Armoured Vehicles of Elephant Pass


Flying over the Wanni you pass a lot of tragic history. Below is the the site of the old Elephant Pass Sri Lankan Army base which was overrun by the LTTE in the late bad bad days of the 20th century. At least one personality in the Sri lankan Blogosphere (who now has a blog of his own) is said to have fought there.
Google Earth image of the site of the Elephant Pass military complex

Armoured Vehicles at Elephant Pass

This destroyed armoured vehicle (I think its a Ferret Mk4) seems to be a popular lens attraction for a lot of people who go that way. There are quite a few images of it on the web.

Perhaps its on the Google Earth image above. Let me know if you spot it or know the location.

LTTE “Tank”

Of the many humans that didn’t make it back are lance corporal Gamini Kularatne and the crew of the LTTE tank he gave his life to destroy. There’s a clearer image of this LTTE “tank” by Heen Eka.

Google for specifics of the battle and you’ll get a fair share of pro LTTE site gloating over the details. Sort of like the way the anti LTTE folk are doing these days. With good reason. What a long way the Sri Lankan military has come from a clutch of old Brit armour, turbo props and a few patrol boats. After Thoppigala, capture of the Silawathura sea tiger base, air raids on Puthukuduiruppu, and the sinking of the LTTE supply ships, the LTTE seems to be in trouble. The government despite the thieving ways of politicians, seems steadily nibbling away at the LTTE. In the face of all this military victories – not just successful repulsion of LTTE attacks – are becoming familiar.

Its easy to get cocky and forget as Castedeus points out – that the LTTE could do some nasty things in this world of asymmetric warfare. Equally easy forget are the humans who gave their lives in the face of potential defeat in situations like Elephant pass.When things were very grim and victory – let alone survival – was not on the menu. Setbacks are not things people like to be remember. References to places like Elephant Pass or Pooneryn or Kokuvla (Kokavil) can be potentially view as “defeatist”. Specially after the lessons are filed away, medals given out, and memorials unveiled.

I hope they are not forgotten and that there will eventually be an inclusive peace on this island in the life time of our grand kids.

No I’m not smoking da weed as I peck the keys – just trying to be a optimist.

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28 thoughts on “Armoured Vehicles of Elephant Pass

  1. Didn’t Gamini Kularatne die in the ’91 battle though? There was some heartbreaking imagery of Elephant Pass on Time Asia once…but I couldn’t look at it for too long.

    As for your penultimate paragraph, hope is always there 🙂

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  2. Corporal story was amazing also, the 2 SLA soldiers who hid around EP and made it back to the SLA FDL lines months later in 2001 ! But, i saw that Time magazine spread on EP ! ya right it’s hard to watch cuz, many fallen soldiers remains were left behind and recignise the names of soldiers body armour ! It’s an example of bad tactics & planning ! Ferret’s are not depolyed in frontline duty , but, SLA did ! So now we have BMP 1, 2 and BTR 80A ,WZ 551 & WZ553 ! But, EP will always be our Dein Bein Phu ! And that sucks ! Bless our brothers in the front !

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  3. Cpl G Kularatne, 6/SLSR was killed in ’91 in the first EPS battle, in which the camp held out though surrounded and cut off from air resupply. It was the first LTTE experiment with conventional warfare, and also their first big defeat to the SL Army. The Tigers had never lost so many troops en masse before, and made them totally rethink the makeup of their assault units. It took them ten more years to prepare for the second attack, which succeeded.

    Ferrets have never been used in combat since the early ’80s. Most of the destroyed ferrets displayed by the Tigers were parts of memorials or displays. In ’91 the SL Army was using Saladins, Saracens, and Buffels as armour.

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  4. Kularatne was also the second Parama Weera Vibushanaya winner (the first was an officer the previous year, also from the Sinha Rifles), and all have been posthumous.

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  5. Yup, 6/SR.

    Lt SU Aldeniya, the first guy to win the PWV was 2/SR, OC of the Kokavil detachment guarding the SLBC relay. Decided to stay with his WIAs as the camp was overrun in June ’90. Listed as MIA, believed killed.

    In 25 years of war, the PWV has been awarded only five times; to two officers and three other ranks, all Army, two from the Sinha Rifles, two from the Gajabas, and one military policeman.

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  6. David, how did the brass treat ya with a name like that ? Did they knida profile ya at all ? Also, do ya know my mate Briagadier Mahainda Halagoda by any chance ?

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  7. Hardly met any brass. Kobekkaduwa was on the same plane with me to Palaly, and Hamilton Wanasinghe spoke to me when I was in hospital, but that’s about it. Company officers and NCOs just threw stuff at me when they couldn’t pronounce my name. No real profiling, though guys who were in basic with me couldn’t figure why I wanted to fight the Tamils :). No I don’t know the brigadier, but as I said, I never met many high-rankers.

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  8. Hi Guys,

    David I didn’t realise that you guys were fighting Tamils. I thought that the war was against the LTTE. If you are fighting the Tamils, you will probably never win.

