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

Cablegram M59 LONDON, 15 April 1941, 7.58 p.m.


The present position in the Middle East is most disturbing but we must all keep our courage up and take every possible measure to retrieve it. Our reinforcements to Greece undoubtedly had a great deal to do with resistance of Yugo-Slavs, but unfortunately their public morale had been so affected by the weakness of the Government, and their Army is so ill provided with tanks and aircraft that their continued resistance cannot be anticipated.

The Greeks were, on plans evolved by Dill [1] and Wavell [2], to withdraw their forces from Albania. They have not done so to any appreciable extent and the present German thrust is likely to cut them off If this is so, the left flank of our position will be left very weak.

The position in Libya undoubtedly arises from utter miscalculation on the part of Wavell. The War Cabinet was surprised, as was I, to learn that the whole of the British Armoured Division under Creagh had been withdrawn to Cairo for repairs, thus leaving Benghazi very lightly covered by one new Armoured Brigade. This Brigade does not appear to have been well handled, and has been almost eliminated.

I have protested very strongly against this chronic underestimating of German capacity but I am sure that you will agree it is no use crying over spilt milk and that urgent salvage operations must be the order of the day.

I have queried the attempt to hold Tobruk, the bulk of the forces of which consist of the Ninth Australian Division plus a Brigade of the 7th, but Dill considers, as do the whole of the Chiefs of Staff, that Tobruk is of vital importance to any counter-attack, being a bridgehead on the flank of the German advance, and that, so far from being abandoned, it should be reinforced by sea. Dill assures me that at Tobruk they have adequate equipment of artillery and anti-tank guns, and that he thinks it can be held.

The Germans may by now have three light armoured divisions at work.


Apart from Wavell's initial error, the real failure has been on, the part of the Navy between Palermo and Tripoli, where the Germans are apparently conducting a regular ferry service. The Admiralty has been instructed that great risks must be taken in an endeavour to cut off this source of supply. If this can be done, the position of German armoured columns would become most precarious.

Confidentially, I may tell you that my decision to remain for another week or two arises from the fact that I appear to be the only Minister outside the Prime Minister [3] who will question any of his views or insist upon points being examined, and as Australia has so much at stake it would be most unwise for me to leave here in the middle of a crisis.

I am grateful to you for your reassuring cables and have been much strengthened by your efficient handling of matters in my absence.

I am sorry to be asking you to carry the burden for longer than I originally intended.

Kindest regards to you and to all our colleagues.

You may inform John Curtin [4] of the above.


1 Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

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

3 Winston S. Churchill.

4 Leader of the Opposition and member of the Advisory War Council.

[AA: A3195, 1941, 1.5749]