The chief claim to fame for Admiral Wannakuwatta Waduge Erwin Clancy Fernando, commander of the Sri Lankan navy from November 1991 to November 1992 AD, was that he was the most senior officer to be assassinated by the separatist LTTE (“Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam”) during their three-decade fight for independence.
Born in 1938, Fernando was educated at the Prince of Wales’ College in Moratuwa, after which he enlisted as a cadet officer in the Royal Ceylon Navy in 1957. Completing basic training, he proceeded to advanced studies at the Britannia Royal Navy College in Dartmouth. In April 1963 he was promoted to lieutenant, after that proceeding steadily if not spectacularly upward through the ranks. Most of his early service was spent on bases at Trincomalee, Tangalle and Karainagar, leavened with the occasional spell at sea. Fernando specialized in communications, and devised the first cryptographic system for the navy. Eventually he was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral and appointed Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy … which consisted of about 50 “ships,” mostly coastal craft purchased from China, Israel and India: patrol boats, gun boats and fast attack craft.
At the time Fernando took command of the navy, the government was locked in a long-running struggle with the Liberation Tigers, which sought to create a separate and independent state for the Tamil people in the northern portion of the island. The admiral moved against the Tamil freedom fighters, making arrangements with the Indian navy for joint patrols along the coastlines, cutting their supply lines across the Palk Strait and Kilali lagoon. Within the year, Fernando was killed by a suicide bomber who drove an explosive-laden motorbike into his staff car on 16 November … killing not only the admiral but his hapless driver and his aide as well.