Demystifying Field Martial
Posted on March 22nd, 2015

Dr. Chandana Jayalath

As a former Captain of the Sri Lankan Army, I am happy to make a note, add my concerns and share my knowhow on the issue of decorating General Sarath Fonseka in the rank of Field Martial. I hope, it will demystify a couple of arguments surrounding the media nowadays. First, did Fonseka defeat the LTTE all by himself, i.e. without the support of the Navy and the Air Force and therefore why other two forces commanders are not treated in the same way? Second, can a small Army like Sri Lanka have Field Martials? Third, what did General Fonseka do to receive such an honour after he came out of the Army? Forth, Can Field Martial be awarded in an Army having the strength of less than one million?

At the outset, Field Marshal is not a political appointment. It is conferred upon a General in not just appreciating of the duties or the overall military career. There are enough laurels to meet this objective.  Field Martial is exclusive and it has no quota in the strength- minimum number of soldiers to command. There is no universal stereo type formula to decide the placements for top rankings, even General. It depends on many factors; locational, strategical, offensive and so forth.

It is a conferment by the Head of State. It is conferred for the distinguished role of strategician, masterpiece and architect of a winning war.  Therefore, it is not a promotion.  Historically in many countries, extraordinary military achievement was required by a General in a wartime victory. As such, there can be only one military strategician at the end of any war where two other forces namely Navy and Air Force are providing support in their technological specialisms. Air Force primarily conducts aerial warfare whereas Navy is principally designated for naval battles. It does not in any way mean that the contribution of these two forces is less important to that of Army. Every one’s contribution more or less rendered overall victory and it must not be misunderstood that the said Forces were ill-treated. Their contribution is priceless. However, not to bewilder, that 30 years of war is none other than a hideous and horrific army war.

General Fonseka led the war against the LTTE and militarily defeated it. He deserved credit to his service. When Fonseka was stripped of his title, all promotions were immediately put on hold. If that freeze is being removed to benefit Fonseka, it is argued in certain quarters, then the promotion of others in the Navy and Air Force also should be considered. I find this argument is ill founded in military terms. However, those well versed in military affairs observe that rewarding a military person for services while in politics would set a very bad precedent. My key concern is none other than the active or passive political involvement while in the dress of Field Martial. Therefore, I suggest the General Fonseka must keep this in mind at all times.

Field Marshals hold their rank for life, and are considered to be serving officers until their death. A Field Marshal wears full uniform on all official occasions and runs an office in Army headquarters. He also has a dedicated secretariat of his own. Future will decide how it works or fails.

I found in some articles that India and China two of the largest armies of the world still does not have a Field Marshal. This is grossly a misnomer and a fabrication. India had two Field Martials namely,  Sam Manekshaw in 1973 and K. M. Cariappa in 1983.  Sam the Brave”, was an Indian military leader who was the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal. His distinguished military career spanned four decades and five wars, beginning with service in the British Indian Army in World War II.  Kipper Madappa Cariappa was the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army and led the Indian forces on the Western Front during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1947. His distinguished military career spanned almost three decades, at the highest point of which, he was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Military in 1949. I find there are 16 Field Martials in China.

Lest we forgot, Gen Sarath Fonseka, the front line commander from 1984 who during the phoney peace of 2002/5 refused to hand over the HSZs in Jaffna despite severe political and international pressure, stuck his neck out as Army Commander in 2006 and said that he would defeat the terrorists, classified as the most dangerous in the world, so that his successor would not have to fight them. He kept his promise but in doing so was very nearly killed by a suicide bomber, the only army commander who was so attacked. It is probable that if President Rajapakse had any other Army Commander that the terrorists would not have been defeated. I come to this conclusion on my own experience with many other senior rankers Army had at the most critical times. We should not forget that one time it was named as Corporals’ war where the entire fate of the nation was given to a Lance Corporal, the junior most ranker in the Army, at the front with 30 bullets and 2 grenades lying over forward defence locality. However, if Gen Fonseka had to serve under a different C in C it is just as unlikely that he would have succeeded in his mission. Both of them were indispensable to the unique winning combination.

I have seen the effects of war on people from bayonet, bullet, mine, shell, mortar, rocket and bombing including carpet bombing of cities. I have seen the survivors of bomb attacks in Colombo and suburbs, the orphans and the widows, throughout my best time of the life. War is horrible. But as for politics, it is far, far worse. However politics not only washed away General Fonseka’s decorations. This is the ugly side of the politics.

