Fine-grained Understandings of Warfare: Comprehending the SIOT Concept

David Blacker

The commandos, Chindits, SAS, etc of WW2 were strategic troops, kept under the control of a theatre commander. The SIOTs, on the other hand, are tactical, under the control of a battalion commander. Their concept can probably be compared to a historical unit from the latter portion of the 19th centurythe Skirmishers. These light infantry troops, typically a battalion within a brigade or division, were fast-marching dark-uniformed riflemen, often armed with the first breech-loaders. They carried no colours, and their regimental badges, rank chevrons, and webbing were black. Unlike the rest of the infantry, they didn’t march or fight in tightly packed ranks, but rather in loose skirmish lines. They marched ahead of the rest of the army and met the enemy first, softening him up, using cover, movement, and rapid fire to decimate his lines, falling back if he advanced, harrying him if he retreated, until the main body of the infantry arrived with its heavy fire power of supporting artillery. The Sinha Regiment, the now disbanded Rajarata Rifles, and the volunteer Planters Rifles, all follow this infantry tradition, though the skirmish tactic is now obsolete. The Sinha Regiment marching speed (180 paces a minute) is therefore faster than the rest of the SL Army, an idiosyncratic tradition that still causes problems when  parading with other regiments, as on Independence Day.

An Austrian pandur from the 1th century

British officers Brig. Gen. Mike Calvert, Lt. Col. Shaw, and Maj James Lumley discuss tactics after the capture of Mogaung in Burma in June 1944 during the second Chindit expedition.….(Imperial War Museums)

The SIOTs are the 21st century descendants of the 19th century Skirmishers. It’s therefore poetic that the creator of the SIOTs is a rifleman — Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, onetime CO of the 1st Sinha, and supported by another former rifleman — Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who served in both the Sinha and Rajarata Rifles before he was a Gajaba.

An Additional Note from David Blacker, dated 30 May 2019

The reason for the faster pace of the rifle regiments, was so that skirmishers would automatically outpace the rest of the infantry and artillery and arrive at the enemy line ahead of the main body of troops.

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Sri Lankan infantry (possibly Sinha regiment) –pic from Black Arrow, David’s site

A SPECIAL NOTE from Michael Roberts

This Memo was emailed to me by David Blacker and was not designed as an article but as a set of thoughts on the articles addressing Stephen Long’s essay and especially relating to the piece on The SIOT concept which was a vital adjunct to those discussions.

It is my idea – I suggest that it is an inspiration – to present it as a separate article. The title is mine. Thus, any criticisms of the title should be directed at me. I say ‘fine-grained’ because I did not have the faintest inkling that military marching could be different paced … different paced by design. Does that matter? Well, it can affect the success and format of parades. Such practices may not have a direct impact on battlefield capacities, but they do sustain esprit de corps.

But the further point is this: such fine-grained differences and capacities in training and concept can determine the outcome of battles. And David Blacker, I remind readers, is a Sri Lankan from a middle-class background of mixed ethnicity (his mother being a Tamil) who had active service in the Sinha Regiment and was wounded in action. His essay “Nineteen til’ I Die,” can be read as an epitaph to the cameraderie that he experienced in that work—one presented, significantly, on 19th May 2009.

The equally critical point is that fact that Blacker brings infantry experience to the discussions of Eelam War IV and to the type of debate arising from Long’s article on Gotabaya Rajapaksa. One of the besetting sins of much of the commentary on the course of Eelam War IV and its alleged death toll is that many commentators, including journalists, have no first-hand experience of war. Worse still, high-powered United Nations and international committees of inquiry also had no such experience. When intelligent people explore topics beyond their experience without a wholesome understanding of their shortcomings, they are likely to miss some of the outstanding ‘veins’ in their topic, not only the fine grains. The Report of the United Nations Panel of Experts chaired by Darusman was (and remains) is a notorious example of this type of failure.


Darusman Report 2011 Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts report on Accountability in Sri Lanka, March 2011…. POE_Report_Full.pdf.

David Blacker:

David Blacker: “Nineteen til I die,” 19 May 2009, …………………………………………….

Marga  2011 Preliminary Summary re the Marga Seminar on the UNPoE Report” drafted by Godfrey Gunatilleka,

Marga 2011 An Analysis and Evaluation of The Report of the Advisory Panel to the UNSG nn the Final Stages of the War in Sri Lanka,

Minas Moth: “Skirmishers of 19th Century and American Civil War,”  May 2007,

Logan Nye: “The British Special Operators who Terrorized the Japanese,” 18 August 2018,

Michael Roberts: “Stephen Long’s ‘Revenge Politics’: Questionings,” 20 May 2019,

Michael Roberts: “Stephen Long’s ‘Revenge Politics’: Endorsements,” 24 May 2019,

SIOT: SIOT or Special Action Infantry Teams: Their Origins and Critical Role in Eelam War IV,” 21 May 2019,

Skirmishers =

A MEMO from Retd Major-Genral LALIN FERNANDO, 2 June 2019

The Sinha Regiment’s quick marching speed in 140 paces a minute (march used to be Lutzov’s wild hun. -Lutzov was a Austrian officer whose troops (Jaegers – mountain troops – like Rommel’s first command) were trained in the rifle tradition. The double march speed is 160 paces (march used to be Orpheus in the Underworld sounds like the Follies Berge can can). The slow march tune was Suwanda Rosa Mal, though Sinhalese music is  a bit difficult to adept to quick marching.

The double march was introduced in 1961 by me to the regt (to which I was commissioned in Dec 1960 from RMA Sandhurst) at the 4th direct recruit intake passing out parade of the regiment. CO  Lt Col ‘Jacko’ Jayatilleke  reviewed the parade. The parade was commanded by  Capt EG (George) Thevanayagam  (later Major General) from Jaffna. One platoon commander was Lt (later Maj Gen) Tissa Jayatunge — later first CO Vijayaba Regt Both are no longer living.The other platoon was commanded by me.

The line infantry and all other regiments quick march at 120 paces (30 inch pace). The slowest march for all is at 116 paces

Rifle Regts remain at the stand at ease position when halted. On the command ‘quick march,’ they come to attention from the stand at ease position and begin marching. When they halt, they revert to the stand at ease position automatically.

Other Regts remain at the attention when they halt unless ordered to stand at ease and march off from the attention position.

They carry their rifles at the trail-which is with the weapon parallel to the ground. They do not march with bayonets fixed when marching at the trail for good reason- may stab the fellow in front accidentally

They refer to bayonets as swords so the order in the Rifle Regts before a ‘present arms’ order is ‘fix swords’ not bayonets as in all other Regts.

Officer’s mess dress is in rifle green with a one-inch black seam on the outside of the trouser leg. The Infantry have scarlet jackets and scarlet seams on the trousers. The officers’ caps and the men’s berets are green. The officers caps have a black band with a pattern of leaves on it Infantry of the line have a red band Jacket buttons are black with the lion crest. There are shirt buttons in similar style.

Rifle Regts do not have colours – -breaking with centuries of tradition.

All these are traditions borrowed from Gen Moore’s rifle regiment (95th Infantry) that fought in the Peninsular war under Wellington.

Although the SLPRC (SL Planters’ Rifle Corps) takes its name shamelessly from the infamous CPRC that was used to kill Sinhalese during the 1915 riots under martial law, it is not a rifle regt in any real sense.

By the way the SLLI is not light infantry, but infantry of the line. Light infantry also drill like the rifle regts. Light infantry wears green, but has silver buttons

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