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Hasalaka Hero alias Corporal Gamini Kularatne: Gallant hero defends Elephant Pass



The gigantic bulldozer which was forced to ram into a house when Corporal Gamini Kularatne climbed on top and lobbed several hand grenades into it.


Major General (Retd) Sanath Karunaratne,

The saga of Corporal Gamini Kularatne alias Hasalaka Hero may be familiar to everyone in the country as the nation remembers him after the great victory achieved by our heroic troops against the LTTE in May 2009. People now can see the place where this hero sacrificed his life in Elephant Pass and the monster bulldozer that overran the Elephant Pass camp in July 1991, since the place is now accessible to all. But his death would have been just another one if his colleague, Rifleman Rovel did not see the supreme sacrifice he made on July 13, 1991 and told it to Major Karunaratne who was in charge of the Elephant Pass camp at that time.



The isolated battle they fought for almost 24 days without any outside support goes down in history as one of pitched battles the Sri Lanka Army had fought against the LTTE during the three-decade conflict. 19 years after that valiant battle was fought in Elephant Pass, Major General (Retd) Sanath Karunaratne, now the Chief Security Officer of the Port Authority, recalls the saga to the Sunday Observer in memory of Corporal Gamini Kularatne and all those who sacrificed their lives in that great battle to defend Elephant Pass camp.

The date July 9, 1991 was a significant date for the troops in Elephant Pass camp. Around 9 pm after dinner Commanding Officer of the 6 Sinha Regiment battalion deployed in Elephant Pass, Major Sanath Karunaratne, his second in command (2IC ) Major Lalith Buddhadasa, Artillery Officer Captain Dhamma Mudunkotuwa and Adjutant, Captain Ramesh Fernando were playing cards in their command post.


Corporal Gamini Kularatne

It was after a hectic day where they had got their supplies and leave personnel back to this isolated camp by air.

They were playing cards just to be awake until dawn.

They had to be on alert on Tiger threats as all indications were there that Tigers were trying to remove this isolated camp which had become a thorn in their flesh.

They knew it wouldn’t be an easy task to face the Tiger as their camp was the only camp between Palaly and Vavuniya after the withdrawal of the camp in Jaffna Fort in 1991. The LTTE presence was there right around the camp.

The most vulnerable thing was that they had no other supply route other than the air route to depend on for all their supplies of food, ammunition, casualty evacuation and to transport leave personnel to and from the camp. For Major Karunaratne it was a winning day in the card game, but for his 2IC it was not.

When Major Karunaratne was winning, his 2IC was losing the game. He was making a lot of mistakes, may be thinking of the responsibilities that may come on his shoulders after his boss leaving the camp to attend a conference in Colombo on July 11.

Not only them, but all those who were in the Elephant Pass camp were on alert about this Tiger threat since April 22, where the LTTE fired mortars at the helipad when the helicopter from Palaly was about to land there with supplies.


August 4, 1991 the day reinforcements reached the Elephant Pass camp, in front of the Elephant Pass Board. From left: General Officer Commanding 2 Div Maj. Gen. Kobbekaduwa, Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Clancy Fernando, Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe, Security Forces Commander Jaffna Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne, Commanding Officer 6 Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment Battalion Major Sanath Karunaratne, CO 1 SLSR Major Parakarama Pannipitiya.

It was after losing 22 soldiers and more than 60 wounded, in an expansion operation towards Thamilamadam, that Major Karunaratne and the troops created the area safe for the landing of helicopters and the camp regained its full strength of about 530 only a few weeks after that operation by the beginning of July.

Their card game continued till 3 am and when they went to sleep there was no sign of an attack, and they thought they will have a good sleep that day.

But their sleep was short. Around 5.20 am a soldier woke up Major Karunaratne. There was a lot of noises. “Sir, LTTE is attacking the camp”, he said.

Major Karunaratne rushed to his radio set. His 2IC was already on air. It took a few minutes for him to orientate to the situation as noises were coming from right around the camp. Once he got the correct picture he started giving orders to fire mortar, artillery. LTTE was attacking the camp from the south.

Bad news

Major Karunaratne received bad news. “Major Buddhadasa is injured, Sir” a soldier said. The attack continued for nearly 45 minutes and troops were able to repulse it without any damages to troops, and casualties were evacuated from the scene.

