Polar Record

Research Article

From Scotia to ‘Operation Tabarin’: developing British policy for Antarctica

John R. Dudeneya1 and David W.H. Waltona2

a1 10 Church Lane, Wilburton, Cambridgeshire, CB6 3RQ

a2 British Antarctic Survey, NERC, Madingley Road, Cambridgeshire, CB3 0ET (dwhw@bas.ac.uk)

ABSTRACT

The roots of a British Antarctic policy can be traced, paradoxically, back to the establishment of a meteorological station by the Scottish Antarctic Expedition in the South Orkneys, in 1903, and the indifference of the British Government to its almost immediate transfer to the Argentine Government. It was from that modest physical presence upon Laurie Island that Argentina came increasingly to challenge British claims to the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands Dependencies (FID), first in the late 1920s and then more extensively in the second world war. This challenge shaped British policy for the next forty years, with further complications caused by overlapping territorial claims made by Chile and the possible territorial ambitions of the USA. Britain's eventual response, at the height of World War II, was to establish permanent occupation of Antarctica from the southern summer of 1943–1944. This occupation was given the military codename Operation Tabarin. However, it was never a military operation as such, although monitoring the activities of enemy surface raiders and submarines provided a convenient cover story, as did scientific research once the operation became public. Whilst successive parties, rich in professional scientists, considerably expanded the pre-war survey and research of the Discovery Investigations Committee, their physical occupancy of the Antarctic islands and Peninsula was essentially a political statement, whereby the Admiralty and Colonial Office (CO) strove to protect British territorial rights, whilst the Foreign Office (FO) endeavoured to minimise disruption to Britain's long-standing economic and cultural ties with Argentina, and most critically, the shipment of war-time meat supplies. In meeting that immediate need, Tabarin also provided the basis from which Britain's subsequent post-war leadership in Antarctic affairs developed.

(Received January 2011)

(Online publication October 12 2011)