Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sicily?

Discussions on the Holocaust and 20th Century War Crimes. Note that Holocaust denial is not allowed. Hosted by David Thompson.
Peter
Financial supporter
Posts: 3705
Joined: 24 Nov 2002 11:13
Location: Europe

Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sicily?

Post by Peter » 29 Dec 2002 17:37

Does anybody have details of West or Compton mnetioned below, or of their trials. Were the men who committed the other murders of prisoners put on trial ??

SICILY
Many massacres of prisoners of war were committed by the American 45th (Thunderbird) Division during the invasion of Sicily in 1943. At Comise airfield, a truck load of German prisoners were machine-gunned as they climbed down on to the tarmac, prior to be air-lifted out.
Later the same day, 60 Italian prisoners were cut down the same way. On July 14, thirty six prisoners were gunned down near Gela by their guard, US Sergeant Barry West. At Buttera airfield, US Captain Jerry Compton, lined up his 43 prisoners against a wall and machine-gunned them to death. West and Compton were both arrested and convicted of murder. They were sent to the front where both were later killed in action.


cheers
Pete

tonyh
Member
Posts: 2909
Joined: 19 Mar 2002 12:59
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Post by tonyh » 29 Dec 2002 19:10

There were no trials. Both men were KIA a few months later.

Tony

Peter
Financial supporter
Posts: 3705
Joined: 24 Nov 2002 11:13
Location: Europe

Post by Peter » 29 Dec 2002 22:10

Tony
do you have their dates, units, etc, when KIA
thanks
Pete

tonyh
Member
Posts: 2909
Joined: 19 Mar 2002 12:59
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Post by tonyh » 02 Jan 2003 13:21

Hi Itis,

Nope, I'm afraid I don't. I've tried looking around for more info on the alledged crimes of the 45th but theres not a lot out there. German warcrimes are far more bankable it seems.

You might want to try and contact Geroge Duncan who has a good website on various WWII incidents. I haven't found it in a while though, so I don't even know if its still going. I think you can ask him questions through the website. IIRC.

Sorry, not much help I'm afraid. :( If I can get more info, I'll let you know.

Tony

User avatar
Dan W.
Financial supporter
Posts: 8406
Joined: 12 Mar 2002 01:53
Location: IL.

Post by Dan W. » 03 Jan 2003 03:45


User avatar
BKG
Member
Posts: 252
Joined: 09 Feb 2006 19:48
Location: Julisch Venetien

Post by BKG » 20 May 2007 12:01

pls also see this thread:

viewtopic.php?p=1060293#1060293

Tom Nutter
Member
Posts: 135
Joined: 26 Jul 2004 01:07
Location: U.S.A.

Post by Tom Nutter » 21 May 2007 01:39

Carlo D'Este briefly recounts the Biscari incidents in his biography of Patton, A GENIUS FOR WAR, at pp. 509-510. According to the version in D'Este's book, there were two separate incidents, with the result that 73 Italian POWs were massacred by a sergeant and a captain in the US 45th Infantry Division. D'Este mentions nothing about the massacre of German prisoners. I believe the date was 14 July 1943. According to D'Este General Bradley ordered the two men court-martialed. Their counsel raised the so-called "Nuremburg defense" later asserted by German defendants, namely that they acted on the orders of higher authority. In this case, the "higher authority" was Patton, who on 27 June had delivered a "pep talk" to the men of the 45th ID in two shifts. D'Este does not have a transcript of Patton's speech, and I have been unable to locate it elsewhere. Whatever he said, there were those in the 45th who evidently interpreted it as an exhortation to take no prisoners. D'Este does not discuss the ultimate fate of the US sergeant and captain, although he does say that the Nuremburg Defense "was rejected".

Again according to D'Este, as a result of the incident Patton became the target of an official investigation. An officer of the inspector general's office visited him in England shortly before the Normandy invasion. The inspector general's report seems to have exonerated Patton.

