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

311 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

311
General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

11 January 1944

For your personal information, the Eighth Army front is likely to remain quiet until the ground dries, which may not be until March.1 There has been hard fighting on this front.2 The enemy lost his winter line, but by bringing in fresh formations he has succeeded at a cost in keeping the Eighth Army south of the Pescara River until the bad weather set in. The obvious geographical difficulties of the country have been increased greatly by recent heavy rain and snow. Conditions which always favoured defence are now ideal from the enemy's point of view. Snow is lying on the whole of our front and cross-country ‘going’ is impassable.

On the Fifth Army front progress is being made, and the policy is to launch a heavy offensive there to capture Rome. The plan is to move certain formations, including your Division, from the Eighth Army to the Fifth Army front. To gain surprise secrecy is essential. We are moving with wireless silence and with divisional signs and badges removed. I cannot comment on the Army plan, which I do not yet know, but one should not be over-optimistic at page 282 this stage. Mud is a very bad obstacle and the weather is likely to interfere with air co-operation. Your Division is to be in reserve with the role of exploiting any break-through which is made. For this, as you know, the force is fully equipped and trained, and I am confident that your Division, experienced as it is now in these conditions, will give an excellent account of itself should the opportunity to exploit occur.

Conditions here are unlike anything we have experienced since Greece. On New Year's Eve we had a blizzard, with a wind of gale force and heavy snow. Hardships have been accepted with the usual spirit. During this comparatively static period of fighting on the Orsogna front, reliefs have been possible and the men have been able to get under cover. Winter boots and clothing have proved excellent, and I am very glad to report that the sick rate is most satisfactory.

1 Another version of this telegram reads: ‘which may be some time.’

2 New Zealand casualties in Italy from 12 Nov 1943–31 Jan 1944 were:

Killed298
Died of wounds101
Died on active service(includes deaths through sickness, accident, &c.)22
Missing3
Wounded1116
Prisoners of war (includes 16 wounded and prisoners of war and 4 died of wounds while prisoners of war)100
Total1640