Infamous coup d'etat
Prior to 1956, Sri Lanka was governed by the UNP but at the general
election held in 1956, the SLFP won with a handsome majority and the UNP
was reduced to 8 seats. This was achieved under late SWRD Bandaranaike.
The SLFP victory was the result of the Buddhist Clergy, the Native
Doctors, Sinhalese Teachers, Workers and Peasants being united under one
At this election, one of the main promises SWRD Bandaranaike gave the
masses was that he would make Sinhalese the official langauge of the
country within 24 hours, if he got elected.
He got elected and he kept the promise. However, by this sudden
change of language, a large section of non-Sinhalese got affected. Those
who were in the Government service had to get proficiency in the Sinhala
language and their confirmation depended on their passing a Sinhala
When I joined the Police Service in 1957, the entire strength of the
Service did not exceed 8,000. The last regimental number was 7951.
The Inspector-General of Police was Osmund de Silva. He had three
DIGG under him. They were the Dissanayake brothers, Jungle and Jingle
and William Leembruggen. The IGP was a Buddhist but the other three were
In the year 1959 Osmund de Silva reached his 58th birthday and a new
IGP had to appointed.
Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, according to his election pledge
had to appoint a Buddhist as IGP. Hence he had to get someone from
outside to hold this post as all other three DIGG were Christians. He
also found that 9 SPP according to the seniority list were non
Buddhists. The 10th in seniority was SP Stanley Senanayake who was a
Buddhist. All the DIGG and SPP unanimously requested the Prime Minister
to appoint Stanley Senanayake as the IGP over and above them instead of
bringing an outsider.
By this time the Prime Minister had already made up his mind to
appoint a Buddhist IGP from outside.
At that time the Police Department did not have labour rights and
strikes were not heard of.
The Gazetted Officers of the Police met one day at the Police
Headquarters Library and decided to show their displeasure over this to
the Prime Minister. The main speakers at this meeting were Vicky
Thuraisingham, Harrold Mendis and Fred de Saram.
The decision taken at this meeting was conveyed to the Prime Minister
by three officers of the three ranks - a DIG, a SP and an ASP. The
request was handed over to the PM and after listening to them he said
that he cannot change decision as an outsider had already been
The officers walked back, dejected and frustrated.
Within a period of week, a complete outsider, a man who had never
worn a khaki uniform or hardly taken part even in a school 'March Past',
one M W F Abeykoon was air lifted and made him the 14th IGP of Ceylon.
He served from April 26, 1959 to April 29, 1963. The PM knew that he
had blundered badly and Abeykoon would only be a figurehead and the
Police Department would be akin to a ship without a rudder.
To rectify this mistake to a certain extent he appointed a gifted
Civil Servant who had already made a name for himself as DIG
Administration and shifted him to Police Headquarters. He was D B I P S
He was a very methodical man, efficient and intelligent, with a
proven track record in all aspects of administration.
Senior Police Officer could not do anything now as the die was cast.
Displeasure and frustration were brewing daily and the tentacles were
reaching the other services, Army, Navy and Airforce.
On September 26, 1958 the Prime Minister was gunned down at the
Rosmead Place residence. This was orchestrated by disgruntled SLFP
stalwarts led by the powerful Buddhist prelate Buddharakkitha. All of
them were diehards who paved the way for the success of the SLFP in 1956
Sirima Bandaranaike was appointed to fill the vacancy of her late
Abeykoon, the incumbent IGP did not know how to handle a murder
inquiry. He had to be at the mercy of the other senior Police officers.
At this stage Felix Dias Bandaranaike came to the forefront supervised
the inquiry. He was a highly intelligent person, son of a Supreme Court
Judge and himself an Advocate by profession.
The murder inquiry handled by S A Dissanayake, DIG CID, assisted by a
team of intelligence officers headed by Tyrrel Gunatilleke. The case was
successfully concluded and Somarama Thera was sentenced to death and
Buddharakkitha Thera was sentenced to 8 years RI by the Privy Council. A
few accomplices were discharged.
