Operation Tabarin was a World War II military undertaking by the Admiralty and the Colonial Office in 1943 to establish a permanent British presence in the Antarctic. The bases built were the first ever to be constructed in Antarctica.
There have been several reasons cited for "Tabarin". Prior to the start of the war, German aircraft had dropped markers with swastikas across Queen Maud Land in an attempt to create a territorial claim (see New Swabia). In 1943, British personnel from HMS Carnarvon Castle removed Argentine flags from Deception Island. There were also concerns within the Foreign Office about the direction of United States post-war activity in the region. So the chief reason was to establish solid British claims to various uninhabited islands and parts of Antarctica, reinforced by Argentine sympathies toward Germany.
A suitable cover story was the need to deny use of the area to the enemy. The German Navy was known to use remote islands as rendezvous points and as shelters for commerce raiders, U-boats and supply ships. Also, in 1941, there existed a fear that Japan might attempt to seize the Falkland Islands, either as a base or to hand them over to Argentina, thus gaining political advantage for the Axis and denying their use to Britain. Deception Island, in the British South Shetland Islands, possessed a sheltered anchorage with an old Norwegian whaling station. In 1941, the British (aboard HMS Queen of Bermuda) had taken the precaution of destroying coal dumps and oil tanks there, to prevent their possible use by the Germans.
It has also been suggested that the operation may have partially been a disinformation exercise, nominally to detect suspected German naval replenishment activity - information which was, in fact, being obtained from the cracking of the Enigma machine.
Led by Lieutenant James Marr, the 14-strong team left the Falkland Islands in two ships, HMS William Scoresby (a minesweeping trawler) and Fitzroy, on Saturday, 29 January 1944. Marr had accompanied the British explorer Ernest Shackleton on his Antarctic expeditions in the 1920s.
Bases were established during February near the abandoned Norwegian whaling station on Deception Island, where the Union Flag was hoisted in place of Argentine flags, and at Port Lockroy (on 11 February) on the coast of Graham Land. A further base was founded at Hope Bay on 13 February 1945, after a failed attempt to unload stores on 7 February 1944.
Operation Tabarin's doctor was Dr. Eric Back. He acted as the expedition meteorologist and set up the first weather station on the Antarctic continent at Port Lockroy. These data are now considered as the base readings for global warming. He was awarded the Polar Medal in 1944–45.
The following men were also part of the expedition:Andrew Taylor
Gwion "Taff" Davies
John Eliot Tonkin
The decision to launch Tabarin was not, apparently, a political decision. Winston Churchill was out of the country and a memo from him, following news of the bases in the press, also indicates that he was apparently unaware of the decision. In it, he expresses concern that the move may harm relations with the United States during the preparations for Operation Overlord, the coming invasion of Normandy in June 1944. A reply from the Foreign Office indicated that the operation was launched not because the US had failed to recognise British claims to the territory, but to reassert British territorial claims against Argentine and Chilean incursion.
Operation Tabarin provoked Chile to organize its First Chilean Antarctic Expedition in 1947–48. Among other accomplishments, it brought the Chilean president Gabriel González Videla to personally inaugurate one of its bases, thereby becoming the first head of state to set foot on the continent.
Following the end of the war in 1945, the bases were handed over to civilian members of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), subsequently renamed the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in 1962.
The ownership of the region is in abeyance. British, Argentine, and Chilean claims to the islands have been put to one side to allow scientific research to continue. The United States and Russia have reserved their right to make territorial claims.