The Context

The Kesselring Decree of 17 June 1944

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Individual units of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS may have carried out massacres and other brutal acts of repression against the Italian populace in the area of Monte Sole and elsewhere along the Gothic Line but the responsibility for what happened lay with the Commanding Officer who issued the orders which those troops were implementing. This was Field Marshall Albert Kesselring. 

 

On 17 June, 13 days after the Allies took Rome, Kesselring issued a decree: “New Regulations in Anti-Partisan Warfare”.  The key phrase in the decree was that “the population was made responsible for the presence (Auftreten) of partisans.”   As noted earlier the decree also promised indemnity to soldiers “who exceed our normal restraint”.

 

Previously counter-insurgency operations had been concerned with maintaining lines of communication and supply across the Alps and the Apenines. But now the German army was in retreat northwards, pushed by Allied forces, and retreating through what they now regarded as enemy territory.

 

  German forces were now expected to hold the civilian population responsible for all partisan actions taken to hinder the Army’s retreat.  After Mussolini protested about the massacre of Italian civilians Kesselring issued another decree on 21 August in which he deplored those actions by German troops that had "damaged the German Wehrmacht's reputation and discipline and which no longer have anything to do with reprisal operations" .  On 6 May 1947 Kesselring was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life imprisonment and released in 1952 on the grounds of ill-health.