How the Italian Mafia Helped the Allies in the WWII Italy Invasion - History Key

How the Italian Mafia Helped the Allies in the WWII Italy Invasion

Maybe you’ve heard about it or maybe not, so History Key gathered a summary of the most important facts and moments related to the Mafia involvement in the WW II Italy invasion. First of all, let us give you some historical data, in order to present you the context:

Operation Avalanche Italy
Troops and vehicles being landed under shell fire during the invasion of mainland Italy at Salerno, September 1943/ ”Operation Avalanche” Map © Image Source: Wikipedia
  • The invasion took place on 3 September 1943, and was an amphibious landing operation by Allied forces;
  • The operation was conducted by General Sir Harold Alexander and his 15th Army Group, together with Lieutenant General Mark Clark’s U.S. Fifth Army and General Bernard Montgomery‘s British Eighth Army;
  • The main operation for the invasion was named ”Operation Avalanche” having as landing point the Salerno city and beaches. Other two side support operations, were launched with the names ”Baytown”(which took place in Calabria) and ”Slapstick”(which took place in Taranto);
Men of the 2nd Battalion, wait to board
Men of the 2nd Battalion, wait to board landing craft at Catania, Sicily, for the invasion of Italy, 2 September 1943 © Drennan (Sgt), No 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit / Image Source: Wikipedia
General Montgomery salutes his troops from a DUKW
General Montgomery salutes his troops from a DUKW, Reggio, Italy, September 1943 © Keating (Maj), No 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit / Image Source: Wikipedia
Charlie ''Lucky'' Luciano
Charlie ”Lucky” Luciano © New York Police Departmen/ Image Source: Wikipedia

So, having that said, you could imagine a large movement of troops and vehicles, everybody ready to fight and win the war. But in fact there was also another important aspect for the success of the operation, and that was the Italian Mafia involvement in the Allied landing on Italian soil. The biggest name in this combination was Salvatore Lucania, born in Sicily and better known as Charlie ”Lucky” Luciano.

”There’s no such thing as good money or bad money. There’s just money” – Lucky Luciano

What connection could have been existed between an Italian Mafia Boss and the U.S. government?

When the Allied victories were flooding the newspapers, Charlie Luciano was reading them in prison. As a “business man”, he immediately spotted an opportunity to get some advantages. While he was incarcerated, he threw an offer you can’t refuse.

“At that time, Lucky Luciano was a boss of first order, so he had incredible power through his word.”

During 1943, the Allies were on the Mediterranean offensive, having already reported various victories against Germans and Italians in North Africa. Now the plan was to invade Italy, which was considered by Winston Churchill as ”the soft underbelly of Nazi Europe”. ”Husky” was the name of the operation which would bring the Allied troops of Italian land, by landing on Sicilian land. Churchill admitted that the Americans were advantaged when it came about dealing with Italians. Just think about all the Italian immigrants established in America during the early ’20, and the powerful Italian community formed there.

Italian Immigrants 1905
Italian Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, New York, 1905 © Lewis Hine/Image Source: Pinterest

Before the start of the ”Husky” operation, and the invasion of Italy through Sicily, Lucky Luciano managed to strike a deal with The State of New York. The deal’s condition were clear and simple:

  • Luciano provided assistance from his organization, that meaning a complex intelligence networking at disposal of the Allied Navy;
  • The involvement of Albert Anastasia (another Luciano’s associate) who was the boss of the docks, so there was the guarantee that no dockworker strikes will exist during the war;
  • Luciano provided security for all the war ships being built in the docks from the New York Harbor;
Winston Churchill with the Thompson submachine gun

Winston Churchill with the Thompson submachine gun © Image Source: Daily Mail

In exchange for his involvement, The State of New York agreed to commute Luciano’s sentence. Once the deal was sealed, Churchill expressed the fear that Italian-Americans and anti-Fascist agents from the Sicily region, could turn out to have Mafia links. An intimate connection between New York and Sicily could be a two-edged sword for the Allies.

At some point there was also a discussion related to the possibility of sending Lucky   Luciano in Italy, on the frontline during the invasion. Luciano was willing to go to Sicily in order to directly assist the operation, but that never happened. Lucky Luciano conducted everything from his prison cell, through his reliable partners, such as Meyer Lansky or Joe Adonis. The American Intelligence received a secret password, to use when in need: “Mafia and Lucky Luciano”.

These words were said to be like magic. Locally, some Mafia squads attacked the German troops stationed in their town. Such thing happened in Licata, where the local Mafia boss and his men attacked a German headquarter. They blew up the safe containing important intelligence, as maps of the German and Italian defense positions, code books and even a detailed map with the marine mine fields.

Don Calogero Vizzini
Don Calogero Vizzini © Image Source: Wikipedia/Getty Images

In order to go even further, let us tell you about a second phase of this story. Few days after the Allies landing in Sicily, an American plane dropped on the village of Villaba, a canvas sack addressed to ”Zu Calo”, which stands for Don Calogero Vizzini, which was the lord of the mountain region through which the American army had to pass in order to advance. The sack’s content was a silk scarves (a common form of identification for mobsters based in the US) having an ”L” on it. Clear enough that The ”L” was standing for Lucky Luciano. In July 1943, the Civil Affairs Control Office of the U.S. Army, appointed ”Zu Calo” / Don Calogero mayor of the Villalba. Other sources says Don Calogero was made an honorary Colonel of the U.S. Army.

Exploding ship near the beach of Sicily
Exploding ship near the beach of Sicily, 1943 © Image Source: Wikipedia

On January 1946, as reward for his wartime contribution, the Governor Thomas E. Dewey commuted Luciano’s sentence, imposing the condition that he had to accept the deportation to Italy. On February 28, Luciano reached Naples, after a 17 day voyage by boat. He died on January 26, 1962, suffering a heart attack at Naples International Airport, while attending a meeting with American producer Martin Gosch, in order to discuss a film based on his life.

Charlie ''Lucky'' Luciano and his Wife with the family dog
Charlie ”Lucky” Luciano and his Wife with the family dog, 1955 © Image Source: Pinterest/Getty Image

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *