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A bit of Gan history

Seenu Atoll or Addu is the southernmost atoll of the Republic of Maldives. Only six of the islands in the Atoll are inhabited and they are Meedhoo, Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Feydhoo, Gan, and Hulhudhoo with the total population just over 28,000.

The dialect of the Dhivehi language spoken in this atoll is very different from the rest of the country. Most of the employees who had experience working for westerners and who spoke good English had turned to the tourism industry for employment. As a result, there was an influx of Addu people to Malé seeking employment in the nearby resorts and also looking for education to their children.

The Royal Navy established a base ("Port T") - later RAF Gan from 1957 - on the island of Gan (pronounced “Yahn”) in 1941, during World War II. During the Cold War it was used as an outpost.

The original naval base was established as a fall-back for the British Eastern Fleet. Despite public pronouncements to the contrary, the official view was that the main base at Singapore would be untenable if the Japanese made serious headway in Malaya and Java - which, in the event, is what happened in 1942. The intention had been to operate from Trincomalee, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Upon inspection, however, the naval commander-in-chief, Admiral James Somerville found the port inadequate, vulnerable to a determined attack and open to spying. An isolated island base with a safe, deep anchorage in a suitably strategic position was required, and Addu met the rquirements. Once available, its facilities were used extensively by the Fleet.

Royal Navy engineers landed in August 1941 from HMS Guardian to clear and construct airstrips on Gan for the Fleet Air Arm. In the interim, Catalina and Sunderland flying boats operated from jetties on the northern, sheltered side of Gan. Large oil tanks were built on Gan, and on Hitaddu Island on the western edge of the atoll; vital elements for a naval base. These were visible from a long distances at sea, but this was unavoidable, given the atoll's low profile.

Ship's supplies for the fleet were provided from a pair of Australian refrigerated ships, Changte and Taiping that included Attu in a number of bases that they serviced regularly. Three times these ships replenished forty or more ships of the Eastern Fleet. Several large Australian Imperial Force troop convoys also refueled at Addu on their way from Aden to Fremantle, Western Australia.

The six major islands were garrisoned by the 1st Royal Marine Coast Defence Regiment, manning shore batteries and anti-aircraft guns. To facilitate the defence, causeways were built connecting the western islands of Gan, Eyehook, Maradhoo and Hithadhoo and, much later in the war, they were linked by a light railway. Attu was an unpopular posting due to the hot, humid climate, lack of recreational facilities and lack of socialising with the local population.

The Japanese remained unaware of the base’s existence until their plans for expansion in south-east Asia had come to nothing, even during their carrier raids in the Indian Ocean in April 1942. Later in the war, submarine reconnaissance established the base’s existence. Despite openings into the lagoon being permanently closed by anti-submarine nets, the German U-boat U-183 torpedoed the tanker British Loyalty in March 1944 (she had been previously torpedoed and sunk at Diego Suarez); it was an impressive long-range shot from outside the atoll through a gap in the anti-torpedo nets. Although seriously damaged, the tanker did not sink. She was not fully repaired but kept as a Ministry of War Transport Oil Fuel Storage Vessel. There was significant oil pollution after this incident and Brtish personnel were used to clean the lagoon.

On 5th January 1946, British Loyalty was scuttled southeast of Hithadhoo Island in the Addu Atoll lagoon. After some years of leaking oil, she has become a popular dive location.

In 1957, the naval base was transferred to the Royal Air Force. As RAF Gan, it remained in intermittent service until 1976, when British Forces withdrew.