Sri Lanka Armoured Corps

Whither the Fates Call

History of Sri Lanka Armoured Corps

Sri Lanka, after gaining independence, commenced the task of building up her own defence forces. As a first step towards building up this defence force, the Ceylon Army was raised on 10th October 1949. During the premiership of Sir John Kotelawala, a decision was taken to expand the army and to introduce the decisive arm, armour into our infant army. This brought forththe birth of our first regiment, the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment, Ceylon Armoured Corps. The first ever Cavalry Regiment of Sri Lanka thus came to be raised on 10th October 1955 and commenced its embryonic stage as a Squadron of Armour under the dynamic and able guidance of Major DS Attygalle. Major DS Attygalle to whom went the rare honour of raising the first ever Cavalry Regiment, set about this uphill task in the finest spirit of a devoted soldier and worked towards the speedy development of the Armoured Squadron from its infant stage to a fully fledged Reconnaissance Regiment.

The first element of the squadron commenced its life at Echelon Square, Colombo Fort. In 1956, the squadron moved from Echelon Square to Army Camp, Ridiyagama for its training. Maximum priority was given to training under the guidance of Major George Carson, who was sent to Sri Lanka by the Queens Dragoon Guards, during this vital formative stage and it was during this period that a firm foundation for a stable regiment was laid, which has lasted even up to date. The first armoured vehicles received by the regiment consisted of 4 x Mark 1 unturreted Ferret Scout Cars (FSC) bearing numbers AY 4265, 4266, 4267 and 4268. The reconnaissance troop also consisted of motor cycle combinations. In 1956 more MK II turreted FSCs arrived. The squadron named 'A' Squadron thus consisted of 'A' vehicles. Intensive recruitment was carried out during this period and they were speedily put through their paces. These batches of recruits were trained from December 1956 to December 1957. Whilst the squadron was under training, it participated in the first Army Tattoo in 1956.

By the end of 1956, the squadron steadily expanded and its numbers swelled to 9 Officers and 160 men. Concentrated and systematic training was continued at Ridiyagama which included Driver training, Gunnery training, Radio training, Assault Trooper training and Battle inoculation for all. Ridiyagama with its rugged terrain and the surrounding jungles, ideally suited for the task of training, became the home for the Reconnaissance Squadron. Towards the end of 1957 the squadron moved to Ampara to undertake flood relief duties. In December due to escalation of communal violence in Colombo, squadron HQ and other elements moved to Rock House Camp in Colombo 15, on 15th December 1957. Rock House Camp thereafter became the permanent home of armour and since then the regiment has continued to celebrate 15th December as its 'birthday'.

With the squadron being located at its new home at the end of 1957, the year 1958 brought a new chapter to the regiment and its development. In 1958 the squadron was called upon to proceed to Batticaloa to deal with communal riots and was fully committed up to 1962. The squadron played a very prominent role during this period with communal violence spreading island wide and the country being placed under emergency rule. Towards the latter part of 1958, the squadron was divided into three troops, viz, A, B and C. It was in 1958 that the regiment received the first consignment of 'A' vehicles with a heavy armament. The arrival of the Daimler Armoured Cars numbered AY 4271 to AY 4282 undoubtedly enhanced the capability of the squadron. During this period the squadron was also provided with the first consignment of assault troop vehicles. They were wide bodied Willy's Jeeps fitted with 4 cylinder Willy's Hurricane engines. The year 1958 saw the Squadron being elevated to the status of a Regiment. The newly raised 1st Reconnaissance Regiment thus had two Reconnaissance Squadrons of three troops each. It was during this period that the historical first shoot of Armoured Vehicles was carried out on 9th and 10th June 1959. The days on which this shoot took place is remembered with nostalgia by those who witnessed this historic shoot at the Galle Face Green in Colombo. From the year 1959 the regiment was extensively used on Internal Security duties in Batticaloa and was also committed to coast watching duties in Mannar. After the return of the regiment from Batticaloa, the regiment was redeployed with one troop deployed at Elephant Pass. In 1961, due to the take over of schools by the government, there was further deployment in Chavakachcheri and Vavuniya when problems erupted islandwide. Hence the regiment remained fully utilised, helping the nation in no uncertain way, before even being properly put on its feet, carrying out its duties most effectively with troops spread islandwide.