    You may loose an arm and a leg though (no pun intended)

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  9. Hi David,
    Why did EPS fail so badly ? Given the fact… I remember reading abt. the attack coming weeks before the battle ? I still dont have a good answer man ! Drives me nuts ! I tried to do a thesis on it but, No one in Colombo would talk abt. EPS 2 ! Been her doesnt help ! Even though I read in Asian Defence Digest still. I know the Artywatte raid hurt also,the landing by Tiger commandos & ltte firepower ! Why were there no epuipment for those poor guys ? Did anyone ever had a hearing on this ? Talk to me mate !

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  10. Rajarata: Very good question. The Defencenet blog post on the first battle of Elephant Pass focuses only on the first one in 1991. It makes a brief summery of the second battle in 2000.

    I doubt defeats are a favourite topic of anyone 😉 Not sure how often David Blacker reads this blog so you might want to post a similar comment on his blog – if you want a faster response (though I’d love to see the conversation continue on this post).

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  11. Well thanks C ….. David and Raptor are only ones who seems to have any sought of embeded data from EPS ! But, we sure can learn a lot from that fiasco, which became, SLA ‘s Deim Bein Phu ! Well, crap happens !
    Ya right , someone needs to cover EPS 2 ! Specially the Command & Control failure ! Someone mentioned Daluwaththa who, dragged his feet ! But, heck man , Srilal was the Boss at that time ! Then, I hear no one listened to Janaka Perera ! Correct !

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  12. Rajarata: You seriously need to start blogging about your research process about the Elephant Pass battles. 🙂 Your level of knowledge is beyond the average joe like me 😉 and its defiantly worth a web-site if not a blog.

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  13. Rajarata, I replied your post on my site, but I’ll repeat it here:

    “I was at EPS in ‘91, ten years before EPS2, so whatever I know won’t really shed any light on the fall. From what I understand, the base had been expanded from a battalion perimeter to a divisional one. Basically too huge to be defended with SLA firepower. In ‘91 the base was small enough for reserve units and support weapons to be transfered from one sector to another quickly, using the crisscrossing road system, which couldn’t be done once the base was enlarged. Also, coordinating the defense of a large divisional base (with many sub-units) is much tougher than that of a battalion perimeter.”

    I hope to someday write a definitive account of the 6/SR defence of EPS in ’91 and Op Balavegaya which relieved the battalion. It’s very difficult to get access to veterans of the battle as the MoD doesn’t cooperate at all. It’s been 16 years and I have lost touch with most of my platoon, so that doesn’t make it easier. I was hoping the DefenceNet article would shed something new, but it was a total disappointment. There wasn’t a single thing there that couldn’t have been found via google. If that was the first of the site’s series on historical battles (as they claim), it’s going to be a waste of time.

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  14. Rajarata, I answered your question on my site, but I’ll repeat it here:

    “I was at EPS in ‘91, ten years before EPS2, so whatever I know won’t really shed any light on the fall. From what I understand, the base had been expanded from a battalion perimeter to a divisional one. Basically too huge to be defended with SLA firepower. In ‘91 the base was small enough for reserve units and support weapons to be transfered from one sector to another quickly, using the crisscrossing road system, which couldn’t be done once the base was enlarged. Also, coordinating the defense of a large divisional base (with many sub-units) is much tougher than that of a battalion perimeter.”

    I hope to one day write a definitive account of 6/SR’s defence of EPS in ’91 and Op Balavegaya which finally relieved them. I’ve researching the battle, but it’s a slow process, as it’s very difficult to get access to veterans, and the MoD is no help at all. After 16 years (some of it out of SL) I’ve lost contact with any survivors of my platoon, so that doesn’t make things any easier.

    I was hoping DefNet’s article would shed some new light, but that was a total disappointment. There was nothing in that piece that couldn’t be found on google. If all of their “historical battle” pieces are gonna be like that it’s just a waste of time.

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  15. David: Many thanks for your comment. Very sorry that you comment got stuck in the spam queue for so long. I’ve been off blog due to other commitments and didn’t get to accessing the blog till now

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  16. Many Thanks David ! Good man ! Funny… that’s what happened to me at a Convention for Satelite makers. I asked two Army brass both my former Ananda mates abt. it ! No Mas, mate…. they were too gunshy but, was more interested meeting my blond wife’s friends. But, they are good guys. They said they’ll talk to me after they retire. They did mention some conflict between Ratwatte & Janaka though. I’m clueless abt. that ! They changed the topic fast.

    Thanks guys . V. Nice of ya !

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  17. The armoured car in the photo isn’t a Ferret. It’s a WW11 British Daimler Armoured Car, looks to be a Mk11. Car was a 4 x 4, weighed 7 tonnes 14 cwt ( laden), rear 6 cyl 95bhp Daimler engine and mounted a 2pdr Gun with a coaxial machine gun ( originaly a Besa). Armour was 16mm thick and it had a crew of 3. Top Speed 50mph with a range of 200 miles ( if fitted with auxiliary fuel tank).
    Dimensions 13ft long, 8ft Wide, 7ft 4in High.
    Originaly used by British Army Reconaisance Corp in WW11.

    Hope that helps.

    Regards

    Alan

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    1. Thank you for that info. The Sri Lanka Army got Daimler Armoured Cars after the 1971 insurgency which would make it quite ancient by the time the fighting in the north began.

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