A Cold War: Britain, Argentina and Antarctica

The Argentinian writer Borges described the combatants in the Falklands War as being like 'two bald men fighting over a comb.' But thirty years before, Britain and Argentina nearly came to blows over territory far more remote and inhospitable.

On February 1st, 1952, Sir Miles Clifford, the Governor of the Falkland Islands, sent a telegram to the Colonial Office in London reporting the occurrence of a serious Anglo-Argentine incident – he suggested that 'this presumably constitutes an act of war' – at Hope Bay in Antarctica, wherein the two governments were in competition for the same piece of territory. Significantly, the clash came at a time when rumours were circulating in Buenos Aires and London to the effect that President Peron of Argentina might undertake some move against either the Falklands or the Falkland Islands Dependencies (FID) as a distraction from domestic difficulties.

That morning a party of British scientists from the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS) – the organisation performing British research in Antarctica – left the ship, John Biscoe, to land the materials required for rebuilding the base at Hope Bay, where the previous station had been destroyed by fire in 1948. The Argentine government, pursuing a forward policy towards both the Falkland Islands and Antarctica, had taken advantage of the subsequent British withdrawal to establish their own base at Hope Bay only a few hundred metres away from the deserted British station, and, inevitably, on January 30th, 1952, the arrival of the John Biscoe elicited an immediate protest designed to record and maintain the Argentine position in the region. Thus, the ship was boarded by an officer, who delivered a letter of protest regarding the ship's presence in Argentine territory without permission.

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