Abeykoon continued to be IG. The discipline in the Police was
deteriorating by the day. Politicians now wielded power and every
government servant had to fall in line or face dire consequences. A
foolish Member of Parliament even walked into a hospital operating
theatre to supervise a surgeon operating on a patient.
Sidney de Zoysa was a Senior Police Officer who dominated Police
Force from early nineteen thirties till late nineteen fifties. he is a
legend. He was a brave cop, a strict disciplinarian and an impartial
officer. He was the Director of the Police Training School from 1947 to
1955 and every Police Officer who joined the Police during that time had
to go through him. It was said that he could recall the names and the
regimental numbers of every Constable who passed through his hands. He
was said to have a wonderful memory. He was the brother of Stanley de
Zoysa, then Minister of Finance but Sidney had to leave the Service in
disgust as he was asked to tender his retirement papers due to a comment
made by him in a statement made by Philip Gunawardena in Parliament,
Sidney de Zoysa perceived this forced retirement is unjust and it
rankled in his heart.
During this time there was a reputed Government servant called
Douglas Liyanage. He was an intelligent and an efficient officer. For a
trivial reason the Government did not want him in Colombo. He was
transferred overnight as Government Agent Mannar which was a demotion
for him. He did not protest and proceeded to Mannar as the Government
This was a terrible error of judgement made by the Government.
Douglas Liyanage was shrewd enough to realize that it was the opportune
time to plan and carry out a Coup d'etat against the people's elected
Government. He knew whose support was needed and surreptitiously
attended to every minute detail of the plot. He was the master mind of
the Coup d'etat.
The Army Commander at the time was General Wijekoon and the Navy
Commander was Royce de Mel. The RAF was led by an Englishman named R A
Baker. Wijekoon was a man with SLFP learnings and Baker being an
outsider, both of them were kept in the dark. They tapped the Navy
Volunteer Force by gaining the favour of Maurice de Mel.
DIG C C Dissanayake had a finger on the pulse of the Police Dept. He
and his brother S A Dissanayake were ill-disposed towards each other and
SA being a tactician and no nonsense man was kept out by his brother CC
who did not trust him at all. C C Dissanayake had his own blue eyed boy.
Two of them were ASP Jeerasinghe and Bede Johnpulle. He got Johnpulle
transferred from Matugama to Colombo and made him ASP Traffic Colombo
under whom there was a fleet of vehicles. Collin Vanden Driesen was
given the second place at Depot Police where arms and ammunition and
stand-by men were available.
IGP Abeykoon did not know anything about surveillance. As usual he
played Bridge at the Orient club with his erstwhile friends.
The Master of Ceremonies of the Coup Douglas Liyanage travelled from
Mannar to Colombo practically every week to meet and finalise
arrangements and strength with his co-conspirators.
It is reported that the first Coup meeting was held at the Senior
Police Officers Mess at Longdon Place where most of the Police Officers
met under Douglas Liyanage.
Stanley Senanayake who was the Director Police Training Kalutara was
transferred to Colombo Division as its Superintendent. This was an
In the meantime, Colombo Division and some other places were having
practices as to what should be done in an emergency or a riot but the
new SP Colombo had not been informed as to why these sudden preparations
One evening a meeting was held in the office of the Supdt. of Police
Colombo. This was headed by C C Dissanayake and the Coup matter was
discussed. That was the first time Stanley Senanayake was informed.
On the second day another conference was held at the office of SP
Colombo. This was also chaired by C C Dissanayake and was attended by
more Gazetted Officers than the previous meeting. It ended around 12.15
Stanley Senanayake was a gentleman to the finger tips. He never ever
did anything wrong. This Coup to topple the duly elected government
immensely troubled him.
Senanayake went home in the night after the meeting. He narrated this
story to his wife Maya. His wife's father was the famous Educationist P
de S Kularatne, one time SLFP MP for Ambalangoda. Kularatne was staying
at the Orient Club and Senanayake met him and told him what had
transpired at the meeting.
Kularatne contacted the party hierarchy and the news was conveyed to
them. The cat was let out of the bag.
