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