Review -‘Road to Nandikadal’ by Maj Gen Kamal Guneratne WWV, RWP, RSP,USP MPhil
Posted on September 21st, 2016

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

Great Commanders have mostly been dull writers. Rommel was a born writer as well as a born fighter. The impact that he made on the world with the sword will be deepened by his power with the pen”. (The Rommel Papers- Capt Liddell Hart)

Major General Kamal Guneratne ‘s ‘Road to Nandikadal’ is the most comprehensive, credible, incisive, riveting and objective book  in English on the entire 26 year old conflict in SL. (It is also available thankfully in Sinhalese and a copy in Tamil would be welcome too). It is the inside story of one who fought the war from its inception to the end and gives an impeccable account of the conflict that took 100,000 lives. While the actions are fast moving and his blunt opinions of various people are delightful, it is the thinking side that is the book’s real value. Frank, with no false modesty but with compelling confidence, what impresses is its highly personal tone. It also describes the many lessons learned which almost all SL political leaders have yet to understand or concede. It is a trail blazing contribution to SL’s Military History

It is a book for all citizens of SL from school children to adults and a must read for all officers of the three forces, military academies, staff colleges and all regiments of the army

There are controversial and delicious anecdotes that fascinate in a fairly lengthy book. It covers in flowing detail the battles fought without missing a step or a beat. It also gives deep insights into the background, minds and impact of the Commanders who were responsible for defeat and victory, shame and glory. There is blunt honesty and pent up anger that carries with it vulnerability but it is moderated by genuine respect for his superiors reverentially and repeatedly proclaimed. It hasn’t spared the politicians who started the war, knew not what to do thence and embraced appeasement at any cost as a panacea. They had gambled recklessly with the future of SL for over 30 years.

It is much about the poor unsung infantryman who bore the brunt of the casualties. They were mostly from desperately poor families who joined the Army not out of any sense of adventure or glory  but  to support their parents and siblings and went on to serve with great courage, loyalty, comradeship selflessness and determination against fearful odds putting to shame even some of their officers.

Gen Guneratne’s emotions spill over when recalling the last moments of many of his men who until the last did their duty by their comrades for regiment and country, without question. One 18 year old fell on him and died. At the end he tells of a soldier collecting blood soaked sand by Prabakaran’s body. When observed and shouted at, he responded” Sir, do you know I had three elder brothers in the Army… he killed all of them. My father and mother are still alive. Sir, I took the blood to go and show my parents I took revenge for the deaths of my brothers”. The soldier then took the blood soaked bag and disappeared into the crowd. All politicians and many Colombians who were sleeping snugly for 26 years while these village lads were dying all over the North and East, doing their duty by their country, should read this book to understand how much our soldiers endured, in what harrowing circumstances thousands died and why their bodies could not be recovered and how very  empty were the politicians’ calls for peace. They were exchanged for thousands of soldiers’ lives and limbs.

If the presence at the book launch of hundreds of Buddhists priests, the wives of famous dead war heroes including Lali Kobbekaduwa and Manel Wimalaratne, former military Commanders, and the former C in C, meant anything at the over flowing spacious Kularatne Hall of the premier Buddhist school Ananda, it was that this was a defining national moment. SL is under Western siege where the country’s war heroes face criminal charges while the terrorists they defeated at great cost in life do not. Would this book expose SL’s oppressors?

It is also the first book by the exceptional battle winning commanders who began their military careers at the very inception of the war at the bayonet end. They endured, without flinching, the tribulations of unplanned and shockingly bad led war, disasters, disappointments and when the whole world seemed to be falling, savoured final victory after 26 years. They had been seriously if not critically wounded, left for dead and yet returned to battle but never questioned their belief, in eventual victory. It will certainly inspire other Commanders and maybe soldiers too, to write up their memoires for the sake of the Nation’s history and to protect its future.

The over 6 foot craggy, lean Maj Gen Guneratne who carries a piece of shrapnel embedded within millimeters from his heart during the battle at Silavatura (1991) among other wounds, was in battle from subaltern to General for the entire duration of the 26 years old conflict. He was in a unique position to convey the true face of this war from beginning to end. He has been a dynamic leader and a great General, a soldier’s general.

