Ceylon and the SOE

SOE resistance museum

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) resulted from bringing together the UK’s three secret services for the duration of the War in order to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance. Ceylon was initially a base for SOE personnel operating in South East Asia with headquarters in Kandy and a training facility at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. Operatives were inserted into Japanese occupied South East Asia via submarine.

When SEAC moved from Delhi to Kandy so did SOE Force 136 under Head of Mission Colin Mackenzie CMG. According to Ashley Jackson, writing in The British Empire and the Second World War, “Ceylon had been transformed strategically from a relative backwater, a mere operations sub-branch of the India Mission, into Force 136’s main base.”

Capt Freddie Chapman had trained Australian and New Zealand troops in guerrilla warfare at the Special Training School 101 in Singapore. They would remain in Malaya during Japanese occupation to harass the enemy as part of Force 136. Capt Chapman had already forged an alliance with the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) composed of anti-Japanese Chinese. They were armed by the British and instructed to take to the jungles in order to continue the war against the Japanese. The MCP led by the legendry Chin Peng was highly disciplined and were fed, supported and given shelter by local Chinese.

SOE Ceylon/Malaya

In early 1945 Capt Chapman was brought out to Kandy to arrange for weapons and equipment for his guerrilla fighters about half being Britons who had worked or lived in Malaya before the war, the rest Chinese. “Air supplies from Ceylon supported the 3,500 Malayans trained to harass the Japanese when the British mounted their amphibious assault late in the war. Liberators of No. 357 Squadron from Minneriya in Ceylon, for example, flew 249 sorties in June and July 1945 in support of forces in Malaya,” explains Prof Jackson.

In late 1944 Gen Roger Blaizot commander of the Forces Francaises Extrême Orient (the Far East French Expeditionary Forces) arrived in Ceylon along with French troops to establish a Free French Military Mission to the Far East. Gen Blaizot and his troops were inserted into French Indochina where they operated till the end of the War. According to Jackson “Ceylon also became an important (signals) intelligence-gathering outpost of Bletchley Park (the future Government Communications Headquarters [GCHQ]) and a regional headquarters for Special Operations Executive.”

In Operation Bunkum launched from Ceylon, agents were ferried by submarine to the Andaman Islands to report back on Japanese forces, a clandestine mission which they carried out successfully maintaining radio contact with Calcutta. In another operation, a group of Thais living in the UK volunteered for a mission for which they boarded the submarine HMS Tactician to be dropped off on the Thai coast. Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) also trained Thai agents at SEAC who were ferried by HMS Tactician to carry out assaults in Phuket and Penang.

In collaboration with the Dutch and operating out of bases in Ceylon, RAF Liberators parachuted agents into Sumatra. And the US Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency) also operated out of Ceylon with headquarters in Kandy, training camps in Galle and Trincomalee and a supply depot in Colombo. “RAF Special Duties squadrons, usually flying long-range Liberators, were used to parachute agents and supplies into occupied territory, and most sorties were flown from Ceylon bases,” writes Jackson.

SOE Force 136

While combat experience in Ceylon was limited, the CDF benefited from training with British and Allied units rotated through Sri Lanka, especially for jungle warfare in South East Asia. Individual officers and soldiers of the CDF also had combat experience in other theaters.

In addition to service in the Cocos Islands, members of the CDF also volunteered for active duty in Burma. Writing in his Sunday Times article Forgotten campaign, forgotten veterans Sergei De Silva Ranasinghe says Brian Kirkenbeek was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant with the 2nd Battalion CLI in 1942. In January 1944 he was posted to D Company 4/5th Gurkha Rifles at Arakan where he saw action. On his return to Ceylon he was promoted and rejoined the CLI at China Bay. Ranasinghe goes on to say that some volunteered for service in Europe and experienced combat in that theater.

Three new units of the CDF were raised during the War, the Ceylon Signal Corp and the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1943, and the Royal Military Police (Ceylon) in 1944. At the end of the war the CDF which comprised 645 officers and 14,247 other ranks was demobilized. Col R.J.F. Mendis OBE ED was appointed Commander of the CDF in April 1946 and Lt Col Anton M. Muttukumaru became commander of the CLI which reverted to its peacetime strength.

