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 exasperated 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.

1941

In 1941, as the Second World War continued to rage, the German ship Pingvin captured two Norwegian factory shops, one supply ship, eleven whale catchers and 23,000 tons of whale oil in the Southern Ocean. With whale oil, used to make margarine, essential to war-rationed Britain, the HMS Queen of Bermuda was dispatched to protect the whaling fleet. Whilst there, it visited the whaling station at Deception Island to destroy coal and fuel oil supplies that could be used by the enemy. In February 1942 the Argentine warship Primero de Mayo visited Antarctica to take formal possession of the territory, leaving plaques, flags and records of visits in copper cylinders at sites.

1943

In 1943 the British HMS Carnarvon Castle retaliated by flying British flags, leaving records and removing Argentine records, but in the same year Primero de Mayo returned to replace these British markers with Argentinean. Not wanting to set a precedent that might encourage incursions elsewhere in the Empire, but also not wanting outright conflict with Argentina as the war dragged on, the British launched Operation Tabarin in 1943 to establish a permanent presence in Antarctica. Originally a secret mission, details were shared by the BBC Overseas Service and published in The Times newspaper on 24 April 1944, in which the reasons cited for the Operation were the resumption of scientific and survey work in Antarctica, as well as ‘protecting vital interests and safeguarding the whaling industry’.

Port Lockroy

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

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