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General Roatta's war against the partisans in Yugoslavia: 1942

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During General Mario Roatta's tenure as commander of the Italian 2nd Army in Yugoslavia, he faced a mounting Communist insurgency. To defeat the partisan forces of Tito, he resorted to proactive politics and a strategy of counter-insurgency. Owing to Italian military weakness and his army's lack of training in guerrilla warfare, Roatta was not averse to enlisting the services of Orthodox Serbs in Croatia, who the previous year had asked for Italian protection after a fearful massacre had been unleashed against them by Mussolini's handpicked ruler in Zagreb, the Croatian Ustaša leader Ante Pavelić. Against the wishes of the Fascist government in Rome, Roatta armed Serbs (called Ćetniks) because they agreed to assist the Italian legions in fighting the partisans, their common ideological foe. But as Yugoslavia descended into civil war - one triggered by the Axis invasion - Roatta paid a price for his freelance pro-Serb politicking by alienating Zagreb, irritating the Germans, and dismaying his superiors in Rome. Italian policy was reduced to a tug-of-war between the Fascist empire-builders surrounding Mussolini and the military command in Yugoslavia, and Roatta became enmeshed in a cobweb of intrigues involving Croats, Ćetniks and Germans. Apart from political manoeuvring, Roatta, in the ineluctable necessity of defeating the partisans, devised a detailed strategy of counter-insurgency. On 1 March 1942, he circulated a pamphlet entitled '3C' among his commanders that spelled out military reform and draconian measures to intimidate the Slav populations into silence by means of summary executions, hostage-taking, reprisals, internments and the burning of houses and villages. By his reckoning, military necessity knew no choice, and law required only lip service. Roatta's merciless suppression of partisan insurgency was not mitigated by his having saved the lives of both Serbs and Jews from the persecution of Italy's allies Germany and Croatia. Under his watch, the 2nd Army's record of violence against the Yugoslav population easily matched the German. Tantamount to a declaration of war on civilians, Roatta's '3C' pamphlet involved him in war crimes.

Keywords: 3C circular; Roatta; counterinsurgency; partisans; war crimes

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2004

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