Sri Lanka Table of Contents
Centuries of colonial rule by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British interrupted Sri Lanka's martial traditions (see European Encroachment and Dominance, 1500-1948 , ch. 1). The kingdoms of Jaffna, Kotte, and Kandy, divided by bitter rivalries, were unable to mount a unified opposition to the colonial powers, and one by one, the native armies fell to the superior force of the invaders. The British defeat of the Kingdom of Kandy in 1815-18 marked the end of an independent Sri Lankan military force. The institution of colonial rule, however, soon created the need for a native, military force to maintain order. To fill this need, the colonial government raised a contingent of light infantry named the Ceylon Rifles. The force was composed largely of Malay soldiers under British officers, and was the only formation of regular, full-time troops established in Sri Lanka during the colonial period. As such, its existence was brief, and when the maintenance of the unit became too costly, it was disbanded. From 1873 until independence, the island's entire indigenous force consisted of a volunteer reservist army.
The first component of this new army, the Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers, was established in 1881 by proclamation of the lieutenant governor. Like the Ceylon Rifles, the new volunteer force was commanded by British officers, while the ranks were filled out largely with Burghers, a highly Westernized group that adapted well to the demands of volunteer service (see Ethnic Groups , ch. 2). A mounted infantry company was added in 1892, and in 1900 this contingent was called to South Africa to assist the British army in the Boer War.
In 1910 the volunteer corps was redesignated as the Ceylon Defence Force. Although Sri Lankan units were not deployed outside the island in either of the world wars, individual soldiers served in the British and British Indian armies. In World War II, the British crown took direct control of the island's armed forces from the colonial government. During this period, the Ceylon Light Infantry grew from 1 battalion to 5 battalions, while the total number of troops in uniform increased to 12,000. Most of these were engaged in maintenance and transport functions. Their most direct contact with the war came in April 1942 when the Japanese launched an air attack on Colombo.
Data as of October 1988