Operation Tabarin

During the Second World War the British Government mounted a secret mission, code-named Operation Tabarin, to establish a permanent presence in Antarctica to assert its territorial claims. This involved the building of the first permanent British bases in Antarctica, and formed the foundations of Britain’s continued involvement in Antarctica for the last seventy years.

Origins

Operation Tabarin had its origins in the territorial tension that had been mounting since the beginning of the 20th Century. Britain’s indifference to the loss of the Scottish Antarctic Expeditions’ meteorological station, built in 1903 and given to Argentina in 1904, led to increasing challenges to Britain’s claims of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands Territories. This had been exacerbated as the whaling industry took off in Antarctica, when Britain had begun charging for whaling licences to the dismay of Argentina and leading to several Argentinean diplomatic notes being sent to Britain asserting their territorial claims in the area.

UK Preparations

Operation Tabarin was led by Lieutenant James Marr, who accompanied Sir Ernest Shackleton on his Quest expedition of 1921-22. Determined to make the most of this naval operation, Marr recruited scientists from the armed forces to expand on research that had been carried out in Antarctica before the war, mainly in survey, biology, geology and meteorology, and formed the 14-man expedition team that was to set off for Antarctica. HMS Bransfield left Tilbury in November 1943, but the ship had to be abandoned at Falmouth. However thanks to the Highland Monarch, a luxury passenger liner now transporting troops to the Falkland Islands, the expedition finally set sail on 14 December and arrived at Stanley in the Falkland Islands on 26 January 1944.

Deception Island and Port Lockroy

Leaving the Falkland Islands on 29 January aboard two ships, the William Scoresby and Fitzroy, they arrived at Deception Island on 3 February. Finding the abandoned Magistrates building and two of the whaler’s dormitories still habitable, the unloading of supplies and setting up of Base B began immediately. By 6 February, all supplies were unloaded and, with additional material from the abandoned whaler’s station loaded onboard, the ships left the five man team and set off for Hope Bay.

Hope Bay

By the end of 1944, plans to establish the main base of operations at Hope Bay early in 1945 were well underway, with Marr now also planning to establish a base on Stonington Island after assisting Taylor, who would be Base Leader, with the setup up of Hope Bay. In addition, the Scoresby and Fitzroy would seek to establish an unmanned base at Sandjefjord Bay. On 3 February 1945 the Scoresby arrived at Port Lockroy carrying the new base team, and stores and men bound for Hope Bay and Stonington Island were loaded onboard.

The End of the War

On 14 January 1946, after a frustrating and ill-informed wait, the men were unexpectedly relieved and, after loading up themselves and their supplies, and leaving members of the new team to settle in, arrived at Deception Island the next day. By 16 January they were back at Port Lockroy to relieve the team there, and left the next day with stores including penguins bound for London Zoo. On 21 January 1946 the men arrived back in the Falkland Islands, and by 11 February were on their way back to Britain. On arrival in London on 9 March 1946, and with their request for a salary advance ignored, three of the men with no friends or family in London were forced to sleep rough that first night. With little mention made of their return, the men submitted their reports and then went their separate ways.

Operation Tabarin Expedition Members

The proud lists of names who carried out Operation Tabarin

A letter never sent...

Discover one of Operation Tabarin's fascinating artefacts.

Port Lockroy

Find out more about Port Lockroy and the work carried out there.

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