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The long journey to Chundikulam

Flags waved against winds from the Chundikulam seas. National Flag stood as the tallest and the most proud. There is no iota of doubt our soldiers and victories they bring in are what the nation can be highly proud of. Though they are not so high-tech comparatively to the world's strongest warriors, our troops stand unique. They fight to free the land and its people with the world's ruthless terrorist organization.

Against the white sands, the crystal blue sea and the lush green thickets the National flag with the red coloured 55 Division flag along with Brigade flags and battalion flags stood so high honouring the bravery and the will power of the soldier's heart who liberated Chundikulam. Soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army's 55 and 53 Divisions liberated our Northern capital of which the LTTE stole its freedom almost three decades ago.

Fall of the Elephant Pass

The soldier’s pride Picture by Thilak Perera

With the fall of the Elephant Pass to Sri Lanka Army on January 9 with the efforts of the 55 and 53 Divisions of the Northern Front Line and the 58 Division of the Wanni Front Line the Tigers were compelled to let go of their grip on Yalpanam.

The Jaffna peninsula is totally liberated with the fall of Chundikulam area in to the hands of the troops attached to the 551 brigade of the 55 Division commanded by Brigadier Prasanna de Silva. Troops liberated and consolidated their positions in the last few kilometres of the Chundikulam area by 14 January. Hence, LTTE loose the entire Jaffna peninsula - their heartbeat of the hypothetical mono-ethnic separate state.

From Nagar Kovil up to Chundikulam, troops passed a stretch of approximately 40 kilometres during this operation commenced simultaneously with the capture of Pallai and Soranpattu areas South of Muhamalai.

The First step

In the march towards Elephant Pass 1 Vijeyaba Infantry Regimental battalion of the 53 Division operated close to the A9 road. The 5th battalion of Gemunu Watch, 1st and 6th battalions of Gajaba Regiment and the 5th battalion of the Vijeyaba regiment were the other battalions that strengthened the force.

The 53 Division was comprised of three Brigades under the command of General Officer Commanding Brigadier Kamal Gunarathne - i.e. the 533 Brigade commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Jayanath Jayaweera, the Air Mobile Brigade commanded by Shantha Dissanayake and the recently formed Mechanized Infantry Brigade commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lalantha Gamage. 533 Brigade is equipped with battalions 1st Gajaba and 5th Vijeyaba.

The Air Mobile Brigade was with battalions 1st Vijeyaba and 5th Gamunu Watch. 1st and 2nd battalions of the Mechanical Infantry brigade were under the command of the 53 Division.

On the other side, the North of A9 up to Kadolana area in the lagoon front, the 55 Division was advancing parallel under the command of Brigadier Prasanna de Silva. Initially with 8th and 7th battalions of Vijayaba Infantry and 6th battalion of Sri Lanka Light Infantry launched the offensive on 5 January night. 4th Gemunu Watch was a reserve battalion, which joined the battle as the Army progressed.

Both Divisions launched their offensives on January 5 late in the night advancing till next day morning.

553 Brigade under the Command of Colonel Mahinda Weerasuriya was in control of 2 kilometres of their line towards the A9 road with 6th SLLI battalion and 7th Vijeyaba battalion. The 552 Brigade under the command of Colonel K.B. Udalupola was operating on the other 2 kilometres with 8th Vijeyaba battalion and 4th Gemunu Watch battalion as a reserve.

According to Brigadier Kamal Gunarathne 53 division troops were at a very close position of 30 - 40 metres distance from the LTTE Defence Line. Actually this was LTTE's second Defence Line from Muhamalai. With the advancement of the troops in last November the Sri Lanka Army was occupying the LTTE's 1st Defence line.

For the 55 Division the second line was at distance just about 600 metres by the A9 road side and 810 metres from the Kadolana side.

The 53 Division had an obstacle, a high ground on the Kilali lagoon side. Yet with constant Artillery and mortar support troops totally consolidated their positions in the LTTE Defence line by January 6 evening including the high ground. The 53 division was at a greater advantageous position. Troops of the 552 and 553 brigades systematically fixed chargers to the LTTE bunker lines during the nighttime operation. By 4 a.m. next day (6 January) job was completed. In the morning troops broke the LTTE defence line amidst heavy resistance from 81mm mortars and 120 mm artillery firing. By around 5.30 p.m. both brigades joined with the 53 division battalions.

