Fortune Favours the Brave Fortune Favours the Brave

Fortune Favours the Brave Fortune Favours the Brave

By Admiral (Retired) Ravindra
C. Wijegunaratne, Former Chief of Defence Staff

‘Fortune favours the Brave’ is the motto of the Sri Lanka Navy’s elite Special Boats Squadron (SBS). The Navy is considered as “Silent Service”, because no one sees what they do, out at sea.

The Sri Lanka Navy’s elite Sea Commando Unit is SBS, which was raised in 1993 to fight against the LTTE Sea Tigers. The SBS is known as the ‘Silent of Silent Service” because of what they do, and their capabilities only a few in the country are aware of. I was fortunate enough to raise this elite unit, in 1993, and Command it twice in my Naval career, during the most demanding times of our battle against the LTTE terrorists, in 1993/95 and 1999/2001. Most of the officers and sailors who served with me have already retired. But, the young officers, who served with me, are still in the service. They are senior officers now, but they still contact me, especially when they require fatherly advice. I admire it a lot.

General Collin Powell, the US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, during Operation Desert Storm (Liberation of Kuwait in 1991), US National Security Adviser and later US Secretary of State, once said about leadership:

“Leadership is solving problems. The day your juniors stop bringing their problems to you is the day you stopped leading them. Because, they have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership “.

So, I was very happy when the SBS officers and men bring their problems to me.

 

The story starts when I was the Director Naval Operations/Maritime Surveillance and Special Forces, in the Naval Headquarters, in 2006. The Commanding officer of the SBS (CO- SBS) met me, at my office, one evening. He had a unique problem. He said, “Sir, SNK (Lieutenant SNK Silva) has been married for a long time, but they still no children. When he was undergoing his Basic Hydrography course, in Goa, India, he has consulted a famous Gynaecologist there, and he had recommended that his wife undergo surgery, which will cost him a lot of money. By now, he had collected the funds and wanted to go return to Goa for treatments”.

I thought to myself, Now what! Am I to solve these problems also?” But soon remembered what General Powell had said. I told CO-SBS, “OK, give me some time. I will come back to you”. When I told this problem to my wife, Yamuna, without even a blink of her eyes, she said, “Child is the most precious thing for a couple. You should somehow do it.” No more consultation required. I have to do this. We used to send SBS beach reconnaissance teams to enemy-held beaches, clandestinely, to measure the beach gradients and sand bars forming. This was necessary for the Navy to periodically upgrade our charts which are available to the Commanding Officers of our Landing Craft. These charts are extremely helpful to them, during beach landings. A good knowledge of Hydrography is an added advantage to these SBS beach reconnaissance teams.

I argued, at the Naval Headquarters Boardroom, that training Lieutenant SNK, (who had already done the Basic Hydrography Course, in Goa) to follow the Long Hydrography course, in Goa, will be an added advantage to the SBS beach reconnaissance teams. However, my arguments were not strong enough. Two things came against SNK. One was that he had already done the Basic Hydrography course, in 2004, and he was too junior for the long course. Second was that the knowledge he had gained in the basic course was sufficient for his missions at hand.

Within a few months, SNK went to Goa, with his wife, at his own cost. The following year, they had their precious baby boy, and named him Thisara. I was very happy even though my efforts had failed. For SNK and his wife, this was the most precious gift from God. SNK became a very proud father, in the SBS.

The Navy was correct. The Navy awarded the Long Hydrography Course to SNK, in 2008. The Admiral of the Fleet, Wasantha Karannagoda, then Commander of the Navy, decided that SBS beach reconnaissance teams having an expert knowledge on Hydrography was important. I salute him for his decision. That is why he has become the war-winning Navy Commander and Admiral of the Fleet (5-star) today.

My effort to influence the system had failed. But I tried it with good intentions to help a brother officer. So, in 2008, SNK went to Goa, again, for the long Hydrography course, with his wife and two-year-old son. If he had got the opportunity to follow that course two years ago, he would have saved a lot of money, but SNK had no regrets.

 

By 2009, SNK was a Lieutenant Commander and the Second in Command of the SBS. His son was three years old. SNK was being groomed to take over the SBS from Commander Dewaka Chandrakeerthi, who was soon completing his tenure as the SBS-CO.

 

By this time, our assault against the LTTE terrorists had reached the final phase. Our gallant Army was closing in on Killinochchi and Mullaitivu. The LTTE Sea Tigers had already lost their ocean going ships and main supply routes by sea. But their small boat squadrons, and suicide boats, were viciously carrying out their do-or-die missions out at the seas off Mullaitivu and Challai. They were fast losing their boat launching points and boat pens, along the Eastern coast, and finally settled down at Mullaitivu, taking grounded merchant vessel Farrah-3 as a cover.

MV Farrah-3 grounded off Mulativu

MV Farrah-3 was a Jordanian owned general cargo ship which was sailing from South India to South Africa, carrying 14,000 tons of rice, when it was hijacked by LTTE and grounded off Mullaitivu, on 23rd December, 2006. It was used by Sea Tigers as the safest boat launching pad for them.

Meanwhile, a Special Boats Squadron (SBS) unit and a Rapid Action Boats Squadron (RABS) unit were stationed at Nayaru (South of Mullaitivu) and Chalai (North of Mullaitivu). They were destroying enemy boats, in fierce sea confrontations, almost daily.

SNK and his team, from the Southern flank, planned a simple but timely operation. I would say it was a very brave operation. That was to attack the Farrah-3 Sea Tiger boat pen. They decided to use asecret weapon of the SBS, a 16-foot remote controlled explosive laden boat. The plan was to send the explosive laden boat right inside the hull of Farrah-3 and explode it, destroying all the enemy boats stationed there. Chief Petty officer “Fiber” Dissa was the best remote control boat operator and he was given the task of handling the explosive laden boat from his Arrow boat. The time chosen for the mission was between 11am and 12 noon when their guard was down, and while all the LTTE boats were parked inside the Farrah-3 boat pen and the crews were relaxing.

SNK was onboard an Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC), which was fitted with MSIS (Multi Sensor Integrated System) and commanding the mission.

The 16-foot arrow boats (later named as “Cedric boats” in honour of late Commander Cedric Martinstyn, who designed this boat – a former SBS CO, who went missing in action) were converted into remote controlled explosive laden boats by the Sri Lanka Navy Research and Development unit. The SBS used them very effectively against the enemy. So, this secret weapon of the SBS was being used against the LTTE Sea Tigers’ last boat pen.

 

There is always an extreme risk when working with explosives. I can remember very well when I volunteered to do a basic bomb disposal course with the Army, what our Chief Instructor said, “Gentlemen, you have done one mistake by volunteering to undergo this bomb disposal course, but don’t make the second mistake. Because you will not live to realise the second one.”

 

Lt Commander (then) Chatura Gamage, an outstanding battle-hardened SBS officer, even though he was disabled, volunteered to work out at sea during the final phase of the sea battle, explained that they had seen a huge explosion near SNK’s Inshore Patrol Craft. When they got closer, a few more RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades) had exploded. SNK and 13 sailors had paid the supreme sacrifice due to this explosion. Lt Commander Dissanayake and Fleet Chief Petty Officer Abesekara were severely injured and were picked up by our Fast Attack Craft.

SBS lost another brave officer and 13 sailors on 30th April 2009.

They continue to live in our hearts.

SNK’s 14-year-old son, Thisara Kaushal Perera, is now studying at Grade 8 at Royal College, Colombo 7.

Please listen to “Last Post” on YouTube video below and Salute SNK.

May his soul Rest In Peace.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=NqHx1CDRQkc%3Frel%3D0

 

MV Farrah 3 grounded off Mulativu

 

They continue to live in our hearts.

 

SNK’s 14-year-old son, Thisara Kaushal Perera, is now studying at Grade 8 at the Royal College, Colombo 7.

 

Please listen to “Last Post” on YouTube video below and Salute SNK.

 

May his soul Rest In Peace.

 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=NqHx1CDRQkc%3Frel%3D0