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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

Immediate Defence of Egypt

Immediate Defence of Egypt

In my opinion, and this opinion is shared by many soldiers, the Italian forces alone do not constitute a menace, because Italians in the past have lacked the incisiveness to attempt such an operation and the offensive spirit necessary to carry through to a successful conclusion a project of this nature. If, however, Italy is helped by Germany with up-to-date methods and equipment, then the whole position of the defence of Egypt page 345 is altered, and the problem must receive the most careful consideration in the light of the new developments.

In considering the problem of the defence of Egypt I have so far only considered the threat from Libya, although in the near future we may have to face the fact that Turkey may be forced to assist the Axis Powers and even to allow a German Army through her frontiers. This development would not seem to be practicable this year. I am afraid there is a lot of wishful thinking about the Middle East at the moment. We are gambling upon the desert being an impassable obstacle. In two month's time we may have the answer. There may be no warning. Libya can be reinforced in a few hours from Italy by aeroplanes of all types—fighters, bombers, troop-carriers, load-bearing aircraft, of all of which the Axis Powers are known to have a large supply. If we want to ensure against Egypt's being invaded there is only one certain way and that is to make the Air Force in Egypt sufficiently strong in fighters and bombers to prevent the load-carrying aircraft from penetrating into the Western Desert and establishing the supply points without which no Army can move across it.

From the defensive point of view there are three areas vital to the life of Egypt, and these would have to be protected—the Coast road, Cairo and the Barrage, and the Assuan Dam. This would force us to disperse our already meagre forces over a large area. When a Commander is set a task he has the right to be told the scale of attack to be expected upon his front. That is the first consideration. The next consideration is when the attack is to be expected. If the attack is from the Italians alone I should say that the reinforcement of the garrison could wait until the late autumn. If, however, the German Army are coming to Africa in any numbers with modern, fast-moving, mechanised vehicles the question of bolstering up Egypt's defences is urgent. It is now too late to contemplate sending another armoured force, even if we had one available. All that can be achieved at present is the hurried reinforcement of Egypt's air power. Barely sixty days remain before the campaigning season opens. I understand that the route from Lagos to Cairo by land is being prepared, but this will only allow the transit of planes and not the ground organisation, personnel and stores. Nevertheless, time still exists to ship to Egypt by fast transport, fighters and bombers, and we must consider this problem very deeply before we decide our action.