Posted on July 27th, 2018

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando Courtesy Ceylon Today

In 1956, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, as promised during the election campaign, commenced on a rapid ‘Sinhalization’ of all parts of the Government, once he came to power and accomplished the ‘Sinhala Only Act’. Simultaneously, he ordered all the remaining British Military centres in the country to move out of Ceylon.

 Three-fifths of the Army’s officer corps, at the time, was made up of Christians, one-fifth out of Tamils and with Burghers. With the view of striking 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, the fourth Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was assassinated by a Buddhist monk – Talduwe Somarama Thera – on 25 September, 1959 while meeting the public at his private residence down Rosmead Place in Colombo 7.
On 22 July 1960, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) appointed, unanimously, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, his widow, after SWRD’s demise, as the Leader of the SLFP, thus making history by becoming the world’s first woman Prime Minister and the sixth Prime Minister of Ceylon since independence in 1948.

By 1961, Christians felt superficially to what extent they were being methodically discriminated, thus giving rise to a subtle antipathy. During this period many of the Christians abandoned the country and ended up, mainly, in the UK.  Overnight the country’s economy started to dwindle with the sharp rise in cost of living and dragging the staggering unemployment figures along with it.

Coincidently, during that period of time, a Military coup in Pakistan by General Ayub Khan helped the Sri Lankan security forces to emulate what Pakistan did to squash an uprising attempted by a group of embittered officers, attached to Sri Lankan security forces, which ultimately ended up as the notorious 1962 Ceylonese coup d’éta’t” attempt (also known as the Colonels’ coup). Several Christian elite and senior Military and Police officers pre-meditated in toppling of the democratically elected Government of Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Their planned operation was to take place on 27 January, 1962.


Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike had planned to visit Kataragama on the evening of 26 January, 1962, but the providence made her to change her mind.  Neither the Air Force nor the Army Commander Major General H. Winston G. Wijeyekoon, the Inspector General of Police M.W.F. Abeykoon nor the Captain of the Navy Commodore Rajan Kadiragamar were connected to the coup; it had in fact been planned mostly by the ‘reserve and retired Military and Police officers’.

The operation that was code named as ‘Operation Holdfast’ aimed at arresting the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and External Affairs (Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike), Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, and External Affairs (N.Q. Dias), Army Commander, Acting Captain of the Navy, Inspector General of Police, DIG (CID) S.A. Dissanayake, Superintendent of Police (CID), John Attygalle, and escorting them to the Army Headquarters and to be held in the ‘Ammunition Magazine’, which was an underground bunker. The prisoners were to hold there until further instructions. Other service commanders were to be restrained and prevented from leaving their houses that night after a certain hour.

Modus Operandi

The strategy of the conspirators had been to deploy Police cars equipped with raucous hailers soon after midnight to announce an immediate curfew in Colombo city limits; the Colombo CTO (Central Telegraph Office) and other city telephone exchanges were to be jammed and to take control of newspaper office buildings, Police Headquarters, the CID office and other key points. Armoured cars had been planned to be stationed at certain spots to ensure the success of the operation. Troops from the Military garrison from Panagoda were to be prevented from reaching Colombo that night, at any cost.

Armoured cars and Army vehicles fitted with radio equipment were to be stationed at the two bridges in Kelaniya, Kirulapona, and other places. Fully armed ‘Signals Corps Despatch Riders’ on motorcycles were to stand by from about 11 p.m. in Torrington (Independence) Square to storm the Radio Ceylon building, once the password ‘Holdfast’ was released. The leaders were to meet up at the Queen’s House and force the Governor General, Sir Oliver Goonatillake, 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 the fact that the collaborators had taken the Head of Colombo Police, Stanley Senanayake, into the confidence. Once Stanley Senanayake came to know about the details of the plot, he immediately rushed to Temple Trees with two senior Police officers and informed Mrs. Bandaranaike about the attempted coup to topple the Government with the help of certain Army, Navy and Police personnel. Simultaneously Senanayake informed his father-in-law, SLFP Member of Parliament and Party Secretary, P. De S. Kularatne, about it, who in turn notified the CID.

The startling news naturally jerked the Prime Minister, Mrs. Bandaranaike. However, under the directions of Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike all Service Commanders, Major General Gerard Wijekoon, Commodore Rajan Kadiragamar, Air Commodore John Barker  and the IGP M.F.W. Abeykoon were called to Temple Trees for an emergency meeting.

Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike beckoned all junior Police and Army officers who were known to be acting under the orders of the coup leaders to Temple Trees immediately where he personally, with the help of the CID, interrogated them. It was revealed that the coup’s Military element was led by Colonel Fredrick C. de Saram of the Ceylon Artillery (cousin of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike), and Colonel Maurice de Mel – Commandant of the Volunteer Force (Second-in-Command of the Army). The Police element led by DIG ‘Jungle’Dissanayake – Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police in Change of Range I (brother of DIG S.A. Dissanayake), and DIG Sydney de Zoysa were responsible for the coordination between the services’.

