British and American PoWs paraded through Rome

Rome, Italy, March 1944. General der Luftwaffe Kurt Mälzer

Rome, Italy, March 1944. General der Luftwaffe Kurt Mälzer inspecting Italian troops of the X MAS (belonging to the RSI Navy, and fighting as allied of the Germans) standing in viale Carso near piazza Bainsizza around the time this unit was deployed to counter the Allied beachhead at Anzio – Nettuno, south of Rome.

General der Luftwaffe Kurt Mälzer at the same parade.

General der Luftwaffe Kurt Mälzer at the same parade.

On the 2nd February 1944 some 2000 US and British PoWs were paraded through Rome. It was partly a German attempt to re-assure the population that they had the Allied landings at Anzio under control. Others saw it as ‘emulating the tradition of the triumphal marches of ancient Rome’.

Humiliating PoWs was against the conventions of war. After the war the German commander in Rome, Lieutenant General Kurt Maelzer, was accused of a War Crime, a breach of the Geneva Convention:

… exposing prisoners of war … in his custody … to acts of violence, insults and public curiosity

From the summary of the trial:

Some time in January, 1944, Field Marshal Kesselring, commander-in-chief of the German forces in Italy, ordered the accused who was commander of Rome garrison to hold a parade of several hundreds of British and American prisoners of war in the streets of the Italian capital.

This parade, emulating the tradition of the triumphal marches of ancient Rome, was to be staged to bolster the morale of the Italian population in view of the recent allied landings, not very far from the capital.

The accused ordered the parade which took place on 2nd February, 1944. 200 [sic] American prisoners of war were marched from the Coliseum, through the main streets of Rome under armed German escort. The streets were lined by forces under the control of the accused. The accused and his staff officers attended the parade.

According to the Prosecution witnesses (some of whom were American ex-prisoners of war who had taken part in the march), the population threw stones and sticks at the prisoners, but, according to the defence witnesses, they threw cigarettes and flowers.

The prosecution also alleged that when some of the prisoners were giving the “victory sign ” with their fingers the accused ordered the guards to fire. This order, however, was not carried out.

A film was made of the parade and a great number of photographs taken which appeared in the Italian press under the caption “Anglo Americans enter Rome after all … flanked by German bayonettes.”

The accused pleaded in the main that the march was planned and ordered by his superiors and that his only function as commander of Rome garrison was to guarantee the safe conduct and security of the prisoners during the march, which he did.

He stated that the march was to quell rumours of the German defeat and to quieten the population of Rome, not to scorn or ridicule the prisoners.

Contemporary film of the parade:

General Kurt Maelzer’s defence, like a lot of Nazis, was that he was just following orders. He was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for ten years, reduced to three years on appeal. He was also convicted in connection with his role the notorious Ardeatine Cave massacre and died in prison in 1952.

A motorcycle despatch rider checks his route with a Canadian military policeman, 30 January-3 February 1944.

A motorcycle despatch rider checks his route with a Canadian military policeman, 30 January-3 February 1944.

A motorcycle despatch rider watches as the message he has brought to 8th Indian Division HQ is handed to the GOC, Major General D Russell, by his ADC, Captain D A Sconce, 30 January-3 February 1944.

A motorcycle despatch rider watches as the message he has brought to 8th Indian Division HQ is handed to the GOC, Major General D Russell, by his ADC, Captain D A Sconce, 30 January-3 February 1944.

A 75mm howitzer of 461 Battery, 85th Mountain Regiment, Royal Artillery, on the Monte Di Rontana, 2 February 1945. The guns were firing at German positions in Isola. A mule train with Basuto muleteers bringing up ammunition can be seen in the background.

A 75mm howitzer of 461 Battery, 85th Mountain Regiment, Royal Artillery, on the Monte Di Rontana, 2 February 1945. The guns were firing at German positions in Isola. A mule train with Basuto muleteers bringing up ammunition can be seen in the background.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Duncan Boar February 23, 2014 at 7:04 am

Fascinating film of prisoner march through Rome. Really sorry for the allied soldiers forced to participate. Glad to hear one of the organisers got his comuppance!

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