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Sri Lanka expects that every man will do his duty

As the commanding officer, after assessing the capabilities of each SBS team, I used to issue short written orders to them for behind the enemy line operations. Most of our operations were very successful.

by Admiral (Retired) Ravindra C Wijegunatatne

The flag signal that Vice Admiral Lord Horario Nelson hoisted in the main mast of his flagship HMS Victory just before engaging with the French and Spanish combined fleet during the Trafalgar sea battle on the 21st October 1805 was “England expects that every man will do his duty”. Trafalgar was a decisive Naval engagement of Napoleonic Wars. I have modified it to read as “Sri Lanka expects every man to do his duty” to motivate our men during sea battles.

S/Lt. KGCM Gamage and Lt. SK Dalugama Before ‘K’ Point Operation
I am going to introduce a unique person in this article who has lived up to the above signal. He is now retired and lives in Ratnapura. If someone were to get hit by enemy gunfire on the stomach with bowels falling out, gravely injured, and thrown out of his boat into the sea, how long would he survive? It is obvious, that his survival chances are very thin and perhaps wouldn’t survive any more than a few minutes. This gallant Special Boat Squadron (SBS) officer with severe gunshot injuries to his stomach swam for nearly two hours out at sea with other survivors, while holding his guts with one hand, near the Norway island in Trincomalee on 22nd June 2001. His sheer determination and the excellent training received at SBS had helped him achieve this miracle. He was picked up from the sea by another IPC (Inshore Patrol Craft) and immediately airlifted to Colombo for expert medical treatment. Injuries to his stomach, specially to his small intestine and sea water contamination of inner organs made things very complicated. I visited him at the ICU and whispered a few words to his ear. “Be strong son” He opened his eyes and shook his head. Our doctors and surgeons at the Colombo General Hospital did a marvelous job. His internal wounds took a long time to heal. The wounds after the removal of sections from his small intestine and stiches got infected and further reduced the healing speed. He was on a liquid diet for months. After several surgeries and suffering for almost eleven months, our hero came out of the hospital smiling!

But he was under a strict diet. With almost 50 percent of his digestive system removed, he could eat only a few vegetables and fruits. No oils or meat. Medication will have to continue for the rest of his life. This officer is Commander (SBS) Chatura Gamage RSP and five bars. A Living hero of our time.

Chatura is from the first batch of the direct entry SBS officers. In 1997, Navy decided to allow cadets directly join the Special Boat Squadron, in addition to the existing practice of current Naval officers volunteering to join the SBS. This was due to the sheer demand of well- trained Naval personnel to fight the war. Applicants for SBS had to go through a very rigorous physical standard tests and swimming tests than the ordinary entry cadets. Chatura from St Aloysius College, Rathnapura was a top athlete, school cadet, and a martial arts champion. He joined the Navy as a SBS cadet into the 28th intake on 30th July 1997 along with four other SBS cadets. All cadets undergo the basic officer training at the Naval and Maritime Academy at Trincomalee for one year and then join the SBS for adcanced training. I met him when he joined SBS. Chatura and his four batch mates were “guinea pigs” for the new fighting methods we were experimenting against the enemy. These new training techniques were meant to make the SBS members highly competent in water. One such technique was the “Anti-drowning drill”. Their legs and hands were tied and thrown into the deep water to survive without getting drowned! They mastered this technique soon but drank lot of sea water in the process!
Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s Signal to the
Royal Navy Fleet Before Trafalgar War
During this incident, the “Anti drowning drill” has saved Chatura’s life when he was severely injured at sea, because he knew that he will not die by drowning. These new home- grown training methods and the bi-annual joint exercises with the US Navy SEAL commandos (Exercise Balance Style) made Chatura and his batch mates very competent SBS officers. Apart from the US training, they also received diving training, and underwent additional training with the Army Special Forces and Commandos. Other SBS officers and sailors respected them very much because they saw the suffering they had to undergo during the very difficult training. When I took over the Command of the SBS for the second time in year 2000, I found these five young officers were a great asset to the SBS. They were deployed at various clandestine operations in the North and East behind the enemy lines, especially at night. They rest during day time, and their day starts at Sunset. We do our training in complete darkness with natural light. We never use any lighting devices. This is to improve the night vision capabilities of the naked eye. We swam and canoed for very long distances in lagoons at night with our weapons and equipment in waterproof bags. We could creep into enemy beaches at night clandestinely. We could move at ease without making noises and without any light at night. We could use our 9mm MP5 SD weapons very effectively. We were called the “Ghost Unit of the Sri Lanka Navy” by the enemy.

