Kevin Foster Monash University
September 29 2017 marks the seventy-third anniversary of the largest single massacre of civilians on the Second World War’s western front. Over the long wet weekend from Friday 29 September 1944 until early the following week soldiers from Sturmbahnführer Walter Reder’s 16th Waffen-SS Reconnaissance Battalion, supported by other German troops, were given the task of clearing the partisans from the whole of the Monte Sole massif, the hills sandwiched between the Reno and Setta rivers, where the Gothic Line ran through the mountains south of Bologna. Fascist spies had confirmed that the partisan group, the Stella Rossa, which had been fighting a running battle with the Germans for weeks, was concentrated on the slopes around Monte Sole. The German commander, Kesselring, claimed that between 21 July and 25 September 1944, 624 Germans had been killed, 993 wounded and 872 missing in partisan operations. Accordingly, at dawn on the 29th, the Germans began a wide encirclement, cutting off any means of escape. From the German perspective this particular rastrellamento was necessitated by the allies’ arrival at the Gothic Line. By 21 September US and South African troops were on the flanks of Monte Sole. Kesselring recognised the danger his troops faced. With the allies staring them in their faces they could not afford to have partisans nipping at their backs. Something had to be done.