8 Lord Caldecote, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner in Australia
Circular cablegram Z168 LONDON, 3 July 1940, 5.10 p.m.
IMPORTANT MOST SECRET
Please communicate to the Prime Minister  for his Most Secret
and Personal information the following appreciation of the
military position in the Middle East which has been prepared by
the Chiefs of Staff. It is being communicated also to His
Majesty's Ambassador at Cairo , Commander in Chief India ,
and Commanders in Chief of the Middle East  and the
The retention of our position in the Middle East remains of the
utmost importance to the successful prosecution of the war,
particularly in view of our policy of an economic blockade of
Europe. It is also important to secure the Anglo-Iranian oil
2. The security of the Middle East hinges on the defence of.-
(a) Egypt and Sudan, where our main forces are based, our Middle
East communications are centred, and the Suez Canal is controlled.
(b) Iraq, from which we must control the oil of Iraq and Iran and
safeguard the Baghdad-Haifa route.
(c) Palestine, which is now our most northerly defensive position
and contains the western terminus of the Baghdad route.
(d) Aden, which is essential to our Red Sea lines of
(e) Kenya, which is our second line of defence in Africa, a
valuable base of operations against Italian East Africa and
contains a second alternative line of communication to Egypt via
3. It is of first importance that the Red Sea route should be
rendered secure as soon as possible and very considerable success
has already been achieved in reducing the Italian air and
submarine threats to it. Development of air route to route
Nigeria-Geneina (Sudan) as reinforcement route for aircraft and
light stores to Egypt is being pressed on, as is work on Baghdad
and Mombasa alternative routes.
4. Our policy in the Middle East must at present be generally
defensive although every chance of taking local offensive action
will be continued. Although difficulties of terrain, climate and
communications in Libya are limiting factors, the possibility of
attack on Egypt by German forces from this area is undoubtedly a
serious threat calling for increased scale of defence. Our present
forces are sufficient to deal with any purely Italian attack as
long as we can retain the Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean. The
Italians could now muster between 300 and 400 bombers in Libya but
their morale is indifferent and maintenance poor. Although the
German Air Force is likely to be fully occupied in the near future
in attacks on the United Kingdom, their participation in air
attack on Egypt is not impossible and Alexandria might be rendered
untenable as Fleet base.
5. It is hoped that Turkey would oppose a German or Italian attack
through the Balkans on the Middle East. Although we cannot rely on
her to offer prolonged resistance, the threat to the Middle East
from this direction is comparatively a long term one. It is
important that Syria should not fall into enemy occupation. If the
status quo is to be disturbed by our enemies it is clearly
desirable that Turkey should resist. From the military point of
view the Turkish occupation of Syria would have much to commend it
though there would be political disadvantages.
6. The defence of Iraq is compromised by the situation in Syria
also by the possibility of disturbance of the internal situation
and by the growing hostility of Iran. Subject to agreement with
Iraq Government it is intended to reinforce Iraq with one division
7. Although we cannot count on the continuance of French
resistance at Djibouti, the success of our action against Italian
air and submarine threats promises well for the future security of
the Red Sea route.
8. It is intended to retain the fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean
as long as possible.
9. For the above reasons it is clearly necessary to strengthen our
defence forces in the Middle East at the earliest possible moment.
The situation is, however, governed by the probability of large
scale air offensive and even invasion of this country in the near
future and shortages of equipment to meet these threats. Our
policy must therefore be to concentrate our immediate efforts on
the defence of the United Kingdom and to start releasing equipment
for the Middle East when we can more clearly judge the situation
following the impending trial of strength here. This may not be
for two months, meanwhile we shall endeavour to send anything we
can spare, including if possible modern fighters, to re-equip
squadrons in Egypt and bombers to replace wastage. 
1 R. G. Menzies.
2 Sir Miles Lampson.
3 General Sir Robert Cassels.
4 General Sir Archibald Wavell.
5 Vice Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham.
6 A supplement to this appreciation was received in cablegram Z183
dispatched on 13 July. It reported that the threat of invasion of
the United Kingdom was likely to end in September and the enemy
might then turn his attention to the Middle East, where major
operations were anticipated throughout the autumn and winter of
1940-41. It was hoped that the 6th Australian and 2nd New Zealand
Divisions could be reconstituted in the Middle East by the autumn
or early winter and that the Commonwealth and N.Z. Govts should
continue to prepare reinforcements for dispatch to the Middle East
when the strategic situation permitted their movement See file AA:
A1608, A41/1/1, xi.
[AA: A981, WAR 57, i]