In common with equally resolute and brave officers and soldiers who joined the Army post 1980, he and they were the hope of the future and they delivered. They had seen the good and the bad, the evil and the cowardly, the selfish and the dishonest in military and political leadership and faced gross insults from politicians. They were determined that whatever happened they would not yield to terror. They had inspired the nation at its darkest moments by their courage and dedicated leadership. They brought final victory that not only their compatriots but militaries the world over had thought improbable. This book is a tribute to them.

Gen Guneratne was from the Gajaba Regiment reputedly the steadiest infantry  regiment. (With the other Infantry regiments, SL Light Infantry, Sinha, Gemunu Watch and Vijayaba Infantry they had 79% of the casualties and together with the Commandos, Special Forces and National Guard they had about 89% of the Army total of  23,403 killed and missing, presumed dead).

It is the most factual history of the war to date. It records accurately and comments professionally on all the most important events and battles of the conflict. The enemy’s mistake was to switch from guerilla /terrorist to conventional warfare. They were up against a rejuvenated, extremely well equipped and brilliantly commanded Army, Navy and Air Force that finally won a just war under an obdurate national leader who never wavered.

It may embarrass some who repeated crucial if not stupid mistakes, committed treasonable acts and those military commanders who were adapt at taking counsel not only of their fears but also of politicians including vote stuffing at elections, were derelict, reckless with the lives of the soldiers, negligent, dishonest and totally unsuited to hold high command. They subscribed to if not initiated the cry that victory was impossible, were involved with manipulating huge contracts for weapons and rations and paying with the soldiers lives. This was all to accommodate a terrorist megalomaniac who had no interest in peace. It is extremely well researched. It covers in vivid, nerve racking detail his personal experiences of little known gory and painful details of  disasters among others (Mankulam -1990) and very close run and deadly battles (Muhumalai-2007-8, and Pudukuduirippu -Feb 2009) that except for this book may have been hidden or forgotten for posterity.

It will be welcomed by those who having often been isolated and surrounded, taking casualties in the Wanni jungles and elsewhere, given up as expendable by their inept commanders, survived, turned tables and then like their loved ones prayed the truth of those terrible dark times  would out.


The book is dedicated to all those who bore the burden of the war and made the supreme sacrifice, from military comrades to parents who readily gave their children to fight for what they believed was just and all citizens who silently suffered the agonies  of this protracted war. It does not attempt to hide the evils that were committed by all concerned from what caused the war to what happened in battle. It gives a gripping account of all the major battles in the North and the East, factually with tremendous insight.

The thread that runs right through is that his colleagues and soldiers knew well that there would be no peace with the terrorists. Peace talks and cessation of hostilities meant terrorist gains at great cost in life,  when hostilities were resumed without warning –four times in all, totaling 100,000 dead. Humiliation from a deadly combination of misled political theorists, failed novices in statecraft, opportunists and effete military high command was their daily bread.  If there are only a few compliments to a handful of politicians in the book, few would grieve.

Having been decorated with  the second highest gallantry award (WWV) among others,  having the very highest professional qualifications, having fought in  grueling battles from North to East, and  also unusually obtained a MPhil, Gen Guneratne has now produced, hopefully for SL, a game changing book for a lasting peace. It was Gen Guneratne’s 53 division troops that finally got the byproduct of the anti Tamil terror of 1983, the corpulent, unwavering, rigid, genocidal, bestial leader Prabakaran. It signaled the end of what was called an unceasing war.

This book is an eye opener to many who saw the war as portrayed by the West guided by nearly a half million overseas Tamil extremists with huge funds, commanding crucial vote banks as well. The belief in a peaceful settlement however attractive was illusory, deceitful and improbable. The prolonged agony of the nation was settled sadly by force as there was no other way to bring peace to the country. Gen Guneratne is however under no delusion that the peace, while complete, may not be challenged in the future.

His strong personal belief in traditional Sinhalese Buddhist values, runs through the book, befitting his ancestry and proud Ananda College background that produced so many excellent military leaders among many others famed in every field. It gives heart to all good men. Some of it may however draw criticism from those who failed or did wrong or were not recognized.

