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

369 — 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

20 April 1941

Further to my telegram of 19 April (No. 368), the following are the views of our military advisers on the situation in Greece as known up to 18 April:

Both the Greeks and the Imperial forces have fought magnificently and from all accounts have maintained their positions well and have inflicted heavy casualties both in men and material on the enemy.

page 271

However, the forces under General Wilson are being subjected to strong pressure, particularly on the left in the area of Grevena-Kalabaka, and Generals Wilson and Papagos agree that it is sound tactics to withdraw immediately to the Thermopylae line, which is both short and strong.

This increasing enemy pressure, both on the ground and in the air, further points to the probable necessity of an early evacuation [for which arrangements?] are already in hand if it should prove necessary. The Air Officer Commanding1 may already have moved, or be about to move, two fighter squadrons from Greece to Crete in order to give fighter cover to the convoys leaving Greece. This must of course have a bearing on the possibility of holding the position at Thermopylae, strong though it is, for more than a limited period.

The final decisions must depend on the further steps to be taken by the Greek Government as a result of yesterday's conference at Tatoi between Generals Wavell and Wilson and the Greeks.

It will be realised that military considerations must govern the decisions regarding the time, place, and methods of evacuation and the destination of the forces evacuated.

The importance of providing all possible support to the Imperial forces has been emphasised to all three Commanders-in-Chief, due account being taken of the paramount importance of the maintenance of our position in Libya, the successful defence of which is as essential to our troops in Greece as to those in Egypt. Clearly this must take precedence over all other considerations.

Emphasis should also be given to the fact that the Greek Government have throughout maintained their fine spirit and have shown themselves ready to subordinate the interests of their own troops to those of our Imperial forces. Therefore, unless they tell us that we may go, or our Generals are convinced that it is the only thing to do, we are in honour bound to give them all the assistance in our power.

I will keep you in constant touch with further developments.

1 Air Marshal Sir John Henry D'Albiac, KBE, CB, DSO; Air Officer Commanding, British Air Force in Greece, 1940–41; AOC, Iraq, 1941–42; Ceylon, 1942; AOC, Tactical Air Force, Great Britain, 1943–44; Deputy Commander, Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force, 1944; Director-General of Personnel, Air Ministry, 1945–46.