Between 1948 and 1972, Ceylon was an independent country in the
Commonwealth of Nations
Commonwealth of Nations that shared a monarch with Australia, Canada,
New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and certain other sovereign
states. In 1948, the British Colony of Ceylon was granted independence
as Ceylon. In 1972, the country became a republic within the
Commonwealth, and its name was changed to Sri Lanka. It was an island
country in South Asia, located about 31 kilometres (19.3 mi) off
the southern coast of India.
1.1 Independence and growth
2 Government and politics
4.3 Air Force
5 See also
See also: Colonial history of
Sri Lanka and
Sri Lanka in the twentieth
Independence and growth
Main article: Sri Lankan independence movement
Following World War II, public pressure for independence increased.
The British Colony of Ceylon achieved independence on 4 February 1948,
with an amended constitution taking effect on the same date.
Independence was granted under the Ceylon Independence Act 1947.
Military treaties with the
United Kingdom preserved intact British air
and sea bases in the country; British officers also continued to fill
most of the upper ranks of the Army.
Don Senanayake became the first
Prime Minister of Ceylon. Later in 1948, when Ceylon applied for
United Nations membership, the
Soviet Union vetoed the application.
This was partly because the
Soviet Union believed that the Ceylon was
only nominally independent, and the British still exercised control
over it because the white, educated elite had control of the
government. In 1949, with the concurrence of the leaders of the Sri
Lankan Tamils, the UNP government disenfranchised the Indian Tamil
plantation workers. In 1950, Ceylon became one of the original
members of the
Colombo Plan, and remains a member as Sri Lanka.
Don Senanayake died in 1952 after a stroke and he was succeeded by his
son Dudley. However, in 1953 – following a massive general strike or
'Hartal' by the leftist parties against the UNP – Dudley Senanayake
resigned. He was followed by John Kotelawala, a senior politician and
an uncle of Dudley. Kotelawala did not have the personal prestige or
the political acumen of D. S. Senanayake. He brought to the fore
the issue of national languages that D. S. Senanayake had suspended.
The Queen of Ceylon, Elizabeth II, toured the island in 1954 from
10–21 April. (She also visited in 1981 (21–25 October) after the
country became a republic.)
In 1956 the UNP was defeated at elections by the Mahajana Eksath
Peramuna, which included the
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by
Solomon Bandaranaike and the
Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party of
Philip Gunawardena. Bandaranaike was a politician who had fostered the
Sinhala nationalist lobby since the 1930s. He replaced English with
Sinhalese as the official language. He was the chief Sinhalese
spokesmen who attempted to counter the communal politics unleashed by
G. G. Ponnambalam. The bill was known as the Sinhala Only Bill, and
also made Sinhalese the language taught in schools and universities.
This caused Tamil riots, as they spoke the
Tamil language and it had
not been recognised as an official language. These riots culminated in
the assassination of the prime minister, Bandaranaike. His widow,
Sirimavo, succeeded her husband as leader of the
SLFP and was elected
as the world's first female prime minister. In 1957 British bases were
Sri Lanka officially became a "non-aligned" country. The
Paddy Lands Act, the brainchild of Philip Gunawardena, was passed,
giving those working the land greater rights vis-a-vis absentee
Elections in July saw
Sirimavo Bandaranaike become the world's first
elected female head of government. Her government avoided further
confrontations with the Tamils, but the anti-communist policies of the
United States Government led to a cut-off of
United States aid and a
growing economic crisis. After an attempted coup d'état by mainly
non-Buddhist right-wing army and police officers intent on bringing
the UNP back to power, Bandaranaike nationalised the oil companies.
This led to a boycott of the country by the oil cartels, which was
broken with aid from the Kansas Oil Producers Co-operative.
In 1962, under the SLFP's radical policies, many Western business
assets were nationalised. This caused disputes with the United States
United Kingdom over compensation for seized assets. Such
policies led to a temporary decline in
SLFP power, and the UNP gained
seats in Congress. However, by 1970, the
SLFP were once again the
In 1964 Bandaranaike formed a coalition government with the LSSP, a
Trotskyist party with Dr
N.M. Perera as Minister of Finance.
Nonetheless, after Sirimavo failed to satisfy the far-left, the
Marxist People's Liberation Front attempted to overthrow the
government in 1971.
The rebellion was put down with the help of British, Soviet, and
Indian aid in 1972, and later in 1972 the current constitution was
adopted and the name of the country was changed to Sri Lanka. In
1972, the country officially became a republic within the Commonwealth
William Gopallawa became the first President of Sri Lanka.
