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Naval Battles of Sri Lanka Civil War

Soviet cogitations: 303
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 21 Oct 2018, 14:08
Since Sri Lanka achieved independence, the newly formed state declared, while retaining a connection with the former British colonialist rule, it was also influenced by the (Cold War) socialist-oriented policy of the neighbor India. During the Cold War, Sri Lanka, while officially declared a “Democratic Socialist Republic” (official definition still in use) was a multi-party state in friendly relationship with the Soviet Union albeit on an official neutral position. While some communist parties officially backed the multi-party system also, Sri Lanka saw two consecutive rebellions of the JVP communist party: both insurrections were military defeated and JVP received no foreign support.

Since late ‘80s the country witnessed a bloody Civil War with the ethnic Tamil group, primarily lead by the LTTE (“Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam”). It is worth to stress how LTTE (similarly to the Sri Lanka government) exposed only a mild interest for socialism on paper. In ‘80s operated other Tamil rebel groups (like the PLOTE (“People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam”) that openly declared explicit communist line and as result were suppressed by the same LTTE (these parties, like PLOTE, currently operated into the political scenario of Sri Lanka, and have been accused by LTTE to dispatch militants fighting alongside the government).

The naval warfare between the LTTE naval branch (“Sea Tigers”) and the Sri Lanka government was particularly important during the peak of the war.
LTTE build up a peculiar and unique “rebel navy” with locally designed armed assault boats and unique suicide boats (LTTE was notorious for use of suicide actions in battle).
This include unconfirmed reports of semi-submersible and crude locally-built midget submarines: the only not-state group to have likely used such naval weapons in modern warfare.
The Sri Lanka Navy naval assets come from three different sources: larger offshores patrol ships of mixed origin (mainly India), a number of Cold War era warships delivered by China, a number of Israeli-imported “Dvora” and “Super Dvora” patrol boats and finally a number of locally built assault boats.

Considering the conflict is relatively modern (ended only in 2009) details are still fragmented, poor and likely uncertain.
Both sides made over claim of enemy losses during the conflict for their own propaganda purposes, while censoring or downplaying the degree of damages and losses occurred. There are reasons to believe the official Sri Lanka versions are a bit more trustworthy in terms of own losses (after the war, publications begun to report the different losses of warships that can’t be obviously kept hidden). The actual losses of “Sea Tigers” related to specific naval clashes will remain probably unknown, considering the whole fleet ended destroyed, seized or scuttled to avoid capture by the end of the conflict.

NOTE: This article does not include attacks committed by “Sea Tigers” against international shipping. Overall, such actions were not numerous and in some cases, LTTE apologized.
In general, the naval warfare of Sri Lanka Civil War saw no widespread attacks against merchant shipping lines but both sides focused on targeting military crafts or transports carrying troops.
Interestingly the most notable of such actions was the seizure of North Korean merchant “Morang Bong” committed by “Sea Tigers” on 7 July 1997.


Official creation of the naval branch of the LTTE, the “Sea Tigers”.
Until 1990, naval operations would be only transport of weapons and cadres from India.

Unknown day of June 1990
First naval clash between the Sri Lanka surveillance ship Edithara. The attack failed and the Sri Lanka ship only suffered minor damages.

May 1991
A “Sea Tigers” suicide-boat (two sailors killed) successfully hit and crippled the Sri Lanka surveillance ship Abeetha. Ship did not sunk but suffered heavy damages and was not repaired.

30 August 1992
With the capture of Jaffa, the LTTE seized an intact inshore patrol craft, studying the boat was the basis for the following ship-building project of the “Sea Tigers”

29 August 1993
A Sri Lanka Super-Dvora patrol boat sunk by LTTE
NOTE: Other sources states it was 18 August. The sinking was quite interesting because the LTTE could recover a 20mm naval gun.

