Allied war crimes were violations of the laws of war committed by the Allies of World War II against civilian populations or military personnel of the Axis Powers.
At the end of World War II, several trials of Axis war criminals took place, most famously were the Nuremberg Trials. However, in Europe, these tribunals were set up under the authority of the London Charter, and could only consider allegations of war crimes committed by persons who acted in the interests of the European Axis countries.
There were a number of alleged war crimes involving Allied personnel that were investigated by the Allied powers and that led in some instances to courts-martial. Other incidents are alleged by historians to have been crimes under the law of war in operation at the time, but that for a variety of reasons were not investigated by the Allied powers during the war, or they were investigated and a decision was taken not to prosecute.
Respect of international conventions: The Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention (1929)
relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. This may make it doubtful that the Soviet treatment of German and allied POWs, who "were [not] treated even remotely in accordance with the Geneva Convention", causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands, was a war crime. However, The Nuremberg Tribunal rejected this as a general argument, and held that the 1929 Geneva Convention was binding because it articulated general principles of international law that are binding on all nations in a conflict, despite one party's non-ratification of the Convention.
Mass rape and other war crimes by Soviet troops during the occupation of East Prussia (Danzig), parts of Pomerania and Silesia; during the Battle of Berlin, and the Battle of Budapest.
, July 1943. According to Mitcham and von Stauffenberg
in The Battle of Sicily
, The Loyal Edmonton Regiment
allegedly killed captured German prisoners.
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada
randomly burned houses in Friesoythe
, northwestern Germany
in April 1945.
The German revisionist historian Jörg Friedrich
, claims that "Winston Churchill
's decision to bomb Germany between January and May 1945 was a war crime." The historian Donald Bloxham states that "The bombing of Dresden
on 13-14 February 1945 was a war crime". He further argues that there was a strong prima facie
for trying Winston Churchill among others and that there is theoretical case that he could have been found guilty. "This should be a sobering thought. If, however it is also a startling one, this is probably less the result of widespread understanding of the nuance of international law and more because in the popular mind 'war criminal', like 'paedophile' or 'terrorist', has developed into a moral rather than a legal categorisation."
- Canicattì slaughter: killing of Italian civilians by Lieutenant Colonel McCaffrey. A confidential inquiry was made, but McCaffrey was never charged with an offence relating to the incident. He died in 1954. This incident remained virtually unknown until Joseph S. Salemi of New York University, whose father witnessed it, publicised it.
- Martin Sorge states in his book The Other Price of Hitler's War that "It was in the wake of the Malmedy incident at Chegnogne that on New Year's Day 1945 some 60 German POWs were shot in cold blood by their American guards. The guilt went unpunished. It was felt that the basis for their action was orders that no prisoners were to be taken". However, an official history promulgated by the United States government states that while "it is probable that Germans who attempted to surrender in the days immediately after the 17th ran a greater risk" of being killed than earlier in the year, even so, "there is no evidence... that American troops took advantage of orders, implicit or explicit, to kill their SS prisoners." (See Chenogne massacre). Documentary film makers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick in their series "The War" alleged in episode 6 that 25 unarmed SS soldiers were killed in a Belgian village after they surrendered in the aftermath of the so-called Malmedy massacre. This killing has been reported by an eyewitnessing American soldier who was asked to be a member of the death squad but declined to do so. Due to the lack of information it is not possible to assess whether this report is a relation of the Chenogne massacre or refers to another one.
- The Dachau massacre: killing of German prisoners of war and surrendering SS soldiers
- Richard Dominic Wiggers asserts that not only did American food policy in post-war Germany violate international law by directly and indirectly causing the unnecessary suffering and death, from starvation, of large numbers of civilians and POWs in occupied Germany. The adequate feeding of the German population in occupied Germany was an Allied legal obligation, under international law (Article 43 of The 1907 Hague Rules of Land Warfare).
- In the Biscari massacre, which consist of two instances of mass murders, U.S. troops of the 45th Infantry Division killed roughly 75 prisoners of war, mostly Italian.
In the Nuremberg Trial, German Admiral Karl Dönitz was tried (among other crimes) for issuing orders to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare. He was found guilty and served over 10 years in prison, despite evidence that both the Royal Navy and the United States Navy also issued similar orders.
Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
In 1963, the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
were the subject of a judicial review
in Ryuichi Shimoda et al. v. The State
. The District Court of Tokyo declined to rule on the legality of nuclear weapons in general, but found that "the attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused such severe and indiscriminate suffering that they did violate the most basic legal principles governing the conduct of war."
Francisco Gómez points out in an article published in the International Review of the Red Cross
that, with respect to the "anti-city" or "blitz" strategy, that "in examining these events in the light of international humanitarian law, it should be borne in mind that during the Second World War there was no agreement, treaty, convention or any other instrument governing the protection of the civilian population or civilian property."
The possibility that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings could be considered war crimes is one of the major reasons often given not to agree to be bound by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court by its opponents, including the United States.
Treatment of POWs and civilians
Allied soldiers in Pacific and Asian theatres
sometimes killed Japanese soldiers who were attempting to surrender or after they had surrendered. A social historian of the Pacific War, John W. Dower
, states that "[b]y the final years of the war against Japan, a truly vicious cycle had developed in which the Japanese reluctance to surrender had meshed horrifically with Allied disinterest in taking prisoners. Dower suggests that most Japanese personnel were told that they would be "killed or tortured" if they fell into Allied hands and, as a consequence, most of those faced with defeat on the battlefield fought to the death or committed suicide. In addition, it was held to be shamefully disgraceful for a Japanese soldier to surrender, leading many to suicide or fight to the death regardless of beliefs concerning their possible treatment as POWs. In fact, the Japanese Field Service Code said that surrender was not permissable. And while it was "not official policy" for Allied personnel to take no prisoners, "over wide reaches of the Asian battleground it was everyday practice." There were also widespread reports at the time of Japanese prisoners killing Allied medical personnel and guards with concealed weapons after surrendering, leading many Allied soldiers to conclude that taking prisoners was too risky.
R. J. Rummel
states that there is little information regarding the general treatment of Japanese prisoners taken by Chinese Nationalist
forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War
(1937-45). However, Chinese civilians and conscripts, as well as Japanese civilians, were maltreated by Chinese soldiers. Rummel claims that Chinese peasants "often had no less to fear from their own soldiers than they did from the Japanese." He also wrote that, in some intakes of Nationalist conscripts, 90% died from disease, starvation or violence, before they had even commenced training.
Examples of war crimes committed by Chinese forces include:
- in 1937 near Shanghai, the killing, torture and assault of Japanese POWs and Chinese civilians accused of collaboration, were recorded in photographs taken by Swiss businessman Tom Simmen. (In 1996, Simmen's son released the pictures, showing Nationalist Chinese soldiers involved in arbitrary executions by decapitation and shooting, as well as public torture.)
- the Tungchow Mutiny of August 1937; Chinese soldiers recruited by Japan mutinied and switched sides in Tōngzhōu, Beijing, before attacking Japanese civilians, killing 280 and raping many women.
- Nationalist troops in Hubei Province, during May 1943, ordered whole towns to evacuate and then "plundered" them; any civilians who refused and/or were unable to leave, were killed.
Allied soldiers in the Pacific often deliberately killed Japanese soldiers who had surrendered. According to Richard Aldrich, who has published a study of the diaries kept by United States and Australian
soldiers, they sometimes massacred prisoners of war. Dower states that in "many instances ... Japanese who did become prisoners were killed on the spot or en route to prison compounds." According to Aldrich it was common practice for US troops not to take prisoners. This analysis is supported by British historian Niall Fergusson
, who also says that, in 1943, "a secret [U. S.] intelligence report noted that only the promise of ice cream and three days leave would ... induce American troops not to kill surrendering Japanese."
Fergusson states such practices played a role in the ratio of Japanese prisoners to dead being 1:100 in late 1944. That same year, efforts were taken by Allied high commanders to suppress "take no prisoners" attitudes, among their own personnel (as these were affecting intelligence gathering) and to encourage Japanese soldiers to surrender. Fergusson adds that measures by Allied commanders to improve the ratio of Japanese prisoners to Japanese dead, resulted in it reaching 1:7, by mid-1945. Nevertheless, taking no prisoners was still standard practice among U. S. troops at the Battle of Okinawa, in April–June 1945.
