Sailing the rough seas
For the Sri Lankan Navy, it had been a tedious journey from fleet of
just a single ship fifty odd years ago, to become a force with its
(The Navy commemorated its 56 anniversary yesterday, 09)
It is a long and tedious journey from an infant Navy in a newly
independent British colony to be one of the most battle hardened sea
warriors. The transformation of the Sri Lankan Navy is itself a
juxtaposition of the changes in the post independent Sri Lankan state.
Fifty odd years since the country's independence, the Sri Lankan Navy
is itself a unique force A Navy which was once assigned to arrest
illegal Indian immigrants, is now the only Navy in the world which is
fighting a war.
The years of experience of fighting the Sea Tigers, responsible for
the largest number of seaborne suicide missions in the post Second World
war history, has made the Sri Lankan Navy a force of its own. It's a
trove of experience.
It was none other than the Commander of Royal Navy Admiral Jonathan
Band, who a few months back observe a training mission of Special Boat
Squadron Commandoes, Sri Lanka's equivalent to British Seals and later
confessed that it was his first experience in that kind of mission.
The history of the Sri Lankan Navy runs back to colonial Ceylon, when
the Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force (CNVF) was set up in January, 1938
under the Volunteer Naval Defence Force Ordinance No 1 of 1937. The
decision for a maritime security branch for Colonial Ceylon was a result
of the Defence Conference in London which concluded that the countries
under the British Empire - irrespective whether they are colonies,
dominions or protectorates should devise their own methods for their own
Three years after its inception, Royal Navy (RN) accepted CNVF as a
Volunteer reserve Royal Ceylon Naval volunteer Reserve (CRNVR), which
was also mobilized for service during the Second World War.
CRNVR's duties during war time included escort and guard duties,
search and rescue missions, patrolling and light house relief
At the end of the war, CRNVR was handed back to the Ceylonese
Government. Seventeen sailors under Lt. Rajan Kadirgamar, the brother of
late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar took part in the victory
parade in 1946.
In 1949, after independence, H.M.S Flying Fish was given to the then
Ceylon Navy and commissioned as H.M.Cy.S Vijaya. During the same year,
the Navy Act was enacted and Commander. G.R.M.De Mel was sent to UK for
training. Those who had served since 1937 were deemed as members to the
Regular or Volunteer Force of the Royal Ceylon Navy.
From 1951 to 1956, sailors were assigned for security duties at the
Colombo port. Several bases were also set up, which included
H.M.S.Gemunu, H.M.S Rangalla, H.M.S.Lanka, H.M.S.Elara. H.M.S.Tissa and
several patrol boats-Hansaya,Lihiniya and short patrol boats-Seruwa,Diyakawa,Tarawa
and Korawakka were purchased.
During the regime of United People's Front Government which took over
the Trincomalee harbour, Katunayake Airbase and several training camps
in Diyatalawa from Britain, the role of the Navy, like other forces
The Ceylonese Navy which had 48 officers and 510 sailors in 1951-1952
grew to 136 officers and 1,650 sailors in 1957-1958.
In 1958, giving the Navy the blue water capacity, H.M.S.Parakramabahu,
H.M.S.Mahasena and H.M.S.Gajabahu were purchased. The two blue water
vessels, H.M.S.Mahasena and H.M.S.Parakramabahu were sent to Singapore.
In early sixties, the top brass of the Navy had their share in an
abortive coup attempt against then UPF led left leaning regime.
Captain of the Navy, then Rear Admiral G.R.M.De Mel was relieved of
the command and nine officers were decommissioned and 8 other officers
were sent on compulsory retirement. Meanwhile, due to financial
constraints H.M.S. Mahasena and H. M. S. Parakramabahu were sold.
However the navy thrived despite limitations. A naval and Maritime
Academy was set up and the Navy was assigned to provide security to
The leftist insurgency in 1971 took the unprepared and under armed
security forces by surprise. Even the crew on board the SLNS Gajabahu