In 1964 a major event took place when the Commanding Officer of the Regiment Lt Col D S Attygalle was promoted to a Colonel and took over duties as Chief of Staff. In December 1965, the regiment was honoured to provide the Guard of Honour to the Honourable Prime Minister Mr Dudley Senanayake on his first visit to Army Headquarters. In October 1966 the regiment participated in the Army Tattoo by providing stunt riding items which were commended by all who witnessed the show.

The period up to 1970 was a very busy one for the regiment with intensive and protracted training occasionally punctuated with call-ups. The regiment also excelled in the sphere of sports, winning as many as six to seven Army Championships annually as well as emerging with distinction at the Army Firing Meets held during that period. In April 1971 with the Insurgent uprising, the regiment was taxed to its maximum. The unit was deployed in Colombo, its environs and in Kegalle. By May, the unit was also deployed at Hakwatunaoya in the Kegalle district and in Anuradhapura. The establishment of a permanent camp at Anuradhapura provided the regiment with a 'second home' whilst performing its operational role. The Counter Insurgency Operations in 1971 convincingly brought about the need to have more AFV's and these were promptly ordered. The April Insurrection no doubt helped the regiment to boost up the much needed resources, with the regiment experiencing a substantial increase in military hardware in the form of Ferret Scout Cars, Saladin Armoured Cars and BTR 152 B APCs. The regiment was therefore able to raise two more squadrons and thus the 'C' and 'D' Squadrons came into being in 1971 and 1974 respectively.

Towards the latter half of 1976, the regiment was committed fully on duties in connection with the Non Aligned Movement Summit Conference held in Colombo. Every member of the regiment gave of his best during duties that were entrusted to the regiment, serving with honour and pride in diverse roles as members of guards of honour, drivers for VIPs, MC pilot and outriders and Liaison Officers thus sharing in the glory of the occasion.

By mid 1979 the law and order situation in the North was deteriorating rapidly and the regiment was called upon to perform duties in Jaffna. Three squadrons were deployed in the Northern Region and these were based at Mankulam, Vavuniya and Anuradhapura. During this year 12 more Saladin Armoured Cars and 3 Ferret Scout Cars arrived in the regiment, a most welcome addition to the regiments 'A' vehicle strength. In 1979, the annual firing of AFVs, which up to then had been conducted at Diyatalawa, was carried out at the Vedithaltheevu Field Firing Range in Mannar, in the presence of the Commander of the Army.

Due to the deteriorating situation in the north, the regiment continued to perform duties in the Northern Region. In October and December 1982, the Regiment was heavily committed on duties connected with the Presidential Election and the Referendum. The regiment was extensively deployed and taxed to the full in various parts of the capital and in the suburbs in the wake of communal disturbances. The presence of armour in the Northern Region had been realised and as a result, troops continued to be loctated in Vavuniya, Mankulam and Jaffna. On 01st January 1984 the Armoured Corps Training Centre (ACTC), with Major P A Karunatilleke as the Commandant, was raised in Kalattewa, Anuradhapura in order to train all armour troops in technical and tactical subjects, another landmark in our short history.

With the increase in terrorist activities in the North and East since 1984, armour had to play a significant role in most operations. This necessitated the relocating of a squadron in the Jaffna Peninsula itself with Sabre Troops deployed at Palaly, Jaffna Fort, Elephant Pass and Kilinochchi. However, with the establishment of a Coordinating HQ at Kilinochchi in late 1985, armour was redeployed. Then a squadron was deployed at Kilinochchi with a troop detachedto Palaly. Another important occurrence was the deployment of another squadron in the East since January 1986. This was based at Trincomalee with its Sabre Troops deployed elsewhere in the district. However by January 1987, with a major offensive planned in the North, the deployment pattern changed with Palaly detachment being increased to a squadron (plus), with a squadron in Kilinochchi and another squadron in Trincomalee.

The arrival of Saracen Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) and Stalwart High Mobility Load Carriers (HMLC) in July 1985, enhanced the personnel and load carrying capability of the Regiment significantly. The inclusion of two Saracen APCs in a troop added a new dimension. The enabled the troop leader to have an assault element of 24 men at his disposal for dismounted operations, whilst adding two more .30 Browning MGs to his arsenal. The Stalwart HMLC with its 4 ton crane and 8 ton winch provided the much needed field repair and recovery capability to the squadrons and also enabled the squadrons to carry its second line ammunition and fuel load.

In September 1985, the Armoured Corps was honoured with the promotion and appointment of Lt Gen S C Ranatunga, as General Officer Commanding, Joint Operations. The regiment continued to participate in all operations conducted against the terrorists in their areas of deployment. The focal point was the successful participation of Alpha Squadron (plus) in the now famous Vadamarachchi Campaign in the Jaffna Peninsula and Delta Squadron from the southern flank in support of the offensive in May to June 1987.

