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As it turned out the PCF, with its disciplined organisation and Moscow-oriented policy was something of a brake on the radical upsurge that the struggle against the occupation provoked. When the row with America over Giraud broke out, the PCF argued that de Gaulle should compromise.10 The other resistance groups, not subordinate to Stalinist discipline could be more trouble for London. Combat, though its founders were of the French far right swung rapidly to the left, straining at Moulin’s collar. Combat leader Henri Frenay explained ‘liberation and revolution are two aspects of the same problem that are indissolubly linked in the minds of all our members’, and ‘a revolutionary army appoints its leaders and does not have them imposed’. Frenay accepted de Gaulle’s military leadership, but as ‘a revolutionary expression … we retain our full independence’. On the other hand, Combat could be wildly opportunistic, and entered into its own talks with Vichy officers at one point, and then from February 1943, took 10 million francs a month from the American Office of Strategic Services (no doubt Washington was hedging its bets on Giraud and against de Gaulle).
One resistance movement that was closely under the influence of the Special Operations Executive in London was the Czech. Edvard Beneš the Czech Prime Minister set up a government in exile in London that cleaved closely to British strategy. Initially, resistance in the Czech lands was strong, with extensive acts of sabotage, and there were mass actions, like a boycott of the collaborationist press in September 1941. To shore up German rule a brutal overlord, Reinhard Heydrich was sent. Heydrich set about deporting Jews from the country.
The SOE and the government in London hatched a plan to assassinate Heydrich, which was carried out by two agents trained and parachuted in, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík. On 27 May 1942 the two ambushed Heydrich, shooting him with a Sten gun (he died from his wounds a week later). Though the attack was heroic and a great propaganda coup against one of the key architects of the Final Solution, it was a setback for the Czech resistance.
German reprisals were savage, beginning with the destruction of Lidice and massacre of its male population, 19 June 1942, followed by the village of Ležáky on 24th June, and ending with the wrecking of the SOE-Czech network and the deaths of Kubiš and Gabčík.16 Italy Italy’s popular disaffection with Mussolini turned on the Fascists’ failure to feed their people. The dictator had taken Italy into the war to galvanise the people around him, and for a while it worked, but doubts quickly emerged. By 1942, many Italians saw that they were only the junior partner, even subject to German whims. As the war ground on, the likelihood of being on the losing side was underscored by Allied bombing raids and the push from North Africa into the Axis’ own ‘soft underbelly’. Italy’s elite lost confidence in the wager they had made on Mussolini. The Italian people, long subdued by the Fasces, protested against hunger, and, as we have seen, struck out the industrial plants in the north.17 Fearful of mass disaffection, the Fascist Council, with the support of King Victor Emmanuel, deposed Benito Mussolini, on 24 July 1943. The Fascist Pietro Badoglio set up secret negotiations with the Allies to pull out of the German alliance. British representative Harold Macmillan was relieved: ‘it would suit us much better not to be stimulators of a revolution, which we shall only have to suppress later’.18 The Allies agreed that if Italy declared war against Germany it could become a co-belligerent, and so avoid a prolonged occupation after the war. Roosevelt and Churchill hoped for a clean handover of power, with the Italian authorities, newly cleansed of their Axis associations, fronting an Allied occupation.
The German forces in Italy by that time had been doing most of the fighting, and were well-entrenched. On 9 September the agreement was published, and the Italian government withdrew to Brindisi, while the Wehrmacht disarmed their already demoralised Italian allies, taking 647,000 prisoners. Late in September 1943 Field Marshall Kesselring fought the Allies to a standstill at Salerno, securing a German occupation of the country to the just north of Naples. Still, the German hold on Italy was tenuous, and two weeks after the surrender Rome was an ‘open city’, with the king and Badoglio having abandoned responsibility.
The Italian underground grabbed its chance and declared itself a Committee of National Liberation with Ivanoe Bonomi as head. The movement was not large – as few as 4000 in September 1943, growing to 10,000 in January 1944, 60,000 by July and 100,000 by October. Among them, around a third were factory workers, a fifth peasants, who fought alongside students, shop-workers, and clerks. Nearly a fifth were women.19 Their initial success was short-lived as the Germans reinvaded Rome on 23 September bringing in martial law. Though open liberation government was blocked, the CLN moved to create partisan groups to carry on the resistance, with some real success. Partisans helped Croatian Jews jailed on the camp on the Island of Rab to free themselves, so avoiding the German extermination camps.20 Liberation of detainees on the Island of Rab The British response to the Badoglio government’s surrender, and the attempts to liberate the north was to step up the bombing of Italian cities, in particular Turin and Milan – the centres of the labour opposition to Mussolini.21 In the summer of 1944 partisans succeeded in liberating at least 15 ‘partisan republics’, like Carnia, Montefiorini, and Ossola, emboldened by the allied advance, and established Committees of National Liberation.22 British General Alexander, the Allied Commander, told the Times that the partisans were holding down up to six of the 25 German divisions.23
Partisans of Florence take on the Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht’s war against the Italian partisans was brutal and unremitting. On 24 March 1944 in the Ardeatine caves 335 Italians were bound and shot on the orders of Luftwaffe Obersturmbannfuhrer Kurt Mälzer. The slaughter was a reprisal for the Gruppo d’Azione Patriotica’s attack that killed 28 members of a German police battalion in the Via Rassella in Rome. There were other massacres, so-called reprisals for partisan attacks.