Felix Dias Bandaranaike rushed to Police Headquarters, met S A
Dissanayake at the CID office. He authorised him to assume the powers of
IGP S A Dissanayake despatched a message from Police Headquarters to all
Provinces that no Police Officer should take any type of action other
than on orders from DIG S A Dissanayake to whom the necessary authority
has been given. On the previous day DIG C C Dissanayake who had
personally informed all SPP in the Island that there could be a sudden
riot and to be in readiness with all available men. All leave given
earlier was cancelled and those who went on leave were recalled. Also
the Director of Training PTS Depot Police and the Special Police Reserve
were informed of this message. They were kept in readiness for any
S A Dissanayake, Felix Dias and the CID officers shifted to Police
Headquarters and issued orders from there. C C Dissanayake knowing that
the Coup had been nipped in the bud went to his bungalow at Pageant
Road. S P Richard Arndt lived next door. Around 12 mid night an Airforce
vehicle went to C C Dissanayake's house to arrest him with some Police
officers. Richard Arndt who heard a commotion at the next door went
there armed with his service revolver. Both officers were brought in a
black maria which was halted on the Marine Drive close to the Harbour
Police. If I remember correct, it was Buddi Siriwardena of the RAF who
was in-charge of the vehicle.
Airforce and Police vehicles arrived and were parked on the Marine
Drive one behind the other. SI Gamini Wijesinghe and I were attached to
the Harbour Police and our Officers Mess was in the same premises. On
the same day around 5.00 pm ASPP Johnpulle and Jeerasinghe drove to the
Harbour Police. Both were in uniform. We knew that they had come in
search of us as both of us played cricket under Johnpulle. We had
already booked two tickets to the 6.15 pm show at the Regal Theatre and
told the Manager Dudley Wanaguru that we will come to collect them. As
our plan was about to get buckled we ran to the bathroom and locked
ourselves up. He had told the Reserve Sergeant that both of us should
report to ASP Traffic at his Echelon Square office by 9.00 pm the
We went for the show and came back to the mess having had a beer and
sumptuous dinner at the Fort Inspectors' Mess when we were informed of
the ASP's order. It was around 10.55 pm then.
This was the time Police Black Maria vehicles were crowding the
Marine Drive of the Colombo Harbour.
The other SI who was in the quarters had been told to meet ASP
Traffic at his office at 9.00 pm. This SI had been sent with two more
men to the house of R A Baker to watch his movements. The SI had been
watching the house when Tony Mahath of the CID took him into custody. A
little later we came to know that some officers had attempted to
overthrow the Government and they have been caught and brought for
detention in Police Black Marias.
The investigation was started by DIG CID, instructed by Felix Dias
Bandaranaike. The officers who joined them were S A Dissanayake, John
Attygalle, Eleric Aeygunawardena, Simon Perera, Thavarajah, S K Iyer and
last but not the least Tyrrel Gunatilleke, ably assisted by a SI and a
The inquiry ran for weeks and all accused were arrested and brought
to Courts at Flag Staff Street, Fort.
Those who were acquitted by the Privy Council had to spend at least
two and a half years in Prison.
All accused were arrested by the CID sleuths with the exception of
the Navy Commander Royce de Mel. All attempts made by the CID to arrest
him were futile. However, when the plaint was filed in Court, he
surrendered to the Flag Staff Street Court through lawyer G G
There were senior officers who were involved in the Coup from the
Police, Army and Navy. Most of them were interdicted and the following
officers were tried at the Trial-at-Barid.
1. Douglas Liyanage 2. C C Dissanayake 3. David Thambiah 4. Elster
Perera 5. Bede Johnpulle 6. Jeerasinghe 7. Terry Wijesinghe 8. Collin
Vanden Driesen 9. Col Maurice de Mel 10. Col Derrick de Saram 11. Rear
Admiral Royce de Mel 12. Lt Col Abeykoon 13. Maj Loyola.
After a lengthy trial the Trial at Bar found some accused guilty and
some others were acquitted.
The accused who were found guilty appealed against the verdict to the
Privy Council. There all accused were acquitted on all charges framed
against them on a technicality.
Others who were interdicted got reinstated. Several low ranking
officers had to leave their services as they did not know anything about
a Coup but blindly carried out orders.