The book has no maps and copies of operation orders to interest students of military history. One would believe this is by design. These will no doubt come in the next edition when restrictions are lifted. No such inhibitions affected books authored abroad as SL born Australians Michael Roberts and Sergei de Silva Ranasinghe would admit.  Already erratic missiles of what constitutes ‘military secrets’ have been fired though so much is already in the public domain. There are many carefully selected photographs of the conflict, the host of intrepid commanders, the terrorists and except for two significant omissions, the politicians concerned. It could however have been better edited so that for instance Kayts and Kargil (in India) were spelled correctly.

The book pointedly ignores SL’s politically self inflicted injury at Geneva. What is there to deny that there are only two legitimate attack options at Nandikadal-capture or destroy- the enemy? If the open battlefield, and this was not a town, city or village, is also occupied by camp followers, militia, volunteer guards and Labour Corps defying all rescue attempts, who is responsible for their deaths together with the enemy after 26 years of terror?

Paraphrasing and quoting from Field Marshal Rommel’s memoires, it may be said that no commander in SL has yet written an account of the campaigns he fought in to match the vividness and value” of Gen Guneratne’s. No other SL General has provided such a graphic picture of his operations and method of command. An outstanding work…… it will spoil the subject for historians who will try later. He is a soldier who can reconstruct battles as brilliantly as he fought them”.

Nations are founded on the deaths of (and blood) its soldiers (New York Times)

2 Responses to “Review -‘Road to Nandikadal’ by Maj Gen Kamal Guneratne WWV, RWP, RSP,USP MPhil”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    I would say nations are founded on the deaths of its soldiers and for other nations, the treason of its politicians.

    The first part applies to Sri Lanka while the second part applies to the de facto Jaffna Kingdom in the north since 2013 and potential Tamil Eelam.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Yes, Indeed Shenali,

    Conning a PLIABLE Yamapalanaya GoSL into promising and making commitments (See ARTICLE #1 below) on more and more devolution and removal of Army camps through public demonstrations by Tamils (see ARTICLE #2 below), and orchestrated visits and the CARROT and the STICK pronouncements by an unending stream of Western leaders and UN officials is ONE of the methods now being deployed by Tamil Nationalist Separatists to gain their DEFUNCT Eelam.

    The Deshad-drohi Sinhala Buddhists who joined the Tamil Separatists, Christian Missionary Evangelists, and die-hard Wahabbi Muslims attempting to ignite a Crusader War as in Lebanon, are ALL TRYING to WEAKEN and UNDERMINE the Sinhala Buddhist majority fighting desperately to hang onto their ONLY ancestral homeland.

    OF ALL OF THESE enemies of Sri Lanka, none are MORE VILE & DESPICABLE than the Sinhala Buddhists Dhrohiyas who swallowed the chanted mantra of “corruption, corruption, corruption, and lack of “human rights” and “democracy” by Western supporters of Separatists, their paid NGO fifth columns, and the Christian Churches to TOPPLE the UPFA GoSL led by Mahinda Rajapaksa.

    It is these GULLIBLE, GREEDY and TREACHEROUS FOOLS who enabled the TRADITIONAL ENEMIES of the Sinhala Buddhists to prevail in Sri Lanka, reversing the victory that ended a 30-year struggle to eradicate terrorism and reunify the nation, and begin to reintroduce a NeoColonial Government with DIVIDE AND RULE as principle of governance.

    In ARTICLE #2 they announce a POLICY of returning land to defeated separatists OUSTING the victorious Army from its critical BASES, while in ARTICLE #3 they state announce a CONTRARY POLICY that “extremist separatism” will not be TOLERATED! MERE WORDS without ACTION by a treacherous Yamapalanaya!

    If WORDS are to be believed, why is Wigneswaran STILL FREE and Chief Minister, busily UNDERMINING Sri Lanka at every opportunity? WHY? Why has he not BEEN IMMEDIATELY ARRESTED, PROSECUTED and IMPRISONED for TREASON?

    It is all just a confusing barrage of contradictory and deceitful words to MOLLIFY & PLACATE the Sinhala Buddhist into supine inaction until the CONSTITUTION is AMENDED to PERMANENTLY DIVIDE the Nation into separate Bantustans, and PERMANENTLY SUBJUGATE the Sinhala Budhhist to the will of the MINORITIES, and PERMANENTLY BLOCKING ALL AVENUES to restoring the PRIMACY of the Sinhala Buddhist Community through legislative BARRIERS!

