The gang­sters’ par­adise

When Bri­tish and Amer­i­can forces lib­er­ated Si­cily in 1943, it was the mafia that prof­ited most

BBC History Magazine - - Sicily And Britain - Michael Scott is an au­thor, broad­caster and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of War­wick. @dr­michaelscott / michaelscot­tweb.com

In July 1943, Al­lied forces se­cured their first key foothold in Europe – on Si­cily. The Amer­i­cans landed at Gela in the south-west, the Bri­tish be­tween Pachino and Poz­za­llo in the far south-east, with a com­bined force of 160,000 men. The de­ci­sion to in­vade Europe via Si­cily was one of the best-kept se­crets of the Sec­ond World War. A sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ment in its suc­cess was the tri­umph of mis­di­rec­tion co­de­named Op­er­a­tion Mince­meat: the body of a ‘Royal Marine’ (ac­tu­ally a tramp), car­ry­ing false in­va­sion plans (nam­ing the tar­gets as Sar­dinia and Greece) was dropped into the ocean for the Ger­man forces to pick up.

As Op­er­a­tion Husky be­gan, Amer­i­can gen­eral Ge­orge Pat­ton and his Bri­tish coun­ter­part Bernard Mont­gomery led the charge for 40 days and 40 nights. Bri­tish troops suf­fered 12,800 ca­su­al­ties, the Amer­i­cans 8,800. But the cost to Si­cily was even heav­ier: many of its ci­ties suf­fered aerial bom­bard­ment, and Messina was the most heav­ily bombed of all Ital­ian ci­ties.

But there was also an­other, less-well- known cost. In prepa­ra­tion for the in­va­sion, Al­lied forces worked hard to en­sure that the Si­cil­ian mafia would sup­port the Al­lied cause. The US even paroled mafia boss Charles ‘Lucky’ Lu­ciano and re­turned him to Si­cily. At the end of the war, many of these mafia men were con­firmed in quasi-of­fi­cial po­si­tions of power across Si­cily by the An­glo-Amer­i­can post­war ad­min­is­tra­tion, paving the way for decades of Mafia-led con­struc­tion and drug rack­ets. In their ef­forts to win free­dom for Europe, the Al­lies gave the mafia a vi­tal shot of adren­a­line and a new lease of life – and Si­cily is still pay­ing the price to this day. DIS­COVER MORE TELE­VI­SION

Si­cily with Michael Scott is due to air on BBC Two early in 2017

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