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

396 — The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

3 May 1941

Reference your telegram of 2 May (No. 394).

I am very glad that the exigencies of evacuation should have carried the New Zealand Division after its brilliant fighting in Greece in such good order to Crete. Every effort naturally will be made to re-equip your troops and, in particular, artillery, in which General Wavell is already strong, is being sent. The successful defence of Crete is one of the most important factors in the defence of Egypt. I am very glad that General Wavell has accepted my suggestion to put Freyberg in command of the whole island, and you may be sure that he will be sustained in every way possible.

The information we have points to an airborne attack being delivered in the near future and it is possible that a seaborne attack may be attempted. The Navy will certainly do their utmost to prevent the latter, which would be a hazardous operation on any page 292 large scale. So far as airborne attack is concerned, this should suit the New Zealanders down to the ground, for they will then be able to come to close quarters, man to man, with the enemy, who will not have the advantage of the tanks and artillery on which he so largely relies. Should the enemy get a landing in Crete that will not be the end of his embarrassments. The island is hilly and rough, giving peculiar scope to the qualities of your troops.

It is possible, however, that the enemy is only feinting at Crete and will make farther east. We have to consider all contingencies in the employment of our scant and overpressed air force. Why is it scant and overpressed? Not because we do not possess evergrowing resources and reserves here; not because we have not done everything in human power to reinforce the Middle East with air[craft]. It is simply because of the physical difficulties of getting aircraft and their servicing personnel to the spot by the various routes and methods open to us. You may be sure that we shall try our best to reinforce our air power, and we are at this moment making very far-reaching but hazardous efforts. The disposition between competing needs of such air forces as are in the East must be left to the Commander-in-Chief. I am not without hope that in a month or so things will be better in the Middle East.

The dignity and stoicism of New Zealand in enduring the agonising suspense of the evacuation is admired by everyone here. It is an inexpressible relief to the Empire that, after inflicting so much loss upon the enemy and paying our debt of honour to Greece, the enterprise has been concluded so successfully.