Government and politics
Main articles: Parliament of Ceylon, Constitution of Sri Lanka, and
Politics of Sri Lanka
See also: Foreign relations of Sri Lanka
Don Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Ceylon
The constitution of Ceylon created a parliamentary democracy with a
bicameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a House of
Representatives, with the popularly elected House indirectly
naming the Senate. The head of state was the British monarch,
represented by a predominantly ceremonial figure, the Governor
General. The head of government was the prime minister, and he and his
cabinet consisted of the largest political party in the legislature.
Initially, the prominent party was the UNP, the United National Party.
In the first parliamentary elections, the UNP gained 42 out of the 95
seats available, and also won the elections in 1952. When the first
prime minister, D. S. Senanayake, died of a stroke, his son Dudley
Senanayake, the Minister of Agriculture, was appointed as prime
minister. In 1956, the radical socialist
Sri Lanka Freedom
Party) won the elections, and
Solomon Bandaranaike took power. He was
assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959 and his widow, Sirimavo,
succeeded him as leader of the SLFP. She held office until 1977, with
two exceptions in 1960 and 1965–1970, when the UNP held power.
During her rule, she implemented a radical economic program of
nationalisation and land reform, a pro-Sinhalese educational and
employment policy, and an independent foreign policy as part of the
In 1948, when Ceylon achieved independence from the United Kingdom,
the Governor was replaced with a Governor-General. The
Governor-General was responsible not to London, but to the monarch of
Ceylon, the local government, and the local parliament. The
Governor-General was a largely ceremonial figure. The monarch had the
following styles and titles:
1948–1952: His Majesty George the Sixth, by the Grace of God, of
Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King,
Defender of the Faith.
1952–1953: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of
Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas
Queen, Defender of the Faith.
1953–1972: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Ceylon and of
Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.
The government of Ceylon had several issues, the main being that the
government represented only a small part of the population, mainly
wealthy, English-educated elite groups. The Sinhalese and Tamil
majority did not share the values and ideas of the upper-class, and
this often led to riots.
Main article: Economy of Sri Lanka
See also: Tea production in
Sri Lanka and Tourism in Sri Lanka
The economy of Ceylon was mainly agriculture-based, with key exports
consisting of tea, rubber, and coconuts. These did well in the foreign
markets, accounting for 90% of the export share by value. In 1965,
Ceylon became the world's leading exporter of tea, with 200,000 tonnes
of tea being shipped internationally annually. The exports sold
well initially, but falling tea and rubber prices decreased the
earnings, with a rapidly increasing population cutting further into
those profits. In the early 1970s, the Ceylon government nationalised
many privately held assets as part of the newly elected government's
The Land Reform Law of 1972 imposed a maximum of twenty hectares of
land that can be owned privately, and sought to reallocate excess land
for the benefit of the landless workers. Because land owned by public
companies under that was less than ten hectares in size was exempted
from the law, a considerable amount of land that would otherwise have
been available for redistribution was not subject to the legislation.
Between 1972 and 1974, the Land Reform Commission set up by the new
laws took over nearly 228,000 hectares, one-third of which was forest
and most of the rest planted with tea, rubber, or coconut. Few rice
paddies were affected because nearly 95 percent of them were below the
ceiling limit. Very little of the land acquired by the government was
transferred to individuals. Most was turned over to various government
agencies or to cooperative organisations, such as the Up-Country
Co-operative Estates Development Board. The Land Reform Law of 1972
applied only to holdings of individuals. It left untouched the
plantations owned by joint-stock companies, many of them British. In
1975 the Land Reform (Amendment) Law brought these estates under state
control. Over 169,000 hectares comprising 395 estates were taken over
under this legislation. Most of this land was planted with tea and
rubber. As a result, about two-thirds of land cultivated with tea was
placed in the state sector. The respective proportions for rubber and
coconut were 32 and 10 percent. The government paid some compensation
to the owners of land taken over under both the 1972 and 1975 laws. In
early 1988, the state-owned plantations were managed by one of two
types of entities, the Janatha Estates Development Board, or the Sri
Lanka State Plantation Corporation. Additionally, a revamped
system of education created a glut of skilled workers that could not
Main article: Sri Lankan rupee
The official currency of Ceylon was the Ceylon Rupee. The Rupee
evolved from the Indian Rupee, when in 1929 a new Ceylon Rupee was
formed when it was separated from the Indian Rupee. In 1950, the
Currency Board, set up in 1872 as a part of the Indian monetary
system, was replaced by the Central Bank of Ceylon, granting the
country greater control over the currency. In 1951, the Central Bank
of Ceylon took over the issuance of paper money, introducing 1 and 10
rupees notes. These were followed in 1952 by 2, 5, 50 and 100 rupees
notes. The 1 rupee notes were replaced by coins in 1963. In 1963, a
new coinage was introduced which omitted the monarch's portrait. Coins
issued were aluminium 1 and 2 cents, nickel brass 5 and 10 cents and
cupro-nickel 25 and 50 cents and 1 rupee. The obverse of the coins
issued since 1963 carry the coat of arms. However, until 1966, the
Ceylon Rupee remained pegged to the
Indian Rupee at a value of 1:1. In
1966, the Ceylon Rupee was pegged to the US Dollar at 4.76 rupees per
See also: Participation of Ceylon in World War II
Earl of Caithness
Earl of Caithness inspecting a guard unit.
