a Sergeant Major in the Liberation Mission of Madhu, Captain Vajira Witharana and two other officers of higher ranks have been nominated for Weera Wickrama Vibhushana Gallantry Awards. Others who played a part in saving the camp from LTTE clutches received Rana Sura as well as Rana Wickrama Medals.
Certain names have been changed in order to withhold identity.
Warrant Officer 2nd Class H.B. Pasan Gunasekera – He gave his life to regain Jaffna
With the help of improvised rafts, Pasan Gunasekera landed on Chiruthivu Island at about 0200 hours with 16 men and managed to occupy the island after evicting the terrorists. He then established a fire base to engage the terrorist boats moving in the lagoon but died in the shootout. His action further isolated the terrorists and helped the Army capture Jaffna town.
A young soldier who fought in Operation Riviresa and gave his life to help the Army take Jaffna, Staff Sergeant H.B. Pasan Gunasekera was awarded the Parama Weera Vibushanaya (PWV), the country’s highest award for bravery posthumously on October 10, 1998. In a citation presented along with his medal, his Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. N.A.J.C. Dias described the events that led to his award.
On November 29, 1995, the Army was on the verge of capturing Jaffna town in Operation Riviresa. The LTTE meanwhile was fighting a fierce battle in the town, supported by the Sea Tigers, who were using boats to bring in supplies and evacuate casualties. They did this under cover of darkness and on some days they used as many as 200 to 300 boats to ward off the Army’s main operational force trying to capture Jaffna Town.
A group of LTTErs stationed in ‘Chiruthivu’ Island, between Jaffna town and Mandathivu where the 10 Gajaba Regiment troops were located were providing cover for the boats. They had to be evicted from Chiruthivu if the Army was to stop this boat movement.
Gunasekera volunteered for this mission with a small group of men unmindful of the danger. With the help of improvised rafts, he landed on Chiruthivu Island at about 0200 hours with 16 men and managed to occupy the island after evicting the terrorists. He then established a fire base to engage the terrorist boats moving in the lagoon but died in the shootout. His action further isolated the terrorists and helped the Army capture Jaffna town.
Born on November 9, 1964, at Millewa, Pasan Gunasekera was the son of Padma Malani and H. Jinadasa Gunaskera. His father died in 1991. After leaving school, Pasan had worked for awhile at Morawaka Medito, an Ayurveda concern. “He met a retired Army officer working there and became very keen to join the Army,” his mother Malani recalled. “He wanted to dedicate himself to his country. I was not for it but his father gave him the letter of consent. He felt he would go anyway.”
He joined the Army in 1985 and served mostly in the North. His mother said Pasan was deeply committed to his work in the Army. He had fought in several major operations such as Vadamarachchi, Haye Para, Balavegaya 1 and 2 and Wanni Wickremaya 1,2,3. “Even when he came home on leave, he was always keen to get back to his post.He had been shot in the stomach at Vavuniya earlier and at that stage, his Commanding Officer had tried to transfer him to Colombo but Pasan wanted to get back to Jaffna and fight.”
However, Pasan was a dutiful son, his mother said. When his sister married in 1992, Pasan together with his elder brother, attended to all the arrangements as by then his father was dead. When his mother had to undergo a heart operation in 1995, he took leave to be with her. While he was on leave, he was urgently recalled to Jaffna. He had been ready to go on a course abroad but that too was cancelled because he was needed in Jaffna. “When he left that day, he told me, ‘Amme, if I am not able to come back, give my clothes to someone who can wear them,” she recalled tearfully.
Mrs. Gunasekera said Pasan would write poems to all his family members, from the war front. After his death, they had found a book of handwritten poems among his belongings.
Pasan used to come home for about 10 days every three months, his mother said. “That day, I had prepared food for him and when he did not come, we could not eat,” she said. That night about 2 a.m., came the fateful knock on the door and the news about his death. “His body had been brought home the next day. Army personnel and the Army Band were present at the funeral,” Mrs. Gunasekera said. “My son’s commanding Officer, Lt. Col. N.A.J.C. Dias assisted us in getting the compensation and other payments without delay. The Army was also helpful during the funeral and the almsgiving.”
Pasan was awarded three medals for bravery, the Ranashura Padakkama, Weera Wickrema Vibushanaya and the Parama Weera Vibushanaya, all received by his grieving mother. “Although I carry a great grief in my heart, I am proud of his bravery and his devoted service to his country,” she said.
