Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The mother of all debacles: 8 years since

EPS copy

EPS - Elephant pass, known for its impregnable defences comprising sophisticated chain linked and plexi glass, blended by natural defences fell to the offensive Tamil Tiger ceaseless waves III formations on the 21st of April 2000 exactly 8 years ago.

EPS till 2000 remained as a permanent impregnable cork to the Tamil Tigers allowing SLA maintain supremacy over the thin neck of land. The EPS defences extended from VETTILEIKERNY and IYAKACHCHI in the North to PARANTHAN in the South and was spread well over 70 square kilometres complete with man made satellite bases with well complimented natural obstacles of lagoon and sea fronts forming a tactically sound fortification. It was home to the 54 Division. In addition over two Divisions were deployed for its defence. How formidable and tactically sound these defences were proven by the Tamil Tigers' failed attack on that area in July-August 1991, when it was under siege for nearly two months.

The EPS defences have long been an anathema to the Tamil Tigers for it not only has denied them free access to the populous peninsula but also hindered the line of communication between the Wanni heartland and Jaffna - the focal point of the Eelam ethos.

Even though EPS fell in April 2000, the actual assault began in December 1999 on the back of the successes of Ceaseless Waves II which completely reversed the years worth of 'successful inroads' within a matter of days beginning with ODDUSUDAN. Ceaseless Waves I was the attack on the Mullaitivu defence complex which was home to the 225 brigade.

During the initial stages of the build up to the attack in an apparent prelude the Tamil Tigers commenced regular mortar barrages towards South Western part of the peninsula such as ARIYALAI and TANANKILAPPU. Barrages were also cued towards the Eastern sector of EPS. SFHQ-J COM also spoke of increased infiltration into the peninsula to conduct harassing fire towards convoys and check-posts.

On December 11, 1999 the Tamil Tigers launched Ceaseless Waves III (Oyatha Alaikal) after a brief respite during its Heroes week. With human waves attempting to break through the staunch EPS defences from the South at PARANTHAN town/junction, Sea Tigers made a landing and managed to secure a beach head by the 12th extending from VETTILEIKERNI to KADDAIKADU. Since the fall of MULATIVU, VETTILEIKERNI's radar and surveillance post was the sole point that performed maritime surveillance. In addition supplies to the entire EPS sector were unloaded here. Even though troops managed to hold on, by Friday 19th, they withdrew from the PARANTHAN town, junction and adjoining areas. This was the last Southernmost area under Government control after EPS. The fall of the satellite camps at PARANTHAN ensured that the main EPS complex would come within range of guerrilla artillery and mortars.

This brought about yet another uneasy lull to the fighting. Even though the guns were somewhat silent, the preparations for the next stage were hectic. Tamil Tigers made good use of this period to finalise their main battle plan using sand models, mock beach assaults and grid mapping (see below for example) the entire EPS area highlighting SLA strong points and breach points. Furthermore they were reinforcing the newly captured Eastern coastal belt with new trenches and bunkers supplemented with probing attacks on the Southern (just North of Paranthan Jct) and Northern (IYAKACHCHI FDL) defences.

An example of a field map of the Tamil Tigers encompassing the MUHAMALE-KILALY-NAGARKOVIL axis. This was found in a pocket of the corpse of a self styled 'Lieutenant' during the failed 2006 Jaffna offensive.

After bracing themselves for the inevitable - the final push towards EPS commenced during the early hours of 26th March 2000 when Sea Tiger units made a landing at NAGARKOVIL, thus extending the beach head from NAGARKOVIL to KADDAIKADU. Once this was secured they made a diversionary thrust using one of their companies North and North West towards KODIKAMAM and MANALKADU. While the diversion was taking place, the remaining companies breached the VATHIRAYAN box from the North and the South (cadres led by Theepan who moved North astride the coastal road passing the CHUNDIKULAM sanctuary from VETTILEIKERNI) capturing CHEMPIANPATTU, MULLIYAN, MARUTHANKERNY making troops withdraw further inland. By doing so the Tamil Tigers had created a flank East to the EPS defences.

With the coastal belt from NAGARKOVIL to KADDAIKAU fully secure, 3 more companies amounting over 1200 cadres led by Balraj moved along this coast from South and crossed the narrow lagoon just North of MARUTHANKERNY and began intercepting convoys plying along the A9 MSR. By 6th April Balraj and his men had succeeded their mission objective by capturing and holding onto a 4Km stretch of the A9 from MUHAMALE to PALLAI. They blew up a bridge at KATTIARATAN in the process.

The operations command with this development were made to re-route the MSR along the dirt tracks via KACHCHAI, ALIPALLAI towards CHAVAKACHCHERI. However, this route proved hazardous since the soft sandy earth at some points along this route did not support wheeled vehicles and made them break down on the way. In addition it came under constant mortar bombardment from the cadres stationed along the A9 and from beached units launched from the PARANTHAN coast.

