Latitude 41' 29"S Longitude 73° 09' 22"E

   
ACQUISITION Purpose built for the Admiralty.

 

COMMISSIONED

06.03.1943 on 'Books of HAITAN'

01.02.1944 on 'Books of MARAGA'

 

CLOSED Construction suspended 06.01.44

 

PAID OFF

20.03.1945 Station to C & M status.

   
C.O./O.I.C. Cdr. (A) (P) H. L. McCulloch Dec 1942 - June 1944
   
FUNCTION Accommodation for disembarked Fighter Squadrons. (24 A/C)

Available as fuelling stop for R.A.F. long-range aircraft.


Accommodation is limited to two squadrons, who should provide their own servicing personnel, for periods of about 18 hours.

 

ADDRESS R.N. Air Station

Addu Atoll [1]

 

LOCALITY

The airfield is situated on Gan Island, the southernmost of the Addu Atoll Group, and lies 608 miles SW. of Colombo.

 

LANDMARKS The runways ore conspicuous. The islands of the atoll form an upright U.

 

ROAD AND RAIL ACCESS Service vessels only.
   
   
CONTROL Control Building 150 yds W. of the runway intersection.

 

ELEVATION  6' above M.S.L.

 

RUNWAYS Two, Coral macadam with a foundation of r consolidated coral. All weather.


03/21 QDM. 027° -207° .... 1,000 x 50 yds.

15/33 QDM. 148° -328° .... 1,650 x 50 yds. 

 

A third runway (1,000 x 50yds. extending E, from the SW. end of runway 03/21 has been completed for use as a taxiway only.

 

TRACKS 40' perimeter track.

 

OBSTRUCTIONS Navigation None.
Circuit  
Approach There are a number of trees on the island, but these have been cleared int the approaches to the runways.

 

APPROACH No special approach recommended.

 

WIND INDICATOR Two windsocks, W. of the runway intersection and at NW end of runway 15/33.
   
   
HOMING - VISUAL By day None.
By night None.

 

HOMING--RADIO D/F H/F.
Beacons M/F

 

APPROACH - VISUAL By day None.
By night Glim lamps available.

 

APPROACH - RADIO  

 

COMMUNICATION EQUIPMENT M/F & H/F 8 transmitters, 8 receivers.
VH/F None.
   
GROUND RADAR None.

   
   
ACCOMMODATION Living quarters in NW. corner of the island.

 

Capacity:

Officers: 30
Chiefs, P.O.s and ratings: 110

Accommodation site for a tented camp for the disembarked squadrons, adjacent E. of R.N.A.S. camp.

 

ARMOURIES  

None.

COMPASS BASE One, diameter 70' off perimeter track N. of Control Building.

 

DISPERSAL Plans provided for 8 camouflaged and 16 other A/c. standings. Work on these was 50% complete in March, 1944.

 

HANGARS None. There is one thatched shelter situated on the NE. side of rummy 15/33, capable of housing a folded Walrus.

 

MEDICAL

Sick Bay in R.N.A.S. camp.

 

METEOROLOGICAL Air Ministry provide facilities; full service by Naval personnel will be provided later.
Met. balloon S. of broad taxi-way; office in Control Building.

 

FUEL AND OIL
Aviation: 22,000 gallons in prepared dumps.
M/T: 22,000 gallons in two tanks
Oil : Drum storage; normal stock. t known.
   
TEST BASE Not known.

 

TEST BUTT Not known.

 

WORKSHOPS None.

 

   
EXPLOSIVES Explosives area sited only.

 

BOMBING AND FIRING RANGES None.
   

house.
The information held regarding this Station is incomplete. Originally planned to provide all facilities, certain details have been abandoned.
(2) An emergency landing strip built of consolidated earth and running 800 x 50 yd., N/S. lies on Bender, an island on the E. side of the atoll and 6 miles NE. of the airfield.
(3) An R.A.F. Advanced Base for flying boats is situated at Hittadu, the NW. island of the Atoll dished 7 miles NW. There are limited facilities which include 6 mooring buoys.

   
   
Information taken from CB 4368 B. Admiralty Handbook of Naval Air Stations Aug. 45


 

List of first and second line squadrons, station flight and other flying units based at this location

 
  No squadrons are recovered as using this station.
Station Flight Walrus L2321 was operational on the station as the station hack  Feb 1943 to late 1944.
HMS GAMBIA ship's  Flight The first aircraft to land on the Islands newly constructed runways was Walrus W2779.

 

 

The RN Air Station was located on the Island of Gan, the southernmost of the Addu Atoll Group, and lies 608 miles SW. of Colombo.

Secret Bases

Early in the Second World War the threat posed from the Japanese military push into Malaya and the Indian Ocean, prompted the Admiralty to plan for the relocation of the Eastern Fleet to a fall back safe harbour. In 1941 the Royal Navy began searching for a safe, deep anchorage, in a suitably strategic position in the Indian Ocean, where a naval base could be established. Addu met the requirements and a reconnaissance party consisting of Fleet Air Arm, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and Royal Navy personnel under the command of Lieutenant Colonel W. B. F. Lukis, Royal Marines, was dispatched from Ceylon to the Islands in the strictest secrecy aboard HMS Glasgow.

