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

Cablegram 181 LONDON, 14 April 1941, 3.46 p.m.


Please give the following message which is of the highest degree of secrecy to the Prime Minister [1] for his most secret and personal information.


1. I am sure you are anxious to know how we view the present situation in the Middle East and the following will supplement my remarks to the House of Commons on Wednesday.

2. Of the two main attacks, that in Cyrenaica appears to be secondary to that in the Balkans, but the former has achieved unexpected success and the reports indicate that the Germans are moving more land forces to exploit it, but are unable at present to spare additional air force. Should they be able to do so, we may be faced later with threat of development of a large scale attack on Egypt. The deciding factors here are our power to hamper or cut his [sic) communications from Italy and Sicily to Tripoli, the speed with which we can reinforce tanks, anti-tank guns and aircraft, and the enemy's power to maintain his forces. This will be no easy task for him as Benghazi will be unusable for some time and his road line of communications will be a long one. The Germans are also making trouble for us in Iraq and are attempting to do so in Syria. They do not appear to intend to attack Turkey at present.

3. As ever, our vital strategic requirements in the Middle East remain the security of our main base of operations in Egypt, and so we are faced with the problem as to how far we can maintain our forces in Greece and at the same time safeguard the security of Egypt.

4. However the present situation may have developed we still consider decision we made in sending our forces to Greece strategically correct. The situation in the Balkans is so fluid that it is not possible at present to give a considered appreciation, but even with German advance into Yugoslavia, the picture is better than that which seemed probable before the Yugoslavian coup d'etat. [2] There can, therefore, be no question of removing these forces now, and apart from what we have said and undertaken to help Greece and Yugoslavia, as long as our forces continue to operate in Greece they compel the enemy to fight, maintain his forces and prevent him re-establishing normal economic conditions in the Balkans.

5. At the same time, as all other available forces are required in the defence of the Egyptian frontier, we have decided that we must hold up for the present the despatch of the second Australian division to Greece and Emit our commitment in Greece to maintaining the forces which have already arrived there.

6. We have taken various steps which will accelerate considerably the arrival in the Middle East of additional aircraft, tanks, anti-tank guns and other reinforcements. These measures include reinforcements of our air force in Egypt by squadrons withdrawn from Aden and East Africa, and of our fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean by destroyers from the Red Sea. Our aim will be to re-establish ourselves in Cyrenaica at the first opportunity. In the meantime, we propose to go strongly against the enemy's lines- of communications in Tripoli and from Tripoli forward. Ends.

1 A. W. Fadden was Acting Prime Minister.

2 On 27 March a government sympathetic to the Allied cause was established in Yugoslavia with General D. T. Simovic as Prime Minister.

[AA: A981, WAR 57, i]