Mario Roatta

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Mario Roatta
Mario Roatta portrait.jpg
Nickname(s) Black Beast[1]
Born (1887-02-02)2 February 1887
Modena, Kingdom of Italy
Died 7 January 1968(1968-01-07) (aged 80)
Rome, Italy
Allegiance
Service/branch Army
Years of service 1906–1943
Rank General
Commands held
Battles/wars

Mario Roatta (2 February 1887 – 7 January 1968) was an Italian general, best known for his role in Italian Second Army's repression against civilians, that matched the German one in the Slovene- and Croatian-inhabited areas of the Italian-occupied Yugoslavia during World War II.[2] In his Circular 3C, Roatta ordered summary executions, hostage-taking, reprisals, internments, burning of houses and whole villages, and deportation of 25,000 people, which equaled 7.5% of the total population of Italy-occupied Province of Ljubljana, which filled up the Italian concentration camps on the island of Rab, in Gonars, Monigo (Treviso), Renicci d'Anghiari, Chiesanuova and elsewhere. The survivors received no compensation from the Italian state after the war.[1]

From 1934 to 1936, he was the head of the Italian Military Information Service. During the Spanish Civil War he led the Corpo Truppe Volontarie and helped Francisco Franco's forces. He was the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Italian Army from October 1939 to March 1941 and from March 1941 to January 1942 its Chief of Staff and helped in preparing for the invasion of Yugoslavia. From January 1942 until February 1943, he served as the commander of the Italian Second Army and operated in Yugoslavia. There he constructed a policy in which he attempted to eliminate the Yugoslav Partisans, helped manage relations with the authorities of the puppet Independent State of Croatia, and "greatly advanced and systematized" collaboration with the Chetniks. He also established the Circular 3C as a "manifesto for repression in the Yugoslav territories", urging "ethnic clearance" be carried out and stressed the need for "complete cleansing" of Slovene-inhabited areas.

Early life and career[edit]

Mario Roatta was born 2 February 1887 in Modena, Kingdom of Italy. He became an active soldier and in 1906 was promoted to second lieutenant. He later served as a staff officer during World War I. After the war he operated as a military attaché in Warsaw where he remained until December 1930 when he took command of an infantry regiment. In June 1933, he was the Chief of Staff of the Army Corps in Bari and afterwards the Chief of Intelligence of the General Staff.[3] From 1934 to 1936, Roatta headed the Italian Military Intelligence Service (Italian: Servizio Informazioni Militari, SIM).[4]

Spanish Civil War[edit]

CTV at the Battle of Guadalajara.

From September 1936 to December 1938, he took part in the Spanish Civil War.[3] He initially aided Galeazzo Ciano by helping direct "Italian assistance to the Nationalists on a day-to-day basis". In 1936 Ciano successfully persuaded Mussolini that Roatta be given command of the Corps of Volunteer Troops (Corpo Truppe Volontarie, CTV).[5] In early March 1937, Roatta and his entire CTV were deployed to central Spain for the Battle of Guadalajara (Operation Folgore) with the intent of capturing Madrid and causing the collapse of the Second Spanish Republic.[5] Roatta was later replaced by Ettore Bastico as commander.[6]

World War II[edit]

From July to October 1939 he served as a military attaché in Berlin.[4] From October 1939 to March 1941, he served as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Italian Army.[7]

In September 1940, the Italians set forth the first crucial steps necessary for the invasion of Yugoslavia. Roatta reported that "all available forces in northern Italy gathered at the Yugoslav frontier between Tarvisio and Fiume: two armies on the front line, and a third in reserve. Altogether there were thirty-seven divisions, eighty-five groups of medium-caliber artillery, and all the special formations, with corresponding services and supplies."[8]

Policy Directive and the Circular 3C[edit]

In January 1942, Roatta had become the commander of the Italian Second Army, succeeding General Vittorio Ambrosio.[9]

Between 30 January and 9 February 1942, Roatta discussed with Ambrosio to create a Policy Directive (Linea di condotta) on his command's relationship with the Croats, Chetniks, and Partisans. Roatta was mostly concerned with removing a large number of Italian forces present in Zones II and III and reorganizing those left into strong garrisons to lower troop casualties. In a response sent on 13 February, Ambrosio stated that there should be maximum loyalty to the Croats, but with a "no uncertainty, or weakness, and a strong hand, if necessary." He vowed a "struggle to the bitter end" with regards to the Partisans. Through these talks the relationship with the Independent State of Croatia and the Partisans was well defined.[10] Under Mario Roatta's command, Italy's violence against the Slovene civil population matched the Germans.[11] Executions, hostage-taking and killing, reprisals, internments into the Rab and Gonars concentration camps, and the burning of houses and villages were ordered. According to historians James Walston[12] and Carlo Spartaco Capogeco,[13] the annual mortality rate in the Rab concentration camp was higher than the average mortality rate in Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald (which was 15%), at least 18 percent. Monsignor Joze Srebnic, Bishop of Veglia (Krk island), reported to Pope Pius XII that "witnesses, who took part in the burials, state unequivocally that the number of the dead totals at least 3,500".[13]