Even though a counter attack by the CLI and Airmobile Brigade succeeded in re-capturing a 1Km stretch of the MSR, Tamil Tigers pressed on Northwards towards ELUTHMADUWAL, MIRUSUVIL and KODIKAMAM. This was despite Balraj's men running the risk of being boxed in at one stage. By doing so the Tamil Tigers ensured that level 1 reinforcement critically needed to reinforce EPS defences will have to deal with Balraj first before getting to EPS. Waiting in the wings, uncommitted, was Karuna and his men said to be over 1000 strong positioned South of EPS at PARANTHAN and MURASUMODDAI.

After a 2 day lull during the festive season, the Tamil Tigers made their final thrust. It originated from the Eastern flank - VATHIRAYAN. The thrust came from 3 prongs. Reinforcements were reduced only to a trickle by this stage and the fighting further North forced troops to move further inland. With the EPS defences fast dissipating Karuna made the final move by committing his reserve troops to overrun the complex. By 21st April 2000 troops were ordered to abandon the base and withdrew deploying itself in delaying positions.

Its been 8 years since this heart breaking debacle where many a dedicated officers and men laid their blood and soul in defence of this all important base. Since then with utmost dedication and patience SLA have turned the tables on the Tamil Tigers and are conducting frequent probing attacks on the very same defences that were breached. This is a portend of events yet to unfold.

Only time will tell...

27 comments:

Rajarata said...

Good one LN....I didnt realise the infiltration timeline that well ! Good Job mate ! Do ya know what the SLA defence capability during after the 2 day lull before Karuna attacked with the 1000 ?

Still...EPS II sucks bad !

Long-Ranger said...

Rajarata,

When Theepan, Balraj et al made the landings and were on the assault in the North, it was always a mystery as to what role Karuna would play. Intelligence was always on the look out for his brigade's whereabout since it was his men who used to breach every possible flank during the Jayasikurui ops. Once he breached the Western flank, cut through and made the exit from the Eastern flank.

During the initial stages of EPSII it is thought that Karuna's men were given a brief respite from the fighting. Oyatha Alikal II saw most of his fighting cadre in action. During the last stages of EPSII he and his men were stationed around POONERYN-PARANTHAN axis to give an indication that his assault might come from the sea. These were the days when SLAF were performing only 10% of what it was meant to do. Only 2 C2 aircraft were airworthy and the aerial surveillance was extremely poor. Until D-day no one knew from where Karuna would join the fray.

The lull I mention should be considered comparatively to the other days of fighting. Mortar/arti barrages continued keeping up the preassure. During the festive season most of the measures that were put into place were done with rapid evacuation in mind to avoid mass casualties similar to KILINOCHCHI.

Hope this helps :-)

Long-Ranger said...

I will try to answer the outstanding questions as much as possible. Right now there are more pressing matters :-)

Jack said...

Hello long ranger, have been reading your block with great interest, always look forward to your next item. Keep up the great work.

Couple of questions:

Were you a LRRP member? Just asking due to the name and description.

next many give a lot of credit to Karuna for his military endeavours, but reading the account here it seems the other 'colonels' all played their key parts (if not more of a part than Karuna - basically he came in when all the damage had already been done?). So is it wise to assume that with Karuna gone there is no one as capable for the LTTE, as some feel?

thanks

Riyaz said...

Thanks Long Ranger,

Your articles have been always informative and interesting..

But to read such a debacle is really really heartbreaking.. It is a great misfortune for this nation. I feel really sorry for those brave hearts who have sacrificed their lives in this noble cause. But we are with them in our minds!!!

Riyaz said...

Long Ranger,
How do u compare the present situation. If not compromising the security can u shed some light on this?

commando said...

As always, it is informative to read your articles. Keep up the good work.

sldf said...

Long Ranger, thax for a yet another very informative and interesting article.

Like the way you end the article - "This is a portend of events yet to unfold. Only time will tell" :)

As Riyaz said we like to hear more about present situation especially in the National front. I strongly believe we are at a disadvantage at the moment especially in this sector to launch conventional mass movement of troops and MBTs to push into LTTE territory with the aim of capturing territory along this sector. As for me it simply look like a suicide to do a such a move going by the past failures to do the same (2007/2006). This week one our MBT got hit by an anti-tank RPG-7 leading the way and fall onto man made LTTE pits and anti - tank "monster" mines. Last year the same victor unit took few AFV, and APC and two MBT's using the same mix of anti-tank RPG-7's, mines and camouflaged LTTE tank pits. It seems LTTE have clearly studied MID tactics and have trained units to counter our tanks and IFVs. However, the army seems to be making the same mistake over and over again in Muhamalai operations. As per defencenet we again loss 15 men and over 75 wounded today. What are your thoughts on Muhamalai front and what we're doing wrong there?

Parakrama said...

Long-Ranger,

I’ve read every article on your blog and it’s very informative, thanks for taking the time to maintain this blog!

I’d appreciate it if you can answer some questions when you have time, thanks!

Well, the basic question is “what are we doing wrong” in Jaffna FDL?

People are suggesting that SLAF is not providing CAS and that’s one of the main reasons for the loss of life. However, in EPS II, LTTE managed to overrun what was perhaps the best defended base in Sri Lanka with no CAS and no real time air recon.

What is the reason for their success?

If CAS can tip the balance our way, why are we not using it?

I understand the fact that this is open terrain, but LTTE doesn’t seem to mind that. What are they doing differently to us?

mazeB said...

long ranger i know it is still early to know what happened in muhamalai FDL dou you think the army has blundered again in this front? thanks

mazeB said...

according to TN ltte used there commandos to fight the slda offensive why arent we using are special forces for these attacks?

looks like somethings always going wrong in this front it really heart burning to see those pictures of our brave soldiers in TN.

i dont feel like sleeping today hearts are always with the forces.

Rajarata said...

Thanks LN .... good update ! Pressing matters mate ? ...... hmmmm! Did we miss something at Mahamulai this morning mate! Or wuz it the old trick of boxing the SLA and raining arty on a small patch of ground called .....kill box mate

Talk to me if can ! Laters !

Devashi said...

Hey Long Ranger,

Thanks for the great articles. I've got a question.

I dont think there are any civilians living within the Muhamalai and Nagarkovil. So why cant the Airforce carpet bomb the place? Wont that kill any and all tigers? Wont it also get rid of most of their land mines and traps?

I dont understand the military stratergies very much but for my simple mind this seems to be a good option.

Thanks.

Long-Ranger said...

My apologies for the delayed response.

Jack,

"Were you a LRRP member? Just asking due to the name and description."

No

Karuna just like the Tamil Tigers are all hyped up. Their battle prowess are nothing but our own weaknesses, our own political blunders etc, nothing more. Critics of the eelam war IV claim the East was won solely due to the withdrawal of Karuna, but if that is the case how can on explain the same feat achieved by the UNP regime of 1993 under President Wijetunga. Karuna simply fled to Wanni in the face of Gen Perera and Gen Algama. If Karuna et al were such a force then how did he lose his bastion in the East?

Long-Ranger said...

Devashi,

SLA sappers have mastered the art of mine clearence. Unlike in the Southern Wanni it was not the mines nor direct fire that caused the bulk of casualties. It was all due to indirect fire. Tamil Tigers use 60mm/82mm light mortars and 120mm heavy mortars, 122mm T83/T86 howitzers, 130mm T59I howitzers and 152mm T66 howitzers for its fire support. Out of these only the heavy guns are easy to spot from the air i.e due to dust cloud of recoil/heat signature. The limited mobility of these canons also present SLAF the advantage if the sorties pick these up in time.

On this day I believe at least one 122mm gun was damaged/destroyed. Flogger Pilots speak of a second howitzer being targetted. But details are scarce. However what can be confirmed is once the sorties were carried out the indirect fire support ceased. This result was pretty much identical to the result achieved at SAMPOOR when the Tamil Tigers directed a barrage of artillery on the Trincomalee base after they failed to sink the Jetliner. After Kfirs conducted sorties on SUDAIKUDA the pads remained silent throughtout rest of the campaign.

What everyone needs to bear in mind is that the coast spanning all the way from POONERYN to SORANPATTU (approximately) are littered with potential mortar launching pads. That is one wide area that is impossible to cover in a short space of time. Like I said in one of my previous briefs....

"In my opinion before such a ambitious operation takes place SLAF and SLA's artillery batteries needs to neutralise these indirect fire support of the Tamil tigers more than anything else. Given the fact that the lTTE has in possession over 100 of such T-86 120mm mortar guns and their past successes of the shoot and scoot manoeuvre, relying on neutralising such fire for the forward march is tactically unsound."

I have clearly highlighted the remaining reasons in the same article:
http://sf-3.blogspot.com/2008/02/should-sla-make-move-on-eps.html

Hope this helps :-)

Long-Ranger said...

What's enticing the current battle planners for a thrust in this sector is the quick rate success it is bound to bring once the Tamil Tiger defences are breached. Once troops enter the EPS sector, they have entered KILINOCHCHI district. Once we reach the edge of KILINOCHCHI/MULATIVU districts it is back to the successful unorthodox small team strategy which the Tamil Tigers dread.

There are many schools of thoughts on the best possible way to breach this seemingly impregnable defence line. But I can tell you all that one thing they agree is proper coordination. And that is to involve JOC right from the start.

