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

307 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

9 December 1943

Your telegram of 4 December.

We very much regret that you have been embarrassed by lack of information about military operations in Italy. The information which we have sent you has represented the gist of all that was available here on the general course of the operations.

We are in some doubt whether your anxiety arises from lack of information on the part played by the 2nd New Zealand Division or about the broader picture of the course of events.

With regard to the former, my immediately following telegram gives a full summary prepared by the War Office of all the information regarding the 2nd New Zealand Division which has been received there since its arrival in Italy. You will see that the main operational event has been the fighting around Orsogna which has been referred to in our daily war telegrams.

As regards the broader picture, the policy we intended to pursue in Italy was set out in the message conveyed to you through the High Commissioner at the beginning of September, summarising the main conclusions reached at the Quebec conference.2 No change page 277 has been made in that policy, which has been pursued resolutely, although our advance has been slowed down by the weather, enemy demolitions, and the suitability of the country for defence.

As for enemy action, we anticipated (see our telegram of 3 July 1943)1 that Germany's general strategy would be to remain strictly on the defensive on all fronts. Nothing has occurred to modify this opinion, and the latest appreciation by our intelligence advisers, dated 24 November 1943, with reference to Italy, may be summarised as follows:

Assuming that the situation on the Russian front continues to develop favourably for the United Nations, then German commitments in Russia, the potential threat across the Channel, the necessity for safeguarding the Balkans, her marked inferiority in the air in Italy (which cannot be remedied), and the difficulties of communications in central Italy all combine to impose on Germany a basically defensive strategy in Italy. Her object will be to delay our advance northwards by demolitions and strong rearguard action but to avoid a decisive battle. She will retain in Italy only such forces as are necessary to the employment of this strategy. She will give priority to the claims of Russia and the Balkans and, later, to France. To avoid disaster on these fronts she will be prepared to reduce her forces in Italy, even if this involved, sooner or later, a withdrawal under pressure from northern Italy to the more easily defended lines of the French and Austrian Alps.

We have carefully considered whether General Eisenhower or General Alexander could be asked to send special informatory telegrams to the New Zealand Government, but in view of their many and heavy other commitments we do not feel we should be justified in calling upon them to do more at present, and we will continue to repeat to you the information which they send us. We are sure that you will appreciate the position and will agree with this. Please let us know if there are any particular aspects about which you feel you should have received further details, and we will do our best to have the deficiency remedied.

We greatly hope that the position will be improved by the above arrangements, and as a result of your request to Headquarters 2nd NZEF to supply you with what they can.

2 Not published.

1 Not published. This telegram from the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in New Zealand contained a summary of an appreciation by the United Kingdom Government's intelligence advisers on the probable course of German strategy in 1943. The conclusion of this appreciation was that German plans for an offensive against Russia had been upset by the sudden collapse of the Axis forces in Tunisia, the continued Russian pressure against the Taman Peninsula, and the intensification of Allied air attacks. As a result, Germany had been forced to adopt a policy of active defence on the Russian front and on all other fronts would probably remain strictly on the defensive.