Allied war crimes during World War II
At the end of World War II, several trials of Axis war criminals took place, most famously 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 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.
The militaries of the Western Allied nations were directed by their governments to observe the Geneva Conventions and believed that they were conducting a just war fought for defensive reasons. While violations of the conventions did occur (including untried allegations about the bombing of German civilians and the forcible return of Soviet citizens who had been collaborating with the Axis to the USSR at the end of the war), these countries did not engage in mass terror or commit genocide. The military of the Soviet Union frequently committed war crimes at the direction of its government which included waging wars of aggression, mass murder of prisoners of war and repressing the population of conquered countries.
Air raids on civilian population
During the Second World War, the Allied aerial forces performed air raids on civilian populations in Europe and over Japan. These actions were not only defined crimes by some historians[who?] in retrospect, but were also viewed as such by the leaders of the Axis Powers during the war itself, despite the fact they themselves did likewise. On June 6, 1944, at a conference of top Nazi leaders in Klessheim, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop tried to introduce a resolution to define air raids on civilians as acts of terror, but his motion was rejected.
During the fighting at Leonforte in July 1943, according to Mitcham and von Stauffenberg in the book The Battle of Sicily, The Loyal Edmonton Regiment killed captured German prisoners.[page needed]
Kurt Meyer, of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, accused Canadian forces of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division during the 1944 Normandy campaign of breaching the Hague Conventions. He claims that on 7 June notes were found that ordered no prisoners to be taken, information confirmed by Canadian infantry under interrogation; that prisoners were not to be taken if they hindered operations. Hubert Meyer also confirms this story; he states that on 8 June a Canadian notebook was found that contained orders to not take prisoners if they impeded the attacking force. Kurt Meyer also calls upon evidence from Bernhard Siebken’s war crimes trial during which the allegation was made that Canadian infantry shot, on at least one occasion, German soldiers who had surrendered during the campaign.
C.P. Stacey, the Canadian official campaign historian, reports that on 14 April 1945 rumours had been spread that the commanding officer of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada had been killed by a civilian sniper; this resulted in the highlanders setting fire to civilian property within the town of Friesoythe in a case of reprisal. Stacey later wrote that the highlanders first removed German civilians from their property before setting the houses on fire, he commented that he was "glad to say that [he] never heard of another such case".
Following the Operation Dragoon landings in southern France and the collapse of the German military occupation in August 1944, large numbers of Germans could not escape from France and surrendered to the French Forces of the Interior. The Resistance killed few of their German military prisoners, but few of their Gestapo or SS prisoners survived.
The Maquis are known to have executed 17 German prisoners of war at Saint-Julien-de-Crempse (in the Dordogne region), 14 of whom have been positively identified, on 10 September 1944. The murders were revenge killings for German murders of 17 local inhabitants of the village of St. Julien on 3 August 1944, which were themselves reprisal killings in response to Resistance activity in the St. Julien region, which was home to an active Maquis cell.
French Moroccan troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, known as Goumiers, committed mass crimes in Italy during and after the Battle of Monte Cassino and in Germany. According to European sources, more than 12,000 civilians, above all young and old women, children, were kidnapped, raped, or killed by Goumiers. This is featured in the Italian film La Ciociara with Sophia Loren.
The Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention (1929) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. This cast doubt on whether the Soviet treatment of Axis POWs was a war crime, although they "were [not] treated even remotely in accordance with the Geneva Convention", causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands. However, The Nuremberg Tribunal rejected this as a general argument, and held that the Hague Conventions (which the 1929 Geneva Convention did not replace but only augmented, and unlike the 1929 convention were ones which the Russian Empire had ratified) and other customary laws of war regarding the treatment of prisoners of war were binding on all nations in a conflict.
Acts of mass rape and other war crimes were committed 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.
Late in the war, Yugoslavia's Communist Partisans complained about the rapes and looting commited by the Soviet Army while traversing their country. Milovan Djilas later recalled Joseph Stalin's response,
"Does Djilas, who is himself a writer, not know what human suffering and the human heart are? Can't he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometers through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle?
