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

251 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1 to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)

page 193

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1 to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)

8 November 1940

Information has been received that the Greeks intend removing six of their nine battalions now on Crete for employment elsewhere. We cannot ask them to reconsider this move in the circumstances, though we have asked them to leave their existing twelve guns on Crete until these are replaced by us. We think it very unlikely that the Italians will, in all the circumstances, attack Crete, but for future operations, this island is of the highest importance to us, and failure to hold it would be a military and political disaster of the first order. Therefore we have informed the Greek authorities that we are ready to assume responsibility for its security.

Two British infantry battalions (vide paragraph 1 (b) of my circular telegram of 6 November)2 are an insufficient garrison, and the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, has therefore been instructed to despatch additional battalions.

It is likely that the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, in view of the present situation in the Western Desert, will consider it to be in our common interest to select for Crete from those Australian and New Zealand troops now retained in Egypt for internal security duties. Should the Commander-in-Chief so desire, we hope that the Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments will be able to give their concurrence.

In view of the necessity for rapid action, it is requested that a very early reply may be sent to this message, which is being sent also to His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia, and that you will repeat your reply to the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East.

1 Viscount Cranborne had succeeded Viscount Caldecote at the Dominions Office on 5 Oct 1940.

2 Not published. Notification of the British Cabinet's decision to give Greece ‘the greatest possible material and moral support at the earliest possible moment’ was contained in this telegram. Resources in Egypt were to be drawn on for this support. The telegram gave details of air, naval, and military assistance to be provided.