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

Cablegram unnumbered LONDON, 2 October 1940


I am very sorry to receive your message of 29th September [1] because I feel that the great exertions we have made deserve a broad and generous measure of indulgence, should any particular minor operation miscarry. You already have the information contained in my message of 27th September [2] which is far more explicit than anything given to the British Parliament up to the present. A full secret report will be cabled you when we ourselves hear the details from the Commanders on the spot. The situation at Dakar was revolutionized by arrival of French ships from Toulon with Vichy personnel and the manning of the Batteries by the hostile French Navy. Although every effort was made the British Navy was not able to stop these ships on their way. After strongly testing the defences and sustaining the losses I have already reported to you, the naval and military Commanders did not consider they had the strength to effect and support a landing, and I think they were quite right not to get us committed to a shore operation which could not like the naval attack be broken off at any moment, and might have become a serious entanglement.

With regard to your criticisms, if it is to be laid down that no attempt is to be made which has not 'overwhelming chances of success' you will find that a complete defensive would be imposed upon us. In dealing with unknown factors like the degree of French resistance it is impossible to avoid uncertainty and hazard. For instance, Duala and with it the Cameroons were taken by twenty- five Frenchmen after their Senegalese troops had refused to march.

Ought we to have moved in this case without having overwhelming force at hand? Secondly, I cannot accept the reproach of making 'a half-hearted attack'. I hoped that you had not sustained the impression from these last five months of struggle which has excited the admiration of the whole world that we were 'a half- hearted Government' or that I am half-hearted in the endeavours it is my duty to make. I thought indeed that from the way my name was used in the Election that quite a good opinion was entertained in Australia of these efforts.

Every care will always be made to keep you informed before news is published, but we could not prevent the German and Vichy wireless from proclaiming the course of events as they occurred at Dakar before we had received any information from our Commanders.

With regard to what you say about the Middle East, I do not think the difficulties have been under-estimated, but of course our forces are much smaller than those which the Italians have in Libya and Abyssinia and the Germans may always help them. The defection of France has thrown the whole Middle East into Jeopardy and severed our communications through the Mediterranean. We have had to face the threat of invasion here and the full strength of Germany's air bombing attack on our cities, factories and harbours. Nevertheless we have steadfastly reinforced the Middle East, and in spite of all our perils at home and scanty resources have sent over 30,000 men, nearly half our best tanks, many anti- aircraft guns needed to protect our vital aircraft factories, two of the finest Units in the Fleet, the Illustrious and Valiant, and a considerable number of Hurricane Fighters and Wellington Bombers. We have done this in the face of an accumulation across the Channel and the North Sea of barges and shipping sufficient to carry half a million men to these shores at a single voyage and in a single night. Therefore if the Middle East difficulties and dangers have not been fully met, it is not because the Mother Country has shirked her share of perils and sacrifice. At present the situation in Egypt and the Sudan looks better than we feared some time ago. Still, my dear Prime Minister and friend, as you have allowed me to deem you, I cannot guarantee 'clear-cut victory' in the Middle East, or that Cairo, Khartoum, the Suez Canal and Palestine may not fall into Italian or German hands. We do not think they will, and we are trying our utmost to resist the attacks which are massing against us. But I can make no promises at all of victory, nor can I make any promises that regrettable and lamentable incidents will not occur, or that there will not be disappointments and blunders. On the contrary, I think the only certainty is that we have very bad times indeed to go through before we emerge from the mortal perils by which we are surrounded.

I felt it due to your great position and the extremely severe tone of your message to reply with equal frankness.


1 Document 144.

2 Document 142.

[PRO: DO 114/113]