WORLD WAR II- JAPANESE AERIAL ATTACKS ON SRI LANKA (1942)

                               The most dangerous moment of the War, and the one which caused me the greatest alarm, was when the Japanese Fleet was heading for Ceylon and the naval base there. The capture of Ceylon, the consequent control of the Indian Ocean, and the possibility at the same time of a German conquest of Egypt would have closed the ring and the future would have been black.

 Sir Winston Churchill

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Japanese decide to carry out an air attack on Sri Lanka
  3. Sighting of the Japanese fleet
  4. Attack on Colombo
  5. Attack on Trincomalee
  6. Overview of the Japanese air raids on Sri Lanka
  7. Newspaper articles published in April 1942 informing the air raids
  8. Some historical records on the Japanese air attacks against Sri Lanka
  9. Annexures

List of Annexures

  1. Air Raid on Colombo on 5th April 1942 by Capt GAF Fernando
  2. The Japanese aircraft crash on to an oil tank in Trincomalee on 9th April 1942  by Lt Cdr Somasiri Devendra
  3. The Japanese aircraft that crashed on to St Thomas’ College Mt Lavinia Premises – Courtesy of Mr Odath Weerasinghe
  4. A story of the Japanese plane crash into St. Thomas’s College Mt. Lavinia in 1942 by a Thomian of the 1950-60s
  5. HMS Hermes: The ship wreck off Batticaloa by Wg Cdr Suresh Fernando
  6. In Memoriam – Air Commodore L Birchall, RCAF by Flt Lt E D Pereira

INTRODUCTION

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was a British Crown Colony.  The British had occupied the coastal areas of the island since 1796, but after 1917 the colony had no regular garrison of British troops. The Ceylon Defence Force and Ceylon Navy Volunteer Reserve were mobilised and expanded. The Royal Navy maintained naval installations in Trincomalee and the Royal Air Force (RAF) had established an aerodrome in China Bay, Trincomalee long before the war. In terms of the war, the government of Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka assured the British king and his majesty’s government of its continued support.

The Second World War was fought between the Allies’ and the Axis comprising Germany, Japan and Italy. Germany (with the support of Italy) was looking to establish an empire covering whole of Europe and Japan looking to establish an empire covering Asia and the Pacific. In their quest for power the Japanese invaded South East Asia in early 1942 including an attack on Singapore, a vital Allied stronghold led by the British. Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942 and the westward Japanese advance through east and Southeast Asia was starting to look unstoppable. With Singapore in their possession, one final stepping stone stood between the Japanese and both India and the control of the entire Indian Ocean: the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Therefore a Japanese attack on Ceylon was all but inevitable.

After the fall of Singapore, Ceylon has become a frontline British base. The Royal Navy’s East Indies Station had moved to Colombo and then to Trincomalee. Admiral Sir  Geoffrey Layton was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Ceylon, with Air Vice Marshal John D’Albiac as Air Officer Commanding, 222 Group (RAF)  and Admiral Sir James Somerville appointed as Commander of the British Eastern Fleet.


Courtesy: Odath Weerasinghe, son of B E Weerasinghe (in photo) and brother of late Neil, one of the first Sri Lankan flight cadets to join an air force (RAF, 1949)

The fixed land defences consisted of four coastal batteries at Colombo and five at Trincomalee; these were established just before the war. Air defences were expanded starting in 1941 with the RAF occupying the civil airfield at Ratmalana near Colombo with its station headquarters set up at Kandawela. Another airfield was rapidly built at Koggala near Galle and several temporary airstrips were built across the country, with the largest at Colombo Racecourse Airstrip*. Several RAF Squadrons were sent to Ceylon. Several Commonwealth units were also stationed in Ceylon for the duration of the war.

 As with other British Colonies conscription was not implemented in Ceylon. However, Ceylonese were encouraged to volunteer for service. Many volunteered throughout the war, most joining the Ceylon Defence Force, which was expanded from a reserve unit to a mobilised force of 10 infantry battalions, 3 artillery regiments and support units. For the first time Ceylonese units were deployed outside Ceylon in formation until the Cocos Islands Mutiny after which deployment overseas of Ceylonese units was stopped with a few exceptions.

