Plans for Barbarity Force
Plans for Barbarity Force
The position of Britain was quite clear. As she had already warned the Greeks not to expect intervention on the mainland, Mr Churchill was perfectly justified in telling the House of Commons that ‘We have most carefully abstained from any action likely to draw upon the Greeks the enmity of the criminal dictators. For their part, the Greeks have maintained so strict a neutrality that we were unacquainted with their dispositions or their intentions.’6 Nevertheless, when the Greeks invoked the guarantee of April 1939, Britain was morally bound to give some assistance. In fact King George VI, by the advice of the War Cabinet, cabled page 89 to the King of the Hellenes: ‘Your cause is our cause: we shall be fighting against a common foe.’
On the other hand it was doubtful just what Britain could do. General Metaxas wanted the Navy to defend Corfu and the Royal Air Force to cover Athens, but the only assistance possible was the despatch on 1 November of a force to occupy the naval base at Suda Bay in Crete. The battalions were intended for Malta, but Churchill held that the loss of Crete would be ‘a grievous aggravation of all Mediterranean difficulties.’ The British Minister in Athens1 suggested, however, that although Greek morale was high the non-appearance of British aircraft was encouraging some criticism. So, without waiting for instructions, the Air Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore, had No. 30 Blenheim Squadron in Greece by 3 November. His statement was a good explanation of the whole problem: ‘It seems that it has become politically absolutely essential to send a token force to Greece even at the expense of my forces here.’2
Churchill considered this move to be both wise and bold. In his opinion, every effort must be made to assist the Greeks. They were determined to resist the Italians; prolonged fighting in the Balkans was inevitable; and the ‘collapse of Greece without any effort by us will have deadly effect on Turkey and on future of war.’ The commanders-in-chief in the Middle East were still inclined to worry about the security of Egypt, which was essential if the support of Turkey was to be retained, but Churchill was convinced that the forces with General Wavell were more than sufficient for the defence of that country and for the offensive in East Africa. ‘No one will thank us for sitting tight in Egypt with ever-growing forces while Greek situation and all that hangs on it is cast away. Loss of Athens far greater injury than Kenya and Khartoum….’3
Such being the case, the Government decided, as a long-term investment, to send still more assistance to the Greeks. On 4 November General Wavell was instructed to give Greece all possible moral and material support at the earliest possible moment. As soon as properly defended airfields were ready, Barbarity Force—five squadrons of the Royal Air Force with all equipment and ancillary services—must be sent to Greece.
6 Speech, 4 November 1940. Quoted from The Greek White Book, pp. 8–9.
1 Sir Michael Palairet, KCMG.
3 Churchill, Vol. II, p. 476.