Interestingly enough, I received what might be considered confirmation of the incident earlier this year. I received an email from a woman in Illinois who had read something I had written about Operation HUSKY. Her father, who had served in the 45th ID had recently died. She wrote to say that her father had told her for years that something terrible had happened on the day in question, but would never tell her what it was. She asked whether I knew anything about it, and I gave her the information from D'Este's book. The lady's father had been taken prisoner in Italy and privately pubished a short book on his experiences, a copy of which she graciously provided to me. In his book, her father specifically mentions the date in question, saying that "something terrible happended that day; I have never spoken about it, and never will." He didn't, either, going to his grave without telling anyone.

All the best.

Tom

kerrd
Financial supporter
Posts: 161
Joined: 17 May 2008 20:28
Location: United States

Re: Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sic

Post by kerrd » 25 Dec 2010 03:12

Peter wrote:Tony
do you have their dates, units, etc, when KIA
thanks
Pete
Compton was assigned to the 179th Infantry Regiment and was KIA on 8 November 1943 in Italy.

Dave

JamesL
Member
Posts: 1647
Joined: 28 Oct 2004 00:03
Location: NJ USA

Re: Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sic

Post by JamesL » 26 Dec 2010 18:53

Somewhat related ............. an American POW murdered on Sicily.

Pfc. Michael A. Scambelluri, Co. C, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was captured by an Italian patrol. When Pfc. Scambelluri started speaking Italian to his interrogators they accused him of being a traitor and shot him at point blank range 7 times. Leaving him for dead, Pfc. Scambelluri was later found seriously wounded by an American patrol, probably from the US 45th Infantry Division. Later Pfc. Scambelluri identified one of his attackers in a passing Italian POW column. The Americans removed the Italian from the column, marched him over a hill, and executed him.

Pfc. Scambelluri died from his wounds in a hospital in Tripoli.

It was not uncommon for one or two Americans in each company to speak fluent Italian or the Sicilian dialect.

Panzermahn
Member
Posts: 3633
Joined: 13 Jul 2002 03:51
Location: Malaysia

Re: Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sic

Post by Panzermahn » 31 Dec 2010 06:24

JamesL wrote:Somewhat related ............. an American POW murdered on Sicily.

Pfc. Michael A. Scambelluri, Co. C, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was captured by an Italian patrol. When Pfc. Scambelluri started speaking Italian to his interrogators they accused him of being a traitor and shot him at point blank range 7 times. Leaving him for dead, Pfc. Scambelluri was later found seriously wounded by an American patrol, probably from the US 45th Infantry Division. Later Pfc. Scambelluri identified one of his attackers in a passing Italian POW column. The Americans removed the Italian from the column, marched him over a hill, and executed him.

Pfc. Scambelluri died from his wounds in a hospital in Tripoli.

It was not uncommon for one or two Americans in each company to speak fluent Italian or the Sicilian dialect.
That doesn't mean that the Americans had the right to take out an Italian POW from the column and summarily executed him without any trials. It's a war crime per Geneva Convention 1929.

Back to the topic, I recalled Gianluca di Feo wrote an excellent article about the massacre in Gela and Biscari which were published in Corriere della Serra. Perhaps forum members from Italy could help on this.

Professor Giovanni Bartolone's Le Altre Stragi books also documented American atrocities in Sicily

Did anyone had the chance to access the court-martial records of West and Compton at NARA?

JamesL
Member
Posts: 1647
Joined: 28 Oct 2004 00:03
Location: NJ USA

Re: Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sic

Post by JamesL » 31 Dec 2010 17:45

The GC 1929 did not apply.

According to the US Army Laws of Land Warfare 1943 ‘Prisoners of war who, prior to being captured, commit an act in violation of the laws of war, e,g., by torturing or murdering a prisoner,… are not entitled to the privileges accorded prisoners of war.’

It could be claimed that the American infantry took immediate defensive action to stop the murder of other captured American paratroopers by Italian soldiers. The act of murder by the Italians caused the Italians to remove themselves from the protections of the GC.

The Italians denied Pfc. Michael A. Scambelluri the GC protections afforded him.

