Tom from Cornwall wrote: ↑
20 Mar 2021 21:17
daveshoup2MD wrote: ↑
20 Mar 2021 08:03
So, Smuts advice was to attack everywhere at once. Seems a trifle unfocused, doesn't it?
Yes, and Mr Churchill seems a paragon of strategic sense in his response!
Winston S. Churchill to Field Marshal Jan Smuts
Prime Minister’s Personal Telegram, T.1287/3
(Churchill Papers, 20/117)
5 September 1943
Most Secret and Personal
For you alone.
Yours Nos. 1145 and 1160.
1. The invasion of the Toe of Italy now begun is of course only the prelude to a far heavier attack which is imminent and will, if successful, produce consequences of a far-reaching character. We hope presently to open a heavy front across Italy as far north as we can get. Such a front will absorb about twenty divisions from the Mediterranean and may require reinforcement if selected for counter-attack by the enemy.
2. I have always been most anxious to come into the Balkans which are already doing so well. We shall have to see how the fighting in Italy develops before committing ourselves beyond Commandos, agents and supplies, but the whole place is aflame, and with the defection of the twenty-four Italian divisions scattered in the Balkans who have ceased to fight and now only try to get home, it may well be that the Germans will be forced to retire to the line of the Sava and the Danube. At present they are building up large air forces south of the Danube as well as along its valley, no doubt with a view to attacking our flank in Italy as well as of shielding themselves from the air attack into Austria, of protecting Ploesti, and in the last resort covering a shortening of their front in this theatre.
3. I think it better not to demand entry into the war by Turkey at this present time, as the forces with which we should have to fight are more usefully employed in the Central Mediterranean. The question may be put to Turkey later in the year.
4. In spite of these serious needs and projects in the Mediterranean which strain our resources to the full, we have to find seven divisions from the theatre from November on for the build-up of operation ‘Overlord’ in the Spring of 1944. For this purpose every personnel-ship which can be gathered apart from those used by the United States in the Pacific is being employed in
the ceaseless transportation of American troops and air forces. None of our ships have been idle this year and yet there are so far only two American divisions in England. It is not physically possible to make a larger concentration by the date mentioned. We shall be able to match the American expedition with nearly equal force of British divisions, but after the initial assault the build-up must be entirely American as I am completely at the end of manpower resources and even now have to ask the Americans to interrupt the movement of field troops in order to send over some thousands of engineers to help make the installations and establishments required for the gathering of their trans-Atlantic army.
5. These projects in Europe, together with the air offensive and the sea war, completely absorb all our resources of manpower and of ship-power. This fact must be faced. There is no comparison with our conditions and those prevailing in Russia, where the whole strength of a nation of nearly two hundred millions, less war losses, long organised into a vast national army is deployed on a two thousand miles land front. This again is a fact which must be faced.
6. I think it inevitable that Russia will be the greatest land power in the world after this war which will have rid her of the two military powers, Japan and Germany, who in our lifetime have inflicted upon her such heavy defeats. I hope, however, that the ‘fraternal association’ of the British Commonwealth and the United States together with sea and air power, may put us on good terms and in a friendly balance with Russia at least for the period of re-building. Further than that I cannot see with mortal eye, and I am not as yet fully informed about the celestial telescopes.
7. In the east we British have no shortage of forces but the same difficulty of coming into action as the United States in the Atlantic and also in the Pacific. The shipping stringency rules all oversea and amphibious action, and for the rest, in Burma there are the jungles, the mountains, and the fact that more than half the year is swamped by the monsoon. However, a vigorous campaign has been set on foot. I brought young Wingate to Quebec and he is being raised from a Brigadier to a Corps Commander with powerful jungle forces adapted to the purpose being formed with the utmost speed for an attack in the first month of next year. The appointment of Mountbatten heralds an amphibious operation of novelty and far-reaching scope which I am pressing with all possible energy, the details of which I will unfold to you when we meet.
8. Believe me, my dear friend, I am not at all vexed at your two telegrams of criticism. I am confident that it we were together for two or three days I could
remove such of your anxieties as are not inherent in exorable facts. Night and day I press for greater speed in action and less cumbrousness in organisation. I am waiting this side of the Atlantic pending the Italian coup and its repercussions, but I expect to be home when Parliament meets and hope to find you at least approaching our shores.
Interesting read; thanks. I found this especially interesting for September, 1943, from WSC to the head of a Commonwealth nation with (essentially) dominion status:
"... as I am completely at the end of manpower resources and even now have to ask the Americans to interrupt the movement of field troops in order to send over some thousands of engineers to help make the installations and establishments required for the gathering of their trans-Atlantic army."
So, the problem
is stated clearly - but where's the ask?
I mean, to give South Africa due credit, they put a two-division expeditionary force into the field for active operations and lost 50 percent of it (more or less) while under British corps, army, and theater command; the South Africans, in comparison to the Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders, certainly "did their share" when it came to ground troops. The fact that even after the above experience in 1941-42, they still put an armored division into the field in Europe in 1944-45 is respectable.
However, South Africa, with the "Africa Oath" had the same sort of geographical restriction on deployment of their forces as Australia and Canada did; their conscription laws were limited to home defense, like (initially) Australia and Canada; and South Africa had access to "additional' manpower resources (in the Union and the SW Africa Mandate) that were not tapped (certainly not for combat duty) and in fact, as I understand it, prevented the British from doing much with the available manpower in the British-controlled high commission territories in southern Africa; recruitment for pioneer" duties, but not beyond that.
Obviously, South African politics (racial and otherwise) were fraught, but - at a time when Churchill is plainly telling Smuts "the manpower crisis is real" there's the unasked question - "what are you going to do to help?"
Which is really interesting.
In 1940, the Union had a population of roughly 11 million; the "white" population was (roughly) less than 3 million. Mixed race (i.e. "coloured" was about half that of "white," there was a small population of South Asian ancestry (couple hundred thousand, perhaps), and the rest is pretty much "black".... at its high point, the South Africans contributed two infantry divisions, of three brigades each for a total of six, to the Allied order of battle. The vast majority of the personnel, certainly in the combat arms, were white; some non-whites served in the divisions' support and service elements.
By 1943, when this exchange of letters occurred, that commitment (for understandable reasons) was on track to be a single division, of two brigades, until the end of the war.
Obviously, WSC and Smuts know all this, and the historical and political realities of racism have to be weighed, but what is interesting in these two letters is that neither
say "look, what kind of additional volunteer forces could be raised in South Africa"? No one says, "what could be done with manpower from the high commission territories" in combatant roles? And there's the obvious question of the South African "Indians" - at a time when the IA was expanding hugely, there was a small but generally Anglophone and, I presume, reasonably Anglophile population of men waiting to be tapped - who were not.
Later in the war (1944-45) when the British started diverting physically fit 18-year-old Englishmen, Scotsmen, and Welshmen from conscription for the military for, instead, labor service (largely in the coal mining industry), one has to wonder why these and other manpower pools that were (historically) available for non-combatant duty were not tapped.
All in all, it suggests that at least some of the manpower problems the British and dominion nations labored under in 1943-45 were, certainly to a degree, self-inflicted.