An Attack on the  Portuguese Stockade in Colombo

The Situation;1520  Oct.-The Portuguese sets up a stockade in Colombo. De Brito the Portuguese Commander makes a surprise attack with 150 soldiers and loots Colombo. The Sinhalese from Kotte surrounds the fort and slowly advance and faces Cannon fire for the first time. They make entrenchments and step by step move forward and gets closer to the stockade. Earth works were thrown up and on these were mounted several hundred machine that fire stones and darts [ten palms in length with feathers made of wild boar hides]. The distance fired was 200 paces. Other machines  threw fire bombs that set fire to thatched houses inside the stockade. Two bastions  were made of Coconut trees by the Sinhalese to observe and fire at the stockade . To ease the constant threat   the Portuguese made several night attacks to destroy these. The Sinhalese kept up the pressure for six month and was on verge of victory when the Portuguese  ships arrived from Goa. The fire from ships  was directed from the rear while those in the stockade attacked  and the Sinhalese army had to with draw.

The enemy originally had 80 Portuguese and 200 Nair[ Mercenaries from India, the finest warriors], subsequently many more reinforcement arrived from Cochin, with many ships and Cannons etc which could move freely between the present Galle face and Mutuwal.

The Port of Colombo with the Portuguese Stockade.

The Port of Colombo with the Portuguese Stockade.

Terrain: See attached Map of Colombo.The Map of the original Stockade or the Portuguese Fort, but the scale could be discerned by a survey,

Own Troops;
A Sinhala warrior named Proytela Rala volunteered to recapture the stockade with 2000 foot soldiers, 150 cavalry and 25 war elephants.The Ratio of Elephant to  Horse to number of foot soldiers  is  1: 6 : 80 according to these figure used by Proytela rala. If the basic rules of this ancient organisation were was followed up to the 15 cent or not we dont know yet.

An Elephant based Battle array, supported by 6 Cavalry and 80 .Foot Soldiers.

An Elephant based Battle array, supported by 6 Cavalry and 80 .Foot Soldiers.

Since this is the only organisation which we can work on, perhaps we could speculate the basic organisation to be as above, which is not very different to those used in ancient days , but perhaps modified to suit the situation as appreciated by Proyatela Rala.

History on Organisation of Ancient Armies.

The organisation of ancient basic  fighting unit and  minimum basic battle formations as recorded in ancient Books on military organisation/tactics.[ which according to the ancient text Mahavamsa. This book  the Arthasastra was studied by our Kings Vijayabah and Parkramabahu etc as mentioned in chater64 verse 3 and Chapter 70 verse 56. This book suggest various basic organisation for battle for the four fold armies[the lephant, Horse, Chariot and Foot ].

The Basic Elephant Battle Unit.

Basic Elephant Array. Each  elephant Mounted Warrior is supported by 5 Cavalrymen, who in turn is supported by Five Armed Infantrymen.

Basic Elephant Unit. Each elephant Mounted Warrior is supported by 5 Cavalrymen, who in turn is supported by Five Armed Infantrymen.

Perhaps for Command and control ,it has been  recommended in the ancient book, that 9 basic Elephant Units  be placed in a in three rows of basic elephants Unit. In close order the space between two is recommended as 79.5 cm and open order to be 6.75 m.

A Basic recommended Battle Array of 9 x Elephant Units.

A Basic recommended Battle Array of 9 x Elephant Units.

The Basic Minimum Array suggested in Arthasastra  was 9 elephants ,the 45 Mounted Soldiers and 270 Foot Soldiers. The Basic recommended for Battle is five of these basic arrays  and the Centre unit supported by the two flanks and two wings. The distance between these arrays are also given[ and the possible deployment is also shown]. They have suggested different Battle array for different situations and terrain and enemy strength and organizations. Of course the elephants and Chariots may be interchanged. But as no Chariots were used by Proytela Rala. The Ratio of Elephants to Cavalry and Foot Soldiers  recommended subject to alteration was 1: 5 : 30.

The Arthasatra discusses Balanced and and unbalanced formations and describes largest formations of 21 Elephant or Chariots in each rows of each fformation of 315 Elephants, 1575  mounted Warriors and 10,000 Foot Soldiers.  This is an interesting figure and adds upto what King Dutugemunu [ or king Kavantissa mobilisation of 11,110 troops in preparation for the liberation of the Rajarata. The book speaks of Pure and mixed Formations. The modes of attack- four basic types and having 18 sub- types of attack methods available to the Commander.

How the Sihala Army was deployed in Colombo, would have depended on the frontage of the fort, and perhaps guarding of the flanks and wing It would be an interesting exercize to know  how these Elephants, cavalry and the foot was deployed?.

The Basic suggested battle Formation was

The Basic suggested battle Formation was

The End Result

The Portuguese came out to fight but turned to flee, but rallied when the fire of muskets/ cannons hurt the Elephants who  ran amok, trampling their own men,  the Portuguese took this opportunity to counter attack  and pursed them . The Sinhalese fought with great gallantry under the eyes of their King, despite many casualties. 


The organisation of the Sinhala Armies to face the new threats of Firearms and Cannons etc is described by Capt MNC de Silva CA. in Sinhala Army during the Portuguese, Duthch and he English.



  1. This is quite interesting. I like to get all the flags and coins with elephants. I do not have a website. please email me

    • Many flags of ancient Sri lanka may have the Elephant. But many ancient and modern coins have the Elephant symbol on them. Please go to blog and look under coins. Over 8 ancient coins types before 100 AD had the elephant, the British too had the elephant The Elephant was a popular symbol of the ancient silver pieces 400 – 100 BC found in the Island.

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