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

347 — 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

7 March 1941

The following is the text of a telegram from Athens from the Secretary of State and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom:

The military problem is essentially one of time and space. Reports from Bulgaria suggest that the Germans may arrive on the Greek frontier in sufficient strength to enable an attack to be delivered during the next six or seven days. The rate of the German advance will of course depend on the weather, and the date of attack may also be affected by the need to build up dumps of supplies and ammunition near the Greek frontier.

The resistance which the Greek divisions can be expected to put up in prepared positions on the Nestos–Rupel line should delay the Germans for some days. Then before contact is made on the Aliakmon position there will be a further advance of page 250 100 miles from the Rupel Pass. The time required for this advance should be considerably increased by demolitions which Wilson will prepare as rapidly as possible.

The concentration of three Greek divisions on the Aliakmon position should be complete within five days. The seven battalions from Thrace will require a further five or six days to complete concentration, and the Aliakmon position itself needs considerable work on communications and defences.

The concentration of British forces on the Aliakmon position will be as follows: The bulk of one armoured brigade and one New Zealand infantry brigade between 16–19 March. The bulk of a second New Zealand infantry brigade about 26 March. The New Zealand infantry division should be quite satisfactory in essential men and weapons by the end of March.1 The subsequent programme is not yet arranged.

All possible measures to speed up the programme are being examined, including the use of Greek ships for the transport of British forces from Egypt.

The question of bombing German communications in Bulgaria was discussed with the Greeks yesterday. Their attitude is that to avoid retaliation no attack should be made during the concentration of Anglo-Greek forces. However, bombing will begin at once if Germany attacks Greece by land or air during this concentration.

Thus the margin is narrow and the risk considerable. Nevertheless, as we stated in our telegram of 4 March, this risk appears to us the least dangerous of the three possibilities with which we were faced.

1 Another version of this telegram on file in the Prime Minister's Department reads: ‘should be complete in essential men.’