It would be interesting to learn if the 45th ID was responding to the murder of other American paratroopers.

Panzermahn
Member
Posts: 3633
Joined: 13 Jul 2002 03:51
Location: Malaysia

Re: Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sic

Post by Panzermahn » 01 Jan 2011 04:42

JamesL wrote:The GC 1929 did not apply.

According to the US Army Laws of Land Warfare 1943 ‘Prisoners of war who, prior to being captured, commit an act in violation of the laws of war, e,g., by torturing or murdering a prisoner,… are not entitled to the privileges accorded prisoners of war.’

It could be claimed that the American infantry took immediate defensive action to stop the murder of other captured American paratroopers by Italian soldiers. The act of murder by the Italians caused the Italians to remove themselves from the protections of the GC.

The Italians denied Pfc. Michael A. Scambelluri the GC protections afforded him.

It would be interesting to learn if the 45th ID was responding to the murder of other American paratroopers.
I think we need to know more about this US Army Laws of Land Warfare 1943. Shouldn't there be any provisions to determine the truth or validity of any American soldier's accusation that an enemy soldier committed an act in violation of the laws of war? Any American soldier could have claimed "that enemy soldier shot my buddy in cold blood" and then allow the enemy POW to be removed from the line and summarily executed? What if the American soldier mistakenly identified an enemy POW for a supposedly committed war-crime?

Again, without any military trials/tribunals, it's hard to see that this US Army Laws of Land Warfare does not contradict the Geneva Convention provisions that an enemy POW can't be summarily executed without any trials as well as informing the enemy belligerent about it.

It would be quite helpful if we know the circumstances when Pfc Scambelluri was captured by the Italian patrol.

David Thompson
Forum Staff
Posts: 23143
Joined: 20 Jul 2002 19:52
Location: USA

Re: Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sic

Post by David Thompson » 01 Jan 2011 05:50

Panzermahn -- You wrote:
I think we need to know more about this US Army Laws of Land Warfare 1943.

You, and our other readers, can find a copy online courtesy of the US Library of Congress. It's a rather slow 5.85 MB pdf download, at http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/ ... fare_7.pdf

The full passage cited by JamesL reads:
Prisoners of war who, prior to being captured, commit an act in violation of the laws of war, e,g., by torturing or murdering a prisoner, may be tried before a court-martial or military commission. Such persons are war criminals and are not entitled to the privileges accorded prisoners of war.
(pp. 12-13)

While a trial for war crimes is generally required, there is a special rule for enemy troops who refuse to grant quarter. You can see it on p. 168 of the text:
All troops of the enemy known or discovered to give no quarter in general, or to any portion of the army, receive none.
Note that in this case the rule -- a prexisting custom or usage of war -- was applied only to one particular individual, not to the other captured members of his unit.

Panzermahn
Member
Posts: 3633
Joined: 13 Jul 2002 03:51
Location: Malaysia

Re: Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sic

Post by Panzermahn » 01 Jan 2011 13:05

Thanks David for the link and the clarification.

It would be most interesting to know if the court martial of Sergeant West for the massacre at Biscari were because of this violation of the US Army Laws of Land Warfare

User avatar
Marcus
Member
Posts: 33931
Joined: 08 Mar 2002 22:35
Location: Europe

Re: Were atrocities committed by the 45 (US) Division in Sic

Post by Marcus » 01 Jan 2011 13:23

JamesL wrote:Somewhat related ............. an American POW murdered on Sicily.
Pfc. Michael A. Scambelluri, Co. C, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was captured by an Italian patrol. When Pfc. Scambelluri started speaking Italian to his interrogators they accused him of being a traitor and shot him at point blank range 7 times. Leaving him for dead, Pfc. Scambelluri was later found seriously wounded by an American patrol, probably from the US 45th Infantry Division. Later Pfc. Scambelluri identified one of his attackers in a passing Italian POW column. The Americans removed the Italian from the column, marched him over a hill, and executed him.
Is it known which Italian unit was responsible?

/Marcus

Return to “Holocaust & 20th Century War Crimes”