When I was Commander of the Navy in 2015, Navy’s Board of Management decided to convert this branch in to Naval Marines. This was happily welcomed by young officers and sailors of this branch who did not had a bright future.
by Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne
Month of August 2006, fifteen years ago was an very eventful month for Sri Lanka Navy. I was the Commandant of Naval and Maritime Academy (NMA) and Flag Officer Naval Fleet (FOCNF) based in Trincomalee, both were busy appointments.
The NMA routine suits me. NMA starts work at 0730 hrs and goes up to 1330 hrs. Afternoon and evening allocated for Sports and water activities. So, I was able to have my lunch at 1330 hrs and spend my afternoon till 1700 at office of FOCNF. As Commandant, I enjoyed teaching swimming and sailing to young cadets. It’s always delightful sight to see young cadet learning swimming and become a good swimmer who can swim one mile at sea, wearing overall and boots. Most preferred stroke in swimming in this dress was Breast stroke.
|U.S. Marine Capt. Paul Harris congratulates Sri Lankan Marines after the amphibious capabilities demonstration during the Sri Lankan Marine Corps Boot Camp graduation at Sri Lankan Naval Station Barana in Mullikulum.|
LTTE was very active in Eastern area in 2006. They had their Grand Strategy very well laid, with plans to capture Trincomalee harbour and thereby cutting off the life line to North, Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC). As no land route to North, (Vanni was under LTTE Control then), Trincomalee was vital to keep our ships and craft to carry men and material to North by sea.
The telltale of LTTE Grand Strategy was felt when LTTE ordered civilian living closer to Naval base to vacate their houses. We were very clear of incoming danger. Trincomalee Naval Base was developed by Royal Navy during Second World War period to station and repair large allied fleet. Naval base is huge. It has land area of 850 acres. It has Married quarters, bachelor accommodations, training institutes, workshops, slipways and home for large amount of naval personnel and their families.
British occupied Trincomalee harbour on 1th January 1782, from Dutch during fourth Anglo-Dutch war. Do you know, Trincomalee was the only place in Sri Lanka French has occupied during their colonial desires. The ownership of Trincomalee changed from Dutch to French to British, on same day. Even after we got our Independence from British on 4th February 1948, they continue occupying Trincomalee Naval Base (then expanded to China bay air field and oil tank farm) and Katunayake airfield as per a Defence agreement signed with British. It was on 15th October 1957, we took over Trincomalee Naval Base back under leadership of late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike. So, British ruled this beautiful and Strategically important deep water harbour and its facilities for 175 years.
Coming back to our main story, On my assessment, closing of the Mavil Aru water distribution point in Eastern province (South of Trincomalee) and attack to Trincomalee Naval Base with their long range Artillery guns were the biggest mistakes the LTTE terrorists had done, which pushed them government to declare total War against LTTE Terrorists.
|Fall of LTTE Arty shots on 1st and 12th August 2006|
On anticipation of imminent LTTE attack on Trincomalee Naval base and to detect LTTE Suicide boats waiting on ambush at Trincomalee harbour mouth, we fixed old Chapel hill naval communication center with radar and thermal cámara. With this arrangement, we could surveillance day and night the harbour mouth and LTTE occupied Sampoor area very well.(please read my article Rexy and Chappella – Canines War Veterans article on Island enewspaper dated 22nd September 2020. ) I would say, when temperature different was large at night, we could even detect a dog walking along the Sampoor beach (which is 8 Km away) with our thermal cámara fixed on top of the chapel hill.
First artillery attack of enemy came into Naval base on 1st August 2006 around 1230 hrs, killing one instructor and four sailors at NMA. Enemy simultaneously targeted Jet liner ship returning from Notrhern area carrying 700 military personnel also. Jetliner miraculously escape from attack due to alertness of OIC and Fast attack craft escorted her.
|Rear Admiral U I Serasinghe|
That evening enemy attacked both Muttur Naval Detachment and Kattaparichhan Army camp, the two outposts we had in South side of Trincomalee harbour. The both Army and Navy personnel in these two detachments fought valiantly and held on to their positions. Army and Navy reinforcements sent immediately. Captain UI Serasinghe (presently Deputy Director General of Civil Security Department and holding rank of Rear Admiral) and Lt Cdr Roy Raymond(presently a Captain now serving as Naval Officer in Charge Trincomalee South), both were from Naval Patrolmen branch (Naval Infantry) volunteered to lead the reinforcement troops to besieged Muttur Naval Detachment. Ironically Roy was on his honeymoon. Leaving his wife at Naval base, Trincomalee he boarded the Inshore Patrol craft to go to Muttur under enemy attack. Leadership, valor and bravery showed by these senior officers of Naval patrolmen branch to lead their men into battle was unbelievable. These were the traditions of our “silent force” of Sri Lanka Navy.
