|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:
'PORT "T" BUILT IN SECRET ON CORAL ISLANDS
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.
The climate was hot and very damp. Flies and mosquitoes 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
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
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.