But Major Buddhadasa was in a critical condition. A helicopter was called around 5.45 am to evacuate him to the hospital. Helicopters were already there in Palaly, and one was in the camp a few minutes later. Suddenly, the helicopter abandoned its mission and withdrew.Troops at the Elephant Pass camp saw that the Tigers were firing a new weapon system into the air. The helicopter made its second attempt around 6.30 am with all the guns directed at the LTTE side. But that mission too failed.

Flight Lt. Tyronne Silva Pulle was on the air. “Don’t worry Sir, I will take your 2IC out”, he told Major Karunaratne through radio making his third attempt to land there. But Flight Lt. Pulle couldn’t make it.The LTTE was firing the 23 mm anti aircraft gun for the first time. Major Karunaratne realised the gravity of the problem. The camp was isolated with the loss of its air supply route.It was around 8 am when he heard that his 2IC was no more. He knew the situation was serious. He went to see his 2IC and saw the way his body was lying.


The mother of Corporal Gamini Kularatne, Y. G. Juliet lays a floral tribute recently at Elephant Pass, where her son sacrificed his life on July 13, 1991.

He could not control his feelings, for the first time in his life. He bent down and hugged the body of Major Buddhadasa. Tears were running down his cheeks. He cried for his 2IC, but then realised it was not the time to mourn. Soldiers were looking on.

He rose to his feet, brushing off his tears and said, “Lets do our duty. Forget what’s happened”. His officers and soldiers were ready to face any eventuality. Soldiers were geared and so were officers. They started the operation with a new dimension because they were without a supply route now.

Around 7.30 pm on July 10, Tigers started attacking the camp from the south. That was from the direction of Kilinochchi. Tigers were there on the northern side and also from the south and they wanted to get rid of this camp which had separated their resources and also the forces.

A company block was deployed 100 meters to the south of the Elephant Pass main camp. Captain Laksiri Waduge was in charge of it. It was around 10 pm Captain Waduge saw a huge bulldozer coming towards them. All of a sudden the huge tamarind tree by the side was gone. Major Karunaratne realised that the bulldozer was not a joke.

Immediately he ordered the company to withdraw back to the main camp. And they made a hasty withdrawal taking all what they could and leaving behind some of their weapons and ammunition. Three deaths were reported that night and around ten were injured.

July 11, day time was relatively a calm one. No major fighting broke out. Major Karunaratne prepared a new battle plan considering the appearance of the bulldozer since he understood that it was a huge monster which scared all. He made a fire plan to tackle the bulldozer deploying 106 mm RCL guns and artillery guns on direct roll since RPG was not answering for the huge monster.

“If this monster comes to us it will definitely destroy our command post”, he told the soldiers and officers.

On July 11 night, they came and attacked us from the northern side from Iyakachchi. The gap between the LTTE and the camp on this side was around 350 meters.Troops managed to repulse the attack and managed to destroy a smaller size bulldozer that was coming towards the camp from the Iyakachchi side. This boosted the morale of the soldiers.

On July 12, there was no major attack. Troops prepared for the worst. Sergeant Major Godamune who came to the camp when the Medical Officer of the camp went to Colombo on July 9 was treating all the wounded soldiers since there was no way of evacuating them to hospitals whilst others were cleaning their weapons and replenishing ammunition stocks.July 19th night was a crucial one for them. All indications were there that they were going to attack them on the south. As indicated, the attack came from the south and it started around 7.30 pm.

Lieutenant Noel Senanayake who was on the outpost in the western side of the main camp reported that the bulldozer was coming into the camp. Everyone was fighting and doing their best to defend the camp from the monster bulldozer. Fighting went on for about 45 minutes to one hour. The outpost of Lt. Noel Senanayake was overrun.

The bulldozer started coming towards the command post along the A-9 Road. Then Major Karunaratne was told that the bulldozer had stopped. Nobody knew what had happened. The bulldozer had jammed against a house.

Time to cheer

They were not sure if it was time to cheer. All the RCL guns were directed at the bulldozer since its engines were still running. Captain Maitree Dias did the job. Ten RCL rounds were fired at it and by 11.30 pm things were silent. Troops were on top, but with a fairly big damage. No casualties were evacuated till next morning.

With sun rise, clearing operations were carried out sector wise. Casualties were prioritised. The dying were left behind. The injured were sent to the medical room immediately, since there was a shortage of vehicles in the camp. The bodies were collected around 9.30 am when things were back to normal.

Major Karunaratne thought it was opportune to see what exactly happened to the bulldozer. It was around 10.30 am when he went there.He saw the huge bulldozer rammed into a house and asked the soldiers what exactly had happened. Rifleman Rovel explained.

