483 Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Mr W. S. Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister

Cablegram 344 4 June 1941,

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET AND PERSONAL

Your cable No. 386 regarding the Middle East [1] much appreciated.

With no desire to add to your anxieties but so that you will know the views which we strongly entertain, I send the following for your consideration- 1. The opinion that an attack upon Cyprus on a large scale by airborne troops is impracticable should, in the light of recent experience, be heavily discounted. If the Germans attack it, they will certainly throw in enough numbers for the task.

2. The present garrison of Cyprus seems hopelessly inadequate, while the Air Force, on our latest information, is negligible.

3. It therefore seems to us that Cyprus must be either abandoned or reinforced to the point at which it can be held. Public opinion would be greatly strained by what would be regarded as a useless sacrifice of an inadequate force.

4. We are concerned about the delay in the movement into Syria, though we recognise that at this distance the difficulties in allotting and marshalling troops and establishing bases are not always clearly visible.

5. There is some professional support at this end for the view, which I understand has been put forward by Smuts [2], that Syria should have priority over Cyrenaica. If it were possible to take decisive action in Syria without so weakening the Egyptian frontier as to permit of successful German attack from Libya, I would agree with this. But the impression I formed in England was that any real subtraction from the Force which you design to move into Cyrenaica might jeopardise the Canal from that side. If this is not so, an early blocking of the Syrian Inlet may well be of more immediate urgency than a Cyrenaican advance, since it is the one move which can avoid a battle on two fronts.

6. Such Army appreciations from the Middle East as we have seen still appear to us gravely to under-estimate the extent of the use which the enemy may make of airborne troops and to over-emphasise purely land operations rather than joint land and air operations.

Moreover, the German speed of movement upsets all time-tables, and estimates of the possible date or period by which he may make some particular move are usually falsified. It is for these reasons that we attach such tremendous importance to air reinforcement, since it would appear that it is only by a full use of fighting planes that a dangerous German footing in Syria can be avoided.

And, after all, if we hold Syria we ought to be able to command Cyprus. [3]

Kindest regards and thoughts in your great responsibilities. You will appreciate immense Government and public interest here, and our desire to be kept constantly in touch with developments and movements. [4]

MENZIES

1 Document 478.

2 South African Prime Minister. His views were communicated to Menzies in cablegram 386 of 3 June from S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London. See file AA: A1608, V41/l/1.

3 On 6 June Menzies cabled to the U.K. Dominions Secretary, Lord Cranborne, and to Bruce: 'Meeting of the Advisory War Council, on which leading members of the Opposition sit with Ministers, unanimously supported the contents of my two preceding cables and desire me particularly to emphasise the imperative neccssity of fullest air support.' See cablegram 347/2806 on file AA: A1608, V41/1/1. The 'two preceding cables' were in fact 2649 of 29 May (Document 475) and the Document printed here. See Advisory War Council Minute 353 of 5 June in AA: A2682, vol. 2.

4 This cablegram was repeated to Bruce as no. 2776.

[AA: A3196, 1941, 0.7451]