 Ceylonese continued to volunteer and joined the RAF (from 1941 onwards)*, British Army and the Royal Navy. They were supplemented by personnel of the Ceylon Defence Force who requested transfer to front line units of the British Army. They served in the Burma and later in Malaya. Ceylonese served in the Royal Engineers in Italy and with the Royal Army Service Corps in the Middle East and North Africa. The 1st battalion, the Ceylon Corps of Military Police, served in Malaya till 1949.

* These two subjects are discussed in detail in two separate eDocs.

THE JAPANESE DECIDE TO CARRY OUT AN AIR ATTACKON SRI LANKA  

“The most dangerous moment of the War, and the one which caused me the greatest alarm, was when the Japanese Fleet was heading for Ceylon and the naval base there. The capture of Ceylon, the consequent control of the Indian Ocean, and the possibility at the same time of a German conquest of Egypt would have closed the ring and the future would have been black.” – Sir Winston Churchill

The Japanese high command, eager to maintain their powerful momentum, decided to attack Ceylon by carrying out an air raid on Colombo with carrier based aircraft as they have done in Pearl Harbour four months back, maintaining the vital element of surprise. Their main aim was to destroy the British Eastern Fleet based at the Colombo harbour.

The British Eastern Fleet prevented the Japanese from attempting a major troop landing in Ceylon to gain a foothold for a subsequent land invasion of India while having a control of the Indian Ocean. 

With the date of the attack on Ceylon fixed for Sunday, the 5 April 1942, carrier Akagi of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service fleet leaves Staring Bay in Indonesia on 26 March 1942 with the course set towards Ceylon.  This carrier is followed by four (4) other carriers Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku and three (4) battleships Hiei, Kongo, Kirishima and Haruna, under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo and the air arm under the command of Captain Mitsuo Fuchida  the same two leaders who carried out the Pearl Harbour raid.

SIGHTING OF THE JAPANESE FLEET

On the 4th of April 1942, Squadron Leader Leonard Birchall of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) having taken off from RAF station at Koggala in a Catalina aircraft on a patrol flight, was over the Indian ocean around 400 miles south of Ceylon when he spotted something suspicious on the horizon. Upon closer investigation, the objects he had sighted turned out to be a large Japanese naval fleet heading straight for Ceylon. Alarmed, Birchall managed to send out a radio message warning the command at Colombo of the presence of the Japanese fleet before his Catalina was shot down by Japanese A6M2 Zero fighter planes.

Birchall and the crew members of the Catalina that had survived the machine-gunning and subsequent crash into the ocean were picked up by the Japanese and interrogated. Birchall told them that the plane’s radio had been destroyed by machine gun fire before he had been able to send out a warning about the Japanese fleet which they believed.

THE ATTACK ON COLOMBO                                                                                                                        On the following day, 5th April (Easter Sunday) the first attack wave of Japanese planes took off in pre-dawn darkness (30 minutes before sunrise) from the aircraft carriers AkagiHiryu, and Soryu, moving about 200 miles south of Sri Lanka. The first attack wave of 36 fighters, 54 dive bombers, and 90 level bombers was led by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the same officer who led the air attack on Pearl Harbor.

Alerted by Birchall’s radio message the previous day, Colombo was prepared for the raid. British and Commonwealth troops – who were from places from as far as East Africa, Pakistan, Australia and India – defended the city with anti-aircraft guns, raking the Japanese planes with heavy and sustained fire. Also in support of the city’s defence by ground forces, Hurricane aircraft were scrambled from the temporary airstrip at RAF Station at Colombo Racecourse. Theses Hurricanes were involved in several dogfights with the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service Zero fighters and bombers which were attacking the city.

The Hawker Hurricanes of the RAF’s No. 30 Squadron were on the ground at Ratmalana Airport when the Japanese aircraft passed overhead. Therefore a number of aircraft were destroyed at Ratmalana Airport. Also the auxiliary cruiser HMS Hector and the old destroyer HMS Tenedos anchored at the Colombo Harbour were sunk by the Japanese aircraft.  Other than these two ships and another two, all other ships of the British Eastern Fleet that were in the harbour had been moved out of Colombo in preparation for the raid.