Permission to establish base facilities on the Islands was granted and work began in August 1941 to secretly develop a fleet anchorage and base known as "Port T”. A group of 150 Royal Marine engineers under the command of Colonel Jones were landed in Villingili from HMS GUARDIAN to establish coastal batteries, searchlights, signal towers, roads, camps and jetties. An airfield was planned for use by the middle of May 1942 and the Island of Gan, approximately 1½ mile long by ¾ mile wide, was chosen as the location. The residents of Gan and the adjacent Island of Feydhoo were moved to the Maamendhoo area of Hithadhoo.


Work begins on an airfield

Port ‘T’ was sufficiently complete to begin operations by January 1942 but preliminary work on the airfield site was stopped in April, the only work done to this point was to peg and mark the centre of what was to be the main East/West runway and the shorter Northeast/Southwest runway. This delay may have been due to manpower shortages through illness; many of the engineers fell victim to the medical problems that commonly befell Europeans in the tropical conditions. On February 22nd 1942 HMS HAITAN arrived at Addu Atoll to assume duties as base ship, all personnel assigned to facilities on the Atoll were now carried on her accounts.

In June the airfield site, which at that time consisted of a natural clearing about a mile long and 800 yards wide in the middle of a coconut plantation, was visited by Flag Officer Eastern Fleet (F.O.E.F.). Although the natural clearing existed a considerable amount of scrub and undergrowth covered the whole area; the sub-soil also appears to have been very soft and spongy, which necessitated special construction techniques for constructing the runways. As a result of the visit by F.O.E.F. work resumed in July 1942 when more Royal Marine Engineers arrived to clear the site and build three runways and taxiways.

The runways were mostly hand laid, it was estimated that 1000 Indian labourers were needed for the task, these being housed in tents and temporary huts on the Island, The first stage involved removing the top layer of loose soil then a minimum of 12 inches of lump coral was put down; then came 6 inches of 2 inch coral, this being covered with sand and coral dust and after this was well rolled and watered, a final layer of pea coral was spread over. The result was a hard, even surface end could take the landing of a fully loaded Liberator.

In late December 1942 Commander (A) (P) H. L. McCulloch was appointed as commanding officer R.N.A.S. Gan [1] He was joined by Lt. Commander (A) (P) L. Gilbert RNVR in January 1943 as Lieutenant Commander, Flying and Sub- Lieutenant (A) J. G. Wetherspoon RNVR in February for control duties. This nebulous complement was on site when the first runway was complete in February, this running NW/SE and being 1,650 yards long, also the Western and Southern taxiways had been completed; these were successfully tested by H.M.S. GAMBIA's Walrus. Not long after the second runway was completed, this one being slightly shorter, 1,000 yards and running NE/SW. Construction of the third runway was held up due to lack of rollers and by July 1943 had been cancelled, the part finished strip being used as a taxi track instead. Work was started in March on an emergency landing strip built of consolidated earth and running 800 x 50 yd., N/S. on Bender, an island on the E. side of the atoll, 6 miles NE. of the airfield. This was completed by July.


Surplus to requirements

Despite its rapid expansion to be ready as an alternate Fleet Anchorage against the possibility that the Eastern Fleet would need to withdraw from its primary bases, when that eventuality did occur in May 1942, the Eastern Fleet withdrew to Kilindini instead. Addu Atoll's importance was to wane accordingly; from the middle of 1943 it became clear that it was very unlikely that Port T would be needed as a major fleet anchorage or a main servicing base. The naval air station was also surplus to requirements and construction work was suspended in January 1944. On February 1st The whole of the ADDU Atoll naval facility was commissioned as HMS MARAGA .

The station was designed to provide minimal facilities for up to 24 aircraft for short periods of time; there were no hangars, but one thatched shelter situated on the NE. side of runway 15/33 was erected, housing the station flight Walrus with its wings folded. Walrus L2321 arrived on the Island in late February 1943; this was the only permanent aircraft on the station. Disembarked aircraft were parked in the open, and visiting squadrons had to disembark their own maintenance personnel who were accommodated in a tented camp. There was a Torpedo workshop planned [2] but this may not have been completed. There is no record of any Fleet Air Arm squadrons making use of the facility; however the Addu Atoll base was visited by both Fleet Carriers and Escort Carriers during the period it was operational, so individual aircraft may well have been put ashore.


RAF detachments operate from RNAS Gan

RAF Liberators from 160 Squadron occasionally stopped off at the air station, the first time was in July 1943; Liberator “W” made a round trip to Gan from RAF Ratmalana on the 23rd, possibly to assess the suitability of the airstrip for a temporary base of operations for this aircraft type. A second Liberator,"N" BZ752, arrived at Gan on October 13th from RAF Sigiriya carrying 12 250 lb. Depth charges, and a ground crew of 14. They took off for an anti-submarine patrol at 17:10 on the 14th, presumably to return to Sigiriya. The RAF did not return until July 1944 when three Liberators, "D" FL969 ,"N" BZ752 and "F" FL991 arrived from RAF Sigiriya on the 4th; they were conducting a large submarine hunt and landed on at RNAS Gan for an overnight stop and to refuel, all three aircraft departed on patrol enroute to Sigiriya the following day. On September 5th "D" FL969 and "N" BZ752 arrive from 160 squadron’s new base at RAF Kankesanturai with maintenance personnel and spare aircrew to establish a detachment to operate from RNAS Gan; Liberator "L" BZ825 joined them on the 6th. The detachment was withdrawn on September 21st.