While "no agreement, treaty, convention or any other instrument governing the protection of the civilian population or civilian property" from aerial attack was adopted before the war and Allied forces concluded that an air attack on Dresden was justified on the grounds the city was defended, military justified and attacked military objectives historian Donald Bloxham claims 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."
- Canicattě massacre: 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.
- The Dachau massacre: killing of German prisoners of war and surrendering SS soldiers at the Dachau concentration camp.
- In the Biscari massacre, which consists of two instances of mass murders, U.S. troops of the 45th Infantry Division killed roughly 75 prisoners of war, mostly Italian.
- Operation Teardrop: Eight of the surviving, captured crewmen from the sunk German submarine U-546 were tortured by US military personnel. Historian Philip K. Lundeberg has written that the beating and torture of U-546's survivors was a singular atrocity motivated by the interrogators' need to quickly get information on what the US believed were potential missile attacks on the continental US by German submarines.
In the aftermath of the Malmedy massacre a written order from the HQ of the 328th US Army Infantry Regiment, dated December 21, 1944, stated: No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoner but will be shot on sight. Major-General Raymond Hufft (U.S. Army) gave instructions to his troops not to take prisoners when they crossed the Rhine in 1945. "After the war, when he reflected on the war crimes he authorized, he admitted, 'if the Germans had won, I would have been on trial at Nuremberg instead of them.'" Stephen Ambrose related: "I've interviewed well over 1000 combat veterans. Only one of them said he shot a prisoner... Perhaps as many as one-third of the veterans...however, related incidents in which they saw other GIs shooting unarmed German prisoners who had their hands up."
“When an officer would tell you to take a couple of German prisoners back behind the line and for you to ‘hurry back,’ you did what you had to do.”
Historian Peter Lieb has found that many US and Canadian units were ordered to not take prisoners during the D-Day landings in Normandy. If this view is correct it may explain the fate of 64 German prisoners (out of 130 captured) who did not make it to the POW collecting point on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
According to an article in Der Spiegel by Klaus Wiegrefe, many personal memoirs of Allied soldiers have been willfully ignored by historians until now because they were at odds with the "Greatest Generation" mythology surrounding World War II, but this has recently started to change with books such as "The Day of Battle" by Rick Atkinson where he describes Allied war crimes in Italy, and "D-Day: The Battle for Normandy," by Anthony Beevor. Beevor's latest work is currently discussed by scholars, and should some of them be proven right that means that Allied war crimes in Normandy were much more extensive "than was previously realized".
Asia and the Pacific War
Allied soldiers[which?] 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 "by 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 permissible. 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. In "The Birth of Communist China", C.P. Fitzgerald describes China under the rule of KMT thus: “the Chinese people groaned under a regime Fascist in every quality except efficiency.” 
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 committing summary 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 and killing 280.
- 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.
According to Mark Johnston, "the killing of unarmed Japanese was common" and Australian command tried to put pressure on troops to actually take prisoners, but the troops proved reluctant. When prisoners were indeed taken "it often proved difficult to prevent them from killing captured Japanese before they could be interrogated". According to Charles Lindbergh, the Australians often threw prisoners out from aircraft, then claimed they had committed suicide. According to Johnston, as a consequence of this type of behavior; "Some Japanese soldiers were almost certainly deterred from surrendering to Australians". Major General Paul Cullen indicated that the killing of Japanese prisoners in the Kokoda Track Campaign was not uncommon. In one instance he recalled during the battle at Gorari that "the leading platoon captured five or seven Japanese and moved on to the next battle. The next platoon came along and bayoneted these Japanese." He also stated that he found the killings understandable but that it had left him feeling guilty.
American 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 U.S. troops not to take prisoners. This analysis is supported by British historian Niall Ferguson, 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."
Ferguson 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. Ferguson 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 U.S. 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 at Gualdacanal, interrogator Army Captain Burden noted that many times these were shot during transport because "it was too much bother to take him in".