Main article: Ceylon Army
At the end of World War II, the Ceylon Defence Force, the predecessor
to the Ceylon Army, began demobilisation. After Independence, Ceylon
entered the bi-lateral Anglo-Ceylonese Defence Agreement of 1947. This
was followed by Army Act No. 17 of which was passed by Parliament on
11 April 1949, and formalised in Gazette Extraordinary No. 10028 of 10
October 1949. It marked the creation of the Ceylon Army, consisting of
a regular and volunteer force, the latter being the successor of the
disbanded Ceylon Defense Force. The Defence Agreement of 1947
provided assurance that British would come to the aid of Ceylon in the
event it was attacked by a foreign power and provided British military
advisers to build the country's military.
Brigadier James Sinclair,
The Earl of Caithness, was appointed as general officer commanding
Ceylon Army, as such becoming the first commander of the Ceylon Army.
Due to a lack of any major external threats the growth of the army was
slow, and the primary duties of the army quickly moved towards
internal security by the mid-1950s. The first internal security
operation of the Ceylon Army, code named Operation Monty, began in
1952 to counter the influx of illegal South Indian immigrants brought
in by smugglers, in support of
Royal Ceylon Navy
Royal Ceylon Navy coastal patrols and
police operations. This was expanded and renamed as Task Force
Anti-Illicit Immigration (TaFII) in 1963 and continued up to 1981. The
Army was mobilised to help the police to restore peace under
provincial emergency regulations during the 1953 hartal, the 1956 Gal
Oya Valley riots and in 1958 it was deployed for the first time under
emergency regulations throughout the island during the 1958 riots
In 1962 several volunteer officers attempted a military coup, which
was stopped hours before it was launched. This attempted coup affected
the military to a great extent; since the government mistrusted the
military, it reduced the size and growth of the army, especially the
volunteer force, with several units being disbanded. In May 1972,
Ceylon was proclaimed a republic and changed its name from Ceylon to
the "Republic of Sri Lanka", and in 1978 to "Democratic Socialist
Republic of Sri Lanka". All Army units were renamed accordingly.
Main article: Royal Ceylon Navy
After gaining independence, strategists believed that the navy should
be built up and reorganized. The previous navy consisted of the Ceylon
Naval Volunteer Force and the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. On
9 December 1950 the
Royal Ceylon Navy
Royal Ceylon Navy was created with the main force
consisting of the former Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. The
first ship that was commissioned was the HMCyS Vijaya, an
Algerine-class minesweeper. During this time the navy took part in
several joint naval exercises and a goodwill tour visiting the far
east. However, the expansion of the navy was dramatically halted in
1962 when the captain of the navy who was relieved of his duty at the
time of the attempted military coup. The navy suffered a great deal as
result of the governments retribution that followed, with several of
its ships sold off, reduced its size by stoppage of recruitment of
officers cadets and sailors for over seven years, the loss of
important Bases and Barracks and the stoppage of training in England.
As a result, the navy was poorly prepared when in 1971 the 1971 JVP
Insurrection began, the navy had to send its sailors for ground combat
operations against the insurgents.
In 1972 "Ceylon" became the "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri
Lanka" and the
Royal Ceylon Navy
Royal Ceylon Navy became the
Sri Lanka Navy. The Naval
ensign along with the Flag Officers' flags were redesigned. The term
"Captain of the Navy", introduced in the Navy Act, was changed to
"Commander of the Navy", in keeping with the terminology adopted by
the other two services. Finally, "Her Majesty's Ceylon Ships" (HMCyS)
became "Sri Lankan Naval Ships" (SLNS).