    They are GIVING AWAY our Motherland to ALL SEPARATISTS …. ethnic, linguistic, religious ….. one piece at a time, PRESUMABLY in search of a COMMUNAL PEACE which will NEVER BE REALIZED through BRIBING unrepentant separatists in the name of RECONCILIATION! There should NEVER BE RECONCILIATION with the EELAMISTS; NEVER! Just as there is NO ACCEPTANCE of Nazism by the West, there must NEVER be RECONCILIATYION with Tamil Separatists, because their goals are INHERENTLY EVIL and INIMICAL to the STABILITY and SURVIVAL of Sri Lanka as a peaceful haven for ALL of its people, irrespective of community.

    Sri Lankan Tamils have CONSISTENTLY shown themselves to be UNTRUSTWORTHY and INCAPABLE of LIVING in AMITY as equal citizens of a unitary Sri Lanka, and therefore, should NEVER BE EMPOWERED or TRUSTED to share any significant power. Their perspective is CLEAR: What is ours is SOLELY ours, what is yours is for us to SHARE equally! That policy must NEVER be accepted! Sri Lanka must be for every citizen to enjoy, benefit from and serve equally; not PIECE-BY-SEPARATE-PIECE but as a SINGLE WHOLE!

    What the Yamapalanaya GoSL is forgetting is that through the ANNALS of the STORIED HISTORY of the Sinhala Buddhist people, we have NEVER BEEN PERMANENTLY SUBJUGATED, and NEVER WILL IN THE FUTURE AS WELL!

    Having ONCE AGAIN BEEN REMINDED and SEEN how the MINORITIES BEHAVE when they FALL INTO THE ILLUSION of having the UPPER HAND, the NEXT Patriotic GoSL that will replace the Yamapalanaya GoSL WILL NOT ABIDE by these ILLEGALLY ENACTED LAWS and RULES.

    The new GoSL will ACT FIRMLY & DECISIVELY to recreate a government OF the MAJORITY of the People of Sri Lanka, BY the MAJORITY of the people of Sri Lanka, FOR the MAJORITY of the people of Sri Lanka, with LEGAL SAFEGUARDS against REGIME CHANGES orchestrated by Sri Lanka’s FOREIGN and INTERNAL ENEMIES!

    Greedy people are never satiated by one piece of cake; they always want more!

    Read the RISE UP TAMILS demonstration organized in Jaffna by that Arch-Demagogue and UNGRATEFUL TRAITOR Wigneswaran. This is the TIP OF THE ICEBERG of renewed COMMUNAL separatist activities hidden under the guise of a DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT.

    ARTICLE #1:

    Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka stage mass protest demanding speedy solutions to their issues
    Sat, Sep 24, 2016, 08:33 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    Sept 24, Colombo: Thousands of Tamils in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province staged a mass protest in Jaffna today demanding solutions to their issues.

    The march and a rally led by Northern Province Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran was organized by the Tamil Makkal National Front to highlight issues faced by the community, PTI reported.

    “It has been seven years since the war ended. Tamil people are yet to receive reasonable solutions to their grievances,” the Chief Minister was quoted as saying.

    The demonstrators asked the government to halt Sinhala majority settlements and stop building Buddhist religious shrines in Tamil areas, return of the Tamil civilian lands held for military purposes, release of Tamil political prisoners and assistance in tracing missing people.

    Analysts said this was the first time the northerners took part in a public gathering of this scale since Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena took over in January last year.

    Businesses remained shut in the Jaffna town in solidarity while the organizers estimated that about 10,000 people from both North and East attended the rally.

    The main Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance, shunned the demonstration.

    “The TNA pledged Tamils a federal solution at the last election. So the Tamils can be only happy with a federal solution by merging the north and east,” TNA lawmaker Dharmalingam Siddathan said.

    ARTICLE #2:

    Return of lands pivotal for resettling IDPs: National Policy
    September 25, 2016

    The Government has adopted a national policy on the war-displaced, which acknowledges that one of the major obstacles to providing them with durable solutions for a return to normal life, is occupation of land by the military and police.

    The policy calls on the Ministry of Defence to coordinate with the Ministry of Law and Order, to accurately map out all land that is or was owned, claimed or used by civilians, and is currently occupied by any of the three forces or police. These should be returned to civilian use and ownership urgently, unless the State determines that it is required for public purpose, it holds.

