Shamindra Ferdinando, in The Island, 3 November 2012
Army headquarters yesterday said that the LTTE artillery ‘regiment’ had been its most powerful component comprising at least 30 artillery pierces, including 152 mm (15 units), 130 mm (11), 122 mm (3), 85 mm (1) and one 120 mm mortar. Military spokesman Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya yesterday told The Island that LTTE artillery had caused heavy losses to troops, particularly on the Vanni front, where some of the bloodiest fighting took place in 2008 and 2009.
Since the recovery of one 152 mm on Jan 29, 2009, at Vishvamadu on the Vanni east front, the SLA had recovered altogether 30 artillery 152 mm, 130 mm, 122 mm and 85 mm pieces and one 120 mm mortar. Of them, five were recovered on Oct 31, 2012, buried in the Vellamullivaikkal beach. According to the spokesman, all those guns had been operational on the Vanni and Jaffna fronts throughout the campaign. Asked whether the SLA had any idea about the other types of mortars used by the LTTE, Brig. Wanigasooriya said that the LTTE deployed a large number of 60mm mortars.
The SLA lost 2,174 and 2,350 officers and men during 2008 and 2009, respectively. The SLA categorized the number of missing at 113.Brig. Wanigasooriya said that almost all of them were killed on the Vanni and Jaffna fronts. Responding to a query, the military spokesman asserted that the LTTE had largely used artillery and mortars against the advancing troops, though its arsenal comprised a range of weapons.
The majority of the captured weapons had been bought overseas and smuggled in to Sri Lanka over the years.The 152mm, with a range of 20 km, has a 75m killing zone, though its effectiveness may vary due to the surface a particular artillery round lands. Brig. Wanigasooriya said that the 130 mm with a range of 27 km was the longest range heavy weapon acquired by the LTTE. “130 mm is effective up to 50-75 m radius, whereas 122 mm artillery and 120 mm mortar are deadly 50 m radius,” Brig. Wanigasooriya said. The 122 mm has a range of 20 kms, whereas 85 mm artillery and 120 mm mortar can effectively take targets 17 km and 7 km, respectively.
The SLA, too, deployed 152 mm, 130 mm, 122 mm and 120 mm field guns. They introduced Czech built multi barrel rocket launchers in May 2000 subsequent to the fall of the strategic Elephant Pass base.
Having liberated the Eastern Province in June 2007, the SLA stepped-up offensive action on the Vanni front, where it encountered heavy artillery fire. Brig. Wanigasooriya said that terrorists fired thousands of rounds of artillery and mortars at fighting formations deployed on the Vanni and Jaffna fronts as well as those holding liberated areas.
Commenting on fighting in the Eastern Province, the official said that the LTTE had used artillery and mortars effectively in the Eastern theatre. He recalled the LTTE mortar attack on a group of US and European diplomats in Feb 2007. However, the level of deployment of artillery in the Eastern Province couldn’t be compared with the North, he said. The LTTE had deployed a few artillery pieces in the Eastern Province retaining tremendous firepower in the North. Brig. Wanigasooriya attributed the comparatively low use of artillery in the Eastern Province to death of 784 and 571 personnel during 2006 and 2007 respectively. He placed the number of missing at 40.
Army headquarters said that among 15,788 disabled during the eelam war IV, a substantial number received injuries due to artillery and mortar fire. Brig. Wanigasooriya said that the LTTE had developed its artillery ‘regiment’ over the years with the acquisition of a range of artillery and mortars. According to intelligence sources, the LTTE had acquired smaller multi-barrel rocket launchers in the late 90s before the SLA took delivery of multi barrels from Pakistan and Czechoslovakia. At the onset of the conflict, the LTTE produced at least two types of mortars, which were used against security forces. Brig. Wanigasooriya said that a sizeable percentage of 23,323 officers and men killed during the entire conflict died due to artillery and mortar fire.