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 Post subject: Eelam War II - "Operation Balavegaya"
 Post Posted: Sat May 27, 2006 1:50 am 
Eelam War II - "Operation Balavegaya"

Sources: SL Army / News Agencies
@ LL / 2006

On March 24, 1990, the Indian army had left Sri Lanka and the LTTE managed to destroy the Tamil National Army (TNA), which was the creation of the Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and that of Varatharajah Perumal, the Chief Minister of the North East Provincial Council. The LTTE took control of the Eastern province and after June 11, 1991, it was alleged that the LTTE used weapons given by Premadasa, to kill hundreds of police officers in the Eastern province.


The presence of the Army in these areas was very limited in numbers and the camps located in Kalmunai, Kalavanchikudi and Kiran were under siege. Kalmunai camp was evacuated by sea before reinforcements arrived. A massive operation was launched to reinforce the other two camps. Two brigades were launched under the command of Brigadier R.De.S. Daluwatte, the Area Commander for Ampara and Batticaloa, under the direction of the late Lieut Gen Kobbekaduwa who was responsible for the operations in the Eastern Province. 1 Brigade Group was tasked to reinforce Kalavanchikudi camp held by a company of 6th Battalion, Sri Lanka Light Infantry, whilst the 3 Brigade Group was assigned to reinforce Kiran camp held by a company of 1st Battalion, The Gemunu Watch. In approximately one weeks time the two brigades were able to break the siege on the two camps. The soldiers of the two camps held on valiantly beating back several LTTE attacks and inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Hostilities also broke-out in the adjoining Trincomalee district and in the Northern Province during the same period. The situation in the Eastern Province was brought under control within a months time, and civil administration was restored.

The situation in the Northern province was different to what was in the east. The Army bases which existed in the north were Palaly, Jaffna Fort, Mankulam, Kokavil, Elephant Pass, Mullaithivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar.

Due to the presence of the IPKF and the subsequent peace talks, the numbers in the bases had been reduced and the perimeters in large camps like Palaly had been reduced. There was no depth to the defences of these camps. The nonexistence of a land route forced the Army to depend on the Air Force for troop reinforcements and combat supplies. The air strip in Palaly was directly under enemy fire. However the determined pilots of the Sri Lanka Air Force were able to bring in reinforcements despite a heavy volume of enemy fire. Operation JAYASHAKTI was launched to expand the Palaly camp in order to facilitate the unhindered landing of aircrafts.

The siege on camps at Mankulam, Kokavil, Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi continued. Kokavil camp was overrun by the terrorists in July 1990 and tactical withdrawals were made from Mankulam and Kilinochchi camps.

The officer-in-charge of the Kokavil camp did not withdraw from the camp even when the fall of the camp was imminent, for the very reason that he did not want to abandon his wounded subordinates.

Lt. Saliya Aladeniya

Lt. Saliya Aladeniya was in command of the army outpost with a handful of men at Kokavil. The camp was surrounded for several days by LTTE cadres who out numbered them five to one. The food and water were running out in the camp and so was the ammunition. In spite of many requests, reinforcements sent from Lt. Aladeniya's HQ in Nuwara Eliya never reached Kokavil, having been diverted elsewhere. Orders to withdraw from the camp came at the eleventh hour but when it was too late and Aladeniya had wounded men whom he did not want to leave behind. Pledging that he would rather die alongside them than leave them, Lt. Aladeniya fought on till an adjacent fuel dump exploded killing the majority of the defenders in the camp. Lt. Aladeniya lost his life and was posthumously promoted and honoured. He was posthumously awarded PARAMA WEERA VIBHUSHANAYA, the highest military award for gallantry.

During the first week of September 1990, the small camp in Mullaithivu came under intense attack by the LTTE. An amphibious operation code named 'SEA BREEZE' was launched to rescue the camp. The operation was successfully carried out and the area controlled by the camp was extended.

One of the most courageous acts in the recent military history of Sri Lanka was the determined occupation of the Jaffna Fort by a small contingent of troops of 6th Battalion, Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment. They held on to the defences of the old Dutch Fort in the heart of Jaffna town without any reinforcements and casualty evacuation (except for once), and they repulsed many attacks during a period of approximately two months until they were relieved by the troops of Operation 'THRIVIDHA BALAYA'.
No route was available from land and the causeway from the Fort to Mandativu, where the assault force set up camp, a source of danger. By day and night the small boats would ferry the Army up and down the open sea, exposed to gunfire from three directions. This was the legendary "Suicide Express".

Consequent to this, there were a series of limited operations conducted in order to inflict damage on the LTTE. On the 10th of July 1991, the Army camp located at the strategically important Elephant Pass came under siege by the LTTE. The army base commanded by Major Sanath Karunaratne defended the camp. The battle for Elephant Pass was the most violent and bloody confrontation that ever took place between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces.