President of the Ceylon War Veterans’ Association of World War II (CWVA), H. G. P. Jayasekara, has said in his book “How Japan Bombed Tiny Ceylon” that,

      “Once the fleet reached Ceylonese waters, two waves of aircraft carried out the raid on Colombo. The waves consisted of 36 zero fighters, 54 dive bombers, and 90 high-level bombers. The Japanese have also bombed the asylum at Angoda – currently the National Institute of Mental Health – mistaking it for the fuel tanks at nearby Kolonnawa. It was an accidental drop of a bomb by the Japanese, for which, on a later date, they apologised to the Ceylon Government. Other bombs have fallen closer to Bellanwila, Pitakotte, the Colombo racecourse, Horana, as well as the Galle Face Green. One Japanese plane crashed after being shot by ground forces near St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, and another near the Kelaniya Temple.

       The Sri Lankan writer Ariyadasa Ratnasinghe recalling the Easter Sunday Japanese raid has said:

      “Japanese aircraft flew in close formation over Colombo and dropped bombs at different places. The air battle lasted for nearly half an hour.  The Allied forces, warned of the danger, were able to shoot down some of the enemy aircraft which fell on land and sea. Among those shot down, one fell near Saint Thomas’ College, one closer to the Bellanwila paddy fields, one near Pita Kotte, one on the racecourse in Colombo, one near Horana and one on the Galle Face Green. A bomb fell off the target and damaged the Mulleriyawa Mental Hospital, killing some inmates. It appeared that the pilot had mistaken the buildings for the Echelon Barracks. One fell near the Maradana railway station, partly damaging it. There were many deaths and more casualties, most of them civilians. To prevent bombs falling on hospitals, it was decided to have a large red cross painted on the roofs

            Air Vice Marshal G Y De Silva (Retd) states the following regarding the Easter Sunday Japanese raid,

       My father, Lieut. G. Francis de Silva (Electrical Engineer) of the British Army, was a Junior Engineer at the Stanley Power Station, Kolonnawa, which was providing electricity to Colombo. He had been the Engineer on duty at the Power Station on the night of 04th April 1942. At 0100 hours on the 05th of April 1942, he had been informed by his senior a British Army Major, Senior Electrical Engineer in charge, to vacate post and take my mother and eldest sister (01 year old) away from Colombo as there would be a Japanese air raid in the morning which would definitely target the power station. My father had done as told. The Japs had bombed the Angoda Mental Hospital, as its cook house chimneys had been putting out smoke which had distracted the Japs”

            A web based article done by Capt GAF Fernando (Ex Sri Lankan Airlines and officer of the Sri Lanka Volunteer Air Force) which is attached to this paper as an annexure gives a rather detailed description of this Japanese air raid on Colombo.

      Immediately after the air raid of Colombo, probably seeing as opportunity targets, the Japanese attacked two British cruisers, HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, in the ocean around 200 miles southwest of Ceylon. The attacks were successful and both ships were sunk, with 424 British seamen killed.  

ATTACK ON TRINCOMALEE

On 9th April, the Japanese attacked the harbour at Trincomalee and the British ships off Batticaloa. The light aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, the Destroyer HMAS Vampire and The Flower – class corvette HMS Hollyhock were sunk, and SS Sagaing partially destroyed and set on fire below decks. In this air raid the RAF had lost at least nine (09) aircrafts and the Japanese, eleven (11)includingone in a suicide attack on the Trincomalee fuel tanks. Seven hundred people lost their lives in the attack on Trincomalee.

