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Japanese raided Colombo this day in '42

by H. G. P. Jayasekera - Daily News, Fri Apr 5, 2002

Ceylon was not fully prepared to face a war when Japanese dropped bombs to Colombo at 7 a.m. on 5th April 1942 on Easter Sunday.

The actual war started by Germans having captured Poland. Japan remained neutral until they raided the Pearl harbour destroying many ships, aircraft carriers, planes etc. also over 2,000 Americans were killed and over 1,000 were wounded.

America, England with France joined hands to face Hitler and Mussaloni of Italy who were planning to conquer the whole world. Russia too joined England against Germany. Japan, Switzerland and Turkey remained neutral for a short period.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England immediately summoned a conference of high rank military officials and decided to send General Mac-Arthur to the Far East along with a fleet of war ships, planes and troops including the most powerful HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse. Admiral Ton Philip volunteered to command the Prince of Wales. Both these ships were sunk by Japanese.

On the next day Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced to a shocked House of Commons that two of the most modern battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse had been sunk off Malaya.

When most of the lands of the British Empire in the Far East were captured by Japanese all troops retreated to Ceylon. Immediately Lord Louis Mount Batton was summoned from India and he was made the Supreme Commander of the South East Asia. He established his HQ at the Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya.

All schools and colleges in Colombo were closed down and were converted into hospitals and barracks. The national museum was converted into the army command. The army paymaster operated from here. A recruiting office to recruit boys for army and navy was opened at 399, Galle Road, Kollupitiya. Major L. V. Gunaratna was the chief recruiting officer.

Additional Government Agents were appointed in every district and new kachcheries were opened. More camps were opened in almost all main towns along sea coasts, Trincomalee, Kandy, Kekirawa, Dambulla etc. A special air strip was opened at Mawatagama for the use of Lord Louis Mount Batton.

One of the most important tasks was to open offices for communication. As the telephone was not considered as a safe transmission of secret messages, a new system was introduced, known as the "Fuller phone". Cables were laid underground from Army command to Trincomalee, Kandy, Kekirawa, Kurunegala and Bentota.

The Fuller phones were connected to these lines and operated. Other modes of communications were the - Teleprinter, Wireless, W/T, despatch riders. Apart from all these the pigeon was used to carry messages. There were two or three sections opened to train pigeons. A note with the message was inserted to small loop tied to the leg of the bird. All these communication work was done by the Ceylon Signal Corps.

Heavy ack-ack guns were installed at Galle Face Havelock Park, Mutwal in Colombo, Ostenburg, Nilavalley, Plantain Point, Esplanade and in few more places at Trincomalee. All the guns were operated by the Royal Artillery and Ceylon Garisson Artillery.

Although the Germans were encouraging Japan to invade Ceylon they did not want to act on it as Japan's main motive was to attack the British Eastern Fleet which was commanded by Admiral Sir James Sommerville. His forethought made him to withdraw the entire fleet from the Colombo harbour sailed 450 miles Southwest of Colombo and hid them at Addu Atol. Even most of the allied planes were hidden at the Koggala lagoon a key base of RAF was highly camouflaged this place was never attacked.

During this period one Canadian RAF Squadron Leader Leonard Birchall who was in Ceylon took off on a reconnaissance mission from Koggala on a flying boat when he sighted Japanese fleet 350 miles off the land towards the south. No sooner he radioed the news to Colombo his plane was shot down and he was taken a prisoner. This squadron leader later promoted to Air Commodore, visited Sri Lanka on 5th April 1992 to Koggala for the fiftieth (50) anniversary of Japanese raid of Colombo.

Arrival of Sir Geoffrey Layton

Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton who was serving in Java was summoned immediately to organise the defence of the civilians. On his arrival he observed that many ships were anchored in the outer harbour which he thought were at the mercy of Japanese and Italian submarines.

The railway had only three day reserve of coal. He accordingly took all necessary precautions to solve them. All the buildings and bungalows of high officers like Chief Justice at the race course were demolished. D. S. Senanayake then Minister of Works, was responsible for the building of the airstrip in double quick time at the request of Sir Geoffrey Layton.

Sir Geoffrey Layton thereby diverted all Blenhem Bombers, Catalinas flying boats, aircraft carriers etc. from Java to Ceylon. He also introduced the radar warning system to Ceylon. In this manner he took all necessary precautions to fortify Colombo and other important places of Ceylon.

Oliver Gunatilaka was made the Civil Defence Commissioner who was responsible to put up air-precaution shelters, fire fighting units, first-aid depots, large water tanks at most parts of Colombo.

Each depot had over 300 men working in three shifts. They were trained by the Municipality doctors in first aid in case of an air-raid. Gas-mask drill one of the items for them to do every morning.

All emergency AGAs were responsible in food drive. Rice was rationed and coupons were issued for the people to draw up their rations from the co-operative stores. Every government building and public places carried large posters. "Grow more food". "Looting is Punishable with Death". At night there was the black out. All vehicles at night had to cover the head lights. Even in houses no lights be made visible from outside.

When an enemy plane was sighted the army gives the signal to the civil defence who gives a red warning by a siren. At this time all people in the street had to get into the air precaution shelters with a piece of stick between their teeth and lie down till the yellow goes on, when they can come out of the shelters.