In July 1990, when Denzil Kobbekaduwa took charge as the officer commanding the North, he instituted an operation codenamed "Operation Gajasinghe" to pull out troops from Kilinochchi and strengthen the camp at Elephant Pass. He also established a temporary camp at Paranthan, north of Paranthan junction, for obtaining fresh water for the camp at Elephant Pass. Subsequently, Elephant Pass camp was expanded and transformed into a massive military complex, with a main base and four mini-camps, within a stretch of land three miles in diameter. At one time, the Elephant Pass base and the satellite camps covered an area about 23 kilometers long and nearly 10 kilometers wide. About 800 troops manned the military installations.

The LTTE began its first assault on the camp from the south of Elephant Pass. On the very first day LTTE attacked the camp at dawn and were supported by bulldozers which were armour plated. Heavy mortars, machine guns and whatever the available fire power the LTTE had, was thrown into battle. Hundreds of cadres attempted to storm the defences of the camp wave after wave. Only a small portion of the southern defences fell into the enemy hands. The battalion stationed there heroically stood before the ferocious attack. At this juncture, Lance Corporal Kularatna of the 6th battalion of the Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment managed to climb on top of an advancing bulldozer and lobbed a grenade with total disregard to the safety of his own life. He was killed during the process of this action displaying true grit and valour. The bulldozer which would have caused much destruction was immobilized. Later this soldier was posthumously awarded PARAMA WEERA VIBHUSHANAYA.

On the second day, the second in command of the base, Major Lalith Buddhadasa, was killed, along with a few other soldiers, by mortar attack. Attempts by the Sri Lankan air force to land helicopters inside the base proved futile, due to the heavy gunfire of the Tigers. The LTTE by then had surrounded the army base and were closing in from all direction. The main thrust was from the south and there were attempts to penetrate the defenses with earth moving vehicles and artillery fire on the outer defense positions. But, the army, which fought valiantly, foiled all of the LTTE's attempts. Eventually, the Rest House camp in the southern sector of the base, fell into the hands of the LTTE. Sustaining heavy losses, the Sri Lankan troops fell back to the rear positions.

"Prabhakaran openly declared that, he had waged the 'Mother of all Battles'. He was very confident of victory. Troops were running short of ammunition, food and medicine. Many airdrops were carried out. Fortunately, about 60 percent of the airdrops fell within the camp premises. Troops managed with at least one cooked meal a day. This meal, prepared in different locations, included rice, dhal and either Soya meat or dried sprats." - A Soldier's Version by Major General Sarath Munasinghe - page 115.

Fierce fighting continued for four days and the LTTE forces, both male and female cadres, continued their relentless onslaught on the southern and northern sectors of Elephant Pass despite mounting causalities. The entrapped Sri Lankan soldiers fought for their lives and were completely surrounded. It was reported that they sent SOS signals for reinforcements.

To break the siege and reinforce the Elephant Pass camp, along with Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne, General Kobbekaduwa launched "Operation Balavegaya". The Government drew up this massive operation plan with a huge force of 10,000 soldiers, which consisted of several battle-hardened and experienced regiments. They were mobilized with modern weapons, including tanks and armored vehicles.

The amphibious Task Force consisting of two brigades sailed from Trincomalee Naval base. An amphibious operation had to be launched as there was no cleared land route available to ensure speedy reinforcement.

On July 14, 1991, around 5 pm in the evening, the massive rescue operation was launched by General Denzil Kobbekaduwa. With Brigadier Wimalaratne's personal effort, troops landed at Vettilaikerni, located 12 kilometers east of Elephant Pass. There was so much opposition from the Tiger fighters that the first wave of naval craft failed to land. There were causalities, but men ferried by naval craft from Pulmoddai were determined and the air force provided effective air support throughout the operation.

Amidst heavy resistance of the LTTE the troops of the Task Force made a heroic landing at the beach head at Vettilaikerni. Initially, troops from 3 SLLI, 3 GR, 1SLSR and 4 GR assisted by armor and artillery captured the beachhead and expanded thereafter.

"Many terrorist were killed and large stocks of arms and ammunition captured from the terrorists. There was an intense fighting near the Mulliyan Kovil, northwest of Vettilaikerni. The reason was that the terrorists were determined to recover a stock of gold hidden near the Kovil [Temple]. In fact, the terrorists managed to evict the troops from Kovil area for a short while by counter attacking. They managed to take the gold away." - A Soldier's Version by Major General Sarath Munasinghe - pages 115-116.

