Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I
356 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand
The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand
The following is the text of a report by the Chiefs of Staff on the military case for assistance to Greece:
No appreciation has been received as yet of the tactical factors which led our envoys and Commanders-in-Chief to favour the Greek enterprise. These will probably be elucidated during the course of the next few days on the return of our envoys. Meanwhile, we give below some comments on the situation as it now is.
The outlook from a military point of view is essentially one of time, space, and numbers. When we considered the position on 5 March we were apprehensive lest the Germans should be able to break the Aliakmon line before it could be manned effectively. Briefly, our reasons for this misgiving were as follows:
We were informed that the Greeks had failed either to redeem their undertaking to move troops on to the line or to start work on improving communications to it.
On the information available to us we calculated that at the best we could have one armoured brigade and one New Zealand brigade on the line by 15 March, while the Germans could concentrate two divisions there by 15 March and five divisions by 22 March.
With regards to (a), we have now learned that General Wilson has himself visited the Aliakmon line and found that it ‘is being manned up to time’. Confirmation of this is contained in a telegram of the same date (10 March)2 from the British Military Mission at Athens3 which states that concentration is proceeding satisfactorily.
As regards (b), our own movements are proceeding according to plan and a message on 10 March reports that the full programme has been made possible by the passing of ships through the Suez Canal (see my telegram of 12 March, No. 355). On the other hand, it is clear that the Germans are unable to achieve the timetable which we visualised. They have not yet crossed the Greek frontier and it is therefore impossible for them to concentrate any forces at all on the Aliakmon line by 15 March.
The view has been expressed by General Wavell that if his forces can be transported to Greece and concentrated on our chosen battle line there is a good chance of holding the enemy's advance. In view of the facts set out in the preceding paragraph, the prospects seem brighter than they did a week ago.
Another satisfactory change in the situation is that the Suez Canal was opened for traffic on 9 March and that, so far as we know, the shipping required for the movement is now on the right side of the canal.
1 Not available.
2 Not available.
The Greek ammunition situation appears to be less serious than we were led to believe a short time ago. The head of the British Military Mission to Athens has expressed the opinion that ‘provided [large?] part of raw material and ammunition already advised as sent from America and the United Kingdom could arrive by the middle of April the situation does not call for alarm.’
So far as the naval situation is concerned, Admiral Cunningham1 reported on 4 March that the movement of a large force to Greece involved considerable risk. Should the Germans start an air offensive from Bulgaria against convoys and ports of disembarkation, losses were to be expected, and in addition surface action by the Italian fleet against convoys could not be excluded. He summed up by stating that his resources were taxed to the limit but that nevertheless he had considerable hope that all his difficulties could be overcome.
As regards air forces, the present position is that Greek aerodromes now available on the mainland south of the Aliakmon line will accommodate thirteen squadrons in all. Within the next two or three months additional aerodromes for a further seven squadrons will become available.
The British air forces now in Greece comprise three Blenheim bomber squadrons, one Blenheim bomber-fighter squadron, and three fighter squadrons. In addition, the Greeks have about twenty-one bomber aircraft, forty-six fighter aircraft, and forty-eight old reconnaissance aircraft. Their serviceability, however, seldom exceeds 50 per cent. The programme of reinforcements is as follows: one Blenheim bomber squadron now; two Blenheim bomber squadrons, one single co-operation squadron (Hurricanes and Lysander), all during March; three heavy bomber squadrons. Depending on the arrival of necessary aircraft, a further two fighter squadrons may become available later.
It should be possible ultimately to accommodate up to twenty squadrons south of the Aliakmon line. The provision of these units and their maintenance will be dependent on the receipt of aircraft direct from the United Kingdom and via Takoradi2, on the situation in other Middle Eastern theatres, and on the results of experience of our ability to maintain air forces in Greece in the face of German attack.
Finally, it is clear that the commanders on the spot take a more favourable view of our chances than they did a week ago. Mr. Eden, in a telegram dated 7 March, writes that, ‘We are all convinced, not only that there is a reasonable fighting chance, but that we have here an opportunity, if fortune favours us, of perhaps seriously upsetting the German plans.’
AIR FORCES IN BALKANS AND MIDDLE EAST
German: The Germans have concentrated the following air forces:
40 dive bombers
120 single-engined fighters
40 twin-engined fighters
42 bomber-reconnaissance aircraft
120 Army co-operation aircraft
70 to 80 transport aircraft
40 long-range bombers
80 dive bombers
Preparations are being made in addition which we estimate will allow a further 80 single-engined fighters and up to 120 Army co-operation aircraft to be operated from Bulgaria in about ten days. It would be possible to operate from Bulgaria the whole of the German air forces in Roumania by about the first week in April, but it is unlikely that Roumania would be left without air forces.
From Bulgaria German long-range bombers could reach the whole of Greece, Crete, and the Dodecanese. Their dive bombers could reach a line approximately Komitsa, Larissa, south of Lemnos and including the Sea of Marmara. Single-engined fighters could be provided for the bombers from Bulgaria up to, approximately, Aliakmon northward, and from the Salonika area as far as Lamia. Twin-engined fighters could cover Greece up to the Corinth Canal from Bulgaria, and could include most of Morea from the Salonika area. The aerodromes in the Salonika area could accommodate approximately nine squadrons now and perhaps three or four more by late spring.page 263
71 S9 Blenheim I
71 Blenheim IV
In addition, there are three Royal Air Force squadrons at Aden and four South African Air Force squadrons in Kenya. Some of these aircraft are engaged in operations against Italian East Africa and will become available to reinforce Greece if and when Italian resistance collapses.
On the way to Egypt at present there are:
90 Blenheim IV
39 Glen Martin
The capacity of the reinforcement route via Takoradi is now 80 to 120 aircraft each month and as soon as possible this is being expanded.