Why was it an issue?

Attitudes to the Italian partisans amongst German officers

This in an extract from a memorandum “The partisan war” (1949) written by Walter Reder, major in the 16th armoured grenadier division of the Waffen SS, which was responsible for some of the worst massacres of civilians on the Gothic Line. He also led the reconnaissance unit that carried out the operation in Monte Sole that led to the massacre of 770 people, mostly women children and elderly. He attached to the memorandum an essay by the British military historian Liddell Hart, which questioned the legitimacy of guerrila warfare.

“The methods of combat of these communist partisans were without scruple, full of tricks and regardless of the safety and lives of the civilians living in the area. Every house, even those inhabited by non-combatant civilians, was used as a fortress. Houses where women and children seemed to be living peacefully were also places from where German troops were shot in the back with machine guns. Some women and girls were participating as active armed combatants along the same lines as the Russian female battalions (..)The fact that during the fighting houses used by the partisans as fortresses and resistance nests were destroyed, and that even the civilians suffered losses and damages, is clear. But it is not the fault of the German troops and their Commanders.”


This is an extract from testimony by Colonel Martin Friedrich, in command of the 16th artillery regiment of 16th division SS. In his opinion it was the nature of irregular or guerrilla warfare itself that led to the unavoidable killing of civilians.

“The way the soldiers acted during the [partisan] war was determined by the orders of their superiors. The order issued by Feldmarshall Kesselring on 17th june 1944 was given because of the civilians behaving incrrasingly like franc tireurs [guerrillas]. The rules or norms governing behaviour during times of war are very different from those during peace time. The tenor of Kesselring’s order is not any different than the orders given by the UN commanders in Korea, the French in Indochina, the Americans or anybody else in similar situations.”