475 Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London

Cablegram 2649 29 May 1941 [1],


We are much exercised by the present position in the Middle East and I would like to put one or two points quite shortly to you.

The experiences in Greece and Crete indicate that the decisive factor is overwhelming air strength. This, if developed across the Mediterranean waters between Crete and Cyrenaica, may seriously affect movements of the Mediterranean Fleet, while the establishment of German air bases in Syria would threaten not only Irak and Palestine but the Suez Canal itself I know enough of the tank position to believe that large and rapid reinforcements over and above those recently and boldly sent through the Mediterranean are difficult. But what of aircraft? It is alarming to read of the enormous German preponderance.

Cannot large and urgent reinforcements of fighter planes go to the Middle East, particularly in view of the good production of these types in Great Britain and the not unsatisfactory reserves? Further, is it not possible to make some attempt at occupation of Syria by British Forces? No doubt there has been some reluctance to do this because of the possible effect upon American public opinion. But I am assured by Casey [3] on good authority in Washington that American opinion would applaud aggressive British action. Anything would appear to be better than allowing Germany to make her foothold in Syria sufficiently strong to enable a jump forward to be accomplished.

I again emphasise to you that Australia and New Zealand have a large stake of four Divisions in the Middle East, subject to deductions in Greece and Crete, in addition to their vital interest in the preservation of one of the great Empire bastions.

A defeat around the Suez would be a calamity of the first magnitude, and it appears to us that the most effective counter is in the air.

I know you will have been working on this like a tiger and that you are losing sight neither of Libya nor of Syria, but you will understand the strength of the feeling of my colleagues and myself on the matter.

Any information that we could have periodically as to air strength would be invaluable and would enable us to appreciate the position clearly.

I have given some emphasis to Syria because any real establishment by Germany in that country would mean the encirclement of Turkey and by cutting her off from external sources of supply would tend to make her powerless to resist Axis demands for the passage of troops and tanks into Palestine and Irak.

Notwithstanding our anxieties, I find my people here in good heart and determined to see the struggle through to victory.

Kind regards. [4]


1 The date of dispatch has been taken from Bruce's copy on file AA: M100, May 1941.

2 Winston S. Churchill.

3 Minister to the United States.

4 This cablegram was repeated to the Acting N.Z. Prime Minister, Walter Nash, as no. 210.

[AA: A3196, 1941, 0.7142]