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

136 — General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

16 April 1942

The following appreciation of the position on the Russian and Middle East fronts is forwarded for your personal information.

page 104

The evidence shows that Germany has made administrative arrangements to resume the offensive on several fronts, either simultaneously or in succession. The possible fronts are:




Turkey—by land, sea, and air;


Cyprus and Syria—by sea and air;


North Africa.

Despite Axis pressure Turkey remains a potential ally, and in all plans for the defence of the Middle East her attitude is of great importance. It is thought that Turkey will not acquiesce in the passage of German troops unless the Russians are utterly defeated or beaten so badly that they lose Moscow and are driven behind the Volga, thus allowing Germany to concentrate large forces in Thrace and the Caucasus. It is difficult to estimate the Turkish strength: her Government is over-centralised, her army is inadequately equipped, and they miss Kemal's leadership. Turkey, however, remains confident, perhaps over-confident.

At present there is no indication of German reinforcement of the Balkans and Aegean area, and although administrative arrangements may be complete it would be some weeks before the necessary redis-position of forces could be effected.

In view of the present weakness of our naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean and our weak military garrison, the invasion of Cyprus and Syria by sea and air might appear an attractive proposition. The condition precedent, however, would be overwhelming air superiority, only attainable by the use of airfields in Anatolia at present not available. The Royal Air Force opinion is that, even if Germany remained on the defensive in Russia, insufficient troop-carrying and transport aircraft are available for a purely airborne attack on Cyprus. This can be ruled out for the present. It is also unlikely and against all teaching that Germany will open up a fresh front until a decision is reached on the main front in Russia. It is probable, however, that she will attack in the Western Desert to improve the jumping-off position against Egypt and to help Japan in the Far East.

Evidence also suggests that the Germans have been fully extended in Russia during the winter. There are doubts about this, but in any case it appears certain that by drawing extensively on their allies and by a comb-out of German industry, they have collected a considerable striking force, including armour, for the spearhead of a new offensive against Russia. Germany's first objective must be to remove the threat of the Russian Army. If she achieves that, I think the Japanese successes in Burma will tend to draw the German effort south as soon page 105 as possible to break our hold on the Middle East and the Mediterranean. She will aim to carry out a winter campaign attacking Iraq, Syria, and the Western Desert. Our position here will then be difficult, but the administrative difficulties facing the Germans must not be forgotten as communications through the Caucasus and Turkey in the winter are very bad, and the sea route to Africa requires a large enemy air force to neutralise Malta.

On the evidence available it would be of little value to express an opinion on the future. Everything depends on the result of the battle in Russia this summer. Assuming, however, that the German offensive commences in mid-May, as seems possible, and succeeds, certain calculations are given.

Attack on Iraq through the Caucasus:

  • From the start of the offensive in Russia to the capture of Stalingrad—one month.

  • Consolidation and regrouping—two to three weeks.

  • Advance to frontiers of Turkey and Persia—eight weeks.

  • Total time for four divisions to arrive at the Persian frontier—14 to 15 weeks.

Attack on Syria through Acquiescent Turkey:

  • To capture Stalingrad—one month.

  • To withdraw troops from the Stalingrad front and concentrate in Thrace—one month.

  • To move four divisions through Turkey to the Turkish-Syrian frontier—two and a half months.

Thus, if the German offensive succeeded, four German divisions could cross the Persian frontier by the end of August and four divisions could cross the Turkish-Syrian frontier by the middle of September.

To sum up: Germany has undoubtedly mobilised all her forces and those of her allies for a supreme effort this year. The situation is parallel in many ways to 1918 with the result much in the balance. If Germany succeeds in Russia and Turkey capitulates without fighting, and no reinforcements of men, tanks, aeroplanes, and ships arrive in the Middle East, we must go on the defensive in the Western Desert, Syria, and Iraq. We must be prepared for loss of territory and for very heavy fighting during the late summer. On the other hand, Russia may prove a tougher proposition than we expect. In any case, should Germany fail to get the decision against Russia, her position will be perilous. Come what may, we must be prepared to fight very hard during 1942, either in defence of the Middle East or in attacking the Axis wherever possible, to support our ally Russia and possibly Turkey.

A cable dealing with the proposed operational role for the New Zealand Division follows.