According to eye witness Michael Tomlinson (author of “The Most Dangerous Moment” and RAF Station Intelligence Officer at Ratmalana and later at China Bay in Trincomalee), one Japanese pilot deliberately crashed his plane into one of the giant fuel tanks just north of China Bay aerodrome. Inside the aircraft were three Japanese—Shigenori Watanabe, Tokya Goto, and Sutomu Toshira. After carefully circling the area, they plunged unerringly into the tank, igniting their own funeral pyre. The resulting fire lasted seven days. Parts of the aircraft’s engine and the flattened remains of the fuel storage tank have been placed in a barbed wire enclosure 1½ km from the turn off at the 4th mile post on the Trincomalee–Habarana Road. But a very different account of the above stated incident has been narrated by Lt Cdr Somasiri Devendra, SLN (Retd) to Wg Cdr Ranjith Ratnapala SLAF (Retd) which is attached to this paper as an annexure.  

During this week of air raids almost 1,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen gave their lives to defend Ceylon, and the sacrifices they made were ultimately a success. The survival of the British Eastern Fleet prevented the Japanese from attempting a major troop landing in Ceylon which was the ultimate objective of the Japanese by carrying out these air attacks.

After the Japanese air raid – H.E The Commander-in-Chief Ceylon Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton inspecting men of the fire services. The four men behind the admiral are L-R: (1) An Auxiliary Fire Services (AFS) Officer identity not known (2) B.E.Weerasinghe (in peak cap) Chief Officer Fire Brigade and AFS and an Assistant Civil Defense Commissioner (3) Mr Oliver Goonetilleke (later Knighted and Governor-General of Ceylon) WW2 Civil Defense Commissioner (4) Samuel Kadirgamar (in white shirt) Staff Officer and Senior Divisional Fire Officer AFS (later a leading Barrister-at-law) – Photo Supplied by Odath son of B.E.Weerasinghe.

OVERVIEW OF THE JAPANESE AIR RAIDS ON SRI LANKA

Japanese Air Raids on Ceylon, April 1942 – Map by C E Warner
Source: https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/battle-of-ceylon-japanese-air-raid-on-5-april-1942/
 

The Japanese air attack’s were widely reported both locally and internationally. Here are some fo the newspaper clippings thata reported on the events.

RAF STATIONS IN SRI LANKA DURING WORLD WAR II & AFTER

                                                             CONTENTS

  1. INTRODUCTION
  1. DETERMINING THE NUMBER OF RAF STATIONS THAT WERE IN SRI LANKA DURING WWII AND AFTER
  1. LOCATIONS OF THE 14 RAF / FAA AERODROMES &AIR STRIPS OPERATED IN SRI LANKA                                                           DURING WWII
  1. DETAILS OF SOME OF THE RAF / FAA STATIONS THAT OPERATED IN SRI LANKA DURING THE WAR AND AFTER

                              

INTRODUCTION

 “The precursor of the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) were the elements of the Royal Air Force (RAF) based in Sri Lanka. The history of these elements of the RAF is a run-up to the history of the SLAF” – Foot Prints on the Sands of Time: The Story of Sri Lanka Ex-Servicemen’s Association

World War 2 which began by Germans invading and occupying most of the countries in Europe expanded to the pacific in 1941 with the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. As a result of this air defences in Sri Lanka were expanded by the British starting with the RAF occupying the civil airfield at Ratmalana. A squadron of medium Blenheim medium bombers detached from Greece, Crete and Middle East was based in Ratmalana.

Then in 1941 itself the British started building several temporary airstrips across the country for the RAF and Fleet Air Arm (FAA) of the Royal Navy at Colombo Racecourse, Katukurunda, Negombo, Minneriya, Vavyniya, Kankesanthurai, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Mawatagama, Koggala, Kalametiya and Puttalam.

In 1942 the Japanese occupied South East Asia with their invasions of Burma, Malaya and Singapore. With the fall of Singapore, the British government appointed Air Vice Marshal John D’Albiacas the Air Officer Commanding No. 222 Group RAF* formed on 1st Sep 1941 and based in Ceylon  along with appointments of Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton as Commander-in-Chief, Ceylon and Admiral Sir James Somerville as Commander of the British Eastern Fleet also based in Ceylon, first at  Colombo and subsequently moved to Trincomalee.

