321 Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Mr A. W. Fadden, Acting Prime Minister

Cablegram 153 LONDON, 25 February 1941, 9.20 p.m.


You are receiving from Dominions Office a cable regarding proposed military assistance to Greece. [1] Matter is of great moment to us because the forces initially contemplated are 2 Australian divisions, 1 New Zealand division, the better part of a new British armoured division, substantial supporting artillery and air reinforcements to bring up air strength to 14 or 16 squadrons.

I attended the War Cabinet when this matter was discussed and the feeling here is unanimously in favour of the enterprise. Dill [2] and Wavell [3] who have recommended this are both able and cautious, and after examination on the spot consider there is a reasonable prospect of successfully holding up a German advance. I have been much exercised about the action. The military arguments are fairly well balanced, though I am much impressed by the danger of abandoning Greece and so providing Germany with naval and air bases from which to threaten the whole of our position in Eastern Mediterranean. Politically the argument is, I think, strongly in favour of the undertaking. The prospect of Yugoslavia and Turkey moving is not very great though Eden [4] is at present in Turkey making a special effort. But the prospects would entirely disappear if Greece were abandoned to a German move through Bulgaria which it is thought will happen very soon. A bold move into Greece might possibly bring Yugoslavia and Turkey in with the result that a strong Balkan front could be established. I cannot think that an abandoned Greece should therefore do anything other than weaken our position in world opinion, scare Turkey and greatly hurry the Japanese. You will of course have in mind that the enterprise is risky.

Appears that it will involve real shipping difficulties and deplete the efforts of our forces in North Africa, and that in the event of our forces in Greece being driven back an evacuation might have to occur. I have discussed all these matters fully with Churchill and subsequently with the War Cabinet. The Prime Minister has offered the view that even if the enterprise failed the loss would primarily be one of material and that the bulk of the men could be got back to Egypt where new equipment could by then be provided. If this proposal was only a forlorn hope I would not like it and I so informed the War Cabinet. But the view of Dill and Wavell is clearly that it is much more than a forlorn hope. I specifically reserved all rights of the Australian Government but you will understand that the matter is most urgent and that your view should therefore be communicated promptly. I should add two things, it is clearly understood that no Australian division is to be adventured in this zone without adequate modern equipment. Second, die effect on American opinion of our pursuing this bold course will unquestionably be great. I saw the American unofficial Ambassador, Colonel Donovan, in Cairo after his return from the Balkans and he has stressed to the President of the United States the importance of the formation of a Balkan front.

It may help you in your discussion if I tell you most secretly that I spent the entire week-end with Churchill, that he has been in closest communication with Roosevelt through Hopkins. [5] (He is emphatically optimistic about the quite dramatic action by the President after the passage of the Lease and Lend Bill.) He goes on to offer the positive view that if Japan goes to war against us America will unquestionably come in and has reiterated to me that should Australia be attacked and America be not in, adequate naval reinforcements would at once be despatched to Australian waters. I think his view must be a little discounted but at the same time the risk of American intervention should be sufficiently great to deter Japan. As to diverting Naval reinforcements from the Mediterranean, this Greek adventure must involve a substantial naval commitment in Eastern Mediterranean unless troops are to be abandoned, which is unthinkable. But allowing for all these things though with some anxiety my own recommendation to my colleagues is that we should concur. My information acquired along the route and since my arrival shows that the supply of tanks, guns, ammunition and aircraft in the Middle East is being built up rapidly and satisfactorily, while notwithstanding the difficulties under the circumstances, everything at this end is going so well that I am now assured that even in point of numbers the British now have at least equality in fighting aircraft, the deficiency being in bombers.


1 No. 109, which was dispatched on 25 Febuary. See file AA:A981, War46, i.

2 Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

3 U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East.

4 U.K. Foreign Secretary.

5 Adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

[AA:A981, WAR 46, i]