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 Post subject: Lieutenant General Denzil Lakshman Kobbekaduwa
 Post Posted: Sun Sep 10, 2006 6:04 pm 
Lieutenant General Denzil Lakshman Kobbekaduwa
(July 27, 1940 - August 09, 1992)

"Sri Lanka lost a great son. We lost a great leader, a hero and a gentleman. Lali and the children lost a great father. I lost my idol. The only regret I have is that I was not able to serve with him for a longer period due to unavoidable circumstances. I do not wish to even go to the area of how senior politicians feared his popularity amongst the people. That's a whole different story. Let me have another chance of being Gen. Kobbekaduwa's subordinate officer in my next birth" - Colonel Lalith Gunaratna

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@ Wikipedia
RH / LL - Sep 2006

Born into a wealthy family, the second child but the eldest of three sons, he was educated at Trinity College kandy. At school he excelled in sports, especially Rugby, football, playing as scrum half. He continued to play even after he had joined the army. He not only played rugby football, he also coached, refereed and administered the game and was a Board member of the Duncan White Sports Foundation.

Lt. General Kobbekaduwa joined the army in May 1960 and received his training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England. Although the army was more a parade ground army at that time, Lt. General Kobbekaduwa was to see it turned into a well trained, battle hardened and disciplined army. Lt. Kobbekaduwa (as he was at that time) was well liked both by his superiors and his peers (and later his subordinates as well) and his promotions within the army came swiftly, despite twice being a victim of political interdictions in 1965 and 1977. He was promoted to Major General in 1990 and was posthumously promoted to Lt. General in 1992.

One of the most famous victories executed by Lt. General Kobbekaduwa was the manner in which he broke the siege of Elephant Pass. The attack on the army camp at Elephant Pass which was launched in July 1991 was planned by Prabhakaran himself who named it "Operation Charles Anthony". Charles Anthony, alias Seelan had been Prabhakaran’s closest ally and it was in retaliation for his death that the landmine which killed 13 young soldiers was set off in July 1983.

Prabhakaran even came out of hiding to visit the LTTE forward areas prior to launching the attack. Civilians were co-opted to man supply lines and hospitals and provide other services with all available transport being requisitioned and hundreds of coffins being stockpiled in readiness for the operation. The attack was launched with about 3000 personnel (men and women drawn from the North and East) but at the height of the battle this number rose to about 6000. The LTTE leader was willing to sacrifice anyone to win this location while he directed the attack himself from his hideout in Chavakachcheri.

The tactics used by Lt. General Kobbekaduwa in breaking this siege were unprecedented in the annals of Sri Lankan military history. Though the battle plans for Operation Balavegaya one was drawn up at the Joint Operations headquarters in Colombo the execution of these plans was in the hands of Lt. General Kobbekaduwa.

With no tanks and heavy armour, 8000 men were deployed for the rescue mission to relieve the besieged camp and regain territory captured by the LTTE. This was an amphibious operation backed with helicopters carrying troops. Lt. General Kobbekaduwa was in the landing craft leading his men from the front, taking the same risks as his men.

The resistance was so intense that some battalion commanders were considering aborting the operation temporarily. Lt. General Kobbekaduwa wanted to go ahead. In this he was supported by Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne, who died in the same bomb blast Araly Point. Despite heavy enemy firepower, the taskforce established a beachhead at Vettilaikerny.

Denzil Kobbekaduwa has been called an "exceptional Third World General". This is not to denigrate him but shows how good he was at carrying out a campaign under third world situations, where funds were limited and every resource had to be carefully nursed. It was Kobbekaduwa who in 1985 waged war with the LTTE on two fronts.

The Adampan operation is one such instance. Here the armed forces waged a two prong attack one in the south-eastern entrance of Madhu Adampan base region while the main thrust was in the north western sector. It was only later the LTTE realised that while their forces were engaged the army had interdicted their supply lines in the area where the Mannar coast was linked to the jungle base of the Wanni. The planning was by Kobbekaduwa who could obtain maximum advantage from minimum resources a true attribute of great military leader. Even the LTTE fighters respected Kobbekaduwa’s strategical skills and military tactics that whenever such signs were observed in a manoeuvre, they associated it with him.

He was quoted as saying "Why should we let anyone else fight our war?" The IPKF, unhappy with his presence at the front, complained twice. His sense of justice made him realise that although the Tigers were all Tamil, this did not necessarily mean that all Tamils were LTTE. He wanted to win the confidence of the civilian population and make them realise that they were better off trusting the army.

He was fighting an enemy who had a large stock of arms and an advanced military infrastructure with limited manpower and finances and a mono-ethnic army. This made it difficult to hold on to territory, subjugating the people of the area to a military rule while continuing to wage war against a guerrilla army.

He used three principles in his counter-insurgency war measures: firstly, he did not believe in holding down land, secondly, he believed in drawing the enemy away from populated areas to minimise civilian deaths and with advance manoeuvring and superior fire power strain and destroy the enemy fire power, and thirdly make the civilians realise that they were better off trusting the armed forces. In fact, the UNHCR paid a tribute to him for his humanitarian approach to the beleaguered Tamil population.

