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

Desert now not an Impassable Obstacle

Desert now not an Impassable Obstacle

In considering the question of the disparity of our Forces there is a tendency to take refuge in the comforting argument that the Western Desert of Egypt is a considerable barrier to an invasion by a large hostile force from Libya. This view has been put forward and argued over a period of years upon the basis that the Western Desert is wide, arid and waterless, which an army of any size, even without opposition, would find impossible to cross.

I hope that the Committee which has been set up to consider the question of the defence of the Middle East should be under no such misapprehension. They should appreciate the fact that the Western page 344 Desert is no longer an unknown area. As the result of air reconnaissance and special desert motor transport, there is no part of its surface that has not been accurately explored, and every square mile has now been surveyed and charted. It is accepted that the wide tracts of hard sand are capable of being rapidly crossed by desert motor transport or track vehicles; in fact, it is acknowledged that Egypt is the best possible training ground for an armoured force. In the past years it has always been considered that the lack of water and petrol and the difficulty of supply would prevent an invasion by an army of any size. With load-carrying aircraft as a means of transport this is now altered. Given air superiority and the necessary load carriers and a fast-moving desert mechanised army, the question of the defence of the Suez Canal region assumes different proportions. Such an army operating with air-borne supplies would have a long radius of action and a speed that would be difficult to deal with except either by a similar column, supported by aircraft of all classes, or by the necessary fighters and bombers to prevent the supplying of the column.