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COIN operations in Ceylon - 1971

[v1.0][08.Feb.2009][© VayuSena]


India’s involvement in the Sri Lanka in times of peace and war has been regular since the countries gained independence from British rule. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) deployment in late 1980s is an important chapter in India's military history. But few recall India’s aid to Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then known) to cope with the violent insurgency launched by JVP in 1971.

A violent revolution begins

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or JVP, a extremist-leftist Sinhalese organisation attempted to sieze power thru force in April 1971. Although not a trained military force, its cadres siezed and captured large chunks of areas in Southern and Central provinces of the country. The group had been active for some years, but due to growing action by the police forces decided to launch the full blown insurgency on 5th April.

Rebel groups armed with shotguns, bombs, and Molotov cocktails launched simultaneous attacks against 74 police stations around the island and cut power to major urban areas. The attacks were most successful in the south. Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) base at Ekala was also attacked. By 10th April, the rebels had taken control of Matara District and the city of Ambalangoda in Galle District and came close to capturing the remaining areas of Southern Province.

Ceylon's response

The government under Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike was ill prepared for the crisis that confronted it. Sri Lanka's all-volunteer army had no combat experience since World War II and no training in COIN. Although the police were able to defend some areas unassisted, in many places the government deployed personnel from all three services in a ground force capacity.

RCyAF's No. 4 Squadron - equipped with just three Bell 206A Jet Ranger helicopters at Colombo - delivered relief supplies to besieged police stations and military outposts. The squadron could muster 122 hours of flying in the first 5 days. The aircraft returned with casualties. Combined service patrols drove the insurgents out of urban areas and into the countryside.

The authorities was caught off guard by the scale of the uprising and were forced to call on India for armed help.

Srimavo Bandaranaike sent a distress signal to Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India. But as the telecommunication system in Ceylon by that time had been damaged, New Delhi managed only to receive a garbled cable from the Ceylon prime minister. As assistance was not forthcoming from India, KPS Menon, of the Indian High Commission, was sent to New Delhi, to personally convey the distress call.

Indira Gandhi hurriedly summoned her cabinet to discuss on receiving the distress call. The government answered the call for help with the services of all three arms - Army, Navy and Air Force.

Indian deployment

The Indian Army Southern Command under Lieutenant-General GG Bevoor was alerted and soon troops were airlifted from Bangalore and Madras (Chennai), to the Ceylon Air force base in Katunayake.

Five Alouette III/Chetak helicopters from the 104 Helicopter Sqn (HS) were deployed to Ceyon. The unit had operated in Ceylon previously; during 1957-58 floods in Ceylon, two Bell Helicopters from the unit (then 104 Helciopter Flight) were airlifted to carry out relief operations from 28 Dec 1957 to 10 Jan 1958.

The 104 Helicopter Unit (presently raised as 104 Helicopter Squadron) was the first helicopter formation in the Indian armed forces and was based at Hindan Air Force Station (AFS) at that time. The Commanding Officer of the squadron was Sqn Ldr SM Hundiwala, VM & Bar. 104 HU tallied 573 flying hours spread across as many as 1122 sorties in Ceylon ops.

Ultimately, it took two weeks of fighting for the government to supress the JVP rebellion with considerable efforts from the Indian armed forces.


The Ceylon peacekeeping operation was Independent India's first overseas operation under own command (other foreign deployments were under UN). Full details of the operation are not well known and has been eclipsed in coverage by the momentus events of India's history in the same year - the Liberation War in 1971.

Revision History :

[v1.0][08.Feb.2009] - First Upload

References :

  1. 104 HS history at the Official Indian Air Force website.
  2. "The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna"
  3. "The Night of April 5th" - Official SLAF website
  4. "A Lost Revolution: The JVP Insurrection 1971"

The Pioneer Rotarians

104 Helicopter Squadron

08.Nov.1988 - The President of India awarded the unit the President's Colour for their stellar role played by the squadron over the years.

© 104 HS IAF

Indian Air Force Chetak helicopter armed with Milan ATGMs

Chetak Z1808 belonging to the 104 HU armed with four Milan ATGMs.

© 104 HS IAF

Operation Rainbow - India's response to Tsunami floods in Sri Lanka

Operation Rainbow: IAF IL-76MD in Sri Lanka

To provide humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka, the Government of India despatched a composite medical team of Army doctors and relief material to Colombo.The medical team with relief material was airlifted from Bamrauli airfield by IL-76. The Central Air Command located at Bamrauli, Allahabad was tasked to airlift this team and material for which IL-76 aircraft was positioned within an hour.

© Sainik Samachar

Indian Army in Sri Lanka for Tsunami relief

Indian military personnel attend a farewell ceremony at the Sri Lankan army headquarters in Colombo on June 5, 2003. India lent military personnel for relief operations after unprecedented floods in May in the island nation killed 254 people and displaced some 200,000 families.

© Sena Vidanagama/AFP/Getty Images/Rediff.com

Sri Lankan chief General Lionel Balagalle presents a certificate to Major Rita Prasad at the Sri Lankan army headquarters in Colombo.

Sri Lankan chief General Lionel Balagalle presents a certificate to Major Rita Prasad at the Sri Lankan army headquarters in Colombo. India's humanitarian efforts at alleviating the suffering of the flood-hit in Sri Lanka came in for a lot of praise.

© Sena Vidanagama/AFP/Getty Images/Rediff.com


IAF Chetak Z-1411 (HAL manufactured Alouette III)

IAF Chetak Z1411. The green livery has now been abandoned for low visibility 'Tipnis grey' colour.

© Eddy de Kruijff

IAF Chetak Z-1430

IAF Chetak Z1430 - The Alouette III was manufactured under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) as the Chetak

© Eddy de Kruijff

Bell 47-G3 helicopter

104 HU operated the Bell 47-G3 helicopter - the first helicopter in Indian armed forces.

© 104 HS IAF


Sri Lanka Map

Political map of Sri Lanka

© Central Intelligence Agency

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