“Sir, I was in the bunker and Kularatne was also with me. The bulldozer passed our bunker and started moving towards your command post. Kularatne saw the bulldozer was going and it was just by the side of the road. Kularatne started running behind the bulldozer and I saw him climbing up”, he said.He said Lance Corporal Kularatne had his weapon and he had grenades in his hands.So things were quite clear. Kularatne had lobbed some grenades inside the bulldozer after climbing up from the ladder on its rear.

Kularatne’s body lying on the road with entry wounds from his rear suggesting that he was shot at from behind. Tiger cadres were coming behind the bulldozer.If not for rifleman Rovel the death of Kularatne would have been just another death for everyone.

Major Karunaratne realised that if not for the heroic act of Kularatne, his command post and the entire camp would have been overrun.

On July 14 troops were regrouped and reorganised to face the enemy, and Major Karunaratne had some other problems to resolve. He had around 30 bodies in the camp and his 2IC Major Buddhadasa’s body was not in shape.He discussed the situation with the higher ups through Division Commander Major General Kobbekaduwa. Approval was given to cremate the dead within the camp. Since all were Sinhala Buddhists there was no problem in cremating.

They also had to find out what happened to Lieutenant Noel Senanayake and the 10 other soldiers who went missing when the camp was overrun.

Troops were sent to search. Soldiers monitoring LTTE communication heard that the LTTE wanted the soldiers to come closer to them to fire at them. Then they thought that it was the troops sent to search the place of Lt. Noel Senanayake, that they were targeting. So mortars and artillery were fired at the LTTE to counter such attack.

But it was a mistake. The LTTE was targeting the ‘Balawegaya’ troops who had landed in Vettilaikerni on the eve. They had failed in their first but they were successful in their second attempt around 7.30 pm and troops led by General Kobbekaduwa had landed in Vettilaikerni. Major Karunaratne was relieved. He knew that reinforcements were coming. So he cremated all the dead and later collected ash in separate containers to be handed over to relatives. Bodies of Lt. Colonel Buddhadasa and Corporal Gamini Kularatne who stopped the monster bulldozer were among them.They were awaiting reinforcements. The gap between Vettilaikerni and Elephant Pass was around 8 km and they had to come across very difficult terrain. General Kobbekaduwa was talking to Major Karunaratne often on the radio and troops started advancing towards Elephant Pass camp.

On July 28, 14 days after Balavegaya troops landed in Vettilaikerni and were some 5 km away from them. Troops realised that LTTE was again preparing for an attack. It was a full moon poya day and troops realised that they were going to overrun the camp since it was the last option they had. They prepared for the attack.They started attacking the camp around 7 pm. This time the attack was from the north.

There were four to five attempts till next morning and troops repulsed them.General Kobbekaduwa who was on the other side commanding Balavegaya troops was worried. Major Karunaratne could not give priority to answer him on the radio set as he was busy handling the battle.

He was alone in the command post as all the others were fighting in the front. His waiter Kumarasinghe was giving cigarette after cigarette and also coffee, since they were the only fuel that worked for Major Karunaratne in commanding the battle.

At one point Major General Kobbekaduwa was so worried and asked Major Karunaratne to press the button of the radio set once. “Otherwise my blood pressure is going up when you are not talking”, General Kobbekaduwa said.

He asked whether they could launch the operation from the other side. Major Karunaratne said no to him and other officers were in agreement.

Confident

They were confident that they can hold the camp. The last wave came around 4.30 am and it was a very weak one. Troops managed to kill a good number of LTTE cadres. Their records proved that they lost the maximum number of cadres in Elephant Pass.

On August 1, General Kobbekaduwa sent a tractor across the lagoon from the eastern side for ten serious casualties who required medical attention.

On August 4 around 5.30 pm ‘Balavegaya’ troops led by Army Commander General Wanasinghe, General Kobbekaduwa, Navy Commander, Brigadier Wimalaratne arrived at the Elephant Pass camp. For Major Karunaratne it was another day of celebration. His wife had delivered his second son at Kalubowila Hospital on July 30.

His battalion strength had come down to 230 from 530.He wrote the citation for Corporal Gamini Kularatne for his supreme sacrifice in defending the Elephant Pass camp which was under seige. It was endorsed by General Kobbekaduwa. Corporal Gamini Kularatne our Hasalaka Hero was awarded the highest gallantry award Parama Weera Vibhushana by the President for his supreme sacrifice in the battlefront.

Courtesy: SundayObserver

Posted on Sunday, July 11, 2010 @ 14:31:54 LKT by

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