The regiment continued to be deployed extensively in the North and East with over 2 squadrons committed. The balance of the regiment was deployed in Gampaha and Colombo Districts providing stability to these areas against subversive threats, manning no less than 5 detachments.

Creating a new chapter of the regimental history, Brig C H Fernando was appointed as the 1st Regimental Commander of the Armoured Corps on 25,sup>th April 1988. Brig C H Fernando was promoted to the rank of Maj Gen and was appointed General Officer Commanding 2nd Division with HQ at Anuradhapura on 16th August 1988.

Unfolding the much awaited chapter in the history of the Armoured Corps the 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment was raised on 16th November 1988, under the distinguished command of Lt Col D Kalupahana. On 01st December 1988, the Armoured Corps was honoured when Brig L D C E Waidyaratne was promoted to the rank of Maj Gen and appointed General Officer Commanding 1st Division with HQ at Panagoda.

The Armoured Corps Training Centre, 1st Reconnaissance Regiment and the 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment experienced a parental shade on 15th December 1988, withthe raising of the Armoured Brigade under the distinguished command of Brig Y Balaratnerajah on the 33rd 'birthday' of the Sri Lanka Armoured Corps.

Due to the increasing subversive threats in the country, maximum number of officers and men continued to be deployed throughout the Island. On 09th December 1988 Col P A Karunatilleka was appointed Security Force Commander Kegalle in addition to his duties as the Commanding Officer 1 SLAC.

3rd Reconnaissance Regiment took its first step towards maturity and to be recognised as a separate Regiment by moving their headquarters to Kalattewa, Anuradhapura.

With the appointment of Maj Gen C H Fernando as the GOC 21 Division, Brig Y Balaratnerajah was appointed the Regimental Commander on 23rd January 1989. Troops of both regiments continued to be deployed or counter subversive operations during this period and played a major role in the final defeat of the subversives subversives.

After a short stint as the Regimental Commander, Brig Y Balaratnerajah, handed over command to Brig T N De Silva when he was promoted to the rank of Maj Gen and was appointed as the Commandant, Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force.

In February 1990 the units changed around with 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment coming to Rock House, Colombo and 1st Reconnaissance Regiment taking over duties at Kalattewa. The Corps enjoyed a brief respite in duties in early 1990 after the peace accord with separatist terrorists and the cessation of hostilities by the southern subversives, and were able to do a bit of training, though yet being deployed.

Withthe outbreak of Ealam War II in June 1990, all available troops were deployed and the first to go was 'C' Sqn 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment which was in Colombo. This squadron was deployed in Anuradhapura with troops detached to the East and Vavuniya for on going operations. Further a troop from 'B' Squadron which was deployed at Batalanda, Sapugaskanda was detached to Mannar via Puttalam amidst heavy resistance. 'A' Squadron 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment continued to be deployed in Rock House in Colombo, on Colombo sector duties. 1st Reconnaissance Regiment which was already deployed in the North andthe East continued to do so with 'A' Squadron in Palaly, 'B' Squadron in Vavuniya and 'C' Squadron in Trincomalee.

The unending quest of the corps for new AFVs were somewhat quelled when 6 x Saladin Armoured Cars were delivered on 25th Jan 1993. Nevertheless withthe escalation of the North& East War, and the intensity of the battles that were been fought, the need for more 'Armour' was felt ever so much and finally the availability of new AFV's slowly began to materialize. The annual change around of the two units was effected in February 1991, with 1st Reconnaissance Regiment taking over duties in Colombo, and 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment taking over duties in Anuradhapura.

In June 1991, the army camp at Elephant Pass was surrounded by the terrorists and kept under siege for more than a month. It was on the verge of being over run. The army thus launched a massive operation under trying conditions, to relieve and extricate the casualties under siege. This proved to be the largest operation launched by Sri Lanka Army up to then, namely 'Op Balavegaya' spearheaded by Maj Gen D L Kobbekaduwa, the General Officer Commanding 2 Division. This resulted in the biggest massing of armour for a single operation up to that time, and saw 3 squadrons from two regiments, namely 'A' and 'C' Squadrons of 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment and 'B' Squadron of 1st Reconnaissance Regiment marrying up on the beachhead at Vettilakerni, on the axis to Elephant Pass. The operation itself took more than a month, with armour providing close support to infantry amidst fierce fighting. After a short deadlock, the break out battle was launched successfully spearheaded by armour. This convincing victory gave the momentum and the thrust required to successfully complete the 'Operation Balavegaya' and lift the siege of Elephant Pass camp.

