Why was it an issue?

How did senior German officers justify their actions in north Italy in 1944?

This extract comes from a voluntary statement by Albert Kesselring (Commander-in-chief of German forces in Italy) made on the 18th October 1946, at his trial in Venice. The franc tireurs he refers to were French guerrilla fighters who were operating towards the end of the the Franco-German War of 1870.

 In my youth, the actions of the  franc tireurs during the Franco--German war was presented to me as a clear example of a war crime. Similarly, as a  soldier, I considered the partisan war a degeneration of military conduct. (..)  I didn't want to tolerate this kind of combat, detested probably not only by me, a method doomed to contradict the written and unwritten rules of  international law.(..) The iIalian betrayal and the poisonous atmosphere which developed afterwards, and got worse and worse because of the deceits and ambushes, is the main cause of what happened afterwards.

This extract comes from a voluntary statement (26 February 1946) by General Joachim Lemelsen, commanding officer of the 14th German Army. Although he called the Italian partisans “a pestilence” he was one of the few senior officers to openly criticise Kesselring for his order of the 17th of June. Lemelsen believed that this order was a “serious threat to order and discipline, considering the critical situation and the moral tension of the troops”.

It was not possible in many cases to say which prisoners were members of artisans groups, who were collaborators and who were innocent civilians. In these circumstances it was unavoidable that an innocent person sometimes lost his/her life. It is understandable that the troops, morally exhausted from the hard fighting on the frontline and seeing themselves and their supplies threatened by the insurgents behind their lines, became more and more resentful and irritated. During this period of constant withdrawal, the troops were often forced to clean out the partisan groups behind the lines Then, during that exact period, the divisions had to take many actions against those places occupied by the partisans from which fire was directed against German soldiers. These actions were perceived by the civil population as “reprisals”. Then it is possible that accidents happen when cleaning operations are seen as reprisals."