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

398 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

8 October 1944

I have just returned to Headquarters 2nd NZEF after visiting General Alexander and the Army Commander.1 I am now in a page 365 better position to give you an appreciation of the general situation and a forecast regarding the future here. I will give you my views in this cable. I also discussed the question of our reorganisation with the Commander-in-Chief and am preparing a second cable setting out the tentative proposals we are making for implementing the replacement scheme.

As far as one is able to form an opinion here, there appears to be no evidence to show that an early German collapse on any front is likely.

In Russia operations on the central front have become static, due mainly to the rainy season. When the frosts come in November heavy fighting can be expected, and it is possible this may have a far-reaching effect on the whole situation in Europe.

On the Western front great gains have been made. The present situation is satisfactory but perhaps a little disappointing. Although the battle has gone well, momentum has now been lost at a critical point in the campaign, and further offensive operations on a big scale have been delayed owing to the lack of good ports and the consequent shortage of maintenance. This is the result of strategy which, in the light of what has happened and speaking after the event, is open to a certain degree of criticism. The Allied armies face an acute administrative problem. Of the liberated ports only Cherbourg is operating well. Calais, Boulogne, and Le Havre are mainly personnel ports and Brest will not be in full operation for seventy days. It would take a major amphibious operation to clear Antwerp. St. Nazaire and Bordeaux are badly wanted but are, however, still strongly held by the enemy. This situation would probably not have arisen if the strategy had been to exploit on a broad front as far as the line of the Marne and then to concentrate all weight and maintenance in a deep thrust through Holland, the Rhine Valley, and the Saar, leaving sufficient troops to clear up the most important ports and so speed up maintenance generally. Although there is a large Allied force in France and Belgium (some fifty-seven divisions), they are so widely dispersed that it has not been possible to maintain them and build up sufficient strength in troops and supplies to stage a quick, powerful thrust at any point in the Siegfried Line before it was manned. Thus the Allies on the Western front are faced with another break-in battle, for which little time remains before the bad weather sets in.

In Italy there is little chance of the enemy being driven back to the Alps before the weather breaks. Present indications are that he will endeavour to hold his ground, and that when weather conditions restrict our air operations the German armies facing us will page 366 go back in their own time to the line of the Adige River-Verona-Switzerland. The campaign here, however, has had important results. Twenty-eight German divisions have been kept fully occupied during very vital months and they have suffered heavy losses in men and equipment.

It seems possible, therefore, that there may be heavy fighting here next spring and, in view of the Government's decision to continue to take a full part in this theatre during 1945, I advise War Cabinet that owing to the battle-weary condition of the force a major reorganisation should be carried out during the winter months so that a comparatively fresh division will be ready in the spring. A further cable setting out detailed proposals for your consideration follows immediately.

1 General Sir Richard L. McCreery, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC; Chief of General Staff, Middle East, 1942–43; commanded 10th Corps (Italy) 1943–44; GOC 8th Army Oct 1944–45; GOC-in-C British Forces of Occupation in Austria, 1945–46; GOC-in-C British Army of Occupation of the Rhine, 1946–48; British Army representative, Military Staff Committee, United Nations, 1948-.