The Sri Lankan Interlude

Raid on Delft Island


Delft is a small island, near the Jaffna peninsula. It is about 20 kms from Punkudutivu. It was an important transit point for Tamil militants between the south Indian coast and Jaffna peninsula. It was also used as for rest and training by the militants, as it was safe and away from the location of the IPKF. Only boats or helicopters could approach the island. If helicopters were used the militants were warned early enough for them to take their motorized boats or disappear amongst the civilians.

Boat operations were a problem because of the sea state. The small boats of the IPKF could not withstand these conditions. Requisitioning private boats would immediately be conveyed to the Tamil militants. Also the jetty was always watched by the LTTE. With several operations thwarted the IPKF decided to innovate. On 14 Jan 89 Major TS Gill of D Company 5 Para got a tip off from Capricorn sources (anti-LTTE militants) that a group of LTTE personnel led by area commander Ravi were in Delft. It was decided to plan an operation to capture them.

The Plan

With earlier attempts failing Major TS Gill decided to take a risky approach. His group would move out at midnight on fishing boats. These low-powered boats would be used to land on a remote beach. It involved launching the operation from Punkudutivu, an area of shallow water fishing. The fishermen whose boats were to be requisitioned were identified and were to be picked up as the mission began. This way there was no time for them to send any message.

The Raid

During the daytime on 16th Jan troops were inducted into Punkudutivu as if to conduct an operation there. As night approached the pre-identified fisherman were awoken and their boats requisitioned. Four fibreglass boats and 8 OBMs were used. To keep surprise only 1 platoon and 8 Capricorns were assigned to the raid. Another platoon was kept on standby to reinforce at first light after continuing to pretend to conduct operations during the night. As the flotilla set out the men were quietly confident. But soon the rough seas started to create second thoughts, as any capsizing would have detracted from the rescue operation. In addition a Sri Lankan patrol boat spotted them midway to the destination. Normally the IPKF sea ops were passed onto to the Sri Lankan base at Karainagar but this time something had gone amiss. As the boat trained its search light on the bobbing and heaving boats the machine guns were trained on the hapless paras and Capricorns.


For the Sri Lankans there was no way of knowing that this was the IPKF as the presence of Capricorns as well as the fact that the LTTE would dress up as IPKF at times. It was at this critical moment that Major Gill took a chance. He stood on his feet and waved to the Sri Lankan commander. Incredibly the Sri Lankan commander happened to know Major Gill and recognized him from all the liaison meetings. The party was waved on. The troops landed on the eastern shore of Delft just after mid night. Many were sea sick from the journey. The fishing boats were immediately sent back to avoid compromising their mission. The troops first roused Sangripillai the local schoolteacher and a hard-core LTTE sympathizer. He tried to talk his way out of it but was persuaded to lead the way. Still Sangripillai intentionally led the troops to the wrong locations hoping to put off the IPKF. But the troops persisted and eventually Sangripillai lead them to the correct houses.

Still not trusting Sangripillai, Major Gill split his party into three groups along with the Capricorns and decided to simultaneously raid the houses. The stealth and speed took the LTTE by surprise. Ravi fired on the paras but was wounded in the gun battle. He quickly took cyanide and died. His second in command Arimalai tried  to do the same but a para quickly knocked him down and captured him. He would subsequently lead the troops to other hideouts. By morning 7 militants were killed/captured. The operations went for another 24 hrs before the troops were satisfied that there were no other militants on the island.

(Adapted from 'Raid on Delft Island' by Brig NS Gill, Combat Journal, April 1991)