the Air Ministry, there really wasn't any argument. Both Coetivy Island and
Diego Garcia didn't fit the requirements needed. Coetivy was too far West, privately
owned, and a runway couldn't be built along the desired alignment, and Diego
Garcia was too far South, also privately owned, and was considered too "wild"
for economic development. Also, neither of these sites had the local labour
that would be required in the construction of the base. Addu atoll, and more
specifically Gan, it was to be.
In January 1955, 13 members of the RAF landed by ship on Gan to carry out surveys
of the island, and at Hittadu in the NW of Addu atoll, where signals equipment
was to be erected. The British Government had first wanted to purchase the island
outright, but the religious element of the Maldivian Government, the Majlis,
forbade this. One of the "sweeteners" the British Govt. had offered
was a ship, to help the Maldivians trade among the atolls, but penny pinching
and bureaucratic hot air over the cost had so far seen the proposed ship, basically
a worn out dredger, still tied up in London!
Due to this, the RAF party found that the Maldivian Govt. wasn't quite so inclined
towards the building of the base as they were during "Concubine".
There was angry talk at the Air Ministry. A ship was considered "dirt cheap
at the price", and many considered that Government dithering over how to
(cheaply) obtain permission to use Gan would lead to difficult diplomatic situations
sooner or later. (At present, it is unknown if this ship was ever actually
delivered - Ed.)
The survey party did their work, noting that many islanders had resettled
on Gan. These would have to be re-housed on neighbouring islands, Fedu being
the favourite. This led to yet more angst from the British about the cost of
When everything had settled down, it was time for the RAF to send a reopening
party to Gan to prepare an airstrip for personnel and supplies to be ferried
in. This occurred on 31 January 1957. Previously, the party, 5001 Airfield Construction
Branch led by Flt. Lt. George McNeil had been called from El Adem to Nicosia
for a two day briefing. During this time men were picked and arrangements made
with AHQ Ceylon. Most of the unit left El Adem on 16 January arriving at Negombo
on the 18th. There, 6 months stores and equipment was assembled, and with the
rest of the contingent, set sail from Trincomalee on board HMS Modeste on 27
On the way to Gan, the ship picked up the Maldivian Prime Minister who was going
to explain to the islanders what was going to happen. They arrived off Gan on
the 30th and dropped off the PM. An hour later Flt Lt Mc Neil and Flt Lt Sellers,
the MO, waded ashore from a naval whaler and erected a camp site. All equipment
was offloaded and Modeste sailed away on Feb 1st. The party's main tasks were
to refurbish one of the war time airstrips, construct landing facilities for
ship bourne plant and stores, survey Hittadu, and build a power station and
accommodation for the contractors workforce who were to carry out the permanent
construction of RAF Gan.
Twice weekly, Sunderland's of 205/209 Squadronn, flew in to the lagoon on supply runs.
Basic servicing facilities for these aircraft were established off Hittadu.
Soon, a landing hard was established that allowed heavy plant and fuel to be
By late summer, most of the work was complete and the first aircraft, a Bristol
Freighter of the RNZAF landed on the refurbished strip on 30th August. A regular
service using Valetta's from Ceylon was started on 2nd September. Mid September
saw the disbandment of the Mk 1 Gannets, and they left Gan in the hands of 70
RAF personnel who were to supervise the permanent construction of RAF Gan.