Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe looks back at the early days of the Sri Lanka Army
The greater part of the planning to create the Ceylon Army began as a part of Ceylon’s bi-lateral ‘Defence Agreement’ with Britain signed on November 11, 1947, when Ceylon attained Dominion Status. Although, February 4, 1948, marked the formal end of British Imperialism in Ceylon, British influence still held considerable sway, as demonstrated by the Anglo-Ceylonese ‘Defence Agreement’ of 1947.

Apart from safeguarding British strategic interests, the accord gave British military advisors a significant role in designing the post-independence Ceylon Army (CA), as outlined by its first Commander, Brigadier Roderick Sinclair, the Earl of Caithness (c.1949-1952): “There is already a close affinity between the Ceylon Army and the British Army. Many of the army’s customs and regulations are based on those of the British Army, and all regiments and corps of the Ceylon Army are now affiliated to corresponding British regiments and corps. To the British Army the Ceylon Army owes much of its formation.”
Under British auspices, the CA’s reconstruction programme continued until the tenure of the first two CA Commanders, who were British, Brigadiers the Earl of Caithness and Sir Francis Smith Reid (c.1952-1955) ended.

The CA and its reconstituted auxiliary the Ceylon Volunteer Force (CVF), formerly the Ceylon Defence Force, renamed in 1972 the Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force (SLAVF), was officially sanctioned by Army Act No. 17 of 1949 on April 11, 1949, formalised in Gazette Extraordinary No. 10028 of October 10, 1949, as stated on October 3, 1949, by Ceylon’s founding father, Prime Minister DS Senanayake (c.1947-1952): “By virtue of powers vested in me by Section 1 of Army Act No. 17 of 1949, I, Don Stephen Senanayake, Minister of Defence and External Affairs, do by this order appoint the tenth day of October 1949 as the date on which that Act shall come into operation.”

The task of forming a new regular army from scratch, required feverish behind the scenes preparation and planning, as illustrated by Brigadier the Earl of Caithness: “The purpose and size of the force had to be decided upon, a Pay Code had to be drafted and receive Treasury approval, initial establishments had to be drawn up and the more important of the regulations written. At the same time plans for the future build-up of the Force had to be made – the methods of obtaining the necessary officers and men, the means by which they were to be fed, provisioned and accommodated, and the means by which they were to be trained. These and many other problems were those which had to be considered and solved in those early days.”

With the promulgation of the Army Act, the CDF headquarters was re-organised as Ceylon Army headquarters. The regular army’s organisation began with the raising of the following units in 1949: 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment/Ceylon Artillery; Ceylon Infantry Regiment, renamed shortly after as the 1st battalion CLI; 1 Company, Ceylon Army Service Corps; Ceylon Army Medical Corps; 1 Company, Ceylon Army Ordnance Corps; Ceylon Electrical and Mechanical Engineers; 1st Provost Company, Ceylon Corps of Military Police; Works Services, Ceylon Engineers; 1st Field Squadron, Ceylon Engineers; 1st Squadron, Ceylon Signal Corps.

The reconstituted CVF units included: 2nd (V) Field Squadron, Ceylon Engineers; 2nd (V) Squadron, Ceylon Signals Corps; Field Plant Regiment; 2nd (V) battalion CLI; 2nd (V) Company, Ceylon Army Service Corps; Ceylon Garrison Artillery, renamed the Ceylon Artillery in 1950; Ceylon Army Medical Corps (V); Ceylon Cadet Battalion, renamed Ceylon Cadet Corps in 1950.

Force structure consolidation
For the nation’s politicians there was no sense of urgency in developing a modern military. The priorities of national development did not emphasise military spending, with no serious and foreseeable internal threat in sight. The protection contracted by the Anglo-Ceylonese Defence Agreement, provided an assurance of national security from potential external threats, as confirmed by D.S. Senanayake: “At the moment there is not the slightest doubt that we have the good fortune to be friendly with a power like Britain. Their friendship is our greatest security.” Under the Defence Agreement, it was also agreed to help equip, train and organise the CA with the advice of experienced British Army staff officers, two of whom served as the first two Commanders of the CA.

In 1951 the embryonic regular army numbered a mere 154 officers and 1,955 other ranks. Its ancillary, the CVF, formed the continuation of the Ceylon Defence Force (CDF) approximating 1,500 reservists. At the outset of its establishment, the forecasted plan was to build a brigade size regular army of around 3,000-4,000 troops, a plan which did not materialise until the mid-1950s. The government led by D.S. Senanayake recruited mainly ex-CDF reservists and Ceylonese who had served with the British Army during the Second World War (c.1939-1945) and the Malayan Emergency (c.1948-1960) to staff senior and mid-level officer positions, including Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs).

When enlistments first opened, the nascent CA had a substantial pool of trained and experienced manpower to select from, as confirmed by the first Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs, Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan (c.1947-1952): “The decision to raise our own army was taken shortly after the first anniversary of Independence in February, 1949, and it was then that I truly realised the vastness of the undertaking, which already had seemed vast enough. All we had on the credit side was some excellent material already existing in the Ceylon Defence Force, a volunteer body. Everything else had to begin afresh.”

There were over 645 officers and 14,247 other ranks of the de-mobilised CDF from the Second World War. Furthermore, many ex-CDF veterans had served overseas as garrison troops in the Seychelles, Maldives and Cocos Islands. There were also many Ceylonese who had served with the British Army. Salient examples include the Ceylon Royal Artillery and the Royal Army Service Corps, which itself recruited 7,000 Ceylonese into its ranks, with at least 4,500 who served overseas at various stages of the war. Some even had experienced frontline combat in these operational theatres. Therefore, the CA had the opportunity of selecting into its ranks, the most competent and qualified manpower available.

The re-enlisted ex-CDF officers in the new regular army were updated with further professional training conducted in Ceylon until late 1951 by the British Army Training Team (BATT) advisory group. After initial training requirements were fulfilled, all were sent to specialist British Army training schools in the United Kingdom. Some senior officers were also sent to the British Army Staff College, Camberley and or even attached to units of the British Army of the Rhine to gain field experience.

In the senior ranks of the CA, the first five Ceylonese Commanders of the CA were of the CDF generation, Major Generals A.M. Muttukumaru (c.1955-1959); H.W.G. Wijeyekoon (c.1960-1963); A.R. Udugama (c.1964-1966); B.R. Heyn (c.1966-1967) and General D.S. Attygalle (c.1967-1977). It was as late as 1979, when Brigadier T.S.B. Sally, the last serving regular officer of the CDF generation retired from the army.

The only fresh additions to the post-independence army were newly recruited officer cadets and soldiers. The training of officer cadets was conducted overseas at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in England due to the absence of local facilities. In the early 1960s this policy shifted towards regional based institutions, such as the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun and the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul.

In the other ranks, ex-CDF soldiers dominated the NCO composition down to the rank of Sergeant. The training requirements for the CA’s other ranks was fulfilled by the BATT within Ceylon. However, some soldiers attended specialist training courses in Britain, India, Pakistan and Malaya, now Malaysia, during the Communist insurgency in the 1950s, to train with the British Army in aspects of jungle-craft and guerrilla warfare.

The social composition of the CA was ethnically varied, linguistically and religiously diverse and proved to be an asset to its multi-faceted role and near constant and varied operational deployment throughout the islamd.

(Part 2 next week)

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