In the same year, the RAF established a base at China Bay utilizing the aerodrome built by the British in late 1930’s. Two Squadrons of Hurricane aircraft that flew in from North Africa was based in China bay and in the Colombo Racecourse.

DETERMINING THE NUMBER OF RAF STATIONS THAT WERE IN SRI LANKA DURING WORLD WAR II AND AFTER 

Even though printed records indicate fourteen (14) RAF aerodromes / airstrips in Sri Lanka during the war, as per web based records there have been many more in the country for support services (e.g. RAF Colpetty which was a RAF Police Unit). As per the 2nd reference there had been a total of thirty six (36) RAF establishments in Sri Lanka during the war. The extract of the relevant record is given below.

Ceylon 

 

This is an alphabetical list of the 36 RAF stations in Ceylon within the ? Provinces

 

1     RAF Anderson    (Radar)                      ? Province       Ceylon

2     RAF Chapel Hill                               ? Province       Ceylon

3     RAF China Bay                                Eastern Province       Ceylon

4     RAF Cinavadi                                  ? Province       Ceylon

5     RAF Cogallum                                  ? Province        Ceylon

6     RAF Colombo   (Racecourse)                  Western Province       Ceylon

7     RAF Colpetty                                  Western Province       Ceylon

9     RAF Dambulla                                 Central Province       Ceylon

10    RAF Diyatalawa                               Central Province       Ceylon

 11    RAF Ekala                                     ? Province       Ceylon

12    RAF Elizabeth Point                           ? Province       Ceylon

13    RAF Galle                                     ? Province       Ceylon

14    RAF Gangodawila                              ? Province       Ceylon

16    RAF Hora Hena                               ?       Ceylon

17    RAF Jurong   (Signals)                        ? Province       Ceylon                                                
18    RAF Kalametiya                               ? Province       Ceylon

19    RAF Kandy                                    ? Province       Ceylon

20    RAF Kankestanthurai                          ? Province       Ceylon

21    RAF Katunayake                               ? Province       Ceylon

22    RAF Koggala                                   ?       Ceylon

23    RAF Komariyi                                  ? Province       Ceylon

24    RAF Kurunegala                               ? Province       Ceylon

25    RAF Malay Cove                               ?       Ceylon

26    RAF Mawatagawa                              Western Province       Ceylon

27    RAF Minneriya                                 ? Province       Ceylon

28    RAF Namunumkula                             ? Province       Ceylon

29    RAF Negombo                                 Western Province       Ceylon

30    RAF Negombo   (Hospital)                    Western Province       Ceylon

31    RAF Perihanduturventuri                      ? Province       Ceylon 

32    RAF Ramu                                     ? Province       Ceylon

33    RAF Ratmalana                                ? Province       Ceylon

34    RAF Sigiriya                                   ? Province       Ceylon

35    RAF Trincomalee                              Eastern Province       Ceylon

36    RAF Vavuniya                                  ? Province       Ceylon                                         

 
                 Source: https://www.rafstations.co.uk/raf-stations-by-countries                     

However, when relating the stations listed above to the old RAF stations reactivated by the SLAF and information provided by some of the retired SLAF officers it seems that the above web based record is not accurate and that it needs to be revised after considering the following facts.

  • Jurong is in Singapore and therefore RAF Jurong cannot be a station that was in Sri Lanka.
  • Looking at the SLAF Base China Bay today, RAF China Bay, RAF Malay Cove and RAF Trincomalee should read as one station…RAF China Bay.
  • Looking at the SLAF Station, Koggala today, RAF Galle and RAF Koggala should read as                   one station…RAF Koggala.
  • Looking at the SLAF Base Katunayake today, RAF Katunayake, RAF Negombo (Hospital) and RAF Negombo should read as one station…RAF Negombo.
  • As per information shared a retired SLAF officer, RAF Kurunegala and RAF Mawatagama should read as one station…RAF Mawathagama.