Subsequently, thousands of Sri Lankan troops landed on the beaches of Vettilaikerni, breaching the stiff opposition provided by the Tigers. With their superior fire power and manpower, the armed forces were able to secure the beach-head and opened up a new fighting arena, and it was from here that they fought their way to relieve Elephant Pass. The terrain comprised of sand dunes, dotted with thorny scrub and Palmyra palms, an area that did not provide any natural cover against aerial, naval and artillery bombardment. Therefore, the confrontation assumed the character of a conventional warfare, with the combatants facing each other in open battle. It took nearly 18 days for Sri Lankan troops to fight their way on the 12 kilometer stretch to reach the Elephant Pass base.

According to Adele Ann Balasingham, "It took exactly 18 days for the several battalions of Sri Lankan army troops, who landed along the Vadamaradchy eastern coast in a massive rescue operation, to reach the besieged Elephant Pass base. To advance for a short distance of 12 kilometers, the Sinhala regiments, backed by heavy amour and air cover, had to engage in fierce clashes with the LTTE and fight for every inch of the land. With the heavy losses in men and material, the troops finally reached the Elephant Pass base, on the evening of 3rd August 1991. The fighting continued that area until the 9th August, when finally the LTTE made a tactical withdrawal. Apart from the battle of the Fort, it was the longest single battle ever fought between the combatants, which lasted for nearly 31 days.

The LTTE suffered heavy causalities [573 Tamil Tigers including 123 women fighters were killed according to Adele Ann Balasingham] in the battle.

According to government official figures, 202 army personnel were killed in the battle to retain Elephant Pass base. There were no official figures of the injuries sustained by the armed forces. According to Major General Sarath Munasinghe, who was at that time the Sri Lankan army spokesman, who wrote A Soldier's Version after his retirement, writes, "On 4 August 1991, I was lucky to personally witness the link up with the ESP camp. It was the biggest ever victory over the LTTE at that time. There was joy and smiles all over. Prabhakaran's much publicized, 'Mother of all Battles,' was defeated. 202 valiant men including some prominent officers had laid their lives. Over thousand terrorists were killed at EPS and during the operation to link up. Many citizens voluntarily sent in, sweets, chutney, cigarettes and many other food items to the soldiers in the battlefield. There were banners and posters praising the soldiers in many parts of the country." - pages 116-117

This operation code named as 'BALAVEGAYA - I' was the largest ever amphibious operation conducted by the Services in Sri Lanka. Over 7,000 troops and thousands of tons of supplies were landed by Landing Craft against stiff opposition.

Many operations were conducted after operation 'BALAVEGAYA - I'.

On August 28, 1991, the Sri Lankan army under the command of Denzil Kobbekaduwa, launched "Operation Lightning" (AKUNUPAHARA) at Weli-oya - in Tamil - Manal Aru (sand river) - (Oya in Sinhala and Aru in Tamil mean one and the same thing - river). 'AKUNUPAHARA' was launched to capture Michael camp in the 14 base complex in Niththikaikulam area.

More than 4,000 Sri Lankan troops, backed by heavy armor and with air cover from bombers and helicopter gunship, were in the operation. The army units advanced from Gajapura headquarters and launched a three frontal attack on Nithikaikulam, an LTTE controlled area. The LTTE forces, which were already positioned along the river embankment at Nithikaikulam, resisted the advancing troops and blocked the advance. The Manal Aru battle dragged on for 28 days.

After four fays of intense fighting, the LTTE fighters, it was reported, tactically withdrew from the Nithikaikulam area to the adjoining jungles and established a new defense perimeter.

After four weeks of fighting, according to the LTTE version, the Sri Lankan army was able to occupy a few abandoned LTTE bases in the periphery area, and then it claimed victory. Subsequently, the Sri Lankan forces suddenly withdrew.

Major-General Sarath Munasinghe, wrote in his Soldier's Version, "Operation Ashaka Sena was launched simultaneously with Operation Balavegaya with dual aims. One was to divert the attention of the LTTE from the EPS. The other was to destroy whatever facilities at 14 base complex of the LTTE. This operation launched from Welioya, was not all that successful, but it achieved the primary aim of diversion to an extent.

"A few weeks later, operation Akuna Pahara was launched from Welioya, as a continuation of the operation Ashaka Sena. Troops had to operate in thick jungles south of Mullaithievu for over a month. Sathees, Michael, Suganthan, Kamal, and other LTTE training camps and bases were destroyed during this operation. Although we lost 150 men, over 800 terrorists including the 14th base leader Anbu were killed. Besides, this was the first offensive operation since 1990, in which troops were not advancing to protect our own camp." - page 120.

But according to LTTE reports, more than 300 Sri Lankan troops were killed and hundreds more were injured and maimed. The LTTE also lost over 200 cadres, out which 56 were women fighters.