The Naval Air Station was never intended to operate multi engine aircraft although the runway was capable of receiving the heavy bombers the limited facilities on site struggled to meet their needs. Aviation fuel supply was a big problem, although listed as carrying 22,000 gallons the maximum actually available when the RAF detachment arrived was 6,000 gallons; in order to complete the six sorties planned, at least 13,000 would be needed. On one occasion when fuel was low, 2,7000 gallons was carried in four gallon cans, at night, from a Carrier which was at anchor in the harbour. The refuelling bowser was also not up to the task, being much too small. The bowser pump broke down twice necessitating the removal of bomb-bay pumps from a grounded Liberator for refuelling purposes. Again, all fuel had to be transported in four gallon cans.

Two other areas of concern were the stations M/F beacon and night flying arrangements. The Liberators repeatedly failed to locate the beacon which it was discovered was being overpowered by another much stronger signal, later identified as Karachi, and when transmitting this gave a false heading. A temporary solution was found, the liaison transmitter in one of the aircraft on the ground was used for this purpose, using the same frequency and call sign. Liberator ‘N’ returning to Gan on the 10th received this signal and homed from over eighty miles. The RAF aircrews found that he very well shielded glim lamps in use for night landings, were totally inadequate for large aircraft, especially in bad weather conditions.

At 07:30 on the 11th the only known flying incident at RNAS Gan occurred; Liberator "D" FL969, on approach to the strip returning from an Anti-Submarine Sweep, struck a marine target installed by the Army for gunnery practice tearing away portions of the bomb doors and cat-walk. However, no serious damage was done and the Aircraft made a successful landing. This was the last aircraft of the detachment to leave for RAF Ratmalana, departing at 12:30 on the 21st after temporary repairs were made.

Because the station never fully commissioned the crew complement of 30 officers and 110 other ranks was never filled, at its peak in late 1943 there were only 6 officers appointed together with a small number of non-commissioned personnel for station duties., After the departure of the RAF Liberators the facility was open for emergency use only until being reduced to Care and Maintenance status on March 29th 1945. HMS MARAGA paid off on February 28th 1946 the facilities being redesignated as a refuelling facility and RAF observation centre.


Post War military use

The airfield and former Port T remained virtually unused until January 1955 when 13 members of the Royal Air Force arrived 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. In 1957 the Royal Navy transferred the airfield into the control of the Royal Air Force for redevelopment as a staging post on the empire reinforcement route between its bases in the Middle East and Far East. Plans were drawn up for a single runway of 2898 yards, spanning the full length of the island running East/West, together with technical facilities and domestic accommodation for around 500 personnel. An advance party of 5001 Airfield Construction Squadron arrived off Gan abroad HMS MODESTE at the end of January 1957 and began to refurbish the wartime landing strip; nearly 11,000 trees needed to be cleared, by August the runway was able to receive its first aircraft. The work of building the new airfield was to take two years and was undertaken by Messrs Richard Costain.


Civilian use

Gan Island was handed back to the Maldivian Government on April 1st 1976. Used initially for domestic airline traffic the field was elevated to International Airport status in 2008.

 


 

Notes:

[1] The airfield is referred to as RNAS Addu Atoll in the Admiralty Handbook of Naval Air Stations Aug. 45 (CB 4368 B.) and in Admiralty Fleet Orders, but as R.N.A.S. Gan in the Navy lists

[2] A torpedo workshop is explicitly mentioned in Admiralty Fleet Order 1727/43.


 

 

Click here for a list of Primary sources


Additional sources:
Report of Proceedings of Eastern Fleet 5th June to 1st July 1942, Defences at Addu

Eastern Fleet War Diary, February 1943

Article: Now It Can Be Told! - How Royal Marines Hacked a Base From Jungle; The War Illustrated, Volume 9, No. 214, Page 268-269, August 31, 1945.

Article: Secret Port T on Addu atoll, Maldives 1945 www.maldivesculture.com accessed 08 April 2016

Article: Seenu Atoll History www.maldivesholidayhomes.com accessed 08 April 2016

Jackson. A., (2006) ‘The British Empire and the Second World War‘ London, Bloomsbury Academic

Web site: 160 Squadron RAF Downloaded PDFs of squadron activities for 1943.44. Site accessed 12 April 2016

 

Admiralty Fleet Orders:

1727/43.—Tanks for 18-in. Duplex Pistols

 

Confidential Admiralty Fleet Orders:

C.A.F.O. 2451/44 R.N. Air Establishments Overseas

 

Content last modified: 13 April 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gan seen post war, the layout of the RN Air Station can be clearly seen.

 

 

 

 

© 2013 Tony Drury www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk


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