The month of September 1991 proved to be a memorable month for the Corps. The arrival of T 85 Chinese Light Tanks to replace the British Armoured Cars of 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment provided with a new identity and placed them on a much better footing to counter the terrorist threat. Training of crews were conducted in China and subsequently at Armoured Corps Training Centre Kalattewa. The 4th Armoured Regiment was raised on the 24th Sept 1991 in anticipation of the arrival of T - 55 Main Battle Tanks from the Czech Republic. Thus, the addition of tracks gave the much needed punch to the Armoured Corps fulfilling many a dream.

The raising of the 4th Armoured Regiment saw Lt Col C S N B Mudannayake took over as the first commanding officer of Sri Lanka's first tank regiment. The tanks arrived on the 11th of October and 4th Armoured Regiment got busy with the training and familiarisation at their new home in Clappenburg, China Bay, Trincomalee.

Chief of Staff of the Army, Maj Gen L D C E Waidyaratne, brought more honour to the Corps by being appointed the Commander of the Army and also promoted to a Lt Gen on 16th November 1991. The first field firing of T 55 MBTs was conducted on the 28th November under the auspices of the Commander of the Army at Trincomalee. The newly appointed Commander paid his first official visit to the Regiment on 2nd December 1991.

In January 1992, the balance AFVs of 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment, a Squadron of Wheeled T 86 type AFVs were delivered and this completed the re-equipping of 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment. This unit thus had 2 Squadrons of tracks and 1 Squadron of wheels. On the 8th of August 1992, the Armoured Corps, the Army and the Nation was dealt a tragic blow when Maj Gen D L Kobbekaduwa was killed due to a landmine explosion, at Araly Point, Kayts Island in Jaffna.

4th Armoured Regiment went from strength to strength by participating in all operations in the North. The awesome power of these steel monsters was such a deterrent to the terrorists, that at times ground commanders started requesting for a single tank when armour support was not available.

In December 1992 the Corps was honoured when Brig R De S Daluwatte was promoted to the rank of Maj Gen and succeeded the late Lt Gen D L Kobbekaduwa as General Officer Commanding 2nd Division.

In late 1993, due to necessity of having more armour on the battlefield, a decision was taken by the Commander of the Army, Lt Gen L D C E Waidyaratne, to raise the 5th Regiment of Armoured Corps. This task was entrusted to Lt Col N A Ranasinghe who had just returned from the Malaysian Armed Forces Staff College. The new unit was raised on 06th January 1994 and was deployed in Trincomalee District on the infantry role, during the same month.

After 3 months in Trincomalee, the 5th Regiment was redeployed in Batticaloa District in April 1994 yet again on the infantry role. In August 1994, 16 BMPs (MK I, MK II, MVLT and ARV) were delivered to Sri Lanka. They arrived on board two AN - 124 aircrafts, each of which carried 8 vehicles each from Ukraine. Withthe movement of these 16 AFVs by train to China Bay in Trincomalee, the 5th Regiment re grouped at Monkey Bridge and Clappenburg Camps in Trincomalee, to undergo conversion training to the classic role. At this juncture the Sri Lanka Armoured Corps was called upon to provide security for the Honourable Prime Minister Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge at Temple Trees in Colombo. Therefore in September 1994, 2 x squadrons of the 5th Regiment were deployed on security duties in Colombo whilst the balance 2 x squadrons undertook conversion training on BMPs, in Trincomalee.

Early 1995 saw a ceasefire between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. However on 19th April 1995, the LTTE broke the ceasefire and commenced Eelam War III. Withthe war been fought on a higher intensity and greater magnitude than earlier, the need for additional armour was badly felt. The 5th Regiment received its' balance consignment of 30 T 63 - II AFV's from China on 27th September 1995. The regiment transported these AFVs initially by train to China Bay, Trincomalee and subsequently by naval craft from Clappenburg to Kankesanthurai by 10th October 1995. With a few days of training on these AFVs 3 x squadrons of the 5th Regiment Sri Lanka Armoured Corps was ready for the battle of Jaffna, 'Operation Riviresa' which was launched on 17th October 1995. 'C' Squadron of the 5th Regiment continued to perform security duties in Colombo for Her Excellency the President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge. The significant contribution of the Armoured Corps during 'Operation Riviresa', through 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment, 4th Armoured Regiment and 5th Reconnaissance Regiment was greatly appreciated by all ranks of the army as well as by a grateful nation.