Only time will tell...

Long-Ranger said...

I hope I have answered all outstanding questions. If not I apologise. I will try my best when I am online next time.

Take Care.

Jack said...

"My apologies for the delayed response."

No problem, just looking forward to your next article. :)

Patriot said...

what do u think of Brig. Prasanna Silva.
will he do any better in Muhamalei?

Long-Ranger said...

Patriot,
In my opinion in a period where the war is much publicised there always has to be someone held accountable especially when so much lives/hardware are put at risk. Unfortunately this time it was Brig. Sooriyabandara. Tactics wise I don't see anything new taking place that I have not disclosed through my portal. Perhaps I should post a brief on how hard it is to break a fortified line exemplifying El Alamein or the famed Hindenburg line.

Either way we lost a good capable officer. By his posting to be the military attache to the Washington outpost it is quite evident that he was a well honoured and respected soldier.

Brigadier Shavindra Silva was the former commander of the Airmobile brigade and was stationed at Muhamale front during the Oct 11 2006 debacle. He too played a keyrole during this failed operation. But with a complete set of strategies and a completely new theatre of operations at hand, he has made a remarkable progress along the Mannar rice bowl.

Cracking the Muhamale theatre is all about cracking the Tamil Tigers' indirect fire. Nothing more, nothing less. This too I have disclosed in my briefs.

On a different note there was an encounter today by ranger teams at PERIYAMADU which is approximately 5kms deep into guerilla territory. It is a pretty interesting development.

Hope this helps.

Patriot said...

U mean former head of Specia Forces, right?

Long-Ranger said...

Brig. Sooriyabandara was from the commando regiment. He was NOT the head of Special Forces. Brig Silva was former Col Commandant. Currently the Col Commandant is Maj. Gen Amaratunga. He was former head of MIC.

sldf said...

"Cracking the Muhamale theatre is all about cracking the Tamil Tigers' indirect fire."

Longranger, you definitely hit the nail here. This is why we need the precise coordination especially with SLAF to counter LTTE indirect fire. SLAF is the most lethal weapon we have in our arsenal and a thought of an offensive in this sector without SLAF CAS is suicide. LTTE have also been successfully with their victor anti-tank units in this sector. MI has to change its strategy. Even though as you mention this is very important sector to break into Wanni heartland I still feel we are not ready to launch a major offensive in this sector. Unless we are ready to accept least 500 KIA. Any attacking force is at a disadvantage. If im not mistaken SLA is using the same strategy over and over again. Where a change of strategy and thinking could have been successful.

What are your thoughts on over all operations in Mannar and weli Oya. LTTE resisting fiecely as I expected. They have some what been successful.

Other news:
"A MILITARY FORAY into Tiger stronghold in ADAMPAN tank area in MANNAR, about 5-6 km south of ADAMPAN town center this morning (8) enabled the troops to capture another 2 square km area after posing a threat to the enemy.
Marching troops fought out against the enemy eliminating ten terrorists and injuring a large number of them.
In their untiring journey, one valiant soldier laid his life for the sake of the country. One more soldier received injuries and was evacuated to hospital for treatment.
What are your thoughts on over all operations in Mannar and weli Oya. LTTE resisting fiecely as expected. They have some what been sucessful."

"troops rounded up a tractor which was transporting a team of Tiger terrorists discreetly through a jungle path in the north of PERIYAMADU and killed six of them on the spot Tuesday (6) at about 3.10 p.m.."

army.lk

Patriot said...

My idea is , using the technology when ever it’s possible…
Arial, Land Manual .. what ever surveillance monitoring methods like tracking enemy gathering , movements, sat-com, cell phones, ip tracking, optical, thermal, infrared, radar etc
Then Ground and air attacks , we have to take good steps to destroy large number of ltte-members without much risk,
Long Ranger
It’s not very clear what happened this time in Muhamalei, can u give us a little brief?

mazeB said...

Hello long ranger waiting for your next article when will it be?

just your opinion on e.t.bailys article on 18th april 2008 http://historyandwar.blogspot.com/

any comments?

thanks.

Renegade! said...

Longranger,

Excellent article-i like Detailed analysis, and you deliver them HOT!!..

Just one thing-If you can analyse the most recent debacle on the same nagarkovil-muhamalai axis, where around 150 SLA were KIA?? AND 4 ARMORED vehicles knocked out??

Ranil said...

excellent article LongRanger
good insights into to the conflict.

Like you've said...it'll be super if you can take a case from WW2 or summin to explain how tough it really is to breach a well defended line like in the case at present at muhamalai... This seems to one front ltte's not willing to loose at any cost...

After speaking with a few soldeirs- the fighting men... they all fear the mortars and arti more than anything else... since there's no solution to it i suppose only changing tactics will help at least a bit