Another officer volunteered to go with reinforcement troops to Muttur. He was Lieutenant Indika Wijeratne also from Naval Patrolmen Branch. Indika joined Navy as a direct entry sub Lieutenant after his degree from University of Colombo. He came to my horizon in 1999, in Odusudan. He led small group of sailors from our Navy bunker line to enemy lines and killed four LTTE Cadres and recovered their weapons. His bravery was well known in Naval Patrolmen branch.
|Command bunker destroyed by enemy mortar attack- Major Ravindra, Captain UI Serasinghe with Army Communicator|
When our reinforcements reached Muttur, they found the Bravo sector of the detachment was already occupied by enemy fighters. The elite SL Army Commandoes led by then Major Ravindra Hadunpathirana (he died of a vehicle accident later) and SLN SBS personnel were holding on, avoiding further advancement by enemy. Things were bad next day (3rd Aug). LtCdr (SBS) Anura Weerasinghe, second in Command of the SBS got injured and five SBS men paid supreme sacrifice.
When things got from bad to worse, on next day (4th Aug) Lt Indika Wijeratne , who was tasked to hold on to Bravo sector with reinforcement naval troops decided to carry out an assault on enemy positions and re-take entire Bravo sector. This is the first and last time in Sri Lanka Navy history, assault on enemy line on land was performed. Indika’s buddy, Leading Patrolman Premalal XP 23303 died during this assault. Brave sailor followed his senior officer until his last breath ! Great comradeship!
Indika and his troops were successful in re-taking Bravo sector. Enemy withdrew with their casualties. Indika positioned two snipers, one from SBS and one from Army Commandoes with their AccuracyInternational 7.62x51mm sniper weapons. overlooking the Kattaparichchan Aru to target enemy fighters crossing this waterway with their casualties. They took their targets at their will until water in Aru become red with enemy blood. LTTE humiliated by gallant Sri Lankan Military forces. Holding on to Muttur and Kattaparichchan by Navy and Army gave a firm foothold to our gallant forces to attack Sampoor and clear all dangers to Trincomalee Naval Base later.
Once our conflict was over in May 2009, this Patrolmen branch, or Naval infantry branch lost their importance. As they were trained only to fight on land, these officers and sailors could not be attached to Navy ships and craft.
|Navy Commander at Sampoor with US Marines|
When I was Commander of the Navy in 2015, Navy’s Board of Management decided to convert this branch in to Naval Marines. This was happily welcomed by young officers and sailors of this branch who did not had a bright future. During my visit to San Diego, California, USA for US Pacific Command Amphibious Leaders Symposium in 2016, I had discussions with US Marine Commanders and US 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit was tasked to train Patrolmen officers and sailors volunteered from Naval Patrolmen branch to raise first battalion of Sri Lanka Marines.
|Training with US Marines in Sampoor|
|Training with US Marines in Sampoor|
Under watchful eyes of US Marines instructors, after vigorous training exercises, 164 marines consists of six officers and 158 sailors were inducted into first battalion of SL Marines on 27th February 2017 at Mullikulam, where then President HE Maitreepal Sirisena was the Chief Guest. Our hero Indika Wijeratne was badged as first qualified Marine of Sri Lanka and Commanding Officer of the First Battalion of SL Marines. Rear Admiral U I Serasinghe became the first Director of Marines.
|First Marine of Sri Lanka|
US Marines were very impressed with our boys. An invitation was extended to one SL Marines platoon to take part in RIMPAC Multinational Naval Exercise in 2018. RIMPAC is the biggest Military/Naval exercise in the World. Australian helicopter carrier HMHS Canberra carried our Marines platoon onboard for the two months long exercise. They were very well trained to response ts Natural Disasters and returned home keeping Sri Lanka Marines flag flying high at RIMPAC.
SL Marine base was established in Sampoor, the same area where Indika led his assault on enemy. Today SLMrines do periodic training exercise with US and Australian Marines and first responders to any natural disasters.
|Amphibious Landing demonstration by SL Marines at Mullikulam|
Vigor , VALOUR, Victory – motto of SL Marines. Long live SL Marines !
The writer retired from Sri Lanka Navy and Former Chief of Defence Staff