July 28, 2018


Prior to the coup d’tat that took place to overthrow Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1962,  S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike commenced on a rapid Sinhalisation’ programme in 1956, once he came to power. Later S.W.R.D Bandaranaike ordered all the remaining British military centers to move out of Ceylon.


Three-fifths of the Armys officer corps, during Bandaranaike time, was made up of Christians, one-fifth out of Tamils and with Burghers. In order to strike a balance in the security forces, Bandaranaike increased the number of Sinhala Buddhist officers in the forces, and appointed a Buddhist Inspector General of Police, thus by-passing three more senior Christian officers.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was assassinated by Talduwe Somarama Thera, on 25 September, 1959 at his private residence in Rosemead Place,  Colombo 7.

On 22 July 1960, the SLFP appointed his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, as the Leader of the party, which made history by her becoming the worlds first woman Prime Minister.


By 1961, Christians felt to what extent they were being methodically discriminated, which managed to create a subtle antipathy.

Many of the Christians abandoned the country as a result.  The countrys economy started to dwindle overnight with the sharp rise in cost of living and  staggering unemployment figures.

During that period, a military coup in Pakistan by General Ayub Khan gave the incentive to the Sri Lankan security forces to emulate what Pakistan government did, and to squash an uprising attempted by a group of embittered Sri Lankan officers attached  security forces. It ended up as the notorious failed 1962 Ceylonese coup d’éta’t”.

Several Christian elite and senior Military and Police officers had pre-meditated in toppling of the democratically elected Government of  Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike  on 27 January, 1962.


Sirimavo Bandaranaike cancelled a pre-arranged  visit Kataragama on the evening of 26 January, 1962, by sheer insight.

Neither the Air Force nor the Army Commander, the Inspector General of Police nor the Captain of the Navy were connected to the coup, but it had been planned mostly by the reserve and retired Military and Police officers.

The operation was code named  Holdfast’ and aimed to arrest the Prime Minister with his cabinet of ministers and parliamentary   secretaries,   Army Commander, Acting Captain of the Navy, IGP, Superintendent of Police (CID), and to escort them  and detain them at  the Army Headquarters  in  an underground bunker. Other service commanders were  prevented from leaving their houses that night after a certain hour.  

Modus Operandi 

The strategy of the conspirators was to deploy Police cars equipped with raucous hailers  to announce an immediate curfew in Colombo city limits; the Colombo CTO,  and other city telephone exchanges  to be jammed and to take control of newspaper offices , Police Headquarters, the CID office and other key points.

Armoured cars and Army vehicles fitted with radio equipment were  stationed at the two bridges in Kelaniya, Kirulapona.  Vehicles were planted at certain strategic points to ensure the success of the operation as well as to prevent troops from  Panagoda  military garrison  reaching Colombo that night. Armed Signals Corps Despatch Riderson motorcycles stood by from about 11 p.m, at the Independence Square to storm the Radio Ceylon building, once the password Holdfast’ was released. The leaders were to meet up at the Queens House later to   force the Governor General to dissolve the Parliament and take direct control of the State once the coup operation was complete.


Failure of the coup d’état was due to collaborators taking  the  Head of the Police into the confidence.  The IGP, once came to know about the details of the plot, immediately rushed to Temple Trees and informed Mrs. Bandaranaike about the attempted coup . Simultaneously he informed his father-in-law, who was the  Party Secretary about it, who in turn notified the CID.

The startling news jerked Mrs. Bandaranaike. However, under the directions of Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike all Service Commanders, Commodore of the Navy, Air Commodore and the IGP were called to Temple Trees for an emergency meeting.


Felix R.Dias Bandaranaike

Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike also beckoned all junior Police and Army officers, who were known to be acting under the orders of the coup leaders to Temple Trees immediately and  interrogated them personally.

It was revealed that the coups military element was led by Colonel Fredrick C. de Saram of the Ceylon Artillery  and Colonel Maurice de Mel Commandant of the Volunteer Force . The Police element led by DIG Jungle’ Dissanayake – Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police in Charge of Range I , and DIG Sydney de Zoysa were responsible for the coordination between the services.

Further investigations exposed that the Deputy Director of Land Development having planned the coup, supported by Rear Admiral Royce de Mel. The coup was to be carried out by troops from the 3rd Field Regiment, 2nd Volunteer Antiaircraft Regiment of the Ceylon Artillery , 2nd (V) Field/ Plant Regiment, Ceylon Engineers 2nd Volunteer Signals Regiment, Ceylon Signals Corps and armoured cars of the Sabre troop of the Ceylon Armoured Corps. Captain Nimal Jayakody and Captain Tony Anghie of 3rd Field Artillery Regiment and Ceylon Artillery  had been trained at Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, UK.

MP for Baddegama was taken into custody as the first arrest of the coup. A conspirator had  replaced Navys internal security personnel who had been mobilized to guard Temple Trees. No one was still certain how deep the conspiracy had penetrated the ranks of the Army and Police. Jungle Dissanayake’at this junction received a call to say the  coup leaders had decided to call off the coup.


 Dissanayake and J.F. Bede John Pillai (ASP Traffic) were arrested on the orders of Mrs. Bandaranaike,  On the following day Colonel F.C. de Saram, Colonel Maurice de Mel and Rear Admiral Royce de Mel were taken into custody along with many others.

Thirty – one conspirators all together from the Army and the Navy as well as  Gazetted Officers from the Police and a Civil Servant were arrested just in time prior to the execution of coup.

Felix Dias Bandaranaike did not make any allegation against Sir Oliver Goonatillake, but according to news reports at the time, Mrs. Bandaranaike had never lost an opportunity to link Sir Oliver with the attempted coup.


 Sir Oliver Goonatillake, being the Governor General of Ceylon, who represented Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the II, could not be arrested due to his British Royal affinities.

To arrest  him would have been akin to sending the Queen to jail! For this very reason the Government could not do any harm to Sir Oliver Goonatillake legally, but Felix Dias R. Bandaranaike expelled the Queens representative from the country  declaring  persona non grata escorted  up to aeroplane under strict security.

Sir Oliver Goonatillake, the Governor General of Ceylon, was not allowed to take any personal belongings with him except the clothes he was wearing at the time. Finally, Sir Oliver Goonatilleke  landed  in France.  One of his friends in Paris, Baroness De Waldner,  came to his rescue.

Pic credit.Vectorstock.com, Ceylon Today

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