With the advancement towards Pallai and Soranpaththu and strongly consolidating their positions in the captured areas made a steady launching pad for the troops to gain Elephant Pass. At all times the leadership insisted that troops dominate the front land of the defences.

"It was with the special tactics we used that we were able to extremely minimize deaths and casualties of our soldiers.

The pressure on the LTTE from the Wanni front was a strong point to weaken them," Colonel K.B. Udalupola said.

08th battalion of the Armoured Corp was in support of the 55 division while the 1st field Engineers battalion and 4th Armour battalion with G55 weapons were in support of the 53 Division.

As Brigadier Kamal Gunarathne said the LTTE was trying all possible delaying attacks but was not returning strong repulse attacks as the operation continued.

Secondary task

After the recapture of Elephant Pass, both the divisions were given a secondary task of marching towards Kevil, which lies in the coastal belt of the isthmus.

While the 53 division troops reached Kevil through Iyakachchi, Vettalekerni the 55 Division had to cross the lagoon.

With the support of a 8 man team of the Special Forces (SF) Divers' team of SF 2nd Battalion, a team of 1st Battalion of the Commandos landed at Mamunai which was South of Nagar Kovil while the 1st battalion of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry attached to the 551 Brigade commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Wasantha Abrew launched their operation parallel to the Pallai - Soranpaththu capture.

"The lagoon was quite deep but we used a column 5.5 - 6km deep water. Our task was to carry out a reconnaissance first to find places for the Commandos to settle in Mamunai and also to cut off a main supply route lying along the Kadolana stretch in support of the other infantry troops. It was a total success and definitely had a demoralising impact on the terrorists," Lieutenant Sisira Jayaratne the Officer In Charge of the SF team said.

These eight brave young men crossed with a team of 20 commandos on to their target and signing off duty for another job assigned to them at a totally different war front.

The task of the 53 division for the Northern Front ended at Kevil. The 55 Division continued their mission until capturing Chundikulam the last ground of the Northern Front line. The 53 Division was shifted to the Wanni Forward Defence Line.

"Based on reports from the Divisional Intelligence Officer we fired and pounded on to LTTE strongholds continuously making the path for our infantry troops. According to LTTE radio interceptions later in the day we found that the LTTE was not in a position even to communicate properly," Lieutenant Colonel W.P. Gunasoma, Commanding Officer of the 4th Battalion of the Artillery Regiment who were deployed in support of the 55 Division said.

Troops of 1st Gemunu Watch battalion, 1st Sri Lanka Light Infantry battalion along with 1st battalion of Commandos marched forward under the command of 551 Brigade lead by Lt. Col. Wasantha Abrew jointly from Thalayadi onwards. Passing Thalayadi, Vettalaikerni and Kaddaikadu troops entered Chuddikulam and totally gained control by January 14.

8th Armoured Corp who supported regaining Elephant Pass was also in support of the mission liberating Chundikulam along with 4th Armoured Corp and 1st Mech Infantry battalion.

Loss of LTTE bases

With the advancements of the 53 division towards Elephant Pass they recovered several well fortified LTTE bases. In Pulopallai troops recovered a reinforcement base - November Sierra and in Pallai South, then they came across a Command base called 'G1'. The Rangan mine factory was in the South of Pallai as well as the 'G4' - an admin base. North of Pallai an ammunition dump yard was recovered named 'Kilo4'.

With the large number of land mines spotted across the fields the Army's Engineers played a greater role to safeguard the lives of the soldiers.

"We are the first to reach the battle field and the last to go," First Field Engineers Commanding Officer Major Udaya Kumara said. Approaching an unexpected set up of explosives is the greatest challenge Army Engineers face at all time. Converting the impossible to possible it their task.

At Maradankerni in the Vanirayan Thalayadi Lagoon area, the 8th Field Engineers were repairing the bridge on the road that connects Soranpatthu with Thalayadi junction. The victory of the Northern Front was not of a single team or a person but a collective effort. The hardships they go through to save our land cannot be devalued.

 

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