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

291 — General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

21 August 1943

As you know, I saw the Prime Minister [of the United Kingdom] and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff on the way back from New Zealand. I also saw the heads of the Intelligence services. A great spirit of optimism prevails in the highest quarters, based on the following facts:

The German offensive on the Eastern front this summer was stopped without difficulty by the Russian Army, who have since resumed the offensive. The operations against the Italians were going well, and Mussolini and the Fascist regime had collapsed. In official circles it was expected that the war against Germany will be over during 1944, and some contended that the German Army could be disposed of this year.

I feel that the optimism to a great extent is justified. This winter is likely to see great change in the Axis position, but a forecast of the future is difficult because there are so many uncertain factors. Germany is to all intents fighting on two fronts, a situation she has always tried to avoid. Although she has 289 fighting divisions on her Order of Battle, there is every indication that she has not the men to maintain them. She has few reserves in depots in the rear and some of the fighting divisions on the Russian front are reported to be 40 per cent below strength. It is certain that the enemy is desperately short of men and, with an enormous front to hold, is weak everywhere.

Although our air attacks are formidable, we do not know yet to what extent bombing has softened the powers of resistance of the civilian population in Germany. Neutral countries who still have embassies in Germany are in a better position to judge this, and possibly increased anti-Nazi feeling in Sweden and other countries is significant. Undoubtedly the fall of the Fascist regime in Italy page 264 and the heavy bombing of industrial Germany have made it impossible to keep the truth from the German people. They now realise there is no hope of avoiding ultimate defeat.

From a purely military point of view Germany's position is desperate. They have lost the Battle of the Atlantic. Their air forces have been eclipsed on every front and there is no doubt that from a production point of view the Allies are definitely on top. The longer the war goes on the better will the equipment position become. Further, the Axis armies have been outfought on every battlefield during the last twelve months. The situation on all fronts is so grave that the German General Staff must reconsider the policy of major strategy. The most sane decision for Germany would be a general withdrawal on the Eastern front to escape further disasters in the autumn and winter. Such withdrawals, however, would render Germany more vulnerable to air attacks, and giving up conquered territory would be an admission of defeat which would weaken the power of the Fuehrer in a way they could not risk in view of what has happened in Italy. Notwithstanding all these facts, there is no doubt that German anti-Bolshevik propaganda has made the Germans desperate, and they will fight the Russians to the finish on the Eastern front, realising that the only hope for their population is to wear out the Russian Army before Germany is reached. Whatever happens in the Mediterranean, the Germans can be expected to attempt to hold on on the Russian front. Their position, however, is precarious, and in holding on they risk being overwhelmed by the Russians during the autumn and winter.

The bulk of the land fighting this year has been carried on by our Russian allies. We are engaging at the most ten German divisions on the Mediterranean front, while on the Eastern front the Russian armies are fighting 198 German divisions. It is unfortunate that all our support landing craft and trained troops are in the Mediterranean. They could not be moved in time to use them again this summer for an invasion from England and no landing operations could be attempted there until April or May 1944.

Although the main battle will be fought by the Russians, the Americans and ourselves must intervene and fight the Germans whereever we can. It is hoped that the theatre of war will be picked so that we can keep our armies concentrated and make full use of our greatly superior tanks.

Three courses appear open to the Allies. We can operate either against the Balkans, Italy, or the South of France. The Balkans are not suitable for armoured battles. Italy and France remain. Without knowing the result of the conference at Ottawa,1 I feel page 265 that every effort will be made to knock out Italy and later to open up a second front through France from the south.

A cipher message follows about the training and probable role of the New Zealand Division.

1 This conference, between President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill, was held at Quebec from 17–24 Aug 1943.