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To Greece

The Australian Government Makes its Decision

The Australian Government Makes its Decision

The Australian Government was not so easily convinced. From London Mr Menzies had been giving it a more critical appreciation of the situation than the one the New Zealand Government had been building up for itself from the official despatches. Impressed by the statement that the commanders-in-chief still supported the proposal and that Generals Blamey and Freyberg were agreable, it had, however, agreed1 that 1 Australian Corps should be despatched to the Balkans. No sooner had it made this decision than it learnt that General Blamey had always been doubtful about the operation.

On 5 March in a letter to Mr Menzies he had said: ‘The plan is, of course, what I feared: piecemeal dispatch to Europe.’ The next day he was called before Generals Dill and Wavell to be told that the enterprise was now more dangerous.2 Somewhat perturbed, he asked his own Government for its permission to submit his views before the corps was sent to Greece. With his request went an explanatory note: ‘You will appreciate that as I am under operational direction of C in C Middle East I cannot do so without direction from you.’ The Government was unprepared for this. Thinking that he was agreeable, it had already committed the Australian Imperial Force. It now learnt that in his opinion the Allies would have to face a stronger army supported by a superior air force. If they wished to reinforce Greece in order to impress Turkey and Yugoslavia, they had to remember that a defeat and an evacuation, if that should occur, would impress neither the Balkan states nor Japan. In his opinion the operation was ‘extremely hazardous.’ Mr Menzies was therefore asked to state this view in London and to get some assurances that the operation had a reasonable chance of success. The answers he received were little different from those in the final cables, Mr Churchill referring to ‘the overwhelming moral and political repercussions of abandoning Greece’ and saying little about the possibility of a Balkan front.

1 The Australian War Cabinet concurred on 28 February and again on 11 March.

2 See p. 111.