In 1943, at the height of World War Two, the British Government launched a top-secret expedition to the Antarctic. Code-named Operation Tabarin, after a Paris nightclub, the expedition established Britain’s first permanently occupied research stations on the continent.
The role of Tabarin was ostensibly to deny safe anchorages to enemy raiding vessels and to gather meteorological data for allied shipping in the South Atlantic, Tabarin actively reinforced British territorial claims in the Falkland Islands Dependencies at a time when this was being challenged. From the outset survey and science work were planned by an advisory committee – Antarctic veterans James Wordie, Neil Mackintosh and Brian Roberts. In the field, the expedition was directed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies via the Governor of the Falkland Islands.
The expedition was put together and led in 1943-44 by James Marr, a marine zoologist, who along with 2nd-in-command Victor Marchesi, Captain of the support ship HMS William Scoresby, set up bases on Deception Island (Base B) and Port Lockroy (Base A). Andrew Taylor, a surveyor from the Royal Canadian Engineers, led the 2nd year, establishing Hope Bay (Base D) as the centre for dog-sledge-based fieldwork on the mainland. In all 14 men wintered the first year, 21 the second. From July 1945 the expedition was put on a permanent footing as the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS). The three bases were relieved in March 1946 and most expedition members returned to the UK.
The success of the expedition is remarkable, not least because of the challenges the team had to overcome. These included the extremely short lead-in time (Feb-Nov 1943), the shortcomings of the first expedition ship, sea ice conditions in Hope Bay which prevented the main base being established there the first year, the ill-health of James Marr in early 1945 forcing his repatriation, and the shortage of supplies at Hope Bay owing to the early exit of HMS Eagle in March 1945.
Despite this, three year-round bases were established, with Port Lockroy occupied until 1962, Deception Island until 1967 and Hope Bay until 1964. Scientific work carried out during the expedition included meteorology, topographical and geological surveying, biological research, glaciological studies and sea ice observation.
The scientific observations and surveys initiated during Operation Tabarin continued after the War when its work was put on a long-term footing as the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), under the Colonial Office. FIDS was re-named the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in 1962. BAS became a component institute of the Natural Environment Research Council in 1967. It is now a world-leading research centre for earth-system science and global climate change, working with international collaborators in the Antarctic, Arctic and beyond.