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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

349 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

page 252

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

7 March 1941

The following is the text of a telegram to Cairo from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for Mr. Eden:

The situation has indeed changed for the worse. Following on their No. 54582 (MO 5)1, to which a reply has not yet been received, the Chiefs of Staff have presented a commentary which follows in my next. Owing to the failure of Papagos to act as agreed upon with you on 21 February, the obvious difficulty of his extricating his army from contact in Albania, and the timetable of our possible movements furnished by Wavell in his O. 45461 of 3 March2, together with other adverse factors recited by the Chiefs of Staff, e.g., the postponement of mandibles3 and closing the [Suez] Canal, it is difficult for Cabinet to believe that we now have any power to avert the fate of Greece unless Turkey and/or Yugoslavia come in, which seems to be most improbable. We have done our best to raise the Balkan combination against Germany. Care must be taken not to urge Greece against her better judgment into a hopeless resistance alone when we have only handfuls of troops which can reach the scene in time. The committing of New Zealand and Australian troops to the enterprise which, as you say, has become even more hazardous, raises grave Imperial issues. We are bound to lay before the Dominion Governments your telegram of 4 March and the Chiefs of Staff's appreciation, but we cannot forecast their assent to the operation. We do not see any reasons for expecting success except, of course, that we attach great weight to the opinions of Dill and Wavell. As indicated in my telegram No. 396 to Athens4, we must liberate the Greeks from feeling bound to reject a German ultimatum. If, on their own, they resolve to fight, we must share their ordeal to some extent, but a rapid German advance will probably prevent any appreciable British Imperial forces from being engaged. Provided that Turkey remains honestly neutral, the loss of Greece and the Balkans would be by no means a major catastrophe for us. We could take mandibles and consider plan(s) for (influx?) or [on?] Tripoli5. Advice has been received from many quarters page 253 that our ignominious ejection from Greece would do us more harm in Spain and Vichy than the fact of the submission of the Balkans, which we have never been expected to prevent with our scant forces alone. In the absence of facts very different from those now before us, I send this to prepare your mind for what will probably be expressed tomorrow in Cabinet's decision.

1 Not available.

2 Not available.

3 The plan for which this was the codename was not put into operation. It envisaged the capture of Rhodes and certain other islands of the Dodecanese before the landing of Allied troops in Greece.

4 Not available.

5 The text here is uncertain.