Ferguson 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 Ferguson, who says that "Allied troops often saw the Japanese in the same way that Germans regarded Russians—as Untermenschen."
Mutilation of Japanese war dead
Some Allied soldiers collected Japanese body parts. The incidence of this by American personnel 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."
In a memorandum dated June 13, 1944, the U.S. 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 U.S. 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".
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 attacks like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings could be considered war crimes is one of the reasons given by John R. Bolton (Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (2001–2005) and U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations (2005)) for the United States not agreeing to be bound by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. although they would not be prosecutable due to their having occurred prior to the ratification the treaty.
Okinawan historian Oshiro Masayasu (former director of the Okinawa Prefectural Historical Archives) writes based on several years of research:
- Soon after the U.S. 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.
However, Japanese civilians "were often surprised at the comparatively humane treatment they received from the American enemy." According to Islands of Discontent: Okinawan Responses to Japanese and American Power by Mark Selden, the Americans "did not pursue a policy of torture, rape, and murder of civilians as Japanese military officials had warned."
Unrestricted submarine warfare
In the Nuremberg Trial, German Admiral Karl Dönitz was tried, among other crimes, for issuing orders to target Allied civilians, a policy known as unrestricted submarine warfare. Dönitz was found guilty, but no sentence was imposed, because of evidence presented to the Tribunal that the Royal Navy and the United States Navy had issued similar orders.
The US Navy applied the same policy to operations in the Pacific. According to Gary E. Weir of the US Naval Historical Center, because of the way war was waged in the Atlantic, "when Admiral Thomas C. Hart proclaimed unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan on 8 December 1941, it came as no surprise".
Comparative death rates of POWs
According to James D. Morrow, "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 POWs".
Death rates of POWs held by Axis powers
- Chinese POWs held by Japan: 56 reported survivors at the end of the war
- U.S. and British Commonwealth POWs held by Germany: ~4% 
- Soviet POWs held by Germany: 57.5% 
- Western Allied POWs held by Japan: 27%  (Figures for Japan may be misleading though, as sources indicate that either 10,800  or 19,000  of 35,756 fatalities among Allied POW's were from "friendly fire" at sea when their transport ships were sunk. Nonetheless, the Geneva convention required the labeling of such craft as POW ships, which the Japanese neglected to do.)
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.
- Japanese POWs in Chinese hands: 24%
Official claims that the death rate of German POWs in American and British hands, were under 1% has been disputed. For comparison, British and U.S. post-war civilian mortality rates were considerably higher. Anglo American troops held in German POW camps suffered a very low mortality rate of 4% which was praised by the ICRC who credited it to the treatment of allied prisoners by the German military. James Bacque claims an analysis of records supports a German POW death rate of over 25%.
|in hands of||USSR||US & UK||ROC||Western Allied||Nazi Germany||Japan|
Holocaust denial literature
The focus on supposed Allied atrocities during the war has been a theme in Holocaust denial literature, particularly in countries where outright denial of the Holocaust is illegal. According to historian Deborah Lipstadt, the concept of "comparable Allied wrongs", such as the post-war expulsions and Allied war crimes, is at the center of, and a continuously repeated theme of, contemporary Holocaust denial; phenomenon she calls "immoral equivalencies".
Japanese neo-nationalists argue that Allied war crimes and the shortcomings of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal were equivalent to the war crimes committed by Japanese forces during the war. American historian John W. Dower has written that this position is "a kind of historiographic cancellation of immorality—as if the transgressions of others exonerate one's own crimes". While right-wing forces in Japan have tried to deny or re-write the war-time history, they have been unsuccessful due to pressure from both within and from outside Japan.
- Bleiburg massacre
- 1944–1945 killings in Bačka
- Foibe massacres
- List of massacres
- Soviet war crimes
- Victor's justice
- Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union
- Soviet partisans, atrocities against civilians in Finland
- Taken by Force (book)
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