Lucky Luciano, Patton and Sicily

Ken Beaton

Ken Beaton

December 1941 to February 1942 was a Major problem for the East Coast. 120 American merchant ships were sunk by German U-boats. Many were sunk within sight of our coastal shores with burnt bodies and wreckage washing ashore.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Italian Dictator Mussolini arrested many Sicilian Mafia. Hitler blamed the Jews for everything wrong in Germany. The American Mafia had friends and relatives living in Sicily. Meyer Lansky was born in Belarus to Jewish parents. Lansky was “the Accountant for the Mafia.” They were enemies with Italy and Germany.

The loss of lives and 120 ships with the possibility of Axis agents entering American through New York’s waterfront caused Commander Charles R. Hoffenden with the Office of Naval Intelligence to think outside the box. Cdr. Hoffenden contacted Joseph “Socks” Lanza at the Fulton Fish Market. “Socks” was born in Palermo, Sicily. He traveled to New York and became the leader of the United Seafood Workers, USW Local 359, and a member of Charles “Lucky” Luciano’s mafia family. Local 359 represented stevedores, fishing boats with the men loading and unloading fish at the Fulton Fish Market.

Charles “Lucky” Luciano ran out of luck on July 18, 1936. He was sentenced to 30 to 50 years on 62 counts of prostitution. Luciano controlled bookmaking, drug trafficking, loan sharking, trucking and the waterfront. Having served seven years in jail before the invasion of Sicily, Luciano wanted to return to Sicily.

Luciano’s agreement with Cdr. Hoffenden was no dockworkers’ strikes during the War, fishing boats would report all U-boat sightings to the U.S. Navy, no German or Mussolini agents would enter New York’s harbor. Luciano’s mob would conduct counter-espionage activities and introduce Allied military planners to Sicilian mafia leaders. The planners received vital information and contacts for Operation Husky.

One of my favorite stories from the U.S. Navy’s Third Naval District was several days after the agreement. The Luciano kept his word. About two dozen German agents were found floating face down in New York Harbor with numerous bullet holes in their bodies. They were obviously “accidental” drowning victims. Luciano’s boys did what they do best, make people more holy.

Operation Husky began the night of July 9 with the British 1st Airborne Division and the U.S.’s 82nd Airborne Division being dropped at night. Along 105 miles of beaches troops from Lt. General George S. Patton’s Seventh Army and Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army, Canada’s 1st Infantry Division and Free French troops began the 39-day battle to liberate Sicily.

There were two “black-eyes” to the American forces. An officer and a Sgt. were found guilty of killing 74 Italian and two German prisoners. The Sergeant was reduced in rank to a private and returned to the front. He was honorably discharged after the War. The officer was transferred to another unit and was KIA in Italian campaign, November 1943.

The other “black eye” happened when General Patton was visiting an Army field hospital on August 3, 1943. He discovered Pvt. Charles H. Kuhl, 28th Infantry Regiment, had no apparent wounds. (The punishment for cowardice during war is “shall be punished by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.”) General Patton slapped Pvt. Kuhl and reached for his pistol. The general had to be restrained and separated from Kuhl.

Drew Pearson broke the Pvt. Kuhl slapping incident on his Sunday radio program, November 21, 1943. Pearson was the Sean Hannity of that time period. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives. There’s only one way to be noticed or stand apart from the other 434 Congressmen and Congresswomen, make a lot of noise grabbing newspaper headlines. Demand an investigation into the “slapping incident!” Gradually the incident was replaced by War news.

General Patton was the most respected American General by the German High Command. They knew where he was at all times. The High Command wanted their best general to oppose Patton in battle. The Germans couldn’t understand why there was a fuss about Pvt. Kuhl. If Kuhl was in the German Army, he would’ve been shot within minutes. The Germans were big on following orders, read Judgement at Nuremberg.

The casualty count for the Brits and Canadians was 2,721 Killed In Action, 7,939 wounded and 2,183 Missing in Action. The U.S. had 2,811 KIA, 6,471 wounded and 686 MIA. The Italians had 4,678 KIA, 32,500 wounded and 152,933 MIA/Prisoner of War. (Of the 152,933 Italians, most were prisoners or deserters. Do the math). Germany had 4,325 KIA, 13,500 wounded and 10,106 MIA/POW.

The Allies planners had less than a month to get replacement troops and prepare for the Italy Campaign which wasn’t the “soft underbelly of Europe.” The British 8th Army invaded at Calabria (the toe of Italy) and Taranto (the heal of Italy) on September 3, 1943. The U.S. Fifth Army invaded Salerno on September 9, 1943. The Italian Campaign would continue for 20 months, May 2, 1945, six days before the formal surrender of German forces on May 8, 1945, VE Day, Victory in Europe.

Besides all the Allies and Axis KIA, wounded, MIA and POW, there were 150,000 Italian civilians who died, collateral damage, so many buildings became rubble.


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