The so-called RAF Kurunegala is located in Mawathagama. The water well, constructed by the RAF still exists. I have been to this site as Heineken Lanka Ltd (where I worked) took this well on lease. You still can find remnants of igloo hangers” – Wg Cdr Palitha Obeysekera

Therefore, considering aforesaid facts and comments, the web based record of RAF Stations that were in Sri Lanka during WWII is revised as given below to indicate that there were only twenty eight (28) RAF stations plus two (2) RNAS Stations, a total of thirty (30) which included fourteen (14) aerodromes /air fields.

Out of this total 30, the 12 highlighted in yellow are now operated as SLAF Bases/Stations. Then 11 others which are now non-existent for which records are available to prove their existence during the war and after are highlighted in blue. The locations of the balance 6 RAF stations (highlighted in grey) are yet to be identified. But out of these it could be RAF establishments at Thalladi (Mannar) Veyangoda, Kokilai and going by the following quotes.

  • “Another airfield was along the coastal road off the Thalladi Army camp in those days. I was required to do a study to see the feasibility of revamping the airfield to enable Air Communications with the Army using the Pioneer aircraft. On a road reconnaissance we saw the marker stones indicating the runway direction; but all the PSP sheets were long gone and the whole area covered and swamped with “buffalo thorns”. It could have cost too much to revive and also administer the airfield at that time. It is on the Thalladi road; along the mainland coast” – Gp Capt Noor Rahim, SLAF (Retd)
  • In in my early teenage years, I spent about two weeks at my aunt’s house at Veyangoda. They were living in an official married quarter at the Veyangoda textile mills as my uncle was a Forman there. One day I was bored and decided to walk to the town which was a couple of kms away. My aunt gave me the directions and told me that there was a short cut through a bushy area. I found the shortcut which was just a footpath through a very bushy area. I came across an old dilapidated hangar-like structure and noticed some metal sheets with big holes in them all over the place and the bush has grown through it. After I returned home and inquired about that place my uncle told me that it was an RAF station during WW2. After I joined the AF I realised that the metal sheets were PSP plates”- Sqn Ldr Theja Cooray, SLAF (Retd)
  • The Most Dangerous Moment by Michael Tomlinson states the following “….Six more fighters, led by Flt Lt Cleaver, were off by 7.10 and five minutes later another six, under Flt Lt Marshall, were scrambled from Kokilai…”

DETAILS OF SOME OF THE RAF /FAA STATIONS THAT OPERATED IN SRI LANKA DURING THE WAR AND AFTER  

RAF STATION – RATMALANA

During the war this station was deployed with No 30 Squadron flying Hawker Hurricanes. Also during this period aeroplanes arrived there from Perth, Western Australia, on what was at the time the world’s longest non-stop air route. The flight continued after the war with an intermediate re-fuelling stop at the Cocos Islands. This station was in operation from 1941 to 1946.


Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) English Electric Canberra bomber
                    taxing to the runway at Colombo-Ratmalana Airport during a
                    refuelling stop in the early 1950s. 
                    Source (for all three photos): Google Images
 

RAF STATION – RACECOURSE, COLOMBO

This station consisted only of a single runway, station headquarters and the officers’ mess set up in the bungalows in Cinnamon Gardens and was serviced by a newly established military hospital in the premises of Royal College Colombo. The Royal Navy also established a Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) here during the duration of the war with the name HMS Bherunda. 882 Naval Air Squadron was based here. This station was in operation from 1941 to 1945.

Aerial view of RAF Station, Race Course Colombo 

Source: https://ceylon.guide/2020/04/15/an-airfield-in-the-middle-of-colombo/

The Colombo Race Course today

RAF STATION – TRINCOMALEE (CHINA BAY)

This was in operation from 1938 to 1957. R.A.F. Station China Bay was opened in Aug 1938. It gave lodger facility for Royal Navy Air Section from August 1940. The station was transferred to Admiralty in Nov 1944 and renamed RNAS Trincomalee. The station was returned to RAF in May 1950.

RAF STATION – NEGAMBO (KATUNAYAKE)

This station was built in the mid 1940’s to replace lost RAF airfields in Pakistan and India. Katunayake was conveniently situated twixt Aden and Singapore to serve the continuing need of supplying its vast Empire particularly so in the Far East and was used as a staging post to rest crews and passengers of aircraft in transit. The RAF operated this station until 1957.      

