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

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

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

13 July 1940

The following is supplementary to the appreciation contained in my telegram of 3 July (No. 216). A full-scale appreciation of the situation in the Far East and a paper on the major strategy of the war as a whole are now being prepared and will be telegraphed on completion.2

The immediate threat is to the United Kingdom, the security of which is vital. At present our policy must be a short-term one with the primary object of avoiding defeat at Home, and all resources must be devoted initially to this purpose. It is hoped that by September this phase will be over and that any attempt at invasion will have been defeated. The attention of the enemy is then likely to turn to the Middle East: this may happen simultaneously with the attack on this country, but owing to climatic conditions it is doubtful if the enemy will embark on large-scale operations from page 164 Libya or North Africa [two words mutilated] until the end of September. Therefore, as soon as the situation at Home permits, it will be necessary to reinforce the Middle East, and it is hoped that it will be possible to reconstitute the 6th Australian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division in the Middle East by the autumn or early winter of this year. These divisions will be completed with equipment at the same time as they are concentrated.

Both the Australian forces in Palestine and the New Zealand forces in Egypt are now held in reserve there. Their presence should help to avoid internal disturbances, but they are available to act in that event. The intention is that, in the event of an emergency, they would be employed by General Wavell, subject to their own Commanders' approval. When fully equipped they would be available for employment in active operations in accordance with the situation at the time.

Indications from the above are that we are anticipating operations on a large scale in the Middle East throughout the autumn and winter of 1940. It is desirable, therefore, that preparations for the despatch of reinforcements to the Middle East should be carried out as far as possible in accordance with the timetable already given by the Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments.1 It is realised that the circumstances at the time may not permit of their despatch to the Middle East: for example, the Red Sea route may not be open. Satisfactory progress is, however, being made in dealing with the air and submarine threat to our communications through the Red Sea. The Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, has been asked if he can accept these reinforcements on the dates given, but there is little doubt that he will wish to have them.

Although the possibility of Alexandria being rendered untenable as a Fleet base was referred to in my previous message, it will be realised that our policy is to defend and hold Egypt. The possibility in this connection of a heavy scale attack by German land forces against Egypt and Palestine, either from the west or from the northeast, is not considered to be an immediate contingency.

2 See Volume III.

1 See Volume II, Reinforcements, 1940–42.