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

370 — The acting Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia1 to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

page 272

The acting Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia1 to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

22 April 1941

I have received a cablegram from the GOC, AIF (Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Blamey) informing me that the 6th Australian Division and Australian Corps troops in Greece have with your New Zealand Division been formed into a Corps Command, which at the request of the New Zealand Division and with Blamey's full agreement is now described as the Anzac Corps. Australia is indeed proud that her troops are again joined with their New Zealand comrades to serve in a new Anzac Corps, which by its deeds already accomplished in the field has nobly upheld the traditions associated with the name. We have now received a despatch dated 20 April from General Blamey, the text of which is as follows:

The force withdrew successfully seventy miles from Florina to the Aliakmon position on 13 and 14 April. The 19th Australian Brigade and the Armoured Brigade2 had great difficulty breaking away and suffered considerably on 14 April owing to the deterioration of Greek troops and the general position. The task of withdrawing the Imperial forces to the Thermopylae position, a distance of 140 miles, was imposed on me by Wilson. This is now going on. Half of the force is back to the position and is trying to complete on the right although the situation is difficult and the right flank is still severely engaged. All routes are being bombed by continuous patrols of the enemy air force which is completely in control. There is a great shortage of arms and fighting stores, and our Air Force is reduced to lamentable strength. The position is naturally strong but the troops are weary and the supply of equipment, chiefly weapons, is inadequate. If we succeed in establishing this position the troops will be subjected to an overwhelming preponderance of the enemy air force. All control has been lost by the Greek Command on this front. I understand that the morale of the political leaders is very shaken but am not well informed on this point.

General Blamey's despatch caused us so much concern that in forwarding a copy of it to our Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, who is at present in London, we cabled the following comments:

From earlier messages we had realised the gravity of the situation but Blamey's latest message is most alarming. In view of the seriousness of the position disclosed regarding the shortage page 273 of arms, the inadequacy of fighting equipment, and the heavy reduction of Air Force strength, evacuation of our troops will now be rendered doubly hazardous and it is feared that if extreme measures are not taken it will end in a catastrophe. We must demand that the utmost protection is given our troops and that everything possible is done to provide additional Air Force cover for them. Blamey's message is so alarming that we ask you to give it your almost exclusive attention to ensure that in whatever possible way help can be given it is most definitely forthcoming.

1 Mr. Fadden.

2 1st (British) Armoured Brigade Group.