Ulrich Straus, a US Japanologist, suggests that frontline troops intensely hated Japanese military personnel and were "not easily persuaded" to take or protect prisoners, as they believed that Allied personnel who surrendered, got "no mercy" from the Japanese. Allied soldiers believed that Japanese soldiers were inclined to feign surrender, in order to make surprise attacks. Therefore, according to Straus, "[s]enior officers opposed the taking of prisoners[,] on the grounds that it needlessly exposed American troops to risks..." When prisoners nevertheless were taken, many times these were shot during transport because "it was too much bother to take [them] in".
Fergusson suggests that "it was not only the fear of disciplinary action or of dishonor that deterred German and Japanese soldiers from surrendering. More important for most soldiers was the perception that prisoners would be killed by the enemy anyway, and so one might as well fight on.
U. S. historian James J. Weingartner attributes the very low number of Japanese in U.S. POW compounds to two important factors, a Japanese reluctance to surrender and a widespread American "conviction that the Japanese were "animals" or "subhuman'" and unworthy of the normal treatment accorded to POWs. The latter reason is supported by Fergusson, who says that "Allied troops often saw the Japanese in the same way that Germans regarded Russians [sic] — as Untermenschen.
Similar observations have been made regarding British Commonwealth
personnel in South-East Asia
. For instance, historians Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper state that, during the Assam campaign
of 1944, "...British, Indian, and African troops
methodically and ruthlessly killed all Japanese, [because they were] enraged by cases of atrocities against their own wounded... [General William] Slim
wrote laconically: 'quarter was neither asked nor given.'
Mutilation of Japanese war dead
Many dead Japanese were desecrated and/or mutilated, for example by urinating on them, shooting corpses, or taking Japanese body parts
(such as ears or even skulls) as souvenirs or trophies.
The Allied practice of collecting Japanese body parts occurred on "a scale large enough to concern the Allied military authorities throughout the conflict and was widely reported and commented on in the American and Japanese wartime press.
The collection of Japanese body parts began quite early in the war, prompting a September 1942 order for disciplinary action against such souvenir taking. Harrison concludes that, since this was the first real opportunity to take such items (the Battle of Guadalcanal), "[c]learly, the collection of body parts on a scale large enough to concern the military authorities had started as soon as the first living or dead Japanese bodies were encountered.
When Japanese remains were repatriated from the Mariana Islands after the war, roughly 60 percent were missing their skulls.
In a memorandum dated June 13, 1944, the US Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) asserted that “such atrocious and brutal policies,” in addition to being repugnant, were violations of the laws of war, and recommended the distribution to all commanders of a directive pointing out that "the maltreatment of enemy war dead was a blatant violation of the 1929 Geneva Convention on the sick and wounded, which provided that: After every engagement, the belligerent who remains in possession of the field shall take measures to search for wounded and the dead and to protect them from robbery and ill treatment.”
These practises were in addition also in violation of the unwritten customary rules of land warfare and could lead to the death penalty. The US Navy JAG mirrored that opinion one week later, and also added that “the atrocious conduct of which some US personnel were guilty could lead to retaliation by the Japanese which would be justified under international law”.
It has been claimed that some US soldiers raped Okinawan women during the Battle of Okinawa
in 1945. While the number of rapes committed by US troops is not known, historian Peter Schrijvers states that an Okinawan historian has estimated that the number may have exceeded 10,000. There were 1,336 reported rapes during the first 10 days of the occupation of the Kanagawa prefecture
"When US paratroopers landed in Sapporo, an orgy of looting, sexual violence and drunken brawling ensued. Gang rapes and other sex atrocities were not infrequent. Some of the rape victims committed suicide.
"A former prostitute recalled that as soon as Australian troops arrived in Kure in early 1946, they 'dragged young women into their jeeps, took them to the mountain, and then raped them. I heard them screaming for help nearly every night'. The Allied occupation forces suppressed news of its criminal activities, on September 10 1945 SCAP "issued press and pre-censorship codes outlawing the publication of all reports and statistics 'inimical to the objectives of the Occupation'.
Allan Clifton, an Australian officer of the BCOF who acted as interpreter and criminal investigator wrote:
- "I stood beside a bed in hospital. On it lay a girl, unconscious, her long, black hair in wild tumult on the pillow. A doctor and two nurses were working to revive her. An hour before she had been raped by twenty soldiers. We found her where they had left her, on a piece of waste land. the hospital was in Hiroshima. the girl was Japanese. The soldiers were Australians.
