It was around 1500 hrs on 9th November 2006 P 416 & P461 – two fast attack craft commanded by Lt ONMR Panditharatne & Lt NGCD Jayatilake, RSP came ashore after an extensive sea patrol off the Eastern coast of Chalai. These Officers-In-Command of the two craft were renowned to be very dedicated, fearless and experienced Fast Attack Craft (FAC) Commanders. With a very high sense of duty and responsibility they instructed their crew to prepare the craft for sea to face any unforeseen and urgent eventuality, before they left the craft at one of the piers in the Kankasanthurai Naval harbour.
No sooner they refreshed themselves and relaxed with two hot cups of tea at the wardroom, the ‘action alarm” prompted them back into their usual ‘sea rigs’, and off they bolted towards their Dvoras without delay. Having sailed and fought for the past many years they knew that every second mattered to the FAC that relieved them from patrol now at sea and involved in an ‘attack imminent’ situation. It was around 1630 hrs that P416 & P 461 joined the other FAC which were setting into battle formations to take on a cruising LTTE cluster of 10 – 12 attack craft and 03 suicide craft heading for KKS harbour from the then enemy held coast of Chalai.
The two battle hardened crews of P416 & P461 took up stations in the battle formation and all SLN FAC decided to take on the enemy head on before they closed in on KKS harbour where few ships with essential cargo for humanitarian missions and some military cargo were lying. If the explosive laden – suicide craft broke through the Naval defence line and cruised into the Naval harbour all hell would have broken loose. Then the SLN craft, sticking to their primary classic role as the first line of defence of Sri Lanka, decided to open fire at the enemy craft coming at them in full swing with suicides lined up couple of meters behind them. It was the sea tigers’ usual strategy to cover their deadliest weapon – suicide craft, from the Naval gunfire until SLN craft are hit & stranded with less or no manoeuvrability, with few guns operating effectively, and then unleash their deadly suicide craft. This is a threat which no Navy in the world has ever encountered in an open Naval combat with any kind of Naval force in the entire Naval history recorded so far.
In a Naval battle no commander of a vessel ever asks his comrade sailors to go forward, but takes them forward with him. He keeps his head up always despite the deadliness of the volume of fire projected at him from the enemy's heavy & medium calibre machine guns. He takes decisions standing in the line of fire with the last protection of Armour on an unfriendly medium – water. More importantly he is the last to leave the craft when everything fails, or usually will take the noblest manner of death as a captain of a Naval Warship going down with the sinking vessel. Such was the fierceness of a Naval Battle the Sri Lanka Navy fought for the past 3 decades to liberate this country from the clutches of LTTE barbarism.
As the sun set in the Northern seas of Sri Lanka on that fateful day, many lives went down, making the supreme sacrifice for their motherland. Lt Mudeep Panditharathne, NRX 0954, was always an honourable Officer and died a Naval Officer’s noble death when P 416 settled down in the Davy Jones's Locker (Seabed) off Thondamanaru, KKS and Lt Chinthaka Jayathilake, Commanding P 461showed sheer courage and comradeship by attacking the advancing enemy fleet in an extraordinary feat of bravery. P 461 along with its Commander and crew went down fiercely protecting P416 which had lost its controls and was moving at a very low speed.
Survivors of P416 later recalled how their brave OIC Lt Mudeep Panditharathne ordered them to leave the craft and decided to stay inside the craft few seconds before it was rammed by a LTTE suicide craft. P416 managed to destroy the first suicide craft which approached them but fate prevented them from doing the same to the latter.
LT. Mudeep Panditharathne was born on 25 January 1975, into a family of four. His younger brother had had a tragic death when Mudeep was very young. Mudeep had his primary education at Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya, Udapola and Mayurapada College, Narammala. After obtaining 6 Distinctions and 3Credits at O/Ls he entered Maliyadeva College, Kurunegala for his Secondary Education where he excelled in Academics and obtained 3As and 1B at A/Ls in Bio Science stream with a very high certainty of entering the Medical College. But his childhood dream of becoming an Officer in the Profession of Arms made him decide to join the 13th Intake of the General Sir. John Kothelawala Defence Academy (now elevated to Kothelawala Defence University – KDU) on 01 October 1995.
As a trainee Officer at KDA he showed signs of becoming a very promising Naval Officer when he secured a second class lower in the Bachelor of Science (Defence Studies) degree. He was selected to undergo his Sub Lieutenants’ Technical Course in Bangladesh in year 2001/2002 & did his Long Navigation Course in India in year 2005/2006.
Lt Chinthaka Jayathilake was born on 13 November 1976, into a family of six where he had one elder sister and two younger brothers. Chinthaka had his education at Vidyartha College, Kandy where he excelled as a keen sportsman and represented Vidyartha in Cricket. He joined the Navy on 04 August 1997 as an Officer Cadet of the 28th Intake of the Naval and Maritime Academy. He was known for honesty, comradeship and above all bravery both by his contemporaries and seniors as well.
Both of these, brave officers were to tie the nuptial knot in year 2007 but fate denied them of such happiness. Both Lt. ONMR Panditharahna and Lt NGCD Jayathilaka along with their additional Officers Lt PGA Geethanga (2IC – P 461) and Lt AS Gamage (2IC – P 416) and the crew members of P416 & P461 who sacrificed their lives in the attack have been recommended for the Weera Wickrama Vibhushana (WWV) medal for their acts of gallantry & distinguished conduct in the face of enemy attack.
These valiant Officers had one thing in common - they considered dignity was more precious than life. They fought for freedom, comradeship, pride and honour and by many means they were unmatched to many of us who are among the living today. Three long years have passed without their valuable companionship yet the beautiful memories of these true heroic sons of our time will be deeply cherished in the hearts and minds of the grateful people of Sri Lanka.
Some gave all and all gave some
Some stood true for our land so true
And some had to fall…
When we always think of them
Let us think of all our liberties
That some gave all… (Sir Billy Ray Cyrus)
Missed every day and remembered every moment by Officers of the 13th Intake (KDU) and Officers of the 28th Intake (Naval & Maritime Academy)