   RAF STATION – MINNERIYA (HINGURAKGODA)

This was formed as a RAF station in its 222 Group. During the war 14 flying formations were deployed at this station along with a RAF Regiment ack ack flight and a bomb disposal squadron. This station operated from 1942 to 1945.

During my tenure as the Base Commander, SLAF Hingurakkgoda many year back, I gathered information on how it was during WWII under the RAF. The camp area has extended up to the present town. Aircraft had been parked under trees camouflaged and taxied up to holding points They have took off one behind the other as the runway was built in such a manner to facilitate it. The runway had been built by straightening and filling the canal using 1,000 Cafri people who were at Leigh Farm that was a Cafri colony. Air Defence guns had been placed on Hingurakgala, on a hillock on the way to Medirigiriya the name of which I cannot remember and another towards “Yaya Hathara” and “Hathamuna”. The aircraft maintenance had been done in two hangars that were located somewhere in the present camp area. There is a wide belief that many of the items that could not be taken back when the RAF vacated the airfield were dumped into the “Bombu Wala” close to the Minneriya tank and sealed off whilst it is said that another spot is where the present Cemetery is – AVM Tilak Dissanayake, SLAF (Retd), January 2021.



A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Dakota at Minneriya Airport, Ceylon, 02nd Nov 1952.

RAF Station Koggala

This station which was in operation from 1941 to 1947 was used as a key Catalina flying boat/seaplane base during the war and after


RAF Station Koggala in the 1940s
SLAF Station, Koggala today




RAF STATION- KATUKURUNDA

This station in operation from 1941 was transferred to Royal Naval Air Service in Sep 1942 then returned to RAF in Oct 1946.

RAF Katukurunda in the 1940s & SLAF today

RAF Station Vavuniya

This station in operation from 1941 to 1945 as a bomber airfield. It was also a lodger facility to a Royal Naval air squadron.  

SLAF , Vavuniya

RAF Station Sigiriya

This station was opened in 1942 and in operation till 1946. A number of RAF squadrons (8160200203 and 354) and other units were stationed at the airfield during and immediately after the war.

RNAS Station Puttalam (Palavi)

This station was established in 1941 as a Royal Naval Air Service Station jointly by the RAF and Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. It was in operation till 1945.


An Elephant towing a Corsair (Chance Vought F4U) fighter aircraft, at Airfield near Kalpitiya(puttlam), 1944.
Source: Google Images
SLAF Puttlam

RAF Station Kankesanthurai (Palaly)

   This station was in operation from 1941 to 1945. A number of RAF squadrons (160, 203, 292 and 354) and air-sea rescue units were stationed at the airfield during and immediately after the war.  

SLAF , KKS today

RAF Stations at Dambulla and Kalametiya (Tangalle)

No. 30 Squadron of the RAF were deployed at these two stations between the period Aug 1942 to Jan 1944.

“My father had a small holiday home or shooting box on the opposite side of the Kalametiya airstrip. I recall hearing aircraft landing and taking off even in 1946. It was an amazing place with a long airstrip and small buildings”Kumar Soysa

RAF Station Mawathagama

This station located off Kurunegala – Kandy road has catered to the needs of Lord Mountbatten, Commander-in-Chief of SEAC (South East Asia Command) which had its headquarters in Kandy.

“One of the very significant airfields was located at Mawathagama. It was a grass field and up to 1960/61 it was very visible from the air. The airfield catered to the needs of Lord Mountbatten who was the Commander-in-Chief of SEAC during World War 2; with his SEAC Headquarters hidden away in the Peradeniya Gardens. The airfield could take a C47 easily. However; it is no longer to be seen as with the years the villagers encroached it and now there are settlements on it. The last person to land was Walter Fernando in a Chipmunk” – Gp Capt Noor Rahim 

RAF Detachment Kandy (Senkadagalapura) A detachment of RAF No 160 Squadron was deployed at this facility during Aug 1944 and Feb 1945 while the squadron main was based at RAF StationKankesanthurai. The motto and the badge heraldry of the RAF 160 Sqn have been derived from Sinhalese language and tradition / culture.

