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Secret Port T on Addu atoll Maldives 1945

The following article was printed in the GIP at the latter end of 1970 and will serve as a comparison with Gan and Addu Atoll today. At that time a W.O. Bradley was serving on the island, and as a result of a Public Relations Officer' visit, W.O. Bradley' s local paper in Shrewsbury published a picture and account of Gan and Hittadu.

A Major Manners M.B.E, read this article in Shrewsbury. He contacted W.O. Bradley's wife because in 1942-4 he had been the Communications Officer on the original survey of Gan. W.O. Bradley was then able to meet Major Manners whilst on U.K. leave. Major Manners had kept a copy of an article which appeared in the Times in I945 and he kindly arranged for his daughter to make a photostat copy of this. W.0. Bradley was then able to return to Gan with the article which follows:

The Times, 1945
The story of 'Port T', a complete naval base hacked out of the jungle on Addu Atoll, a collection of waterless coral islets in the Indian Ocean, 500 miles from Colombo and 3,000 from Australia, is revealed by the Admiralty today.

Britain was planning this secret fleet anchorage while the Japanese were still preparing for the attack on Pearl Harbour. Like the Mulberry, Pluto and Fido, 'Port T' was always known by its code name. Absolute secrecy was essential, for this port was a vital link in the convoy route to Australia and for certain operations in the Indian Ocean.

In September 1941, the Royal Marines went ashore to establish coastal batteries, searchlights, signal towers, roads, camps and jetties for a naval base. The price they paid was heavy. Twenty three per cent of the whole force had to be evacuated in the first three months as too ill to be of any further service, and by the time Japan declared war the base was ready, and on January 3rd 1 942, four months after the Marines had landed, the first convoy of five troopships, escorted by the cruiser Emerald, put in to water and refuel. When the first Royal Marine Coast Regiment and a Landing and Maintenance Company, under the command of Lt. Col V. B. F. Lukis (now Major General), reached Addu Atoll they were faced with virgin jungle, and with the great swells of the Indian Ocean breaking in perpetual surf on the coral reef. Palms towered above the islands, themselves only a few feet above sea level.

Low Resistance
The climate was hot and very damp. Flies and mosquitos and rats were very plentiful. Practically every drop of water had to be shipped to the atoll and landed across the beach. Supplies were seldom sufficient to allow for washing.

The Royal Marines soon found that every small scratch immediately turned septic and developed into an ulcer that refused to yield to treatment. The humid climate favoured the growth of micro-organisms that ate the skin from the flesh, while the diet of dry or tinned food with no green vegetables or fresh fruit reduced a man' s resistance to infections.

Soon a form of scrub typhus, born of the rats and their parasites broke out. While working, a man would suddenly full unconscious without having previously complained of sickness. A violent fever followed for 14 days, leaving the victim weak and debilitated. Malaria appeared in malignant form, but never became a serious menace owing to stringent anti malarial precautions.

Another problem was the rapid deterioration of tinned food that caused the quartermaster great anxiety and gave rise to the occasional case of food poisoning. But in spite of the enormous difficulties, first landing places were improved by blasting away the coral, then sites cleared in the jungle for camps.

Roadways to take heavy guns and equipment had to be cut through the scrub to the battery sites before the work of gun-mounting could begin. The natives were timid and easily amused, They were willing to help but were incapable of heavy work and could do little but aid in stripping vegetation.

Giant Land Crabs
The programme required the guns to be mounted in 6 weeks and in 6 weeks to the day the batteries fired their proof rounds, but not before the Devon and Kent batteries of the Royal Marine Coast Regiment working on neighbouring atolls, had been reduced by sickness to fewer than 50 men apiece.

On Hittadu, the four mile roadway from landing place to battery site had to be laid across a swamp infested by giant land crabs. The major in command stripped and led his men thigh deep into the black foul-smelling mud to lay foundations with palm fronds lashed into bundles. Another road was entirely built by a corporal and six marines continuously at work for two months. They used coral as the hard core with a top dressing of earth and sand.Yet, despite all the difficulties, by December 8, when news of Japan' s entry into the war reached the island, the anchorage was already in a state of defence; only camouflaging, administrative installations and the completion of the war signal station remained to be done.

The linking of the island batteries by telephone and submarine cable was handicapped by a mad native girl who, at night, persistently cut the cables when they were laid.

When later in the year when marines of the landing party returned to Addu Atoll with a company of Royal Marine Engineers to build an aerodrome, they witnessed the most stirring sight in the history of the islands, they saw the Queen Mary, carrying home Australian troops from the Middle East, steam into the anchorage they had built.

Gan is just one of the two thousand Maldivian Islands; these are set on 12 Atolls, but for administration purposes they group into 18. Out of the 2,000, only 220 of them are inhabited, the Capital being Male. Male holds one tenth of the total population with 10,000 Maldies living on it - quite amazing considering that the Capital is only 1 mile long by ½ mile wide.

Britain first made contact with the Islands in 1887 by means of a letter from the Governor of Ceylon, representing the Crown. Since then many expeditions have visited Gan and in 1941 plans were laid to make use of Gan for the purpose of the shore based 'Fleet Air Arm Squadron, this being under Naval-control. By early 1942, work was started on the first airfield by the Royal Engineer Company Army Units and the help of the Maldivians. By late 1942 the first runway was complete, this running NW/SE and being 1,600 yards long. Not long after the second runway was completed, this one being slightly shorter, 1,200 yards and running NE/SW. A third strip was held up due to 1ack of rollers.

The construction of the airfield took some hard work and it was mostly hand laid. First came the job of removing the top layer of loose soil and 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. All this was done by hand - it must have been tough for the Gannites of that period, but it was not in vain as the result was a hard, even surface end could take the landing of a fully loaded Liberator, no better. One problem did occur, though, and that was the tail skids of the A.S.R. Walrus and to overcome this, work was started in March on a strip 500 yards long by 30 feet wide of packed earth. By July it was completed end the problem ceased from then on.

Gan proved to be of great value during the War, as the Japanese had now over-run Burma and Malaya and at this time were also threatening India and Ceylon. Yet things were not quiet on Gan either, the Maldivians were re-housed on Fedu and Maradu and Gan was stripped of its mass of palm trees and scrub to be replaced by guns. Within time, though, the Japanese were slowly pushed back in Malaya and Gan came to be of less importance and slowly the Atoll was once again left in peace.

The year 1957 brought the British back to this Paradise Island, this time with a slightly longer lease, a 30 year one. It took several years before a firm agreement was reached by the Government and during this time the Islands witnessed an uprising by some of the Adduans, which started on the 1st of June, 1959. The reason for the uprising was general dissatisfaction over Government policies, particularly over taxation, the channelling of all trade through Male and fears that the Government wished to restrict the Adduans working for the R.A.F. This problem was solved though, and life settled down to a happy pace. We have in the past 15 years helped to give the Maldivians a more balanced diet and through our advanced Medical science, the population of this Atoll is now 12,000. In 1957 it was a mere 6000 which meant a 100% increase in the populace.

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