The April raids in Colombo were led by Pearl harbour heroes Vice Admiral Chulchi Nagumo and Commander Mitsuo Fuchida who the two men who inflicted the biggest damage on the mighty American Pacific Fleet.

Ceylon RAF had only 20 planes against that of 120 planes of Mitsuo Fuchido. These 20 fighter planes got off from the race course grounds and there was an air battle over Colombo on the Easter Sunday morning 5.4.1942.

Ceylon Garisson Artillery and boys of Royal Artillery managed to put down many of the Japanese Planes. One plane crashed into St. Thomas' ground another one near Kelaniya temple, Angoda mental hospital too faced an attack where 15 inmates were killed. It was an accidental drop of a bomb by the Japanese where on a later date they apologised to the Ceylon Government.

When the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on 6th August 1945 into Hiroshima and 9th August 1945 to Nagasaki Japan surrendered unconditionally.

Thereby the 2nd World War ended.

Japan attacked Trinco 60 years ago

by K.D. Jaysekera, (Trincomalee correspondent) - Sunday Observer Mar 7 2002



A close up picture of the remnants of the Japanese war plane which dived onto the oil tank (tank No. 91) and destroyed it.

9th April, 2002 marks the 60th anniversary of the Japanese air raid on Trincomalee during the Second World War. When Colombo was bombed by Japanese war planes on 5th April, 1942, military authorities knew that their next target would be Trincomalee which was a naval and military base. Japan entered World War II in 1941 as an ally of Nazi Germany and Trincomalee was subjected to an air attack on 9th April, 1942.

People who lived in Trincomalee at that time did not worry much as most of them found employment under the British Admiralty and War Department. People from other districts came to Trincomalee and settled down here after securing jobs. In fall everybody had some sort of income with a ready market available for vegetables, fruits, fish and other such local products.

Around 6.30 a.m. on that fateful day Japanese war planes flying over Trincomalee bombed several important places such as the Naval Dockyard, For Frederick Air Force Base and the oil fuel depot, the latter two located at China Bay.

The air attack caused severe loss to lives at the air force base and naval dockyard where civilian workers were already at work.

Being an eye witness to the air attack on employee at the Chiana Bay air force base working under an Indian firm erecting huge hangers for the Royal Air Force (now deceased) described the incident thus.

"I saw planes six in each group flying over the air force base. Suddenly the planes began to drop some silver coloured objects.

The objects exploded on reaching the ground. Then I knew this to be an air attack." "Large number of men were working on the hangers fixing roof and painting and a similar number of men worked on the ground too. Once the explosions began, the men working on the roofs were thrown away like dried leaves carried away by the wind. I immediately crept into a huge concrete cylinder".

"After the raid was over I waited for about an hour inside the cylinder before I came out. When I came out I saw large number of dead bodies scattered all over. I looked either way but found no living soul. If there were any they would be hiding through fear. I found a push bicycle and went to the road carrying the bicycle over the dead bodies at certain places.



This sign board erected near the destroyed oil tank the names of the three crew members of the suicide squad bears the Shigenori Watanabe, Tokyagota and Sutomu Joslira who dived onto the oil tank.

I sustained a leg injury while crawling into the cylinder but I managed to leave Trincomalee on the push bicycle and went to Anuradhapura where the wound was attended to. I saw a large crowd of people hurrying along the Trincomalee-Anuradhapura road carrying few belongings mostly clothes."

According to another eye witness who was a Captain in the Ceylon Light Infantry (CLI) who was also the Commandant of the Essential Services Labour Corp (ESLC) many civilian workers inside the Naval Dockyard died in the air raid. Everything was in a turmoil and the administration totally failed. There were non to attend to the dead. "The dead bodies remained there for about four days before I engaged the ESLC personal to remove the bodies and clear the area. The bodies were burnt near the present war cemetery on the Nilaveli Road".

According to other witnesses it was the same at the air force base where the dead bodies were collected and dumped at the verandah of the air force hospital before they too were burnt.

It should be recalled that all attempts made by Japanese air force to destroy the oil tanks at Chiana Bay failed and non of the bombs fell on to target. Finally three crew members who belonged to the suicide squad of the Japanese air force dived on to one oil tank (tank No. 91) and the oil caught fire with a big bang when the bombs packed with air craft exploded. That was the only oil tank the enemy could destroy that too at the cost of three lives.

The oil burnt for nearly a week and the remnants of the burnt oil tank still remains to tell the tale.

Certain parts of the Japanese air craft were later recovered along with the skull of one of the crew members of the suicide air craft.

The remnants of the air craft are now kept near the destroyed oil tank around which an iron fence has been erected. The skull has been subsequently removed by someone. The tank farm now belongs to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.

Japanese war planes also bombed several ships including cargo vessels which were at the Trincomalee harbour. It is recorded that non of the planes and the air craft carrier which were instrumental for bombing Trincomalee never returned as all were destroyed by allied forces.

It should also be recall that after the bombardment people were so panicked that most of them rushed to the railway station and boarded the 8.30 a.m. train with no tickets and carrying only few clothing and mothers carrying babies.

It was a very pathetic scene to watch and people travelled in goods wagons and also in cattle wagons.