Britain first staked its claim to a slice of Antarctica back in 1908. But it was only during the Second World War in 1943 that it established its first permanent bases there, at a time when other countries were starting to press similar claims. The top-secret mission, codenamed Operation Tabarin, after a Parisian nightclub, had two objectives: to deny safe anchorages to enemy vessels, and to gather weather data for Allied shipping in the South Atlantic.
Led by marine zoologist James Marr, 14 men worked in the inhospitable conditions during that first year, rising to 21 in the second. From July 1945, the operations were made permanent and renamed the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. In 1961, the Antarctic Treaty came into force, which called for the demilitarisation of the region, and friendly scientific cooperation.
On 3 March the following year, the desolate territories administered from the Falkland Islands were reorganised as the British Antarctic Territory. Today it forms the largest of Britain’s 14 overseas territories at 1,709,400 square kilometres. Meanwhile, that same year in 1962, the research work was rebranded the British Antarctic Survey.
Aside from the flocks of penguins and herds of seals wallowing in the ice, the only inhabitants of the Territory are the 50 to 100 scientists carrying out environmental research, such as into global climate change – although number of tourists have been steadily incresing.
The British Antarctic Territory ifunds itself via taxes paid by scientists, and the interest earned on its capital reserves. But it also drives a rather profitable trade in stamps, which are highly desirable among collectors. No wonder, then, that the Territory runs four post offices.
Also on this day
On this day in 1938, the ‘Dammam no. 7’ well in Saudi Arabia struck oil, kicking off the exploitation of the world’s biggest oil reserves. Read more here.