20 September 1994
A large group of “Sea Tigers” vessels attacked the Sri Lanka large patrol ship SLNS Sagarawardena, sinking her after two suicide boats hits. 25 KIA, 18 POW including commander (released in 2002). At the time of sinking, the vessel, alongside the sister-ship (flagship of the Fleet) was the largest ship of the Navy, of national building. Some weapons of the ship later recovered by LTTE.

19 April 1995
Trincomalee Harbor Raid.
Four LTTE frogmen attacked the Sri Lanka Navy harbor and sunk (likely with limpet mines) the patrol ships SLNS Sooraya and SLNS Ranasuru (both Chinese type062 class).
It was apparently the first successful frogmen attack achieved by the Sea Tigers. 16 KIA, 21 WIA.
Sri Lanka forces recovered also the bodies of 4 frogmen (including two women), apparently died on purpose being a suicide attack.

16 July 1995
The Sri Lanka surveillance ship Edithara sunk in harbor after frogmen attack.

29 August 1995
LTTE sunk two patrol boats of Sri Lanka Navy: one of Dvora-class and another of Super Dvora-class. Scarce details, possibly during the same clash.
((NOTE: Apparently the incident is not a mistaken repetition of a similar one occurred on the same day 2 years before))

30 March 1996
“Sea Tigers” units attacked the Sri Lanka transport vessel Wijethunge escorted by multiple boats. During the fight, the Dvora-class P-458 sunk after hit by a suicide-boat. Sri Lanka sources claim the commander intentionally moved his boat on the route to save the transport ship, but this is unconfirmed by a neutral source. It could have been the genuine intended target during the fight.
NOTE: other source report a loss of a Super-Dvora on 30 March 1995, without mention for the 1996 loss. Likely it was the same episode with a wrong date reported and at real occurred in 1996.
Photo of a "Sea Tiger" suicide boat, notice the explosive charge on the bow

19 July 1996
First Battle of Mullaitivu
During the First Battle of Mullaitivu, the Sri Lanka Navy dispatched the patrol boat Ranaviru (Chinese type062 class) alongside six Dvora-class patrol boats to escort three merchant ships converted as troop transports to disembark reinforcements from sea. Sri Lanka sources claim an attack by the incredibly high number “over 200” “Sea Tigers”suicide and attack boats.
While very high, given the importance of the battle it is likely the “Sea Tigers” dispatched all the boats available.
Two “Sea Tigers”suicide boats sunk the Sri Lanka patrol boat SLNS Ranaviru (Chinese type062 class) while she was protecting the amphibious landings. The entire crew of 36 KIA. The landing ships retreated and completed the landing only on 21 July, but the overall result of the battle was a Sri Lanka defeat.

30 March 1997
Action off Mullaitivu
The first large naval clash occurred in open sea was a bold attempt by “Sea Tigers” to attack Sri Lanka Navy operating 20 miles east from shore. The flagship of the Navy, the submarine chaser SNLS Parakramabahu (a Chinese type037 ship) acted alongside patrol boats SNLS Jagatha, SNLS Ranadheera and the smaller Dvora-class P-441, P-442, P-452 and P-460.
10 “Sea Tigers” units, both assault boats and suicide boats attacked: SNLS Parakramabahu (being larger) was directly attacked, and her gunfire hit and exploded a suicide boat. The Sri Lanka ship suffered 1 KIA. When patrol boats helped the flagship, the “Sea Tigers” suffered heavily with reportedly six assault/suicide boats sunk and other units damaged. All the other Sri Lanka vessels reported bullet-hits (SNLS Jagatha, SNLS Ranadheera, P-441, P-442, P-452 and P-460) but only one Dvora patrol boat suffered some serious damage and temporarily disabled. Overall, 7 Sri Lanka sailors wounded.
Two other Dvora-class units, P-440 and P-443 sailed to help and carry away the wounded sailors and engaged another group of 10 “Sea Tiger” boats, sinking one boat.
In total, “Sea Tigers” paid dearly for an attempt to open naval warfare (not ambush); with 8 boats reportedly lost and claimed 30 KIA (Sri Lanka sources at the time over-estimated 80-100 KIA, later admitted as excessive).