RAF Transmitter Station Ekala

RAF Ekala was originally built in the 1940s but was greatly enlarged in the early 50s to cope with the increased signals traffic to and from the Far East created by the removal of all the British Forces from India and Pakistan. Once RAF Gan and the Hitaddu transmitter site became fully operational most of the signals traffic was transferred there. The base finally closed down in 1961 when the last British forces left Sri Lanka.

RAF Ekala was the transmission site for the Signals Centre at RAF Negombo, later RAF Staging Post Katunayake and was located several miles from Negombo beside the Ja-ela to Minuwangoda road.

The camp was self-contained and staffed by 35 to 40 men and was administered by the Signals Centre. Most of the staff were radio technicians working shifts to provide and maintain the 24 hour radio relay link with the United Kingdom, some 5,000 miles away.

The station was also part of the Commonwealth Air Forces Network (CAFNet) which provided worldwide signals relay connections to many countries including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kenya, Aden, Cyprus, Malta, Canada and the United States.

A small team of aerial erectors maintained the huge aerial farm which surrounded the camp and extended beyond the site into the neighbouring cinnamon plantations. There was also a number of RAF Police dog handlers, a cook, two assistant (local) cooks, a fireman and a Royal Signals signalman.

The domestic site was located adjacent to the road in one corner of the camp. It consisted of two barrack rooms, two short rows of NCO rooms, a cookhouse/dining room, a small club house with a bar and a small bungalow for the CO.

RAF -Ekala
SLAF-Ekala today

RAF Radio Receiving Station Gangodawila

RAF Gangodawila was the receiving station for the Signals Centre at RAF Negombo in Ceylon. Following Independence from Britain RAF Negombo became known as RAF Staging Post Katunayake.



RAF Gangodawila (the current site of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura) in 1957 as seen from
one of the aerial masts prior to the camp closing down.
Source: https://roar.media/english/life/history/sri-lankas-secret-sigint-stations

RAF Anderson Colombo  

Far East Combined Bureau” (FECB) of the Royal Navy settled on the Anderson Golf Links in Narahenpita, Colombo’s third golf course. Here the first purpose-built sigint facility in the East came up, also serving as a direction-finding (DF) facility for the Royal Navy. Named “H. M. S. Anderson”.  Apart from the naval staff, H. M. S. Anderson also held 190 R.A.F. personnel to provide small “Y” parties (consisting of “computers” and telegraphists) to be deployed in ships      to give warning of air attacks.


H.M.S. Anderson, about 1945.
Source: https://roar.media/english/life/history/sri-lankas-secret-sigint-stations

Additional information related to the article.

Source: AVM RA Dayapala, SLAF (Retd

References:

  1. Foot Prints on the Sands of Time: The Story of Sri Lanka Ex-Servicemen’s Association
  2. http://www.airforce.lk/history_pages.php?pages=royal_air_force_and_world_war_ii
  3.   https://www.rafstations.co.uk/raf-stations-by-countries
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_former_Royal_Air_Force_stations#Rest_of_the_World
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceylon_in_World_War_II
  6. https://military.wikia.org/wiki/China_Bay_Airport
  7. https://ceylon.guide/2020/04/15/an-airfield-in-the-middle-of-colombo/
  8. http://rafkatunayake.tripod.com/
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratmalana_Airport
  10. http://www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk/FAA-Bases/Trincomalee.htm#.XwrGICgzbIU
  11. http://www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk/FAA-Bases/Katukurunda.htm#.XwrOZigzbIU
  12. http://www.hariggers.co.uk/places.htm
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._160_Squadron_RAF and Google Images
  14. https://roar.media/english/life/history/sri-lankas-secret-sigint-stations
  15. https://books.google.lk/books?id=031WegRPmM8C&pg=PA388&lpg=PA388&dq=receiver+station+horahena
  16. https://worldradiohistory.com/hd2/IDX-Site-Early-Radio/Archive-Radio-News-IDX/IDX/40s/47/Radio-News-