In addition to a two and a half year jail sentence, his military ranks were stripped off, his name taken away from the army registry and finally he lost his civic rights. Fonseka’s Democratic Party started off well, but his military-type attitude towards the co-members and the rank and file of the party has resulted in many members leaving the party, including Arjuna Ranatunga. This gives the message that ‘serious’ characters have no survival in local political waters which is turbulent most of the times.

During his career, General Fonseka was involved in the operations Balawegaya and Jayasikuru, which led to the capture of the Elephant Pass and Mankulam. The 6th Battalion of his Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment, which was under siege at Elephant Pass in 1991, repulsed the LTTE attack with reinforcements. He served as Deputy General Officer Commanding during Riviresa, the capture of Jaffna from the Tamil Tigers in December 1995. Later, troops commanded by Fonseka offered stiff resistance to Tamil Tigers in 2000 following the Fall of Elephant Pass, ultimately having to flee since they were unable to withstand the attack. I am not stating how Air Force were operating at that stage, as it will reveal ugly side of so called cooperation of the support armies. Fonseka was wounded in 1993 in the Yaldevi operation. In 1993, the Jaffna Fort was under siege by Tamil Tiger rebels. Then Colonel Fonseka led troops in the Midnight Express operation to relieve the besieged position. Several hundred soldiers were saved due to the operation.

His awards and decorations included the Gallantry Medals; Rana Wickrama Padakkama (RWP), Rana Sura Padakkama (RSP), distinguished service medals; Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya (VSV), Uttama Seva Padakkama (USP) and other notable medal campaign medals; Riviresa Campaign Services Medal, Purna Bhumi Padakkama, North and East Operations Medal, Desha Putra Sammanaya and several others. Under circumstances, it is appropriate to give him the ranking in recognition of his commitment to defeat the LTTE.

I find there are 14 Generals in the Army starting from General Deshamanya Sepala Attygalle to General Jagath Jayasuriya. Among them, General Fonseka is a clear delineation.  I wish, decorating General Sarath Fonseka with the rank of Field Martial should not be an issue for the civilians and politician, both.  It is purely a military matter. However, adulterating any good thing with politics is catastrophic. If the eye does not want to see, neither light nor glasses will help.

16 Responses to “Demystifying Field Martial”

  1. AnuD Says:

    You have explained most of the misconceptions. I hope no one will talk negative about this here after.

    What ever it is field Marshal Fonseka needed to be identified differently to other most senior Army officers. So, he deserves it . I hope he will be very careful in politics in order to protect the reputation of his title.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    “It is conferred for the distinguished role of strategician, masterpiece and architect of a winning war.”

    In that case it should have gone to GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSA not SF.

    1. SF was ONLY in charge of the ARMY. What did the navy and air force do? What did the STF do? What did the DMI, CDF, etc. do? SF had NO authority over them. They together won the war under GR’s command.

    SF was NOT in charge of the army during the full period of 2005 to 2009. After April 2005 for 5 months he was OUT of action. MAVIL ARU was won WITHOUT SF. When the war was won SF was in CHINA.

    2. IF SF was so good, why did the army suffer MASSIVE loses in JAYASIGURU OPERATION? When SF was commander of Jaffna in 2000 we LOST the BIGGEST army camp – ELEPHANT PASS and most camps to Jaffna!! It was saved by GENERAL JANAKA PERERA OVERALL NORTHERN COMMAND whose plans were undermined by you know who.

    3. In 2007 and 2008 we lost a MASSIVE number of men and tanks when 53 and 55 made ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS to capture Elephant Pass under SF’s directions!!

    4. In 2010 SF himself said GOTA ORDERED TO SHOOT THEM which makes GR the REAL hero.

  3. AnuD Says:

    My opinion is offering the Field Marshal title to General Fonseka, most probably offering General Rank to the last Army commanders are ingenious Political Manoevers. when the LAst Army commander was made a General, only thing left Sarath Fonseka was asking for the Field Marshal rank.

    Now, his manoevers as a politician are restricted. He can not behave as the way he behaved and talked earlier. So, he is side lined from politics now.

    Many senior politicians who were scared to him are relieved now.