On unclear episodes during ‘90s the LTTE sunk in battle another Chinese-made type062 class patrol boat, one patrol boat of US-made Trinity Marineclass (68 tons) and three assault boats of locally built “Colombo class”.

26 May 2000
For the first time, LTTE made a proper large amphibious landing thanks the “Sea Tigers”

The Sri Lanka forces captured the northern Jaffna Peninsula during “Operation Riviresa”: the event played a strategically significant role in the naval operations of the conflict.

Between 2002 and 2006 a ceasefire established.
The “Sea Tiger” naval force of LTTE returned into the new phase of the conflict with a strengthened navy in both firepower and capabilities of the mixed formations of assault and suicide boats. A key problem for the Sri Lanka Navy would be the difficulty to identify separately the assault boats from the more dangerous suicide boats.
Despite having often differences, the “Sea Tigers” are nowadays recognized to have built four distinctly classes of boats:
The larger “Muraj” class with 10 crewmembers and up 3 machineguns, the “Thrikka” with 4 crewmembers and 1 machinegun only for landing of frogmen, the similar but slower “Sudai” (10knots than 45knots) also employed for naval fights and finally the suicide-boats of “Idayan” class with only two crewmembers and explosive device attached to the bow.

12 May 2006
Battle of Point Pedro
A group of Sri Lanka boats was escorting the troop transport MV Pearl Cruise-II (carrying 710 soldiers) directed to the besieged city of Jaffna.
15 “Sea Tigers” boats, including suicide-boats attacked and one Sri Lanka assault boat sunk (by suicide-boat hit) as well as (reportedly) five assault/suicide boats of the “Sea Tigers”.
Sri Lanka suffered 18 KIA, while the LTTE reportedly lost 30 KIA (however only 4 KIA admitted): the troop transport survived undamaged.
Photo of a "Sea Tiger" assault boat.

17 September 2006
LTTE unnamed supply ship sunk off Kalmunai. This was the first of the LTTE fleet of larger supply ships also referred as true “warehouse” ships because they were used to acquire, store and eventually bring to LTTE territory weapons and ammunition.

18 October 2006
Attack on Galle Harbor
Five “Black Sea Tigers” (special sub-division) suicide speed-boats attacked the harbor. Sri Lankan ships apparently sunk 3 suicide boats outside the entry, while two others detonated at the entrance causing 1 KIA, and 12 WIA (plus 1 civilian killed and 14 wounded). At least 9 LTTE fighters believed killed, but some apparently saved themselves and hide into the city. The attack was somewhat successful in damaging the Sri Lanka submarine chaser SNLS Parakramabahu (Chinese type037), already previously damaged by a typhoon, and two assault boats (LTTE claim one sunk and two damaged).
The overall result was a draw, interestingly it is a rare episode where losses and casualties of both sides match the general claim.

28 February 2007
LTTE supply ship Kyoi sunk 730 n miles south from the Sri Lanka coasts. The attack apparently done by Sri Lanka large offshore patrol vessels.

18 March 2007
LTTE supply ships Seiyoo and a second smaller unnamed vessel sunk 825 n miles south from the Sri Lanka coasts, off Indonesia. The attack apparently done by Sri Lanka large offshore patrol vessels.
Photo of the Indian-made SNLS Sagara, second largest patrol ship (OPV) of the Navy.

10 – 11 September 2007
LTTE supply ships Manyoshi, Seishin and Koshia sunk close the Cocos Islands off the coasts of Indonesia. The operation was a heavy blow for the logistical capabilities of LTTE and strategically decisive success for the Sri Lanka Navy. The entire operation occurred 1620 n miles from the Sri Lanka coast by the large patrol ships (Offshore patrol vessels) possessed by the Navy: SNLS Sayura (Indian Sunkanya-class) acting as flag-ship, SNLS Sagara (Indian Vikram-class), SNLS Samadura (ex-American USCGC Courageous) and the locally-built SNLS Jayasagara.
For the operations, the ships received extra weapons including 81mm mortars that played a significant role for sinking the LTTE ships.
Photo of SNLS Sayura, she also received a 105mm artillery gun for this operation.