Lance Corporal W.I.M. Seneviratne – Killed whilst foiling a suicide bomber in Jaffna
Lance Corporal Seneviratne astride his motor bicycle, twenty metres behind the vehicle, suddenly spotted a woman, who appeared to be pregnant, hurriedly moving towards the vehicle. Suspecting that she could be a suicide bomber, he acted instantly, moving his motor cycle forward to block her path. Realising that she could not proceed, the woman detonated the explosive device that had been strapped to her body, killing herself and Seneviratne in the blast.
Lance Corporal W.I.M. Seneviratne, serving in the 7th Battalion of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry, was killed saving the life of a Cabinet Minister. In recognition of his bravery, he was posthumously awarded the Parama Weera Vibushanaya, the highest award for gallantry.
Captain Lalith Hewa, then an Adjutant was an eyewitness to the incident. L/Cpl. Seneviratne, a non-commissioned officer, was attached to 51st Division in Jaffna as a member of the ‘Quick Reaction Team’, which had troops on motorcycles, Capt. Hewa related. Capt. Hewa was also in the motorcycle escort squad.
On July 4, 1996, a sales outlet of the Building Materials Corporation was to be ceremonially opened at Stanley Road in Jaffna and Seneviratne was assigned to provide protection for the Minister of Housing and Public Utilities, Nimal Siripala de Silva. The Minister was accompanied by Commander 512 Brigade, Brig. A.S.S.K. Hamangoda. When the ceremony was over and the Minister and the Brigade Commander were about to leave, L/Cpl. Seneviratne astride his motor bicycle, twenty metres behind the vehicle, suddenly spotted a woman, who appeared to be pregnant, hurriedly moving towards the vehicle.
Suspecting that she could be a suicide bomber, he acted instantly, moving his motor cycle forward to block her path. Realising that she could not proceed, the woman detonated the explosive device that had been strapped to her body, killing herself and L/Cpl. Seneviratne in the blast.
By his action, L/ Cpl Seneviratne saved the life of the Minister and many others who were gathered there for the occasion. He was recommended for the award of the Parama Weera Vibushanaya by his Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. K.A.D.A. Karunasekera and the medal was presented on October 10, 1998 at a ceremony held at the BMICH.
Seneviratne’s mother received the medal from the President, as his father was unable to attend due to ill health.
Seneviratne’s parents live in Kobeigane, Kurunegala, with their married daughter, her husband and child. The family are paddy farmers.
Seneviratne studied at Parakrama Maha Vidyalaya at Kobeigane up to the Ordinary Level examination.
“He wanted to join the Army from his small days,” said R.A. Punchihamy, Seneviratne’s mother, recalling that it was against their wishes. Seneviratne, who joined in 1987, was trained at Maduru Oya and served in Trincomalee, Ampara and Jaffna.
“He was injured three times in the North, twice at Elephant Pass and once at Palaly,” Punchihamy said. Seneviratne was 28 when he died.
“After my son’s death, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva came to see us.
The Minister also visited the home of another soldier, Pushpakumara from Kalupotha who was on the same motor bicycle as my son and who also died in the blast. At the time we were building this house, and had just laid the foundation,” Punchihamy said.
“The Minister promised to help us. And the Housing Development Authority (NHDA) gave us Rs.50,000. All the compensation we received from the Army also went into the building. We finally managed to complete the house in January 1998, although more remains to be done.”
As far as the Army is concerned, the family have received their dues. But the family is greatly concerned about their failure to get an electricity connection for their house.
“The Minister promised to get us the electricity,” Seneviratne’s father W.I.M. Gunawardane said. “My grandson went to Colombo and spoke to him. We have seen the Chief Minister of Wayamba, who told us that he would give us the money later as there are no funds available at the moment. We have even written to the President.
“Electricity lines have been connected close to our house but 12 houses on this road have no electricity yet.” Their only hope is that they will get the connection soon.
Corporal Gamini Kularatne – “Hasalaka Gamini”
In July 1991, a young soldier from the Sinha Regiment earned the gratitude of the nation. Cpl. Gamini Kularathna, later known as ‘the hero of Hasalaka’, saved the Elephant Pass camp at the cost of his own life. In recognition of his heroism, he was posthumously awarded the ‘Parama Weera Vibusha-naya’, the highest honour for bravery in the Sri Lanka Army.