More than 200 were killed in the Val di Chiana near Arezzo in June 1944, and later 771 were killed around Mazabotto on the outskirts of Bologna, 46 at Guardiastello south of Livorno. Between 1943 and 1945 44,720 anti-Fascists were killed in battle, 21,000 wounded and a further 9,980 were executed in reprisals.24
ELAS, the Greek People’s Liberation Army was initiated by Aris Velouchtis, in the face of scepticism from his fellow Communist Party (EAM) members, as a way of organising the Greek klephtic brigands who were busy raiding rural towns, as a force against the German occupation late in 1941.25 Joined by the liberal officer Stefanos Sarafis ELAS’s successes were rapid, and the organisation founded liberated zones in the countryside, adding to the strikes against forced labour in the cities in 1943.26 ELAS grew from 12,500 in the summer of 1943 to 30,000 in the spring of 1944 to around 50,000 on the eve of liberation. They faced an occupation force of 300,000, made up of the German 5th Army, the Italian 11th Army (who surrendered in 1943) and the Bulgarian 2nd Army Corps. The Axis Commanding Officer Lieutenant General Alexander Löhr waged a brutal war. More than 1000 villages were burned down. More than a million Greeks had seen their homes robbed and destroyed. Their crops were burned and their churches desecrated. More than 20,000 civilians were killed or wounded, shot, hanged or beaten by the Axis forces. From the time they set up their General HQ in May 1943 ELAS recorded enemy casualties. ELAS killed 19,355 Axis troops, wounded 8,294 and took 5,181 prisoners.27 Axis strategy struggled with the tenacity of the mountain-based resistance. Mass sweeps were effective at first, but ELAS quickly recovered, and grew. The Wehrmacht and its allies followed a strategy of terrorising villages from which ELAS drew its strength, often taking local notables – doctors, lawyers – as hostages. In October 1943 General Karl Le Suire, responded to the killing of 78 soldiers of the 117 Jaeger Division by killing 696 Greeks from the town of Kalavryta and villages around. Kalavryta lost all its adult men. At the end of 1944 the Germans were using more local Greek battalions to take on ELAS.28 Despite the tenacity of the ELAS resistance, the Allies were alarmed that they had succeeded in liberating much of the country themselves. The British ‘Minister Resident in the Mediterranean’ Harold Macmillan was warned by the nationalist politician George Papandreou, that ‘in our desire to attack the Germans we had aroused and armed most dangerous Communist forces in Greece itself’ – though Stefanos Sarafis said that British arms supplies were not that great.29 By September 1943, the Italian army was surrendering its arms and supplies to an ELAS force of 50,000, giving it absolute advantage over its smaller rival liberation forces.30 ELAS Partisans, photographed by Dmitri Kessel Britain sent a youthful Captain Christopher Montague Woodhouse (later the fifth Baron Terrington and Conservative MP for Oxford) into Greece in the hopes of building up alternative ‘national’ bands, but he found that ELAS were in control, ‘even motor roads were mended and used by EAM-ELAS’.31 Indeed, according to historian Mark Mazower EAMELAS organised economic activity, reshaped the judicial and educational systems, and introduced social reforms for women. EAM officials handled relief for the victims of Axis raids and for guerrillas’ dependents; they brought in a new system of local selfgovernment, and even held national elections in March 1944.32 The ELAS-EAM fighters were painted as vicious brutes by their critics in Allied Head Quarters in Egypt, by the Greek Royalists, and by the Wehrmacht. Still, the liberated areas under EAM influence were remarkable for their self-sufficiency, and self-administration.
Schools and children’s groups were organised. Women, who fought alongside men in ELAS were also active in village organisation, and first got the vote in the EAM organised elections.
Still the British persevered in their attempts to build up the rival EDES militia – which regularly turned its guns on ELAS instead of the Germans, and in many instances, got support from the Wehrmacht as well. In October 1943 EDES forces made a surprised attack on ELAS troops in Roumeli, which was followed by an ELAS counter-offensive. Though relations were patched up afterwards, hostilities often broke out afterwards.33 Yugoslavia The division of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia between Germany and Italy, left a rump Serbia ruled over by the quisling General Nedic and the pro-German Croat regime of Ante Pavelic with its Ustashe militia. The Ustashe slaughtered Serbs and Jews, killing 500 000.
Two groups of Yugoslav partisans vied for leadership, the royalist ‘Chetniks’ under Draza Mihailovic, and the Communist-led group under Josip Broz Tito. Initially the British SOE favoured Mihailovic, with the King in exile in London, and the novelist Evelyn Waugh acting as contact officer. Waugh’s high Tory prejudices (he reported back that Tito was in fact a woman, and even insisted on calling him ‘Madam’ when they met) helped to blind the SOE to the real conditions in Yugoslavia. On the ground, though, it was Tito who was fighting the war, while Mihailovic gave the struggle against Communism the priority over that with Germany. At Uzice, the Chetniks joined in a German attack on the partisans. In 1943, the SOE sent nine missions to the Chetniks, trying to persuade them to fight the Germans, but without success.34
Ustashe militia man with Chetnik trophy