470 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram 363 LONDON, 24 May 1941, 3.44 p.m.


Recent developments in Syria have caused me grave concern and in my view create a situation which requires the clearest and most courageous thinking.

Our major strategy in the Middle East must be to hold Egypt and to keep the fleet based on Alexandria. Side by side with this we must maintain our position in Iraq so as to deny to the enemy the oil resources of Iraq and Iran and to ensure in the event of disaster in Egypt a bridgehead in the Middle East from which, as our strength grows, we could recover our position.

To date the major threat to Egypt has come from Libya and our comparative failure to strengthen our forces concentrated on the Western Desert. A new threat is now developing from Syria which also involves our position in Iraq. This new threat to my mind cannot be taken too seriously. If the Germans establish themselves in strength in Syria it is difficult to see how we could prevent them getting control of North Iraq and Iran. This would mean the complete encirclement of Turkey and cutting her off from all external sources of supply. In such circumstances in my view we are fooling ourselves if we believe she would not come under Axis control in exactly the same way as other countries have done. The establishment of this Axis control would be followed by a demand to send troops and supplies across Turkey which she would be powerless to resist. Should this happen Germany could in a few weeks place many divisions on Syrian-Palestine border and Iraq.

Faced with this pincer movement of strong German forces from Libya and Syria could we maintain our position in Egypt and if we could not, could we [hold our bridge head in Iraq against the overwhelming strength Germany would] [1] then [have] in the Middle East.

In view of these possibilities it appears to me that the paramount requirement in the Middle East at the moment is to prevent the Germans from establishing themselves in Syria and that in order to do so we should be prepared to take great risks.

Today our forces are concentrated on denying Crete to the enemy and inflicting a reverse on her in Cyrenaica. While the holding of Crete and the denying of Syria to the enemy are not alternatives, it helps to clear the mind to weigh their relative significance.

The possession of Crete by the enemy would facilitate his supplying of Cyrenaica, would increase his bombing capacity of the fleet base at Alexandria and would embarrass our fleet operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

All of these are serious, but could be faced and should not make our position untenable. The presence of the enemy in force in Syria for reasons I have given earlier would certainly tend to do so.

Cyrenaica and Syria are alternatives and if by abandoning any idea of counter-offensive for the present and adopting a purely defensive strategy in Cyrenaica we could release forces which would enable us to prevent Germans establishing themselves in Syria there would seem little doubt as to what our course should be.

If, however, this is impracticable and we have to face prospect of Germans in Syria it is imperative that the whole position in the Middle East should be reviewed in the light of facts and free from wishful thinking, In this review Australia should be fully and- having so many of her troops in Middle East-specially consulted.

I have done everything in my power to press the above in all directions available to me but without I fear very much success. I suggest for your consideration the desirability, if you are in accord with my views, of your cabling Prime Minister [2] direct.


1 Words in square brackets have been inserted from the London copy on file AA: M100, May 1941.

2 Winston S. Churchill.

[AA: A981, WAR 61B]