Further investigations revealed that the Deputy Director of Land Development, Douglas Liyanage attached to the Ceylon Civil Service, had 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 (with almost the entire officer corps of these regiment to be involved), 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 were members of the first batch of officer cadets of the Ceylon Army, who had been trained at Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, UK.

Neal de Alwis, MP for Baddegama, was taken into custody, from his residence, as the first arrest of the coup. A known conspirator had replaced Navy’s internal security personnel who were 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 point received a call to say the leaders had decided to call off the coup.

On the orders of Prime Minister, Mrs. Bandaranaike, Dissanayake and J.F. Bede John Pillai (ASP Traffic) were arrested. 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. All in all, thirty-one Conspirators, Commissioned Officers from the Army and the Navy, Gazetted Officers from the Police and a Civil Servant were arrested just in time prior to the execution of coup.

Felix Dias Bandaranaike, however, 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. In other words, to arrest the Queen’s representative in Ceylon would have been akin to sending the Queen to jail! For this very reason the Government of Ceylon could not do any harm to Sir Oliver Goonatillake legally, but the only thing Felix Dias R. Bandaranaike could do was to expel the Queen’s representative from the country. He did this by making certain that Sir Oliver was escorted up to aeroplane under strict security to ensure that the ex-Governor General of Ceylon was extradited after being declared persona non grata.

Sir Oliver Goonatillake, who was once 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 in France where one of his friends in Paris, Baroness De Waldner, came to his rescue.

One Response to “FAILED COUP D’ETAT ATTEMPT OF 1962”

  1. Nimal Says:

    I wished the coup worked,SL would not have been in a mess like now.Felix Diad B was a horrible man.He was happy to grab the income giving life policies of the Cylinco group. That was a hammer blow to the Sinhalese.My two relatives on Justin(senator) Kothalawala and Justin Siva had a time staying afloat. I had a little office in the Cylinco building and I was only 18 years old.People who grabbed these policies are the insurance corp where they had their office on the same floor and the Cylicno In.Corp workers were never in their seats while Cylinco only had 18 poor so people and the chief Clark was another relative of mine named Alex Fonseka.The directors were there 7 days a week fighting for their survival.
    Along with them government was another rascal and he was TB.Ilangaratne who also harmed the Sinhalese by setting up the utterly corrupt CWC.He was responsible for the demise of the southern small business man who sold dry fish country wide included in Jaffna.One tradrer in Colombo street Kandy committed suicide.
    Our local MP of the party in Kandy at that time was Pyasena Thennakoon one of the best, dedicated and a honest MP.We all liked him and he never failed to attend a local funeral.always a people’s man.We will never get a politician like him.
    Some of the coup leaders never wanted to put Mrs B in Jail knowing that she wasn’t that capable of having control of her government.She got into politics not by choice.Soon after her defeat(with the help of the Chinese scare),JR came to power, again Dudly was in the same helpless situation as Mrs B.Courrupt JR deported my American friend who gave jobs to nearly 1500 people and soon after his deportation I was so disgusted left the country ending up in UK.
    I was keen to find out why my American friend was deported an innocent man. MY cousin Basnayke(at London HC) arranged me to see Mrs B at the hotel she was staying in London when she arrive for the Commonwealth conference. She remembered the deportation and she assured me to investigate if I ever came to SL.She also requested me to get rich in UK and then invest in SL as she need people like us and late Upali Wije….na who was a friend of mine.Since that day I use to pass messages between Sir Oliver and Anura B who was studying in London.Sir Oliver was very close to Mrs B and Anura. I was happy that I was able to have a small snack at the Cumbernauld hotel with her and my cousin. We chattered a bit and tried to get through to Sir Oliver but couldn’t as he was a very person working as an underwriter to Lloyds and a director of very Prestigious Veraswamys in regent St where Royalty frequents.
    After listening to my past adventures in the island she definitely wanted me to come back.I met her at a function in Kandy where she privately told us, wished it (coup)worked.
    One very closed relative of my too was in the net as a DIG and he never saw eye to eye with his brother another DIG from the Jubilee Post in Mirihana and my parents gave the ‘useless land we owned buy deed of gift to expand the present Mirihana police station.
    It is my dying wish is to buy it back if the government wish to sell it as at the age of 4-5 We use to jump in and out of the small stream below the present Police station we had great fun in that premises.. We only left the very small church, which I think is still there.
    I wish the coup succeeded mainly set up by very patriotic persons who loved the country.Hope CBK reads my comment.

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