Glorious gallantry at Araly Point | Sunday Observer

Glorious gallantry at Araly Point

There is an old Norse legend that a rider named Valkyrie, mounted on a winged black horse used to swoop on battlefields at night and take home the brave soldiers in ancient times. Be that as it may, our nation has produced some of the finest military heroes over the past three decades.

One of these men by his unblemished altruism is remembered today as a great officer and gentleman, and we all know him as General Denzil Kobbekaduwa. His life and career is a radiant beacon to all members of the armed forces. His conduct and humane approach is a role model for all Sri Lankans.

There remain many officers in active service today, who were groomed by the late General. There were other men who died with him on August 8 1992: Major General Wijaya Wimalaratne, Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha, Lt. Colonel H.R.Stephen (Sinha Regiment), Lt.Colonel.G.H.Ariyaratne (Sinha Regiment), Lt.Colonel .Y.N.Palipana (Gajaba Regiment), Lt.Colonel Nalin de Alwis (Regiment of Artillery- he was the General’s ADC), Cdr. Asanga Lankathileke (Navy Executive Branch), Lt.Cdr. C.B. Wijepura (Navy) and Pvte. W.J.Wickremesinghe.

Pathway to Army

Denzil Lakshman Kobbekaduwa was born on July 27 1940 in Kandy. He studied at Trinity College, Kandy where he excelled in rugger, and is said to have thrilled spectators with his outstanding manoeuvres and prowess on the field.

He captained the team in 1959 and was bestowed the Trinity Lion, the most prestigious award a sportsman can achieve at Trinity. From 1967 to 1970 he also played for Kandy Sports Club and the team entered the Clifford Cup league (he later captained the Sri Lanka Rugby Team.

He joined the Sri Lanka Army on May 25 1960 as a Cadet and underwent training at Diyathalawa and then proceeded to the world famous Sandhurst Military Academy. On his return he was posted to the Sri Lanka Armoured Corps (SLAC- incidentally this unit has produced many Army Commanders including Generals D.S.Atygalle, Rohan Daluwatte, Jagath Jayasuriya and Cecil Waidyaratne).

There are a few incidents at the Armoured Corps which endorse the leadership and human nature of Lt. Gen. Kobbekaduwa. Daily, before entering the Senior Officers’ Mess for lunch he would walk into the Soldiers’ Mess and check the lunch menu. If he did find any shortcoming the Quarter Master would be reprimanded.

One day, a soldier from his unit was earnestly anticipating the birth of his child. When Denzil got to know of this he asked his driver to take the soldier home to be by his wife, sending him to Gampaha in his staff vehicle. This was how he genuinely earned the respect of the men in his command. He became a military strategist, and was sent to the prestigious Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), Camberly, UK.

During the insurgency of 1971 he was in charge of the Prime Minister’s Security. He was promoted Major General in 1990. One of the successful military operations he planned with his team was the rescue of the besieged Elephant Pass army camp in 1991. He led this first amphibious mission from the front, earning the respect of even the enemy.

It is said, Lt. General Kobbekaduwa used three principles in his planning: 1. He did not believe in holding onto territory. 2. He drew the enemy away from populated areas to minimize civilian casualties 3. Building the trust of the public (this is the foundation of the Civil- Military coordination practised to this very day). Denzil’s innate talent as a strategist was proven during Operations Balavegaya and Vadamarachchi (1987). He often visited troops in the trenches and motivated them.

Ambushed at Araly

Having engaged the enemy in many fronts as General Officer Commanding Northern Area, Gen. Kobbekaduwa was planning the invasion of the Jaffna Peninsula. The massive offensive was code named Operation Final Countdown.

He had visited Kayts Island along with Army and Navy officers. On August 7 the General had moved to Karainagar naval base along with Brigadier Wijaya Wimalaratne (Brigade Commander – Jaffna. An old boy of Royal College, Colombo he raised the Gajaba Regiment and was the pioneer of the FIBUA concept – Fighting in built up areas). The Kayts Island was the proposed launching pad for this operation. A man who left nothing to chance or excuse, Denzil decided to visit Araly Point the next morning, with all section commanders. The group set out on a naval boat with Commodore Mohan Jayamaha, Commander Northern Naval area (old boy of St. Joseph’s College, Colombo) and reached the Kayts pier.

Here, three land rovers were on standby. The group set out in a convoy. The Lt. General, Commodore and Brigadier got into rover UHA 8752. The remaining army men took one vehicle and the navy men rode in the third rover. Some believe that late,r Lt. Gen. Kobbekaduwa not wanting to attract attention with a three vehicle convoy suggested that they travel in one land rover. The advance planning team reached Araly and had a meeting and was returning, when a violent blast rocked the General’s vehicle.

The landmine killed all instantly except Lt. Gen.Denzil and Commodore Mohan and soldier Upali Wijekoon, who lost both his legs. Two other officers (Major Rupasinghe and Major Induruwewa) who were supposedly 500 metres away ran to the blast site and initiated a rescue.

The naval officer died while being airlifted to Palaly hospital, but the determined Lt. General was still conscious. Doctors at Colombo General Hospital battled relentlessly to save his life. Alas, the noble Kandyan warrior breathed his last.

News of this tragic death spread like wildfire across the nation, even causing some political paroxysm. Sri Lanka mourned her valiant son.

At the Lt. General’s funeral there were multitudes of soldiers and civilians, including myself, a young schoolboy. Lt. General Denzil Lakshman Kobbekaduwa, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP, rcds, psc was posthumously awarded the Uthama Pooja Pranama Paddakama for his outstanding gallantry. Decades ago, the famous British architect Christopher Wren was once asked what he would like for his monument; he replied, “If you want to see my monument, look around you”.

The same can be said of the late Lt. General and other men who died 25 years ago at Araly.

Today, a country liberated from terrorism and enjoying the relished fruits of peace is a lasting monument to their service. Furthermore, we as citizens of this nation must ensure that our motherland be united and strong, as one Sri Lanka.