- DETERMINING THE NUMBER OF RAF STATIONS THAT WERE IN SRI LANKA DURING WWII AND AFTER
- LOCATIONS OF THE 14 RAF / FAA AERODROMES &AIR STRIPS OPERATED IN SRI LANKA DURING WWII
- DETAILS OF SOME OF THE RAF / FAA STATIONS THAT OPERATED IN SRI LANKA DURING THE WAR AND AFTER
“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.
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
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.
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- 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
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.
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.
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 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 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.
Additional information related to the article.
- Foot Prints on the Sands of Time: The Story of Sri Lanka Ex-Servicemen’s Association
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._160_Squadron_RAF and Google Images