A most wonderful memory, for a certain Supply Assistant (E635), who served his Country in what was termed “The Senior Force”, firstly under a British Commodore, Paul Chavasse, and later, under Commodore Royce De Mel, who was then promoted to Rear Admiral in 1959.
This writer just happened to be the 635th recruit in the R.Cy.N., joining the Force in 1953, and actually accepted by the R.Cy.N., after my passing-out parade at H.M.Cy.S. Rangalla, in Diyatalawa, after what was easily the toughest training of nearly 4 months, training that turned young teenagers into men.
My career in the Navy could well fill an entire novel, but that is another story. Suffice to say that joining the R.Cy.N., was the best thing that I ever did. I was taught to adapt to any situation in life, and this is what I have done for 84+ years, now.
I was very happy to read this most interesting article regarding the R.Cy.N., and happier still, to share it with the many thousands of Lankan/ Aussies who make up eLanka, far & away, the BEST Website for Sri Lankans, everywhere.
In the British and Commonwealth tradition, the Navy is the senior service. In Sri Lanka however it was the Army and the Air Force that came first, both being established in October 1949, followed in December 1950 by the Navy. Though the Sri Lanka Navy is currently celebrating its seventieth anniversary, the roots of the Navy go back much further in time.
The Ceylon Navy Volunteer Force (CNVF) was raised in 1937 at Kochchikade under the Command of VRD with a complement of 12 officers and 18 sailors. When World War II commenced in September 1939, the CNVF was posted to the Ports of Colombo and Trincomalee. Initially the CNVF operated out of the Port Commission’s tugs Samson and Goliath, thereafter it had the use of the armed trawler Overdale Wyke for minesweeping and escort operations.
In 1943 it comprised 10 vessels and a 100 sailors and was placed under the Command of the Royal Navy (RN). It was renamed the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (CRNVR) with Headquarters at HMS Gamunu. During the War the CRNVR operated trawlers converted into minesweepers and fitted with guns, submarine detection equipment and anti-submarine weapons. They guarded the approaches to the Island’s ports and provided protection to the merchantmen that used these ports.
The CRNVR also conducted missions outside the country’s waters, recovered Japanese aircraft shot down, sailed to Akyab after the Burma front was opened and accepted the surrender of the ship . The CRNVR went on to provide escort duties for merchantmen operating between Colombo/Trincomalee and Cochin, Madras, Addu Atoll, Male and Diego Garcia.
During the course of the War the strength of the Navy grew from 150 officers and sailors in 1939 to 1,200 in 1945. In 1946 the CRNVR was demobilised with 100 sailors remaining on active duty.
The Ceylon Navy Act of 1950 created the Royal Ceylon Navy (RCyN) which in the first instance was manned by personnel from the CRNVR. They formed the core of the RCyN established in December 1950 with six officers and 60 sailors under the Command of Captain William Banks CBE DSC RN. Commander Royce de Mel, the ranking Ceylonese officer, was sent to the UK for training and the RN transferred the Canadian built Algerine-class minesweeper HMS Flyingfish to the RCyN as HMCyS Vijaya.
The RCyN’s early mission was the defence of the Port of Colombo, Trincomalee being still a RN base. In time its role expanded to search and rescue missions, disaster assistance, Civil Defence and in 1952, anti-illicit immigration. Because HMCyS Vijaya was too large for Operation Wetback, as the maritime illicit-immigration operation was code named, Government Customs and Fisheries vessels were used in the Palk Strait which separated South India from Ceylon.
Captain Banks developed the RCyN to dovetail with RN requirements. He focussed on the protection of the Island’s ports and through off-shore mine clearing capability sought to ensure safe sea lanes for the RN to traverse the Indian Ocean. To this end the RCyN would be equipped with coastal minesweepers. In the Sri Lanka Navy: Enhanced Role and New Challenges (Indian Ocean Centre for Peace Studies: Perth 1992) Professor Gamini Keerawella and Lieutenant Commander S. Hemachandre explained that “The United National Party (Government) felt that Sri Lanka was only secure under the British Naval umbrella.”
In November 1951 Captain J. R. S. Brown RN took over command of the RCyN to be followed in June 1953 by Commodore Paul Chavasse . In August 1955 Commodore Gerard Royce Maxwell De Mel ADC RCyN was appointed the first Ceylonese Captain of the Navy; he was promoted Rear Admiral in 1959.
Once Cdre de Mel took over command of the Navy, it changed its focus from the ageing heavy frigates and minesweepers to patrol boats and fast attack coastal surveillance craft. The RN transferred a second vessel in 1955 and the RCyN purchased six Coastal Patrol Boats from Italy, an ocean-going tug and a minesweeper from the UK as well as two frigates from Israel during 1955-57. In 1955 the RCyN also received a Ford-class Seaward Defence Boat from the UK, HMS Doxford which became HMCyS Kotiya. They also purchased from Korody Maritime Corporation Venice, six Patrol Boats HMCyS Hansaya, Lihiniya, Diyakawa, Korawakka, Seruwa and Tarawa. By this time the RCyN had 35 officers and 458 ratings.
New RCyN bases were established during this period, HMCyS Elara at Karainagar in the Jaffna Peninsula, the communications centre at Welisara, a Naval training unit at Diyatalawa and when the RN vacated Trincomalee in 1957, HMCyS Tissa.
By an agreement with the UK signed in June 1957 the British transferred their bases on the Island to Ceylon and the Royal Air Force moved to Gan Island in the Maldives, and the RN to Singapore; until then the RN had stationed one Cruiser at Trincomalee. By the end of its first decade the RCyN had 150 officers and 1,800 sailors, with officers being trained at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, and sailors at Diyatalawa.