389 Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Mr A. W. Fadden, Acting Prime Minister

Cablegram M44 LONDON, 7 April 1941, 4.35 p.m.


Reference your No. 202 [1], I appreciate and share your anxieties though I hope that after reading this cable you may feel somewhat reassured.

In regard to the earlier opinion that the Benghazi front could be held, it is, of course, disappointing to experience this setback as an important objective of the earlier offensive was not only the destruction of Italian armies in Libya but also denial of the use of aerodromes on the east side of the Gulf of Sirte.

Had we decided to press on to Tripoli it was realised that we would encounter difficulties in establishing and maintaining lines of communication across Sirte Desert. Particularly with the approach of the hot season it remains to be seen how the enemy fares.

The Intelligence Branch of the War Office inclines to the belief from the manner of the use of German propaganda regarding the strength of their forces in Tripoli that it is not as great as they would like us to believe. War Office reports indicate one or possibly two light armoured divisions. The Germans are considered bound to have taken any risk of gravity involved in this operation as a means of diverting strength from Lustre.

A later report from Wavell [2] is more reassuring and he has been out to see the situation. A more positive statement on the position must await his appreciation. For publicity purposes it is well to recall his withdrawal tactics earlier in the campaign and their ultimate success. You will observe in regard to the 7th Division that he hopes to send it to Greece.

It is also important to remember that lines of communication of the enemy from Italy and Sicily will be difficult to maintain for a force of any great strength and the navy are redoubling their efforts at interruption.

I shall advise you further on receipt of further information from Wavell.

In regard to No. 197 [3] the following information received from the Air Ministry regarding air strength.

(1) The present strength-eight squadrons plus three heavy bomber squadrons operating from Greece as an advanced base.

(2) Two more Blenheims [? squadron] are due to go this month and one fighter-squadron in Egypt is being re-equipped before transfer this month. These make the initial strength 14.

(3) Two fighter-squadrons are being transferred from Sudan to Egypt and events in Abyssinia may release more.

(4) Four more fighter squadrons are being formed in Egypt from existing personnel.

(5) Plans are on foot for further reinforcements and every means possible is being used to get more into Egypt. The fighter- aircraft of those landed at West Africa, now en route or to be shipped in April, are double the number at present in the Middle East which is very substantial.

(6) There is also now the added advantage of Yugo-Slav strength and resistance, which seemed unlikely when Lustre was first decided upon, but which has undoubtedly been much influenced by the presence of British troops in Greece.

Further advice will be forwarded regarding Blamey's reference to the strength of the army that should be maintained in Greece. [4] The disposition of forces referred to by Blamey in your cable 6th April {5] is a matter which Wavell will, no doubt, cover in his appreciation. I shall again stress the importance of adequate number of anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns and tanks but the understanding is that this force takes the field adequately equipped.

I can assure you that the matters which are troubling you are constantly engaging my attention and discussions. Churchill is fully aware of the problem and is most helpful; but I do not doubt that whatever comes of it in the short run, this Greek campaign represents a sound and unavoidable decision, which must have valuable results in more than one country.

1 Document 385.

2 U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East.

3 Document 382.

4 See Document 382.

5 Document 387.

[AA: A3195, 1941, 1.5275]