Corporal Gamini Kularatne was the first recipient of the Parama Weera Vibhushanaya, the highest award for gallantry award in the history of Sri Lanka Army.
Gamini Kularatne was the second son of a family of four brothers and a sister. He obtained his primary education at Ranasinghe Premadasa Madhya Maha Vidyalaya at Hasalaka (farming hamlet in the salubrious Kandy district of Sri Lanka) and later joined the Sri Lankan Army on August 27, 1987 with the blessings of the father S.G Babanis and mother S.G Juliet.
On the night of July 13, 1991 over 5000 LTTE carders surrounded the 600 strong army garrison located at Elephant Pass, i.e., Alimankada, in Sri Lanka. Elephant Pass was known as the gateway to the northern Jaffna Peninsula. Enlisted to the Sri Lankan Army Sinha Regiment Sixth Battalion as a Rifleman, Lance Corporal Gamini Kularatne, along with the rest of his regiment, was tasked with watching for possible LTTE infiltrators.
As dusk fell the LTTE carders launched several human wave attacks. Flanked by hundreds of their armed cadres, they surrounded the Army’s fortifications. But the sight of a hitherto unknown bulldozer covered with armour plates looking like a huge tank sent shock waves among soldiers at all sentry points as the huge bulldozer tank was a mystery to all on guard.
Equipped with a machine gun atop it and containing a haul of arms and ammunitions inside it rumbled towards the southern entrance of the camp. and Lance Corporal Gamini Kularatne in his pensive mood thought this new rolling weapon would definitely be able to swarm the garrison within seconds taking a heavy toll of his fellowmen. Above all the fall of Elephant Pass to the enemy would be catastrophic and counterproductive at national level, and there was hardly any time to waste, Kularatne pondered.
Although the LTTE began pounding the Army camp with heavy mortars and weapons to the cries of injured and dying soldiers amidst deafening explosions, all eyes were still centred on the enemy’s approaching mysterious bulldozer laden with sophisticated weapons.
Suddenly Lance Corporal Gamini Kularatne, holding two grenades in his hands, dashed out towards the oncommig bulldozer tank, clambered up the tank’s ladder and tossed the two grenades inside it, disregarding the numerous injuries he himself had suffered by then from the bullets of LTTE. Within seconds, fiery bursts of fire accompanied by a series of explosions occurred. Lance Corporal Gamini Kularatne was flung to the ground lay motionless.
Thus the siege of Elephant Pass Army Camp was broken and one of the most ferocious battles in Sri Lanka’s modern history ended. The camp was finally saved from the LTTE.
Lance Corporal Gamini Kularatne’s supreme sacrifice, dedicated for the sake of Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity and sovereignty was well received with admiration and honour by all segments of masses across the island.
In recognition of his act of gallentry Lance Corporal Gamini Kularatne was promoted to the rank of Corporal posthumously and honoured with the award of “Parama Weera Vibhushanaya”, the highest gallantry award in Sri Lanka for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka Army.
Later he came to be known as the “Hasalaka Weeraya”(Hasalaka Hero)
Corporal Gamini Kularatne’s valiant action marks a milestone in the annals of military gallantry. No doubt, the nation salutes this valiant soldier as long as they could breathe. He also leaves an indelible memory of patriotism and valour not only in the minds of his own countrymen but also among millions of Sri Lankans whose today is sacrificed for the sake of tomorrow’s betterment.
Colonel Fazly Lafir – An officer, a gentleman and a hero of our time
Much loved by both senior and junior officers as well as other ranks, Colonel A.F. Lafir was one of the few officers who understood the Sri Lanka’s national crisis in depth. He was one of the few officers who knew Jaffna like the palm of his hand. A pioneer member of the Army’s 1st Special Forces (SF) Regiment, Fazly was involved in all aspects of forming the new regiment, including the design of its cap badge and other insignia. Colonel Fazly Lafir gave his life on July 19, 1996 in an attempt to save 1500 comrades when the LTTE terrorists laid siege to the Sri Lanka Army Camp at Mullaitivu.
