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

Cablegram M13 LONDON, 8 March 1941, 8 p.m.


I am sending you a complete copy of telegrams that have been passing on the question of Aid to Greece. [1] The code words refer to the Island[s] [2] which it is proposed to take. I have had a most anxious time over this matter but think that I can say that I have fully put to the War Cabinet the points which would trouble you. Our military advisers discount the possibilities of a successful thrust by a German armoured force in North Africa and there is complete confidence that the Benghazi front can be held without interfering with the new project. There is no doubt that, having regard to the facts stated in the telegrams, the proposition is not as good as it was. In my opinion two considerations affected the decisions of the War Cabinet here. The first was that Eden [3] and Dill [4] had made a written agreement with the Greeks and the consequences of dishonouring of such an agreement would be disastrous. The second was that on the intrinsic merits of the matter, great weight was to be attached to the fact that notwithstanding the new and adverse circumstances, Eden, Dill and Wavell [5] all of whom were on the spot still considered that though the adventure was hazardous there was a reasonable prospect of success.

I pointed out to Cabinet that while Australia was not likely to refuse to take a great risk in a good cause, we must inevitably feel some resentment at the notion that a minister, not authorised by us, should make an agreement binding upon us which substantially modified a proposal already accepted by us.

The Prime Minister [6] accepted this criticism very generously and in fact sent a private cable to Eden to the effect that he must be able to tell Australian and New Zealand Governments that the campaign was undertaken, not because of any commitments entered into by a British Cabinet Minister in Athens, but because the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Commanders in Chief in the Middle East were convinced that there was a reasonable fighting chance.

In reply to this those in the Middle East have strongly reaffirmed their belief in the proposal. They have also informed us that both Blamey [7] and Freyberg [8] are agreeable. Subsequently a very strong cable has come in from Smuts [9] at Cairo, after he had fully discussed the situation with Eden and had spent hours in conference with high Defence officers and commanders. He expresses very strongest view in favour of the proposal and thinks that it is still possible to transform this apparently promising situation for the Germans into disaster for them and from this front pave the way to victory.

I attach high value to Smuts' opinion and should add that although he is at present prevented by his Parliament from [adventuring]

intends to transfer South African troops to [the Delta] and so strengthen the defence of Egypt and Libya.

The timetable arranged is such that the first Australian units will not go into position in Greece much before the end of the month, by which time many things may have happened. I should tell you that Australian anxieties on this matter have been fully appreciated by those here and the fullest consideration has been given to the various points not only in Cabinet but in [long private discussions] with the Prime Minister himself.

One is still left with the final conclusion that though the hazards are considerable, the proposal is by no means hopeless and that under these circumstances the overwhelming importance to our position in relation to the world at large and particularly America of not abandoning the Greeks, who have of all our allies fought the most gallantly, should be the decisive consideration.

As the first echelons of troops are already on the water and will at regular intervals be followed first by New Zealanders and then by Australians I would appreciate your early concurrence.

The utmost secrecy is of course of essential importance.


[AA:A3195, 1941, 1.3598]

1 These cablegrams were dispatched to Fadden on 8 March as nos M6- M12. See file Defence: Special Collection I, Box 626, AIF, Future Employment of.

2 Corrected from the London copy on the file cited in note 1. The code words were Influx (Sicily) and Mandible (the Dodecanese).

3 U.K. Foreign Secretary.

4 Chief of the Imperial General Staff 5 U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East.

6 Winston S. Churchill.

7 General Officer Commanding 2nd A.I.F. in the Middle East.

8 General Officer Commanding 2nd N.Z. Expeditionary Force.

9 South African Prime Minister.

10 Words in square brackets have been corrected from the London copy on the file cited in note 1.

[10] South African troops outside the African continent, he