With the Chetniks, however, Roatta was free to create his own policy and collaboration between the two was "greatly advanced and systematized" under his supervision and carried out by all Italian commanders in the Italian annexed or occupied areas of Yugoslavia.[14]

On 1 March 1942, Roatta issued the Circular 3C which was distributed to ranks up to battalion command in areas occupied and annexed by the Italians.[15] It was a "manifesto for repression in the Yugoslav territories" that urged mass internment and a scorched earth strategy in order for "de-Balkanization" and "ethnic clearance". There was no resistance from the High Command of the Second Army for the "evacuation of entire regions." In "abnormal" (areas where military action was taking place) occupied districts, Roatta demanded that all families that, without good reason, lacked their able-bodied male members between the ages of sixteen and sixty years, be interned and deported. He justified this mass internment with the intense danger that the rebels posed. Suspicious groups were to be identified, taken as hostage, and kept in custody. When attacks were carried out against the Italians and perpetrators weren't identified within forty-eight hours the hostage were to be executed. Residents near railway lines, roads, telephone lines, and military depots were to be implicated in sabotage acts and if information that led to an arrest within forty-eight hours was not provided, they would be interned, their cattle confiscated, and their houses destroyed. Roatta also demanded that all males, able-bodied or wounded, near rebel groups to be seen as insurgents if they wore military uniforms, had band badges, or carried military equipment.[16]

In addition there were "ten commandments" stipulating that:[17]

  1. The army is fighting a war.
  2. The information service must be particularly active and extensive.
  3. Secrecy must be maintained at all costs.
  4. Garrisons large and small must be organized for defence.
  5. The efficiency of the rebels is often overestimated.
  6. Your must react promptly against enemy offensives, using as much massive force as possible.
  7. Operations against the rebels are real and proper acts of war.
  8. Being caught off-guard is unacceptable.
  9. You must tenaciously fight to the bitter end.
  10. The situation and prestige of Italy in the new provinces, and in the occupied territories, require iron discipline from the entire army and demeanour in every respect exemplary.

On 6 March 1942, in a report to the General Staff of the Army, he created a policy towards the Chetniks with four points:

To support the Chetniks sufficiently to make them fight against the communists, but not so much as to allow them too much latitude in their own action; to demand and assure that the Chetniks do not fight against the Croatian forces and authorities; to allow them to fight against the communists on their own initiative (so that they can "slaughter each other"); and finally to allow them to fight in parallel with the Italian and German forces, as do the nationalist bands [Chetniks and separatists] in Montenegro.[10]

Roatta later explained his policy in more detail in his postwar memoirs:

The political label of the "Chetniks," their indirect relations with the "Allies," and their program for the future did not interest this commander, and these things he "ignored." He only established and exploited the existing fact, that in the territory under his command the "Chetniks" acted in our favor. So much the worse for the Croats and the Germans in other regions who did not want to or did not know how to make out of the "Chetniks" their own allies. Thus, despite the protests of Berlin and Zagreb, and the efforts of the government in Rome (which often changed its opinion and finally adopted the German view), we continued on our part to collaborate with the "Chetniks." The formations in question were furnished arms, etc., and so regularized (as were the other voluntary formations) until they reached a total strength of about 30,000 men.[10]

On 23 May 1942, Roatta met with Mussolini who told him that "the best situation is when the enemy is dead. So we must take numerous hostages and shoot them whenever necessary." To implement this in Province of Ljubljana, Roatta suggested the closure of the Fiume province and Croatia, the evacuation of people in the east of the former frontiers to a distance of three to four kilometers inland, the organization of border patrols to kill anyone attempting to cross, the mass internment of "twenty to thirty thousand persons" to Italian concentration camps, burning down houses, and the confiscation or of property from villagers suspected of having contact with Slovene Partisans for families of Italian soldiers. He also mentioned the need to extend the plan to Dalmatia and for the construction of concentration camps.[18] Roatta insisted, "If necessary don't shy away from using cruelty. It must be a complete cleansing. We need to intern all the inhabitants and put Italian families in their place."[19]

Italian withdrawal and Chetnik collaboration[edit]

On 19 June 1942, an Italian-Croatian agreement was formalized in Zagreb regarding the withdrawal of around half the Italian forces present in Zones II and III, leaving the Croatian government to maintain the Chetnik militias established there by the Italians – provided that the Chetniks recognized the sovereignty of the Independent State of Croatia.[20]

Since September 1942 the Chetniks attempted to persuade the Italians into carrying out a "large operation" within their occupation zone. Roatta met with Chetnik leader Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin on September 10 and 21. Trifunović-Birčanin urged him to take action "as soon as possible" in a large operation against the Yugoslav Partisans in the Prozor-Livno area and offered aid in the form of 7,500 Chetniks on the condition that they be provided the necessary arms and supplies. In the meeting on September 10, Trifunović-Birčanin told Roatta that he was not under the command of Draža Mihailović, but that he had seen him on July 21 in Avtovac and had his approval in collaborating with the Italians. In late September or early October, Mihailović, responding to a letter from Trifunović-Birčanin dated September 20, congratulated him on his conduct and "high comprehension of the national line" in these talks.[21]

