Operation Tabarin

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.

Legacy

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.

Images from Tabarin

Base A, Port Lockroy, established on 11 Feb 1944. The main base was to have been at Hope Bay on the mainland but the second support vessel, SS Fitzroy, was not ice-strengthened and could not risk the sea ice in the bay. (Photographer: Ivan Mackenzie Lamb; Archives ref: AD6/19/1/A119)
Base A, Port Lockroy, established 11 Feb 1944.

Victor Marchesi, captain of the expedition support ship, HMS William Scoresby, and 2nd-in-command. His experience in ice navigation from his time with Discovery Investigations was vital. (Photographer: Michael Sadler; Archives ref: AD6/19/2/E402/43a)
Victor Marchesi, captain of the HMS William Scoresby, and 2nd-in-command.

Cdr James Marr, RNVR, Tabarin leader, 1943-44. He previously served on Shackleton's Quest expedition and as a whale biologist on the Discovery Investigations. (Photographer: Ivan Mackenzie Lamb; Archives ref: AD6/19/1/A7)
Cdr James Marr, RNVR, Tabarin leader, 1943-44.

Uploading stores to establish Base A at Port Lockroy, 1944. (Photographer: Ivan Mackenzie Lamb; Archives ref: AD6/19/1/A1/29)
Uploading stores to establish Base A at Port Lockroy, 1944.

Ivan Mackenzie Lamb (biologist) and Dainty (dog) at Hope Bay, Base D, 1945. Until the mid-1970s sledging with dogs was the primary means for scientists and surveyors to get to their field sites, with increasing support from aircraft. (Photographer: Ivan Mackenzie Lamb; Archives ref: AD6/19/1/D196).
Ivan Mackenzie Lamb (biologist) and Dainty (dog) at Hope Bay, Base D, 1945.

Captain Andrew Taylor RCE, surveyor and expedition leader during Tabarin's second year. Taylor assumed command at very short notice and was instrumental in the success of the 1945-46 season. (Photographer: Ivan Mackenzie Lamb; Archives ref: AD6/19/1/A8/0)
Captain Andrew Taylor RCE, surveyor and expedition leader, 1944.

William Scoresby approaching Deception Island, 1944. (Photographer: James Edward Farrington, radio operator; Archives ref: AD6/19/1A/201/3)
William Scoresby approaching Deception Island, 1944.

Norman Marshall (zoologist) working in laboratory at Base D, Hope Bay, 1945. (Photographer: Ivan Mackenzie Lamb; Archives ref: AD6/19/1/D194)
Norman Marshall (zoologist) in the laboratory at Base D, Hope Bay, 1945.