Chatura his beloved wife Lanka
and daughter Thamara
As the commanding officer, after assessing the capabilities of each SBS team, I used to issue short written orders to them for behind the enemy line operations. Most of our operations were very successful. In some instance we had failures too that suffered casualties. One such operations led by Chatura off K point in Jaffna lagoon was a complete

success. Chatura was very active in SBS until he got injured in 2001. He was given the approval to go on retirement with full pay and pension due to the injuries, but he declined and opted to remain in SBS. He followed a diploma course in computer science at the NIBM on his own. His IT knowledge was extremely useful for SBS operations. He became the live wire between the SBS Headquarters at Trincomalee and the troops deployed. He continued his Marshal Arts training and introduced Mixed Martial Arts to the SBS. He even traveled to China on a scholarship to advance his Mixed Martial Arts skills. He slowly regained his lost physical strength by adopting to vigorous training techniques of Martial Arts. The only disadvantage was the dietary restrictions. He was determined to go back to battlefield. He was happy when his beloved wife Lanka gave birth to his daughter during this period.

On 17th June 2006, another sad incident changed his life. His batchmate and close friend Lieutenant (SBS) Sudesh Kumara Dalugama went missing in action at sea off Pesalai, Mannar during a sea battle with the LTTE sea tigers. Dalugama’s body was never found. Despite strong objections by his doctors, at his own risk, Chatura returned to the battlefield.

In spite of having the opportunity to be at home and draw the full pay and pension, he decided to return to rejoin the fight for the country. Therefore, Chathura is a very rare hero of our Nation.

During the final battle against the sea tigers, he played a pivotal role with the SBS arrow boat squadron, fighting out at sea at day and night under the command of then Captain D K P Dassanayake. On some days, he survived with just fruit juice, water and glucose. When he returned after sea patrols on Arrow boats, medical staff had to inject him with saline to treat his semi-dehydration condition. However, none of these challenges could bring down his moral and enthusiasm. Their team worked tirelessly in extreme conditions to prevent the LTTE terrorist leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran escape via the sea. Captain DKP ‘s arrow boat units deployed closest to the enemy beach, along with Chatura and other SBS/RABS personnel were able to prevent the sea movements of the sea tigers during this time. This action prevented the possible escape of Prabhakaran via the sea route. Chatura proved that THE IMPOSSIBLE WAS POSSIBLE.

Nelson Mandela had once said “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. We adopted strategies and tactics we learnt in Foreign Staff Colleges with modifications to suit the local sea battles. The Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda’s strategy of deploying small boats squadrons was an example of one such extremely successful strategies. He used a large number of small arrow boats against enemy small boats to outnumber them at sea. In theory, this is known as the “Lancaster theory”. Typically, when two sides with equal power meet in out at sea, in a battle of attrition, the superior side will win. However, British Mathematician Fredrick Lancaster proved that when a team of 50 craft meet an enemy team of 25 craft, the larger team will lose only 8 craft, while the smaller team would lose all 25 craft. Basically, the higher the number of craft on your side, the lesser you lose.

British Mathematician
Fredrick Lancaster
With the guidance and very close supervision of the Admiral of the Fleet Karannagoda, we adopted the Lancaster theory to our sea battles. Navy produced more and more Arrow boats locally at our Naval boat building yard at Welisara. Navy gained the

superiority in sea battles against the sea tigers. This sheer outnumbering advantage over enemy boats proved very effective and Captain DKP’s small boat squadrons returned victorious.

Lancaster Theory on Warfare

When the war ended in May 2009, Chatura began serving in my staff as my Personal Safety Officer (PSO) when I was the Chief of Staff of the Navy, Commander of the Navy, and finally Chief of Defence Staff. He did not stop his studies during this time and earned a MSc on GIS and Remote Sensing from the University of Peradeniya in 2017. He opted for retirement on my advice after serving the Nation for 22 years.

I place Chathura in par with the World War II Battle of Midway hero, US Navy dive bomber pilot and Squadron Commander - Commander Richard Halsey Best.

Commander Best lived for 91 years. I wish Chatura also live 91 years!
“Fortune favors the Brave “

The writer is former Chief of Defence Staff in Sri Lanka

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