740.0011 European War 1939/9220

The British Prime Minister (Churchill) to President Roosevelt 39

I must now tell you what we have resolved about Greece. Although it was no doubt tempting to push on from Benghazi to Tripoli, and we may still use considerable forces in this direction, we have felt it our duty to stand with the Greeks who have declared to us their resolve, even alone, to resist the German invader. Our Generals Wavell and Dill,39a who have accompanied Mr. Eden40 to Cairo, after heart-searching discussions with us, believe that we have a good fighting chance. We are therefore sending the greater part of the Army of the Nile to Greece, and are reinforcing to the utmost possible in the air. Smuts41 is sending South Africans to the Delta. Mr. President, [Page 952] you can judge these hazards for yourself. At this juncture the action of Yugoslavia is cardinal. No country ever had such a military chance. If they will fall on the Italian rear in Albania there is no measuring what might happen in a few weeks. The whole situation might be transformed, and the action of Turkey also decided in our favour. One has the feeling that Russia, though actuated mainly by fear, might at least give some reassurance to Turkey about not pressing her in the Caucasus or turning against her in the Black Sea. I need scarcely say that concerted influence of your Ambassadors in Turkey, Russia and above all in Yugoslavia, would be of enormous value at the moment, and indeed might possibly turn the scales.

In this connexion I must thank you for the magnificent work done by Donovan in his prolonged tour of the Balkans and the Middle East. He has carried with him throughout an animating heart-warming flame.

[File copy not signed]
  1. Transmitted to the President through the Secretary of State by the British Ambassador on March 10.
  2. Gen. Sir Archibald P. Wavell, Commanding General of the British Forces in the Middle East, and Gen. Sir John Dill, Chief of the Imperial Staff.
  3. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  4. Jan Christian Smuts, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa.