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

Circular cablegram Z168 LONDON, 3 July 1940, 5.10 p.m.

IMPORTANT MOST SECRET

Please communicate to the Prime Minister [1] for his Most Secret

and Personal information the following appreciation of the

military position in the Middle East which has been prepared by

the Chiefs of Staff. It is being communicated also to His

Majesty's Ambassador at Cairo [2], Commander in Chief India [3],

and Commanders in Chief of the Middle East [4] and the

Mediterranean. [5]

(begins).

The retention of our position in the Middle East remains of the

utmost importance to the successful prosecution of the war,

particularly in view of our policy of an economic blockade of

Europe. It is also important to secure the Anglo-Iranian oil

fields.

2. The security of the Middle East hinges on the defence of.-

(a) Egypt and Sudan, where our main forces are based, our Middle

East communications are centred, and the Suez Canal is controlled.

(b) Iraq, from which we must control the oil of Iraq and Iran and

safeguard the Baghdad-Haifa route.

(c) Palestine, which is now our most northerly defensive position

and contains the western terminus of the Baghdad route.

(d) Aden, which is essential to our Red Sea lines of

communication.

(e) Kenya, which is our second line of defence in Africa, a

valuable base of operations against Italian East Africa and

contains a second alternative line of communication to Egypt via

Mombasa.

3. It is of first importance that the Red Sea route should be

rendered secure as soon as possible and very considerable success

has already been achieved in reducing the Italian air and

submarine threats to it. Development of air route to route

Nigeria-Geneina (Sudan) as reinforcement route for aircraft and

light stores to Egypt is being pressed on, as is work on Baghdad

and Mombasa alternative routes.

4. Our policy in the Middle East must at present be generally

defensive although every chance of taking local offensive action

will be continued. Although difficulties of terrain, climate and

communications in Libya are limiting factors, the possibility of

attack on Egypt by German forces from this area is undoubtedly a

serious threat calling for increased scale of defence. Our present

forces are sufficient to deal with any purely Italian attack as

long as we can retain the Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean. The

Italians could now muster between 300 and 400 bombers in Libya but

their morale is indifferent and maintenance poor. Although the

German Air Force is likely to be fully occupied in the near future

in attacks on the United Kingdom, their participation in air

attack on Egypt is not impossible and Alexandria might be rendered

untenable as Fleet base.

5. It is hoped that Turkey would oppose a German or Italian attack

through the Balkans on the Middle East. Although we cannot rely on

her to offer prolonged resistance, the threat to the Middle East

from this direction is comparatively a long term one. It is

important that Syria should not fall into enemy occupation. If the

status quo is to be disturbed by our enemies it is clearly

desirable that Turkey should resist. From the military point of

view the Turkish occupation of Syria would have much to commend it

though there would be political disadvantages.

6. The defence of Iraq is compromised by the situation in Syria

also by the possibility of disturbance of the internal situation

and by the growing hostility of Iran. Subject to agreement with

Iraq Government it is intended to reinforce Iraq with one division

from India.

7. Although we cannot count on the continuance of French

resistance at Djibouti, the success of our action against Italian

air and submarine threats promises well for the future security of

the Red Sea route.

8. It is intended to retain the fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean

as long as possible.

9. For the above reasons it is clearly necessary to strengthen our

defence forces in the Middle East at the earliest possible moment.

The situation is, however, governed by the probability of large

scale air offensive and even invasion of this country in the near

future and shortages of equipment to meet these threats. Our

policy must therefore be to concentrate our immediate efforts on

the defence of the United Kingdom and to start releasing equipment

for the Middle East when we can more clearly judge the situation

following the impending trial of strength here. This may not be

for two months, meanwhile we shall endeavour to send anything we

can spare, including if possible modern fighters, to re-equip

squadrons in Egypt and bombers to replace wastage. [6]

1 R. G. Menzies.

2 Sir Miles Lampson.

3 General Sir Robert Cassels.

4 General Sir Archibald Wavell.

5 Vice Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham.

6 A supplement to this appreciation was received in cablegram Z183

dispatched on 13 July. It reported that the threat of invasion of

the United Kingdom was likely to end in September and the enemy

might then turn his attention to the Middle East, where major

operations were anticipated throughout the autumn and winter of

1940-41. It was hoped that the 6th Australian and 2nd New Zealand

Divisions could be reconstituted in the Middle East by the autumn

or early winter and that the Commonwealth and N.Z. Govts should

continue to prepare reinforcements for dispatch to the Middle East

when the strategic situation permitted their movement See file AA:

A1608, A41/1/1, xi.

[AA: A981, WAR 57, i]