An Elephant towing a fighter aircraft, at Airfield near Kalpitiya.

An Elephant towing a fighter aircraft, near Kalpitiya, Ceylon #IMG253

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An Elephant towing a Corsair (Chance Vought F4U) fighter aircraft, at Airfield near Kalpitiya (Puttalam), Ceylon 1944.

The island of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India, was a strategic bastion commanding the sea routes from Europe to the Far East.

In April 1942 the island had been narrowly saved from invasion by gallantry of Canadian pilot Sqn. Ldr. Leonard Birchall who, flying a Catalina patrolling 250 miles south of Ceylon, sighted a huge Japanese invasion fleet. Under attack from Zero fighters he managed to radio the alarm before being shot down into the Indian Ocean. Alerted, the British forces withstood the heavy air and naval assaults that followed.

As the British expanded operations on the island, the hastily built airstrip of HMS Rajaliya was carved out of dense jungle at Puttalam. The soft grass strip, reinforced with metal. Somerfield tracking, enabled the heavy American-built Chance Vought F4U Corsairs to use the runway, but during the monsoon season the Corsair’s tricky landing characteristics often sent them slithering off into the water-logged ground. It was then that the Navy called in its secret weapon to haul the Corsairs back to firmer ground – The Puttalam Elephants! Operating in conditions where towing tractors became quickly bogged down, the Puttalam Elephants provided an invaluable service, and became much loved by the pilots and ground crews.

Text: Chesterfield Armament “The Puttalam Elephants”

7 thoughts on “An Elephant towing a fighter aircraft, at Airfield near Kalpitiya.

  1. This is interesting!! Aircraft towing by an elephant. Superb!! I would love to see more WW2 photographs related to Ceylon.

  2. oh! I think it`s so difficult to elephant but that men use so little one then it`s more difficult to that

  3. How could I get a high resolution photo of this( IMG #253) for a future aviation history book? Credit will be given and a book will be sent upon publication.

  4. My father, J. W. Cook was an aircraft fitter at HMS Rajaliya in Ceylon during the 2nd world war. I have his service record and medals as well as an oiling and service booklet of a Sikorsky Corsair all marked by WD as Top Secret. I also have a spanner from his toolbox marked 1944. His rank was C.P.O. and he told me that he was in the Merchant Navy. I also have some photo’s of him with some officials which I expect were taken after VJ night.
    I did have a photo of him and his colleagues on VJ night but we had a fire at our house and it was unfortunately destroyed.

  5. My ancestors were the Mudliers of Puttalam at that time. I have heard this story.This elephant was belongs to one of them.The name of the walawwa at that time was “Nandawana Walawwa”

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