480 Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner in Australia

Circular cablegram Z196 LONDON, 31 May 1941, 10.05 p.m.


Please give the following, which is brief review by our military advisers of the present strategic position, to the Prime Minister [1] for his most secret and personal information.


1. Invasion of the United Kingdom probably remains Germany's 1941 objective. Apart from the battle of the Atlantic enemy's main effort now is directed to capture of Egypt.

2. Middle East. Threat to Egypt from the West is more immediate than from the North. Maintenance alone limits enemy air and land strength in the Western Desert. Possession of Crete increases threat to Alexandria base and fleet in eastern Mediterranean. It will enable the enemy to establish direct supply route via West Coast of Greece to Cyrenaica in addition to Italy-Tripoli line.

3. By an early land advance we may be able to secure Cyrenaica aerodromes from which to attack Greece-Cyrenaica line and protect our own communications to Malta on which interference with Italy- Tripoli line depends.

4. Threat from the north through Turkey and/or Syria is less immediate. Even with full Turkish co-operation estimated that it would take six weeks to concentrate eight German divisions on Syrian frontier.

5. German sea-borne expedition to Syria is a danger. Forces transported and maintained by air alone would be strictly limited, though a threat to alternate naval base at Haifa and to general stability in Palestine and Iraq. Cyprus valuable to enemy to cover his sea communications and as air base, but we have insufficient forces to make it impregnable. Measures now being planned to secure early control in Syria.

6. In Iraq, an outpost of India, we must have good base at Basrah from which to protect Abadan oil and overland communications to Haifa and Turkey. We are striving to clear up Iraq before effective Axis aid can arrive. Forestalling Germans in Syria is most important for this.

7. Air Forces in Egypt are being reinforced by every possible means and armoured formations increased and re-equipped.

Liquidation of East Africa is releasing some forces for use further north.

8. Western Mediterranean and North-West Africa. Without reducing effort elsewhere, Germany could occupy Portugal and Spain, including Spanish Morocco. Neither country is likely to offer serious resistance, and, even if we had forces available, they could not arrive in time to help either in Europe or Africa.

Gibraltar would hold out, but be useless as a naval base. Enemy control of Straits would react badly on naval operations in the Mediterranean. We should have to deny Atlantic islands to Germany and obtain a base in them in lieu of Gibraltar. It will be difficult but vitally important to avoid being forestalled by the Germans in those islands.

9. Such German action would directly threaten the United States and their interest and support in this area would be invaluable.

10. United Kingdom. Invasion is not imminent, since it would take Germany up to eight weeks to bring back necessary air forces from the Middle East. Scale of invasion is estimated at six armoured, four air-borne and 26 infantry divisions. Five to seven days would elapse before concentration of naval forces against the enemy sea communications could be completed.

11. We are confident of maintaining air superiority so long as our aerodromes are adequately defended against all forms of attack.

Our chief weakness is in armoured forces which are now less than half strength considered necessary for security. Equipment is short and many formations only newly constituted. Infantry is widely dispersed owing to length of vulnerable coastline and demands for defence of aerodromes and vital points.

12. We have had to take risks with our land strength at home, particularly in tanks, to meet the needs of the Middle East.

Nothing sent overseas can be brought back within limited period of warning. Land strength at home cannot be sensibly reduced this summer.

13. Far East. Security of Singapore remains vital interest, since on it depends our ability to secure the sea communications of Australia, New Zealand, India and the Far East. Fortunately Japanese intervention is even less an immediate menace than invasion of the United Kingdom. Fear of American intervention must be a powerful deterrent. Nevertheless the menace remains and before Singapore is secure more anti-aircraft and anti-tank and field artillery and air forces must be sent.

14. General. Lack of equipment makes it impossible to meet all demands, and being on exterior lines to enemy superior in land and air forces greatly adds to the difficulties of allocation. Risks must be accepted but security of vital points must not be jeopardised. ENDS. [2]

1 R. G. Menzies.

2 S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, advised Menzies that this cablegram was intended to be a reply to Fadden's cablegram 252 (Document 424). See Bruce's cablegram 386 of 3 June on file AA: A1608, V41/1/1.

[AA: A1608, V41/1/1]