Born in the Kandyan hills, Fazly Lafir was educated at St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota. A lover of cricket, he represented the school before moving on to follow another love, the military. An all rounder, he came second in the batch `intake 14,’ winning the current affairs prize in the process. He was well read and had a good fist for writing. He joined the Rajarata Rifles Infantry Regiment and following its amalgamation with the Vijayaba Infantry Regiment, joined the 1st Gajaba Regiment (GR) founded by the late Major General Vijaya Wimalaratne. Fazly’s skills led to his selection as the first Platoon Commander of 1GR.
He underwent training in India and the USA and always emphasized the importance of training.
Much loved by both senior and junior officers as well as other ranks, Colonel A.F. Lafir was one of the few officers who understood the Sri Lanka’s national crisis in depth. His knowledge of Tamil led him to being appointed to carry out intelligence duties in the East. His gentle and easygoing manner earned him any friends among the people. He was one of the few officers who knew Jaffna like the palm of his hand. A pioneer member of the Army’s 1st Special Forces (SF) Regiment, Fazly was involved in all aspects of forming the new regiment, including the design of its cap badge and other insignia.
Whether operating in and out of the uniform, he had a good rapport with the public. He ensured that subordinates were kind to civilians. This led to important breakthroughs against the Tiger terrorists.
During the 1988-89 Southern insurgency, Fazly and his men were deployed there to help restore law and order. As he did with Tamil civilians, he won the hearts and minds of the Sinhala people in the South. This naturally led to positive results. He was held in high esteem by the likes of Generals Wimalaratne, Kobbekaduwa and Janaka Perera. His thoughts were always with his men whether in the field or out.
Colonel Fazly Lafir gave his life on July 19, 1996 in an attempt to save 1500 comrades when the LTTE terrorists laid siege to the Sri Lanka Army Camp at Mullaitivu.
Volunteering to lead the rescue mission, Fazly was airborne with his troops even before the operation was finalized. He was heli-dropped under heavy fire and made radio contact with the besieged troops. It was a morale boosting moment. As mortar fire rained on their positions that night, Fazly’s made a sardonic comment, “Tonight is the most beautiful night of my life.’’
On the morning of July 19, a piece of shrapnel fatally wounded this gallant soldier. He was posthumously awarded the Parama Veera Vibushanaya, the highest medal awarded for gallantry.
All his associates remember Col. Lafir as a strong, silent and caring man but above all as the epitome of an officer and a gentleman.
When an enemy caterpillar came gnawing……
Sergeant Jayaweera (37) of the Sri Lanka army knew that his life was meant for war and victory.But he often pondered about death. It could be a reality any time and he might have to leave suddenly,even without bidding good-bye to his three year old son.
Being shot at was routine for Jayaweera, but on that 14th day in July he and his fellow soldiers got something more than machine gunfire. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam started their attack onthe Elephant Pass camp at 4 a.m. All chopper movement came to an abrupt standstill because the liberation fighters were now aiming their shots upwards too. They had already infiltrated into one side of the camp and for the men of the 6th Sinha regiment of the Sri Lanka army, this meant giving their best shot in the circumstances.
There was more news from Captain Mudunkotuwa who warned the troops of a possible ‘caterpillar attack’.At 4.30 a.m. the troops quietly made their way towards the post office at Elephant Pass. Here theydeveloped their heaviest gun. just then the LTTE began an uninterrupted attack using mortars too. Just as the troops thought that the attack had faded, at around 7.15 p.m. came a giant caterpillarcrashing in – pushing the main bunkers. The soldier who came running in just before was shouting tha the had already fired 11 rounds. But the caterpillar progressed and the liberation fighters were pouringin. They had already poured into the circuit bungalow. When the caterpillar came along, Sergent Jayaweera was near the gun carrier. He could see the caterpillar stop quite close.
Next, it started firing at the troops from across the tarred road. Jayaweera and the other soldiers knew that they could not stand and watch. Jayaweera knelt quickly and adeptly ‘ceasefired’ the vehicle and hooked it to the vehicle. What was uppermost on his mind was that the LTTE would take the gun away. The RPG that was fired at them dropped at a distance but it injured Jayaweera and three others. Jayaweera knew that he could not keep the gun. He began to climb onto the driving seat of the gun carrier while the enemy caterpillar gnarred and fired angrily. But Jayaweera soon managed to take the gun away from the scene. The troops knew that their would be no escape from the caterpillar attack.