The British noted that the Ceylonese Board of Ministers did everything within their power to maximize the island’s contribution to the war effort. They channeled personnel and material resources in support of the war effort.

SOE equipment

The only exception being the Lanka Sama Samaja Party which opposed the War and whose leaders were incarcerated or went underground for the duration of the War. However the civilian ministers wholeheartedly supported the war effort and there was total cooperation from the Island’s political, civil and military leadership.

In 1948 this political relationship resulted in Ceylon acquiring Dominion Status within months of India. Prof Ashley Jackson in The British Empire and the Second World War concludes that “this was a result of pressure from senior British military and civilian officials in Ceylon in favor of a significant advance towards full self-government.”

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British Military Humor – 

MI5 playing ‘I spy…’

“Keep your voice down there’s a tap on the phone”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Keigan Baker – Panama City, FL; US Air Force, Airman 1st Class, 24th Special Operations Wing, KIA

Michael Canonico – Chester, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Co. A/188/11th Airborne Division

Fletcher Derrick – Mt. Pleasant, SC; US Army, Medical Corps, 8th Artillery Div., surgeon / Army Intelligence, Order of the Palmetto (Ret.)

Fred Goodson – Gastonia, NC; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, 508/82nd A/B Division / USAR, Colonel (Ret. 39 y.)

Nancy Hookham – Eastbourne, ENG; British Navy WREN; WWII, Bletchley Park

Jesse Irvin (99) – Coushatta, LA; US Army, WWII

Harold Little – Watertown, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Elsie McCurry – Texarkana, AR; Civilian, aircraft manufacture and repair

Carolyn J. Protzmann – Franklin, NH; US Air Force / US National Guard, BGeneral (Ret.)

Clarence Rutherford – Augusta, KS; US Army Air Corps, CBI, WWII

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 26, 2020, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 98 Comments.

  1. Interesting GP. I think I may have mentioned before my service in 121 Signal Squadron R.A. Sigs, a signals intelligence unit, from 1972 to 1974. We had GCHQ civilians coming and going. The squadron’s presence was disclosed (it had been there since 1953) by the new Australian Labor Prime Minister in February 1973 and we all left a year later (after the dust settled). Most of the online information about 121 has been scrubbed, but the full story is on parliament records (Hansard).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had fallen behind in reading, but all caught up now.

    Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your posts give a great insight into the behind the scenes clandestine activities, that formed part of the overall war strategy, great research mate.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting & fascinating read👌👌

    Like

  5. Thanks for the history lesson.

    I got a kick out of the British Humor

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Love the British military humor featured with this post!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Once I got to the mention of the Andaman Islands, I knew where I was. Some cruising friends were anchored off Phuket when the tsunami hit, and I learned a lot about the geography of the area in a hurry. Eventually, they traveled westward across the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, ending up in Port Said. We thought they were crazy, but he’d been a pilot for a certain U.S. intelligence agency during Vietnam, so he did crazy pretty well.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am always fascinated by the operations that took place behind enemy lines, G and the constant vigilance that must have been required. On another note, loved the cartoon tap on the phone. My kind of humor. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent and very informative article, G. P. Those robust men and women of the secret services deserve recognition, even if late, but isn’t that the nature of secret service? Several notables served in the secret services during World War II that hardly anyone knows about: movie stars Sterling Hayden and Pierre J. Ortiz (both very gutsy fellows), college president William A. Eddy, college professor Gerald C. Thomas, the US president’s son, James Roosevelt, and the future commander of the 7th Marine Regiment at the Chosin Reservoir, Homer C. Litzenberg. My guess is that there are dozens of yet-undiscovered stories of courage behind the scenes and I look forward to reading them here at this most-excellent blog. Semper Fi …

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have the book, “Covert Affair” about Julia Child (TV chef) and her future husband over there in the CBI. There were quite a few, like Ian Fleming (author).
      I’m happy you liked it!