Lt. General Kobbekaduwa together with Major General Vijaya Wimalaratne and Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha, had been conferring far into the night on August 7th. They were planning an operation which was to be launched shortly. The final decision was delayed until they could reconnoitre a particular area to finalise troop movements, which required a visit to Araly point the next day. 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 Land Rover jeep in which the three military leaders were travelling. Majors Rupasinghe and Induruwa were 400 yards away from the jeep. When they came running up, they found that except for two persons, the others, whose bodies were mutilated, had died instantaneously.

The intact bodies of Lt. General Kobbekaduwa and Rear Admiral Jayamaha were loaded onto the waiting helicopter which took off immediately to Palaly where the Rear Admiral was found to be dead. Though he was mortally wounded, Kobbekaduwa had 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, Lt. General Kobbekaduwa was brought to Colombo where a team of leading specialists battled to save his life, but were unsuccessful.


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 Post subject: Late General Denzil Kobbekaduwa
 Post Posted: Sun Sep 10, 2006 6:09 pm 
Late General Denzil Kobbekaduwa

The Talk Delivered by Colonel Lalith Gunaratna at the Lt. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa Commemorations Day

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Venerable members of the Maha Sangha, Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to talk about the Late General Denzil Kobbekaduwa. This indeed is one of the most difficult tasks that I have undertaken ever. Why is it so difficult? Because, 15 minutes is hardly enough to talk about this great leader. If given half a chance, I would have spoken about General. Denzil, as we affectionately called him, for hours, without boring you. So, let me start without wasting more time.

General Kobbekaduwa, the Great Soldier:

I met Gen. K. for the first time in July 1970. He was then a Captain and I, a 2nd Lt. I had the good fortune of being in the same unit as he was, the Sri Lanka Armored Corps. I was still learning the ABCs of the Army, whilst Gen. Denzil held important appointments at AHQ. I used to meet him on and off in our officers mess and at Army Rugby practices. When I was studying for the Capt. to Major examination, he was one of my instructors – in fact the best instructor we had at that time. Subsequently, when Gen. K. was appointed as the Commanding Officer of my unit, I had the honor of working as one of his squadron commanders.

Gen. Kobbekaduwa's next appointment was as the Coordinating Officer of Kilinochchi. Within a week of his arrival in Kilinochchi, we observed a very positive operational impact. He was doing extremely well. He insisted that he went on operations along with the troops, and the troops loved him for that. The morale of the troops was very high. I can still remember, when the helicopter carrying me and some soldiers landed on the Kilinochchi Camp grounds, the first person to rush out was Gen.K. He walked right up to the helicopter, hugged me and said, "Welcome Lalith; it will be good to have you by my side." I was not the only person he did this to. He personally welcomed every officer who arrived at his command headquarters and made it a point to talk to the soldiers. He was a firm but fair officer, who was highly motivated to carry on his responsibilities to the best. With his hard work, brilliant planning and execution of these plans, he was able to gain control of Kilinochchi.

When it was decided to launch a full-scale operation in Jaffna, General. Kobbekaduwa was an automatic choice to command one of the two advancing brigades. The late General Vijaya Wimalaratne commanded the other. General Kobbekaduwa, along with General Wimalaratne and a few other brilliant officers, the late Gen. Lucky Wijeratne, Col. Sarath Jayawardena and Col. Harin Malwatte planned this operation. Although the original name was different, it became popularly known to all of us as the "Vadamarachchi Operation". I had the honor of being appointed to carry out the deception plan, commencing 8 days prior to the launching of the operation. The Army was to advance from Palaly to Point Pedro, on two fronts, flushing out the terrorists and taking control of key point in Vadamarachchi. Velvettithurai, Prabhakaran’s village was one of the targets of the operation. This village was heavily defended, with concrete bunkers etc and furthermore, Prabhakaran had boasted that he would give up the fight for Eelam if Velvettithurai were lost to the Govt. Forces.

The first day of the operation was disastrous to us. We lost 20 odd personnel including officers. The most concerned about these deaths and injuries to others, was General. Kobbekaduwa. Amidst, conducting the operation, he was constantly inquiring about the dead and injured army personnel.

