Biscari massacre

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The Biscari massacre was the killing of 71 unarmed Italian and 2 unarmed German prisoners of war by American soldiers, on 13 July 1943, at the Biscari airfield, Sicily.

The killings occurred on two separate occasions, after facing stiff resistance, in one case after snipers had targeted wounded soldiers as well as the medics attempting to aid them.

When he was informed of the massacres, General Omar Bradley told General George S. Patton that U.S. troops had murdered some 50-70 prisoners in cold blood. Patton noted his response in his diary: "I told Bradley that it was probably an exaggeration, but in any case to tell the Officer to certify that the dead men were snipers or had attempted to escape or something, as it would make a stink in the press and also would make the civilians mad. Anyhow, they are dead, so nothing can be done about it." Bradley refused Patton's suggestions. Patton later changed his mind. After he learned that the 45th Division's Inspector General found "no provocation on the part of the prisoners....They had been slaughtered," Patton is reported to have said, "Try the bastards."

At the trials, both Sergeant Horace T. West and Captain John T. Compton stated that Patton had ordered that if the enemy continued to resist after U.S. troops had come within 200 yards of their defensive position, then surrender of those enemy soldiers needed not be accepted, thus trying the superior orders defense. This apparently worked for Captain Compton, who was acquitted, but not for Sergeant West, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, but with the sentence soon remitted and West continuing to serve and eventually receiving an honorable discharge.

General Patton was questioned about the alleged speech. Patton stated that his comments in the speech had been misinterpreted and nothing he had said "by the wildest stretch of the imagination" could have been taken as an order to murder POWs. An investigation ultimately cleared Patton of any wrongdoing.

See also

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