  4. Leela Says:

    I am no military man but I have known many a top ranking officers in the army.

    SF held a good enough senior position to be appointed the commander of the Army during the Chandrika government. She didn’t appoint SF as the Army commander during her tenure instead, she extended the term of the then Army commander. Had MR not extended SF’s service immediately after he became President in Nov 2005, and compel the then army commander retire and appointed SF as the army commander, SF would have been another retired major general from 2005.

    To say that SF was the only capable senior officer in the army at the time who has the dedication and the capacity to defeat LTTE is an insult on the entire Sri Lanka army. I believe there were many capable officers to do the job, only they were restricted or not provided with the necessary political backing. The leadership provided by MR and Gota on the other hand to win the war is incomparable to say the least.

    Not only the said generous act by MR was forgotten by SF, he chose to join one time critics of war effort to challenge his CC for the presidency and even ridicule him at election rallies. Does the majority people in Sri Lanka consider SF the only factor to win the Eelam war? I say, No. Those who promote the idea that SF had won the war single handed are likes of alimankada pamankada Ravi and peace thavalam avalams like Mangala who once said SF was not fit to be the commander of the Salvation Army. Their aim was nothing but to drive a wedge between MR and SF. Neither the Air force nor the Navy nor the Police nor the Ancillary forces came under the Army commander. To say army commander won the war single handed is to undermine efforts by all those forces. In my opinion, SF has become a short term game plan in cheap politics of today.

  5. Ratanapala Says:

    In the first place Sarath Fonseka wouldn’t have stayed to finish off the LTTE if not for President MR who extended his stay at the insistence of Gotabhaya. It is Gota who coordinated the different branches of the armed forces to bring about the final victory. He had to coordinate the in-fighting between Sarath Fonseka and Karannagoda over trivial matters.

    Mahinda Rajapakse and Gotabhaya should get the larger recognition for their overall management of the war effort to end it all at Nanthi Kadal. They gave the political, military and logistical support for the overall war effort. If I am not mistaken Joseph Stalin too was made a Field Marshal

    We recognise the role played by Sarath Fonseka in leading the army. There is no grudge in him getting the decoration of Field Marshal, but he should acknowledge the part played by other services who played a crucial part – the Navy, the Air Force ( in the latter stages), the STF DMI and CDF.

    The role played by Roshan Gunatilleke himself is not so clear as he belonged to the clan of “Un-winnable War” headed by his father himself a former Air Force Commander and a “Born again Christian” and a Western boot licker.

    One day the records of the Final Eelam War should get into the history books so that the posterity will know what took place during the war days – who are the true heroes and who are the traitors of Sri Lanka!

  6. AnuD Says:

    It was a team game in which every one had a very important role. In that sense, when Mahinda Rajapakse says he won the war that is true.

    Other than that, LORENZO does not know what he is talking about.

    In any and every war in the world, Army was important to establish the authority on the ground. Mighty Air forces, Air Craft carriers of Navy were useless, in that part, even though those were needed to support the ground invasions.

  7. Lorenzo Says:

    The BEST way to find out who is SL’s BEST war hero is ASK Tamils who is the worst war criminal is.

    Tamils’ war crimes are SL’s war heroics.

    So Tamils’ worst war criminal is SL’s best war hero.

    I’m sure SF is not that hero.

  8. Lorenzo Says:

    Ratanapala,

    Under RG’s leadership SLAF did way better than ALL his predecessors.

  9. NAK Says:

    Thank you Dr. for your explanation in detail. We have no issues with decorating or saluting our war hero’s including general Fonseka. But as laymen we see this as a political repayment for his support for the President during his election.
    It is a very costly gift not to President Sirisena but to the general public.
    He was awarded plenty like the others after the end of the war but his greed wouldn’t let him rest with that. We all saw what he was capable of and already he has made a comment to the effct that the uniofrm is no bar to serve the poeple in a presidential capasity! As you said “adultrating any good thing with politics is catastrophic ” I sure hope we have not initiated one.

  10. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    KALAWEDDA FAME.