    Such purpose–be it national security or development–should be carefully scrutinised, including to ascertain whether no alternative land could be found. This would also mean releasing land used by the military for non-security reasons, including agricultural production, tourist enterprises or recreation.

    The ‘National Policy on Durable Solutions for Conflict-Affected Displacement’, written over the past year by the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Resettlement, has been approved by Cabinet. Other impediments to resettling people include lands being claimed by Government departments and authorities, as well as conflicting land claims and disputes, it says.

    At the start of drafting, a majority of internally displaced persons (IDPs) had returned to their places of origin. But there were still over 40,000 in the country and more than 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees in India and elsewhere. There were also others who were resettled but, continuing to struggle.

    In some cases, Government departments and authorities have demarcated lands for State use, that were formerly owned and occupied by persons now in displacement, without consulting district and provincial officials or adequately informing those affected. Among them are the Forest, Wildlife and Archaeology Departments, and the Mahaweli and Urban Development Authorities. The policy calls for a transparent review and, where possible, for the restoration of such lands to their rightful owners.

    There are lingering cases in the North and East of land claims and disputes, especially those relating to State land, that need to be resolved. The policy urges immediate measures to resolve them, “so as to avoid their festering and exacerbation, particularly those that are between communities”.

    The policy also highlights the plight of IDPs and refugees who never owned land or, who were made landless by the conflict. They need a solution, it says, particularly if the last remaining welfare centres are to be closed down. There are around 3,000 IDPs in camps in the Jaffna District. Landlessness also affects persons currently occupying land of displaced persons or, encroaching on State land and can be legally evicted.

    Decisions and actions need to be taken to address problems of refugees attempting to return. This includes information campaigns to refugee communities abroad; facilitating the provision of key identification documents; assisting refugees to transport goods and personal possessions acquired in exile; ensuring that returnees will be eligible to receive the same types of assistance available to IDP returnees; ensuring that educational and professional qualifications earned abroad are recognized where applicable, including for school admission requirements; and that, security screening programmes are conducted without undue delays.

    The Government is encouraged to set out a comprehensive policy for reparations relating to loss, including compensation for persons killed, missing or disabled, and for economic losses, ensuring recognition of the issue of displacement and its impact. Eligibility for such reparations or compensation packages should include persons who worked in conflict-affected areas.

    ARTICLE #3:

    Sri Lankan government will not yield to extremism in the North – State Defense Minister
    Sun, Sep 25, 2016, 09:42 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    Sept 25, Colombo: The government will be receptive to the issues of the Tamil people in the North and East and work towards finding solutions but will not yield to the extremism, Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said.

    Referring to the Ezhuka Tamil (Rise Up Tamils!) protest march and rally held in Jaffna yesterday by the Tamil People’s Council led by the Chief Minister of Northern Province C. V. Wigneswaran, State Minister Wijewardene said the government will not agree to remove Army camps in the Northern Province as the extremist Tamil groups demand.

    Addressing the inauguration ceremony of the Junior Cadet Training Course at the National Cadet Corps (NCC) training center in Rantambe on Sunday the State Minister stressed that the government will not reconsider withdrawing the military from the North.

    Referring to the demand made by the protesters to remove army camps from the North, the State Minister said the government wanted to preserve peace and ethnic coexistence and when it is taking utmost efforts to establish reconciliation among the races and religions, such extremist activities cannot be accepted. The government will ignore the voices of extremism as it completes its plans, the Minister said.

    “We would like to stress that, the government will not remove our Army camps,” he said. “Whatever the demand the protesters come up with, the government will go ahead with its reconciliation process.”

    State Minister Wijewardene stressed that despite the obstacles created by the extremists the government will not falter in the face of their shouts and return in the correct path it has taken for peace and reconciliation.

    In a separate statement, the UPFA General Secretary Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said the government strongly condemns the statement made by Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, at the rally yesterday.

    Meanwhile, scholarly and far sighted independent Tamil observers, writer Sivarasa Karunagaran and researchers Rajan Hoole and Ahilan Kadirgamar, have viewed the Chief Minister’s rally as more of an attempt to gain power and position in Tamil nationalist politics rather than a genuine attempt to find a realistic and sustainable solution to the Tamil question.

    They have expressed fear that the extremist demands made without thinking through the consequences will be destructive and hurt the Tamil cause as in the past.

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