Leith Harbour

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Stromness Bay with (left to right) Husvik, Stromness, and Leith Harbour (NASA imagery).
A portion of the abandoned whaling station at Leith Harbor.
A Scottish whaler in workshop, Leith harbour, South Georgia, mid-1940s.
Historical and modern settlements of South Georgia Island.

Leith Harbour (54°08′28″S 36°41′17″W / 54.141°S 36.688°W / -54.141; -36.688), also known as Port Leith, was a whaling station on the northeast coast of South Georgia, established and operated by Christian Salvesen Ltd, Edinburgh. The station was in operation from 1909 until 1965. It was the largest of seven whaling stations, situated near the mouth of Stromness Bay. One man prominently involved in setting up Leith Harbour was William Storm Harrison.

It is named after Leith, the harbour area of Edinburgh, Christian Salvesen's home town.

History[edit]

South Georgia was once the world's largest whaling centre, with shore stations at Grytviken (operating 1904-64), Leith Harbour (1909-65), Ocean Harbour (1909-20), Husvik (1910-60), Stromness (1913-61) and Prince Olav Harbour (1917-31). The Japanese companies Kokusai Gyogyo Kabushike Kaisha and Nippon Suisan Kaisha sub-leased Leith Harbour in 1963-65, the last seasons of South Georgia whaling. In 1912 Leith Harbour was the site of the second introduction of reindeer to South Georgia, an attempt that failed when the entire herd was killed by an avalanche in 1918.

During the Second World War the whaling stations were closed excepting Grytviken and Leith Harbour. Most of the British and Norwegian whaling factories and catchers were destroyed by German raiders, while the rest were called up to serve under Allied command. The resident British Magistrates (W. Barlas and A.I. Fleuret) attended to the island’s defence throughout the War. The Royal Navy armed the merchant vessel Queen of Bermuda to patrol South Georgian and Antarctic waters, and deployed two four-inch guns at key locations protecting the approaches to Cumberland Bay and Stromness Bay, i.e. to Grytviken and Leith Harbour respectively. These batteries (still present) were manned by volunteers from among the Norwegian whalers who were trained for the purpose.

The Falklands War was precipitated on March 1982 when a group of around fifty Argentines, posing as scrap metal merchants, occupied the abandoned whaling station at Leith Harbour. They were understood to have a commercial contract to remove scrap metal at Leith Harbour but they arrived aboard a ship chartered by the Argentine Government. 32 special forces troops from Corbeta Uruguay were brought by the Argentine Navy ship Bahía Paraiso to South Georgia and landed at Leith Harbour on March 25, 1982.

On April 25, 1982 the Royal Navy damaged and captured the Argentine submarine Santa Fé at South Georgia. The Argentine garrison in Grytviken surrendered without returning fire and so did the detachment in Leith Harbour -- commanded by Captain Astiz -- the following day.

Today[edit]

There is a gun emplacement on the hill behind the station, and another at Hansen Point with the original 4.1" gun still in position. Leith Harbour boasted a hospital, a library, a cinema, and a narrow gauge railway. The centre of Leith Harbour is occupied by the so-called Portuguese graveyard[citation needed] and there is a second, larger cemetery to the rear of the station. Due to its nature, the station also contained a factory and a flensing plan or platform. Since 2010 access to the station has been prohibited due to the dangers posed by asbestos and collapsing buildings.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]