  11. mohandev Says:

    I am confused. Why does only one service commander deserves to be honered as field marshal & ignore the contributions made by other service comanders to end the 30 year western funded tamil nazi crusade against sinhalese to destry sri lanka? Same time tiger mafia or diaspora who is funding the estern crookish politicans to wahe a diplomatic revenge war against sri lanka for destroying their saviour prabakaran like dog in canal in north in 2009 is accusing only MR & Gota? who realy won the war ? who contributed or gave leadership to end the war which all spinless sinhalese leaders couldnt achive for 30 years? strangley it seems that the pupet western instaled yahaplana shit hole govt has craftily given all the war credit to one man as the one who was responsible single handedly to eliminating the tiger curse, if that is true, SF is guilty of punsihable war crimes as aleged by the western mafias. So SF’s greed to follow Dada Idi Amin’s title has only made him the easy target for war crimes as he was the one who led the sri lankan forces to win againt terrorist which also resluted in aleged war crimes which are part of unavoidable occupational hazzords under any world standards. So i hope diaspora will ensure SF is taken to hague to be tried for war crimes thanks to yahaplana pimps fully loaded with the loot they made in 50 days from the biggest financila scandala in sri lanka the 30 billion CB bond scandal with the guilty beeing sent overseas to avoid being prosecuted

  12. Siri Says:

    There is a lot of truth in what Mohandev is saying. He gives a lot of Facts, though not properly phrased. The U N is after Gota and General Shavendra Silva for war crimes. It is General Shavendra Silva’s Division that Killed Prabakaran and ended the war. The Tamils hate Gota, MR and General Shavendra Silva the most. Any Tamil will tell you this. They are the real Heros who saved the Nation. Now Ranil has come through the back door to claim a position he could not get the proper way. Sirisena betrayed the Party and sold the Sinhalese Nation to the West. What has the new Government done except to take a few steps backwards. It was General Fonseka who started the “White Flag” story and created a problem for the country to get ahead in Politics. There never was a white Flag until Fonseka said it. Now he should be sent to the UN to explain all this as he is the Field Marshall and the guy fully responsible for the actions of the army. Will he do this or try to put the blame on others.

  13. Independent Says:

    Siri,
    Fonseka openly said he is responsible, if war crimes happened, not any of the Rajapakses. So he will have to face the Dangediya.

  14. Senevirath Says:

    වර කියන කොට ආව පල කියනකොට ගිය ෆොන්සේකා චන්ද්‍රිකාගේ කාලේ නිවටයෙක් රටෙත් නොසිටි මෙයා ගෙන්නලා තනතුරු දුන්නේ ගොට්හා බයගේ යාලු කමට. මිනිහා දක්ෂයෙකුට වඩා මරුමුස් මිනී මරුවෙක් යුද්ධයට නම් කැමති තමය බල ලෝභය නිසා ජානපෙරෙරා එක්කත් හැප්පුනා උතුරේදී ජානක බුධිමත් දක්ෂයෙක් ෆොන්සේකා මරන්න දක්ෂයෙක් මහින්ද ගහපන් නොකියා ආපහු වරෙන් කිව්වා නම් නගුට අකුලාගෙන එන්නේ බල්ලෙක් වගේ මේ දීමනා සියල්ල දේශපාලන පගා සියලු ඉහල සම්මාන දිය යුත්තේ ගොතාබයටය්

  15. Lorenzo Says:

    “The Tamils hate Gota, MR and General Shavendra Silva the most. Any Tamil will tell you this. They are the real Heros who saved the Nation.”

    EXACLTY.

    Singhalese DON’T KNOW who their real heroes are. Some Singhalese don’t consider Anagarika Dharmapala as a hero. But Tamils ALWAYS KNOW who their real heroes and enemies are. ALL Tamils consider Chelva as a hero.

    Ask any Tamil who is the WORST WAR CRIMINAL IS. They will tell KOTHAPAYA. That means Gota is the GREATEST WAR HERO who won the war.

    But My3 has a plan. He KNOWS SF will be a pain if he comes to parliament or even hangs around for too long. My3’s plan is to FRAME SF in war crmies (report is now being done and will be out in August). As the HIGHEST RANKING MILITARY OFFICER, SF will be the prime target of ALL alleged BS war crimes of the army, navy and air force. My3 has given him enough rope to hang himself.

  16. Lorenzo Says:

    But I think Gen Jagath Dias is a bigger hero than Shavendra.

    There was NO white flag incident. When VP and other losers crawled in shitt trenches it was night and no one saw the cockroaches. ALL the people who crossed over with white flags in daylight were saved (sigh!).

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