5001 Airfield Construction Sqn
by Alistair Currah

At 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 this!
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 January.
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 offloaded.
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.
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