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To Greece

New Zealand Division to go to Greece

New Zealand Division to go to Greece

In New Zealand there was a certain amount of confusion. On three previous occasions3 General Freyberg had mentioned Greece as a possible theatre of war, and on 23 February, the very day General Wavell returned from Athens, he had, without mentioning Greece, given the New Zealand Government ‘an appreciation of the situation and our likely role and fitness for it.’ As soon as 5 Brigade had arrived from Britain, been refitted and hardened up, the Division could take the field. ‘Therefore, I feel that should the British Government request the release of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force for a full operational role the New Zealand Government can now do so with confidence.’4 The result was that when a cable5 was received from Britain on 26 February stating that the despatch of the Division was an essential part of the plan to assist Greece and that Mr Menzies was advising his Government to permit the use of the Australian divisions, the Government page 104 naturally assumed that General Freyberg had been consulted; in fact his words, ‘full operational role’, were repeated in the cable which gave its consent. Had the Government not made this assumption it would certainly have asked for his opinion, and had there been no reference to the acceptance of the plan by Menzies a more detailed statement would have been asked for.

After the receipt of another cable1 with reasons and plans for the expedition the Government was more critical and less confident. Thinking that the force was small and anxious about its chances of being reinforced, it asked if these features had been given full consideration. It was told that the plan was not without hazard, but the general tone of the reply2 was surprisingly confident, even though it was known that Greece was now feeling the strain3 and that Turkey had not changed her attitude. Indeed, Mr Eden, who had been in Ankara with General Dill during 26 February–1 March, had already informed4 Mr Churchill that, unless the Turks were deliberately attacked, their inadequate resources would force them to remain neutral.

3 Conferences with Major-General Sir John Duigan, Chief of the New Zealand General Staff, who was in the Middle East, 28 November. Cable to Minister of Defence, 2 Dec 1940, Documents, Vol. I, pp. 200–1. Cable to Chief of the General Staff, 13 Jan 1941, Documents, Vol. I, pp. 204–5.

4 Ibid., pp. 206–7.

5 Ibid., pp. 241–2.

1 Documents, Vol. I, pp. 242–3. Cables No. 335 and 336 had been sent to New Zealand on 25 February but the consent of the New Zealand Government had been given before the more detailed statement of No. 335 had been received.

2 Ibid., pp. 245–6, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, 2 Mar 1941.

3 See p. 151.

4 Churchill, Vol. III, pp. 85–6: Eden to Prime Minister, 28 Feb 1941.