      Like

  10. The British did get up to a lot, didn’t they? Ironically, only as few years after the end of the war they may well have been fighting the Malayan Communist Party’s insurgents. There were guerrilla wars against Communists in both Malaya, North Borneo and Sarawak. In the latter location, they used the SAS who soon defeated them.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mount Lavinia Hotel? 🙂 Another educational post, GP! I think I might have been able to jump out of a plane, but not be able to go in by submarine. – tight quarters and underwater. Those people are a special lot.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. My Dad spent some time in Ceylon on his way home from India in 1947. He spoke about the beauty of the island, and how much he would love to have lived there.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. A very interesting post which I did not know anything about Ceylon. It needs a special kind of skill to be in intelligence service. Thanks for posting our friend, Fletcher Derrick, in your Farewell Salute. He gave a talk to our group about his experience as a spy. Quite fascinating! Matt’s brother, I always wonder if he was a spy. Never admitted it but some of his stories added up. He was stationed in Africa for 25 years working for Ford Foundation. I think it was a cover. He knew a lot of those African chieftains in the bush and big names in Washington, DC, reported to Washington every summer for something, was able to get a plane to rescue some Somalians in cloak and dagger operation during the Mogadishu uprising. Things like that. My brother told me Bobby told him so but Matt does not believe it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks for all this I din’t know about.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Read with interest, GP. The Germans tried to insert agents into the USA in WWII, on Long Island. They were captured, at least the ones we discovered.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I cannot imagine the courage of someone being sent from a submarine or jumping out of a plane into occupied enemy territory. Amazing people, GP. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Good to see that for once co operation was rewarded at the end of the war, Ceylon achieving Dominion status. Leo was in Sri Lanka just after the civil war and was apalled at the treatment handed out to the Tamils – a blot on a beautiful country.
    The military humour made me laugh!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Another interesting historical tidbit, GP. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you for this – I didn’t know this story. I appreciate the way you weave all the threads of the war together.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Interesting! I always enjoy reading about “secret squirrel” kinds of stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. This is fascinating information. It really brings home the meaning of “world war” as there were so many countries involved that I had never heard of, and so many types of operations. Thanks again for the research and delightful presentation. You beat every history teacher I ever had. I feel like I should leave an apple on your desk.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Great article, GP. It’s impressive what a determined people can do in times of crisis. Would you believe that the US Senate actually unanimously passed a bill? I learned a tremendous amount from reading this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for telling me that you learned from the article. That way I can tell what needs to be reviewed.
      People have agreed on both sides of the aisle that Congress has not done a lick of work in years – I think they all figured they’d best do something during a crisis or they’d be out of work themselves come next election!! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Very interesting post again, GP! I think sometimes i have to see the region with my own eyes, too. Thank you, and have a nice day! Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Interesting information on a part of the war I knew nothing about. Strangely, I’d just been reading about Ceylon and the Bracegirdle Incident a couple of days ago.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Anthony_Bracegirdle

    I got to it by looking up career details of a Naval Officer who played rugby against Eric Liddell (the Chariots of Fire runner and missionary in China), clicked on Harold Abrahams, then clicked on the links for other Abrahams brothers – one of them was involved in the Bracegirdle case.

    From rugby to Ceylon via the INternet and now back again because of your writing. The internet is a wonderful place!

    Liked by 4 people

  25. My uncle served as pilot in the area. Sadly never got round to asking about the details.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Good stuff GP! Patriotism and organization are key. 💕☕️☕️

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Really fascinating, thank you, Graeme. I visited Kandy, Galle and Trincomalee in about 2004. It is a stunningly beautiful country. I particularly loved Kandy in the heart of the country. At the time, there was a large UN military prescence in Trincomalee due to the civil war, which was a bit scary if I’m being honest. My great uncle served in Burma during the war. (I think I told you that before.) Hope you and yours are all well during this lockdown.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Pierre Lagacé

    Interesting GP.

    Liked by 2 people

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