7 October 2007
The Sri Lanka task force of patrol ships intercepted and sunk the LTTE supply ship Matsushima. She previously fled the attack on 10/11 September. This was the final sinking of a LTTE supply ship, the 2007 operation often assessed as a true turning point for the conflict.

25 December 2007
Battle of Delft
A major naval battle occurred with disputed accounts.
The Sri Lanka Navy operated a dozen of fast assault boats, supported by helicopters and Kfir fighters, fighting an unidentified number of “Sea Tigers” boats.
At the end of the battle, Sri Lanka sources claim to have suffered one assault boat badly damaged by 2 suicide boats (12 KIA), destroying 6 assault/suicide boats of the LTTE and killing 40 enemies. LTTE sources on the other hand admitted only 4 killed, sinking one Sri Lanka vessel and damaging other two. Indeed other Sri Lanka sources admit how the assault boat P-413 sunk while being towed as consequences of the battle (thus confirming the LTTE claim).

10 May 2008
The Sri Lankan auxiliary ship A-520 lost for underwater explosion. Apparently by naval mine or even a semi-submergible action.
This could be the second and last use of underwater attack committed by LTTE. Tamil sources claimed an operation but without suicide commandos.

22 or 24 March 2008
A Sri Lankan Dvora-class patrol boat sunk with all crew on unclear action. LTTE claim it was a gunnery-battle with their boats. Sri Lanka sources believe it could also have been a naval mine or even a semi-submergible action!
(NOTE: other Sri Lanka source identify the vessel as a “Colombo” assault boat).
During the conflict, it was clear how Sri Lankan press worked to maximize the perceived danger, while on the other hand LTTE reasonably attempted to keep hidden the possibility of such attack.
If confirmed, this loss (and the loss of A-520) would be the first-ever underwater craft successfully used by a not-state group in history.
Photo of a "Sea Tiger" semi-sub. found on shore by Sri Lanka forces. At the end of the war, the Sri Lanka navy found many different semi-subs or hybrid crafts in small jungle factories, most unfinished. It is currently unclear how many vessels indeed operated and their actions.

25 March 2008
Battle of Kallarawa
A Sri Lankan Dvora-class patrol boat, sent to research for the previous day loss, attacked by up to 10 assault boats and 6 suicide-boats. Apparently, this is the very last confirmed naval engagement with a patrol boat vessel (Dvora class) directly engaged in combat.
Sri Lankan sources claim to have damaged one assault boat, while suffering no damage or casualty.
Even if the damage inflicted to “Sea Tigers” is quite low compared other battles, it is the last confirmed naval success of the war achieved by a Dvora class.

1 November 2008
A naval engagement begun with an attack of “Sea Tigers” assault boats: four assault boats reportedly destroyed (14 KIA). LTTE claim to have sunk a hovercraft and a Dvora-class patrol boat: these two losses are so far unconfirmed by the Sri Lanka Navy. On the other hand the Sri Lanka Navy admit that the Arrow-class assault boat Z-142 that intentionally rammed a suicide-boat after suffering gunfire damages to save the Colombo-class assault boat P-164 (carrying onboard troops). It is currently unclear if the LTTE boat really intended to attack P-164 or if the incident (like the battle on 30 March 1996) is somewhat enriched by the Sri Lanka press.
Photo of a "Sea Tiger" suicide boat of last design: smaller and with profile and angular lines to reduce radar signature.

30 April 2009
Tamil sources claim the “Sea Tigers” could sink the very last Dvora-class patrol boat: allegedly, the 20th of the class lost in action, but this do not match the Sri Lankan claim.

4 May 2009
Tamil sources credit for the last action of the “Sea Tigers”, claiming the sinking of an assault boat.
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