The last major confrontation of 1991 with the LTTE was on October 16, 1991, when hundreds of Sri Lankan infantrymen from the Kokkilai army camp in the Mullaithievu region, moved along the coastal route that lies between the sea and the coconut palms and walked into a Tiger trap. The advancing columns of soldiers, unaware of the LTTE presence, walked into a hailstorm of bullets and they withdrew in total disarray. Thirty soldiers were killed, including three officers, and 70 were injured. The LTTE lost 14 fighters, three of them women.

During the first half of 1992, the Tigers massacred hundreds of Sinhala and Muslims civilians, mainly in Ampara and Polonnaruwa districts. On April 10, 1992, a civilian bus was blasted at the Ampara bus stand, killing 28 and injuring 36 civilians. On April 29, over 50 civilians were killed when the LTTE attacked Alinchipotana village. On the same day, 58 Muslim civilians were hacked to death at Karapola. On July 15, at Kirankulam, Batticaloa the LTTE attacked a passenger bus and 19 Muslims were killed.

Meanwhile, General Kobbekaduwa and his team, including Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne, were busy planning a major operation to be launched in Jaffna. It was told that, the aim was to liberate the entire top half of the Jaffna peninsula. Kobbekaduwa was in Colombo in the third week of July to attend his father's funeral.

It was later reported that, Kobbekaduwa was in Colombo again on August 2, 1992, to finalize the proposed operation with President Premadasa. Reports further suggest that the President had approved the operation and given the green signal. Kobbekaduwa returned to Plalay and had a meeting with his subordinate officers, on August 3, 1992.

In the proposed operation to wrest part of the Jaffna peninsula, the navy had a role to play, to ferry troops from Kayts island to Araly, on the western side of the peninsula.

Subsequently, on August 7, General Kobbekaduwa and his party left for Karainagar naval base by helicopter and spent the night there. Kobbekaduwa, together with Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne and Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha had conferred far into the night of August 7. Since the navy officer had some doubts, it was decided to proceed to Kayts the following day. The final decision was delayed until they could reconnoiter a particular area to finalize troop movements, which required a visit to Araly point the next day.

On August 8, 1992, at about 8.00 am, Denzil Kobbekaduwa and his party, including Brigadier Wimalaratne, Palipana, Major Rupasinghe, Induruwa, Corporal Upali, Private Samarasinghe and naval officers Jayamaha, Wijepura, Lankatilaka, Ambepitya and Sam Perera, set out from Karainagar to go to Kayts island. Kobbekaduwa, Jayamaha, Wimalaratne and a few others boarded a new naval boat and went towards the mainland before returning to Kayts pier.

At Kayts, three Land Rovers awaited the party. The naval party used the car bearing No: 5959, driven by a navy driver. Kobbekaduwa invited Brigadier Wimalaratne to get into the driver's seat and drive the vehicle in which he was traveling, Land Rover No: UHA 8752. The rest of the army personnel traveled in Land Rover No: UHA 8785.

While proceeding towards Araly Point, about one-and-a-half kilometers from Araly Point, General Kobbekaduwa stopped all three vehicles. About 100 meters ahead was a wide open area, grassland without trees, where the explosion that occurred on the return trip happened. Kobbekaduwa suggested that they should proceed in one vehicle, otherwise the LTTE could observe them from the mainland, which was just half a kilometer away, separated by the sea. The general reported to have said that the LTTE had the firepower - mortars etc, which could be used to good effect from that distance. When they reached Araly Point, they had a discussion. But, it was while they were returning to be taken back to the base by helicopter, that the tragedy occurred. An explosion was heard by two majors who were watching the jeep in which the military leaders were traveling. Major Rupasinghe and Induruwa were 400 yards away from the jeep. When they came running up, they found that except for two persons, whose bodies were mutilated, had died instantaneously. It was reported that, when the two majors reached General Kobbekaduwa he said, "I am OK. What about others? Go and take care of them."

Kobbekaduwa and Jayamaha were loaded onto the waiting helicopter, which took off immediately for Palaly, where the Rear Admiral was found to be dead. Though he was mortally wounded, Kobbekaduwa said, "I'm all right, see what can be done to the others." As the doctors were unable to do more for him at Palaly, Kobbekaduwa was taken to Colombo, where a team of leading specialists battled to save his life, but they were unsuccessful.

The death of Denzil Kobbekaduwa and nine others, including senior army and navy officers, sent shock waves all over the country.

In November 1993 the Pooneryn camp came under intense attack of the LTTE. The troops were able to hold on for three days until reinforcements arrived. The terrorists suffered a large number of casualties and they officially accepted approximately six hundred deaths.

With the change of government in August 1994, fresh peace talks with the LTTE began. A cease-fire was announced between the Security Forces and the LTTE in January 1995.

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