But Gamini Kularatne, the Hasalaka Weeraya thought otherwise. The man who had earlier been drinking malted milk with the troops now, with a single carefree action, threw a grenade at the caterpillar – just where it would burst, but not to become a butterfly. What was flying from the caterpillar were red flames. The cries of “Right! right!”
As the troops were leaving in the huge gun carrier, they were mistakenly shot at by the Airforce too. These men of the Sri Lanka army were trapped in their camp for 23 days and survived on rice and soya meat till they were able to lead normal lives.
Sergent Jayaweera says that during this traumatic time it was their Commanding Officer Major Sanath Karunaratne who kept their morale high by insisting they do not surrender under any circumstances.
The officer had stood firmly by the conviction that come what may, the camp would not be surrendered, despite the men being trapped inside.
Sergent B. L. Jayaweera of the Sri Lanka army was decorated with the Rana Wickrema Padakkama for his selfless acts in the warfront – made for the sake of his motherland.
When the enemy came at the break of dawn
Few of us do not know or realise the hardship and tension experienced by the men of our security forces. Sadly, most of us would rather not know. They are taken so much for granted that we seldom pause to think that if not for the army, navy and airforce, Sri Lankans would not be enjoying the peace and security that they do no. The dedication of the men of our security forces is deep-seated. Their personal sacrifices, far too complex to be analysed on paper.
All service persons have made great personal sacrifices. They meet with their families perhaps only once a month. They live away from their loved or some form of communication, which may seldom come their way. Their lives in the strife-torn areas are not even moderately tolerable.
Yet they continue with their duties, weathering all storms, fighting their own personal battles and controlling their own human feelings.
Corporal Sumith Karunathileke of the Sri Lanka army loves peace. But in Elephant Pass one has to fight even for one’s peace. On November 22, 1992, the fight came without any warning – when it was least expected. About 100 liberation fighters of the LTTE surrounded the army camp and launched an uninterrupted attack. At first the Sri Lanka army thought that crackers were being set off from all sides. But there was no cause for celebration here – least of all at 1 a.m. This was how the attack on their camp began and it lasted for over three hours. After three hours however it did not stop. One bunker was collapsing, making way for the enemy to trespass.
Being unmanned, it was the ideal entry point into the camp. The liberation fighters for Tamil Eelam were hovering around, aiming fire at the camp, but their eyes on the bunker that was weakening – making way for the enemy to enter. They began to scramble towards it to gain access, but were stalled by the gunfire from the soldiers. Inside the camp itself there was not a man crouching in fear. If the enemy wanted to come in, they were welcome. It did not matter to the Sri Lanka army where the enemy was, but what mattered now was for every soldier to do his best, if they were to live to tell the tale.
Corporal Karunathileke knew that he had to bar the entry point if they were to live. Two soldiers lay injured almost dying in the broken bunker, and the entry of the enemy via this bunker meant death for the men inside, even if it was after a fight. “We got together, ran and manned the bunker which was the entry point,” said Karunathikleke. After this daring act of running towards the enemy and blocking their very route that now lay gaping, the troops began to launch an attack on the enemy. Using shell artillery the 24 men in the camp were able to give the enemy a run. The next day, they found 17 bodies of the liberation fighters in and around the camp. They also learnt, via LTTE communication that over 43 cadres were seriously injured. Corporal Karunathileke, is well and alive today. He feels that acts of bravery often end in success. Speaking of the bravery of the men and women of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, corporal Karunathileke said that the women of the LTTE are especially dedicated to their cause – ‘they forge ahead not pausing to think or deviate from their cause,” he said.
If the enemy had continued to gain access from this broken bunker the camp would have been razed to the ground. When the battle was won however it was 4.30 am. The soldiers stood awake the whole night through fighting for their mother, while the nation was in slumber. Infact, even after the gunfire had died, the soldiers lay awake and alert. It was possible for the enemy to come again and the Sri Lanka army was not going to take any chances.
The camp lay in disarray, yet there was victory in the air. There was no way in which the men could even make a cup of tea after the tiring battle. No breakfast either.
However, breakfast and tea soon arrived from another camp. And the well-deserved treat was dhal and bread over which the men discussed the battle they had just won. The troops thought that the civilians of Sri Lanka would never know of their close brush with death. That they did it not for any personal gain nor for their remuneration, but to keep their motherland from gradually falling into the hands of the enemy.
(The Sunday Leader)