There is strong evidence that the massacre had been planned in advance and was not just a reaction to the partisan resistance in the area, which ,in reality, was weak and inefficient. No distinction was made between civilians and partisans or terrorists. It was assumed that the whole population supported the partisans.
As noted earlier, this strategy had been devised and employed by German forces on the Eastern Front. Troops were encouraged to have contempt for both the partisans, (often referred to as “Bolsheviks”) and the civilians among whom the partisans operated.
In practice these were not reprisals for the killing of German soldiers, they were operations to terrorise the population, prevent the growth of further resistance, and “clean” the area of any existing resistance groups. Similar operations were carried out all along the Gothic Line. After the war Allied intelligence officers found evidence of a German Handbook for troops entitled Counterinsurgency in Northern Italy (1945). An officer in the British War Crimes Section reported that the Handbook provided evidence of “a systematic policy of extermination, plunder, piracy and terrorism” against the local Italian population which reflected not simply reprisals but an “organized war against the civilians”.