On the third day of the operation, we took Velvettithurai. At Velvettithurai, we found a house full of mortars, other ammunition, weapons and maps. On studying the maps, it seemed that the bulk of the LTTE was defending the northern area of Vadamarachchi, towards the sea. At the debriefing headed by the Joint Operations Commander. General Cyril Ranatunga, that evening, going northwards instead of continuing to push eastwards as per original plan was discussed. All the senior officers at this debriefing decided to push northwards, which meant a change of plan, with the hope of capturing Prabhakaran in the process. The maps and documents that we found gave us all indications that Prabhakaran’s headquarters was in that vicinity. Everybody was excited. Only General Kobbekaduwa was skeptical of this move. He wanted to keep to the original plan and clear up to Point Pedro. However, it was decided to go northwards. General Kobbekaduwa being a highly disciplined man, decided to go along with the others. Even with the change of the operational plan, we found nothing. A few weeks after the operation ended, when a member of the foreign press interviewed Prabhakaran, he said that he had got caught to the Army deception plan, and thought that we were getting ready to attack Jaffna and made plans accordingly. He also said that the Army got caught to their deception plan when they read the maps and other documents purposely left behind for the Army. Later, it was also found out that Prabhakaran had escaped to India by fleeing towards Point Pedro. This was the time we realized, if we had listened to Gen. Kobbekaduwa and kept advancing to Point Pedro, without a change of plan, we had a great chance of capturing Prabhakaran and also that the outcome of the operation would have been more positive. Who knows, we would have broken the backbone of the LTTE, and the whole situation would have been much different today.

We had won, until the Indians interfered. Gen. Kobbekaduwa was very disappointed that he could not continue with the operation. He made it a point to speak to all his officers and thank them personally for their contribution in Vadamarachchi. He also made it a point to speak to many soldiers as possible. We loved to see his ever-smiling face on the battlefield.

I can go on talking about the military brilliance and out of this world qualities of leadership, forever. There will be many army officers who will be willing to talk about his greatness.

General Kobbekaduwa, the Great Human Being:

From here, I would like to move from talking about, General Kobbekaduwa, the great soldier, to General Kobbekaduwa, the human being. For this, I will be telling you about a few personal experiences I had with him and how these actions influenced me to be a better leader and human being.

When the General was the Commanding Officer of Armored Corps, he was very interested in his soldiers. He was interested in their well being, and particularly about their meals. Everyday, on his way to the officers’ mess for lunch he would stop at the other ranks mess and check their lunch out. Furthermore, he had instructed the quartermaster of the unit to send a plate of the soldiers’ food to the officers’ mess. General Kobbekaduwa first served a little bit each from the soldiers’ food before he started on his own lunch. If the food was not up to his standards, the quartermaster was in for a long talk by the CO. he also made it a point to ask the junior officers " what do the men have for lunch?" a plain answer of "rice" as some young officers tried to say and survive did not work with him. It came to a stage when the men’s mess food was the best in the whole army.

Another instance in which I was humbled by his actions was when I was walking with him to the officers' mess, a group of soldiers saluted and greeted him. He returned the salute and asked one corporal whether his wife delivered their baby. At this time I was feeling pin pricks of embarrassment because my CO knew about this soldier, and I as a junior officer was ignorant about it. The soldier replied saying that the baby was not born yet, but was expected that same day or the following day. Gen. Kobbekaduwa instructed one his officers that this soldier be given a few days off and also instructed his driver to take this soldier to where his wife was, in Gampaha, in his jeep. This action showed the true greatness of the General.

"If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
or walk with kings and not lose the common touch" - Rudyard Kipling

I can go on and on about the great deeds performed by him. But, I must wind off now.

Besides my military duties, I had acquired the gift of being a songwriter. One particular song that I wrote became quite popular and ITN made a video out of it. General Kobbekaduwa loved this song. He used to say he could never imagine that I could write songs. He was really amused.
This song was dedicated to my son. But it was really ironic that it was played over and over again on ITN during the period of the General's death.

His beloved wife, Mrs. Lali Kobbekaduwa:

I should not forget to mention the support the General received from his beloved wife, Mrs. Lali Kobbekaduwa. When the General served up North for a period of around 10 years, with little or no time with the family, Lali brought up their three little one's and kept the family going. We loved Lali as much as we loved the General. You will not meet a lady with nicer ways. As you may know, she is doing a magnificent job in humanitarian work. If you want your donations to be well utilized, then, I think the Kobbekaduwa Foundation is the best prospect.

Conclusion:

Sri Lanka lost a great son. We lost a great leader, a hero and a gentleman. Lali and the children lost a great father. I lost my idol. The only regret I have is that I was not able to serve with him for a longer period due to unavoidable circumstances. I do not wish to even go to the area of how senior politicians feared his popularity amongst the people. That's a whole different story.

When my friend Sam invited me to deliver this talk, I accepted it without even batting an eyelid. By the time I get home, I would have driven almost 1000 miles to deliver this talk of 15 minutes. I will drive another thousand miles if I have to do it again.

If you read the poem 'If', written by Rudyard Kipling and 'A Father's Prayer' written by Gen. Douglas McArthur, you might tend to wonder how close they are to the life of General. Kobbekaduwa.

My mind is not disciplined enough to be void of "Thrushna", and I would think, let me have another chance of being Gen. Kobbekaduwa's subordinate officer in my next birth. But, in this instance, I will eliminate that thought to pray, and say, "May you attain Nirvana kind sir, for all the good things you have done, and because, you do not deserve to be born again in this cruel world"


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