The 6th Regiment, Sri Lanka Armoured Corps was raised on 29th January 1997 by Lt Col G J S Piyatunga. Initially, the entire unit was deployed on the infantry role. Just before launching of 'Operation Jayasikuru in mid 1997, the 6th Regiment, Sri Lanka Armoured Corps received BTR 80 APC's from Russia. Both these new units, the 5th Regiment and the 6th Regiment continued to be deployed in the North - East throughout, since their raising. The 6th Regiment, Sri Lanka Armoured Corps was converted to a complete BMP equipped regiment in early 2002.

The 7th Battalion of the Sri Lanka National Guard became the Volunteer counterpart of Armoured Corps when they were re-designated as the 7th (Volunteer) Sri Lanka Armoured Corps on 22nd May 1998. The first commanding officer of the regiment was Lt Col M W E W De Silva. This unit too continued to be deployed in the Jaffna Peninsula on the infantry role.

Due to the requirement of troops for operational requirements the 8th Regiment, Sri Lanka Armoured Corps was raised under Major L D R S Kumar on on 30th July 1999 as a Reinforcement Regiment to perform duties on the infantry role and was initially deployed in the Jaffna Peninsula and the regiment played a very important role in the Humanitarian operation conducted by the Army to liberate the Northern Province.

Another Armoured Corps regiment came into being, when on 21st January 2008, the 9th Reinforcement Regiment of the Armoured Corps was raised by Major M A Izadeen RSP. On completion of training at Walamandiya, the regiment was deployed under SF (E) and SF (W) areas in support of the Humanitarian operation. The regiment was disbanded with effect from 1st April 2012.

The Armoured Corps was further expanded when the 10th Reinforcement Regiment was raised on 28th August 2008 under Major N D B K Niyangoda RSP psc. Having completed its training from the Training School at Kokeliya, the regiment was directly deployed under 58 Division that spearheaded the humanitarian operation from the Western Front. At the end of the humanitarian operation the regiment was disbanded and the troops were amalgamated with the 8th regiment Sri Lanka Armoured Corps on 1st April 2012.

The 1st Reconnaissance Regiment, Sri Lanka Armoured Corps phased out all their old British AFVs in April 2001 and is today a fully equipped BTR 80 / BTR 80-A unit. 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment, Sri Lanka Armoured Corps meanwhile converted one of their squadrons to a MBT equipped T - 55 Squadron in late 2001. The whole regiment was converted to a tank regiment on 25th December 2009 and was renamed the 3rd Armoured Regiment. Similarly, 4th Armoured Regiment equipped 3 x squadrons with T - 55 AM II MBTs in early 2001.

The Humanitarian operation conducted by the Army from 2007 to 2009 in the North and east of the country was a remarkable period in the history of the Armoured Corps. Two outstanding officers of the Corps, Major General G A Chandrasiri USP ndc psc and Major General J Jayasuriya USP ndu psc was given the honour of commanding the Security Forces Headquarters (Jaffna) and security Forces Headquarters (Wanni) respectively.

Armoured Corps was further honoured when Major General J Jayasuriya was promoted to the Rank of Lieutenant General and was appointed as the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army on 15th July 2009. He is presently the Chief of Defence Staff. Major General G A Chandarsiri USP ndc psc was appointed the governor of the Northern Province on his retirement.

As the Sri Lanka Armoured Corps celebrates its 59th Anniversary of its raising, the Armoured Corps consists of the following:

  • Regimental Centre, Sri Lanka Armoured Corps.
  • Armoured Brigade.
  • Armoured Corps Training Centre.
  • Four Regular Regiments on the classic role.
  • Two Regular Regiments and a Volunteer Regiment on the Infantry role.

From a humble beginning in late 1955, the Sri Lanka Armoured Corps has grown in stature, capability and effectiveness on the battlefield, which is appreciated throughout the army and acknowledged nationwide. We look forward to continue our commitment and the dedicated Service to the Nation in the years to come. Sri Lanka Armoured Corps contribution to the Army and the Nation during its short history is indeed a performance to be proud of. The Armoured Corps continues to maintain the highest military standards and traditions at all times and under all conditions in a manner benefiting its motto 'WHITHER THE FATES CALL'.