On 16 September 1942, Roatta reported to the Italian Supreme Command (Comando Supremo) that he had a total of 12,320 Chetniks under his command and the possibility of arming 6,000 more. By February 1943 there were 20,514 Chetniks under the command of the Italian Second Army.[22]

In early October the Italian-Chetnik offensive Operation Alfa was launched and targeted Partisans northwest of the middle part of the Neretva.[21] Between 3,000–5,500 Chetniks took part in the operation and were under the command of Petar Baćović and Dobroslav Jevđević.[21][23] On 14–15 October 1942, while in progress of the operation, the Chetniks massacred 543 Catholic and Muslim civilians on the pretense that they harbored and aided the Partisans.[24] Roatta objected to these "massive slaughters" of noncombatant civilians and threatened to halt Italian aid to the Chetniks if they did not end[23] and stated that "I request that Commander Trifunović be apprised that if the Chetnik violence against the Croatian and Muslim population is not immediately stopped, we will stop supplying food and daily wages to those formations whose members are perpetrators of the violence. If this criminal situation continues, more severe measures will be undertaken."[25]

On 10 October 1942, Mladen Lorković, Croatian minister of foreign affairs, wrote a letter and memorandum concerning the increase in Chetnik anti-Croatian activity and terror that occurred between August and September, especially in Herzegovina, central Dalmatia, and Lika. He repeated three demands: the removal of Chetniks from areas in which Catholics and Muslims resided; the removal of Serbian and Montenegrin Chetnik commanders from their posts; and the severe punishment of Chetniks that did not obey "the life, property, and honor of Croatian citizens and against the dignity of the Croatian state."[26] A few days later on 15 October, Roatta held talks with Pavelić in Zagreb and primarily discussed the Chetniks and the handover of Jews to German or Croatian authorities. Roatta did not directly address the transfer of Jews and ultimately few were sent. In regard to the Chetniks, he promised to fulfill previous Croatian requests.[27] On 31 October 1942, in response to the letter of protest by Lorković, Roatta claimed that the acts were not of "mass character" and that they were carried out by individuals and small groups uncontrolled by the MVAC or carried out by the communists. He denied that the Italians supported any terrorist activity against the Croats and that intervention urging peace was undertaken when they had witnessed them.[24]

On 16 December 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered the Armed Forces Commander in South-East Europe, Generaloberst Alexander Löhr to crush the resistance in Yugoslavia[28] and on 8 January 1943, Roatta and Löhr met in Zagreb where they devised a detailed plan for Case White.[29] Near the end of February 1943, Roatta was replaced by General Mario Robotti, commander of Italian troops in Slovenia, as commander of the Second Army.[30] Roatta returned to his post of Chief of Staff of the Italian Army in June.[31] Robotti vigorously implemented Roatta's Circular 3C while in power and in September work on a permanent barricade that would encircle Ljubljana was begun.[32]

Trial and later years[edit]

On 10 November 1943, the Allies requested that Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio remove Roatta from his post as Chief of Staff of the Italian Army due to Yugoslavia's charges that he committed war crimes.[33] On 12 November, Roatta was dismissed from his post.[34] Yugoslavia requested Roatta's extradition to no avail, and he along with the other Italian war criminals were never tried. Britain has been accused of leniency in an attempt to bolster the remnants of the fascist government as a guarantee for an anti-communist post-war Italy.[35] Historian Alessandra Kersevan and journalist Rory Carroll have accused the Italian public and media of repressing their collective memory of the atrocities committed during World War II, and of "historical amnesia,"[36] citing the forgiveness of Roatta and the jailing of two Italian filmmakers, who depicted the Italian invasion of Greece, of examples of historical revisionism.[1]

On 5 March 1945, Roatta escaped from the Virgilio Army Hospital in Rome.[37] An award of one million lire ($10,000) was offered for his capture.[38] The following day a "mild mass meeting" took place at the Italian royal palace in protest of his escape and escalated into a riot ending with one person dead.[39] On 4 April Sergeant Stuart W. Mathes put up a personal reward of $20,000 for Roatta's capture.[40]

Beginning in 1964, he wrote a number of books that were published and lived in Rome until his death on 7 January 1968.[41][42]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Books and journals
News articles
Military offices
Preceded by
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Italian Army
October 1939 – March 1941
Succeeded by
Preceded by
General Rodolfo Graziani
Chief of Staff of the Italian Army
March 1941 – January 1942
Succeeded by
General Giovanni Messe
Preceded by
General Vittorio Ambrosio
Commander of the Italian 2nd Army
January 1942 – February 1943
Succeeded by
General Mario Robotti
Preceded by
General Giovanni Messe
Chief of Staff of the Italian Army
June 1943 – November 1943
Succeeded by