- The Moaning and wailing had ceased and she was quiet now. The tortured tension on her face had slipped away, and the soft brown skin was smooth and unwrinkled, stained with tears like the face of a child that has cried herself to sleep.
As to Australian justice he writes regarding another rape that was witnessed by a party of cardplayers:
- "At the court martial that followed, the accused was found guilty and sentenced to ten years penal servitude. In accordance with army law the courts decision was forwarded to Australia for confirmation. Some time later the documents were returned marked 'Conviction quashed because of insufficient evidence'.
In 1998 the remains of three US Marines stationed on Okinawa were discovered outside of a local village. Accounts from elderly Okinawans verify that the men had made frequent trips to the village to rape the women that lived there but were ambushed and killed by men from the village on one of their return trips. According to the same article, published in 2000,: "rape was so prevalent that most Okinawans over age 65 either know or have heard of a woman who was raped in the aftermath of the war."
Okinawan historian Oshiro Masayasu (former director of the Okinawa Prefectural Historical Archives) writes based on several years of research:
- Soon after the US marines landed, all the women of a village on Motobu Peninsula fell into the hands of American soldiers. At the time, there were only women, children and old people in the village, as all the young men had been mobilized for the war. Soon after landing, the marines "mopped up" the entire village, but found no signs of Japanese forces. Taking advantage of the situation, they started "hunting for women" in broad daylight and those who were hiding in the village or nearby air raid shelters were dragged out one after another.
Post-war incidents involving Axis POWs
- *German POWs in Norway forced to clear minefields (Disarmed Enemy Forces).France and the Low Countries
- *German prisoners were used to clear minefields in France and the Low Countries, a practice that the French government justified at the time as provided for in the Armistice but conceded that it was perhaps not in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. By December 1945, it was estimated by French authorities that 2,000 German prisoners were being killed or maimed each month in accidents.
- *On June 1st, 1945, French occupation forces used Polish soldiers in their service to forcibly bring Waffen-SS officer Oskar Dirlewanger to the Altshausen jail. Dirlewanger was beaten and tortured over the next several days. He died from injuries inflicted by the Polish guards on June 4/5 1945.United States:
- *Rheinwiesenlager prison camps for German POWs
- *Salina Utah POW massacre
Comparative deaths rates of POWs
"Death rates of POWs held is one measure of adherence to the standards of the treaties because substandard treatment leads to death of prisoners." The "democratic states generally provide good treatment of
Death rates of POWs held by Axis powers
- Chinese POWs held by Japan: > 99% (only 56 survivors at the end of the war)
- US and British Commonwealth POWs held by Germany: ~4%
- Soviet POWs held by Germany: 57.5%
- Western Allied POWs held by Japan: 27%
Death rates of POWs held by the Allies
- German POWs in East European (not including the Soviet Union) hands 32.9%
- German soldiers held by Soviet Union: 15-33% (14.7% in The Dictators by Richard Overy, 35.8% in Ferguson)
- Japanese POWs held by Soviet Union: 10%
- German POWs in British hands 0.03%
- German POWs in American hands 0.15%
- German POWs in French hands 2.58%
- Japanese POWs held by U.S.: relatively low, mainly suicides according to James D. Morrow or according to Ulrich Straus high as many prisoners were shot by front line troops.
- Dower, J.W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, (London and Boston, 1986)
- Lily, J. Robert, (not yet published). TAKEN BY FORCE; Rape and American Soldiers in the European Theater of Operations, WW2, Palgrave Macmillan June 2007 ISBN 0-230-50647-X
- Ferguson, Niall. Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat, War in History, Vol. 11, No. 2, 148-192 (2004)
- Veale F.J.P. Advance to Barbarism, Appleton Wisconsin: C.C. Nelson Publishing Co., 1953Articles
- Cobain, Ian. Revealed: UK wartime torture camp, The Guardian, November 12 2005.
- Drayton, Richard. "An ethical blank cheque" British and US mythology about the second world war ignores our own crimes and legitimises Anglo-American war making, The Guardian, May 10, 2005
- Várdy, Steven Béla and Tooly, T. Hunt: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe Available as MS Word for Windows file (3.4 MB) Section: by Richard Dominic Wiggers, The United States and the Refusal to Feed German Civilians after World War II pp. 274 - 288
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