During the 1970s the navy began rebuilding its strength with the
acquisition of Shanghai class gunboats from China to carry out
effective coastal patrolling and carried out several cruises to
Main article: Royal Ceylon Air Force
Early administration and training was carried out by RAF officers and
other personnel, who were seconded to the new Royal Ceylon Air Force
or RCyAF. The first aircraft of the RCyAF were de Havilland Canada
DHC-1 Chipmunks, used as basic trainers. These were followed by
Boulton Paul Balliol
Boulton Paul Balliol T.Mk.2s and
Airspeed Oxford Mk.1s for advanced
training of pilots and aircrew along with de Havilland Doves and de
Havilland Herons for transport use, all provided by the British. The
closure of British bases in Ceylon in 1956 saw the air force take over
former RAF bases; Katunayake and China Bay became RCyAF operational
stations while auxiliary functions were carried out at
In 1959 de Havilland Vampire jet aircraft were acquired. However, the
RCyAF did not put them into operational use and soon replaced them
with five Hunting Jet Provosts obtained from the British, which were
formed into the Jet Squadron.
Royal Ceylon Air Force
Royal Ceylon Air Force first went into combat in 1971 when the
Marxist JVP launched an island-wide coup on 5 April. The Ceylon Armed
Forces could not respond immediately and efficiently; police stations
island-wide and the RCyAF base at Ekala were struck in the initial
attacks. Later, the Air Force acquired additional aircraft from the US
and the USSR.
Because of a shortage of funds for military expenditure in the wake of
the 1971 uprising, the No. 4 Helicopter Squadron began operating
commercial transport services for foreign tourists under the name of
Helitours. In 1987 the air force had a total strength of 3,700
personnel, including active reserves. The force had grown gradually
during its early years, reaching a little over 1,000 officers and
recruits in the 1960s. On 31 March 1976, the SLAF was awarded the
President's Colour. That same year SLAF detachments, which later
became SLAF stations, were established at Wirawila, Vavuniya and
Sri Lankan independence movement
^ a b The
Sri Lanka Independence Act 1947 uses the name "Ceylon" for
the new dominion; nowhere does that Act use the term "
Ceylon", which although sometimes used was not the official name.
^ International treaties also referred to the state as "Ceylon", not
Dominion of Ceylon"; "Ceylon" was also the name used by the UN
for the state.
^ Jennings, W. Ivor. Ceylon. JSTOR 2752358.
^ a b Dr. Jane Russell, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore
constitution. Tsiisara Prakasakyo, Dehivala, 1982
^ "Welcome to UTHR, Sri Lanka".
Sri Lanka –
United National Party
United National Party "Majority" Rule, 1948–56".
Countrystudies.us. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
^ "Commonwealth visits since 1952". Official website of the British
monarchy. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
^ Kelegama, Saman (2004). Economic policy in Sri Lanka: Issues and
Debates. SAGE. pp. 207, 208.
^ a b "
Dominion of Ceylon definition of
Dominion of Ceylon in the Free
Online Encyclopedia". Encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved
17 August 2012.
^ "Ceylon Independent, 1948–1956". World History at KMLA. Retrieved
30 March 2010.
^ a b "Sri Lanka : Independent Ceylon (1948–71) – Britannica
Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. 4 February 1948. Retrieved 17
^ a b "WHKMLA : History of Ceylon, 1956–1972". Zum.de.
Retrieved 17 August 2012.
^ "Ceylon's Democracy Faces New Test in Wake of Strife; Ceylon's
Democracy Confronts New Challenge in Wake of Strife". The New York
Times. 13 July 1958. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
^ "Features". Priu.gov.lk. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
Sri Lanka – Land Tenure". Country-data.com. Retrieved 17 August
^ "No Ceylon Devaluation". The New York Times. 8 June 1966. Retrieved
1 May 2010.
Sri Lanka Army".
Sri Lanka Army. Archived from the
original on 26 March 2006. Retrieved 4 February 2006.
^ Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe looks back at the early days of the Sri
^ Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe (2001). "An evolving army and its role
through time". Plus.
^ The Night of April 5th Archived 9 February 2009 at the Wayback
^ Air Attack Archived 8 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
Helitours Archived 18 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
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