Bombing of Colombo during world war II



By Walter Wijenayaka

The Second World War commenced on September 01st 1939 between Axis Powers (Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, Fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini and Japan Under Emperor Hirohito on one side and United Nations, (led by Great Britain, the USA, the USSR, France and China) on the other side.

The architect of this horrible devastation was Adolf Hitler who terrorized the world. A son of a Custom’s Officer, he lost his father Aleis Schickigruber at the age of 13.

Approximately three years after the commencement of the war, the Japanese bombed Colombo, on April 05, 1942, at 7.30 in the morning, (on Easter Sunday), exactly 69 years ago today.

This air raid was carried out for about half-an hour. The Allied Forces, warned of the danger, shot down some of the aircrafts. One fell close to St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, one closer to the Bellanvilla marshy lands, one at Pita Kotte, one near the race-course, Colombo 07, one closer to Horana, and one on Galle Face Green, Colombo.

One bomb was off target and damaged the Mulleriyawa Mental Hospital, killing some inmates. Further, another near the Maradana Railway Station damaging a section of the building. There were many deaths and casualties.

This, so called unaccepted and horrible incident, could not be accepted so, with the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 07, 1941, the American fleet had been crippled and the Indian Ocean had become the main theatre of action. The combined fleet of the allied forces had been sunk by superior Japanese airpower in the battle of the Java sea.

Four days after bombing Colombo, the Japanese – six in a group of aircraft flying over Trincomalee bombed several important places including the Naval Yard, Fort Fredreick, Air Port and the oil tanks at China Bay. Trincomalee was considered a Naval and military base with several gun points. Several warships and cargo ships at the Trincomalee harbour were also bombed and damaged, many people, working at the China Bay airport and the Naval yard, were killed.

The air attack at the China Bay oil tank, which was part of the defence complex, was a complete failure and a suicide squad was called for. Three members of the suicide squad – Shigener Watanabe, Tokyo Gala and Sutomu Toshira – in an aircraft packed with explosives, dived on to one oil tank (tank No.91) at 6.45 in the morning. There was a big explosion and the resultant fire lasted for one week.

The remains of the oil tank, some parts of the suicide plane and the war cemetery are the only visible relics that will recall the unpleasant memories of the Second World War.

The Japanese ensured that the war would become a World War by attacking Pearl harbour, and bringing the United States of America in. This would in the end mean total defeat for the Japanese. The British were heavily engaged in their war with Germany and Italy, but it was soon clear that their Asian empire was under severe threat from the all conquering Japanese military might. But something had to be done to deal with the new threat.

That something was to scrape together a fleet from the Atlantic, Mediterranean, American repair yard and other theatres, to assemble in Sri Lankan waters. They began to come together at the end of March 1942 when a Japanese wireless signal was intercepted making it clear that Admiral Nagumo and his First Air Fleet, (the very same force which had carried out the attack on Pearl Harbour), was headed this way.

Not wishing to suffer the same fate as the Americans at Pearl Harbour, Briish Admiral, Someville kept his Eastern Fleet in readiness to deal with the new threats at Addu Atoll in the Maldives. On April 04 the attack was awaited. Although we now know that it was not the intention of the Japanese to invade and occupy Sri Lanka, the Germans had for some time been urging them to do so, furnishing them with detailed maps of the coast and marking suitable landing beaches.

Due to the effects of this horrible war, people of this island had to undergo hardships, such as the distribution of food items – rice, flour, sugar, etc., on coupons. The prices of rice, flour and some other items were kept at a controlled low level by Government subsidization.

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