8. The United States Army unlawfully executed 73 prisoners of war at Biscari, Sicily, in July 1943
In two separate instances on July 14, 1943, in what would become one of the largest illegal massacres committed by the Western Allies during the Second World War 73 prisoners of war, 71 Italian and 2 German, were executed by the American 180th Infantry Regiment at Biscari, Sicily.
The first massacre, occurring at approximately 10 a.m., was committed by Sergeant Horace West. After the capture of roughly 50 POWs during the seizing of a Sicilian airfield, in violation of his orders to “hold them for questioning” West requested the First Sergeant’s sub-machine gun declaring he was going to “kill the sons of bitches” and advised his comrades to “turn around if you don’t want to see it”. Shooting 35 surrendering prisoners at close range, a subsequent investigation discovered West stopped to reload and then walked through the bodies discharging a “single round into the hearts of those still moving”. Later in the day Captain John Compton and his company committed the second massacre at Biscari, executing 36 prisoners captured following an intense firefight; in retaliation for losses suffered by enemy snipers Compton ordered 11 of his men to carry out his unlawful instructions, stating he “didn’t want a man left standing when the firing was done”.
When informed of the event by General Bradley, General Patton noted in his diary he responded: “that it was probably an exaggeration, but in any case to tell the Officer to certify that the dead men were snipers or had attempted to escape or something, as it would make a stink in the press and also would make the civilians mad.” To his immense credit,Â· Bradley circumvented his superior and forced an investigation by the Inspector General, who concluded the prisoners had been unlawfully murdered and both West and Compton stood trial for their crimes. Unfortunately, Compton was acquitted, despite the Judge Advocate’s determination that his actions were unlawful, and although West was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, Patton was determined to protect the men responsible; West only served a year before being reinstated and returning to active duty, finishing the war with an honorable discharge. Subsequent historical investigations have produced evidence suggesting Patton himself instructed those participating in the Sicilian Invasion to only take prisoners in limited circumstances.