Greatest Allies


The results of the Conference in Teheran, which were not favourable to Poland, were not immediately known to the Polish leaders. Meanwhile, the British and American generals continued to benefit from the fighting valour of the Polish army, from the skills of the Polish intelligence officers and from the sabotage activities of the Home Army. In the second phase of the war, when the Allies took the offensive, the Polish army played crucial role in the Allied effort in Italy and France. In early 1943, the Allied commanders were making preparations to launch an invasion on the island of Sicily to secure the central Mediterranean and divert German divisions from Normandy, where the Allies planned to attack in the near future. To mislead the Germans as to the Allies' next target for invasion, the British conceived a deception plan codenamed “Operation Mincemeat.” The plan was masterminded by several people who served in Naval Intelligence Division of the British Admiralty and MI5: barrister and King's Counsel, Ewen Montagu, the RAF officer Charles Cholmondely and Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming, later the author of James Bond novels, whose elder brother Peter Fleming was using deception in his intelligence work in the Far East. Ewen Montagu, who came from a Jewish banking family, was a brilliant lawyer fascinated by the working of a criminal mind. He confessed to feeling “a certain sympathy with rogue characters.”305 He got in touch with London coroner and his old friend Bentley Purchase and told him he was in search of a dead body to be used in a secret intelligence operation. After a while, Bentley Purchase provided him with a dead body of Glyndwr Michael, a homeless Welshman who died after eating leftover food laced with rat poison. The group then set about creating an entirely new personality for the dead man, chaining to his wrist a briefcase containing official-looking documents, which indicated that the Allied armies massed in North Africa were aiming for Greece. The body was then dropped off the Spanish coast, near Huelva, the area of operation of an officer of German military Intelligence, Adolf Clauss. The plan had worked perfectly; the documents were intercepted and passed to the Abwehr in Madrid. As a result, Hitler diverted reinforcements to Greece, Sardinia and Corsica and left only two German divisions in Sicily, which became the real target of the Allied invasion.

In preparation for an invasion on Sicily, the US authorities approached Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Italian boss of the organised crime in America. He already collaborated with the U.S. Navy through his associate, a Jewish illegal gambler, Meyer Lansky, protecting New York's harbours from Axis U-Boats. “Lucky” Luciano assisted the US military in establishing contact with the leader of the Sicilian mafia, Don Calogero Vizzini, commonly known as Don Calò.306 On July 10, 1943, British Eight Army under command of General Bernard Montgomery and US Seventh Army under command of General George Patton, launched an invasion on Sicily. The invasion was preceded by 100 sorties by American Mustang fighter-bombers which bombed the German defense lines, bridges, locomotives and railway yards. Five days later, an American plane flew over the village of Villalba and the house of Don Calò with a pennant fluttering from the side of the cockpit with a large black 'L' drawn in the middle. In the following days, Don Calò guided the Allies through the confusing mountain terrain and arranged enthusiastic welcomes for the advancing Allied troops.307 After 38 days of fighting, the Allied forces drove the Axis troops from Sicily. The Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories made Don Calò mayor of Villalba, as well as an Honorary Colonel of the US Army. A witness of these events recalled that: "When Don Calò Vizzini was made mayor of the town almost the entire population was assembled in the square. Speaking in poor Italian, this American lieutenant said, 'This is your master'."308 Michele Pantaleone, the vice-mayor of Villalba concluded bitterly that “...the Allied occupation and the subsequent slow restoration of democracy reinstated the Mafia with its full powers, put it once more on the way to becoming a political force, and returned to the Onorata Societa the weapons which Fascism had snatched from it.”309

In face of the successful invasion of Sicily, Italian King Victor Emmanuel III realised the situation was untenable and ordered Mussolini's arrest appointing Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the commander of the 1935 invasion of Abyssinia, as his successor. General Castellano was sent to Portugal to lead secret negotiation with the Allies which ended in signing of an armistice in Sicily on September 3, 1943. By the terms of the agreement, the Italians would be treated leniently if they aided the Allies in expelling the Germans from Italy. In September 1943, Montgomery's Eight Army began an invasion on the Italian mainland. As the Allied forces begun to advance northward, they ran into a defensive wall known as the Gustav Line. The British Eight Army hoped to advance to Rome through Highway 6, the ancient Via Appia that run through the Liri valley which south entrance was dominated by German-fortified rugged mountain range of Monte Cassino, which rose above the town of Cassino. At its hilltop, 520 m (1,706.04 ft) altitude there was a historic abbey founded in 529 CE by St Benedict of Nursia, the founder of St Benedict Order. Running across the Allied line was also the fast flowing Rapido River which rose in the central Apennine Mountains, flowed through Cassino and across the entrance to the Liri valley. The foothills and mountains were densely mined and covered with barbered wires and bunkers, giving the Germans good points from which to direct deadly artillery. The hilly topography and loose rocky terrain made advancing tanks up the hillsides virtually impossible. Cassino could only be taken by infantry. So far, the Battle of Monte Cassino was carried out in three stages. In the first battle (11 January to 7 February), the French and the Americans struggled in vain against both the enemy and atrocious weather. In the course of the second battle (15-18 February) undertaken by New Zealanders, the Allied command, relaying on erroneous intelligence which suggested that the monastery was used to hide German troops, sanctioned its bombing, thus destroying the whole monastery with its library and a thousand years old archives.310 The destruction and rubble left by the bombing raid provided better protection from aerial and artillery attacks, so two days later, German paratroopers took up positions in the abbey's ruins. The third battle (15-25 March) undertaken by the Indian Division had also failed. The losses to men and material were staggering.

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305 Ben Macintyre, Operation Mincemeat. The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II (London: Bloomsbury, 2010), p. 25 »

306 Further reading: Tim Newark, Boardwalk gangster: The Real Lucky Luciano, Reprint edition (St. Martin's Griffin, 2011); Rich Cohen, Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams (Vintage books, 1999); Lacey, Robert: Little man. Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life. Little (Brown and Company, 1991) »

307 Michele Pantaleone, The Mafia and Politics (London: Chatto & Windus, 1966), pp. 54-56 »

308 Tim Newark, The Mafia at War: The Shocking True Story of America's Wartime Pact with Organized Crime, Reprint Edition (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012), p. 239 »

309 Pantaleone, The Mafia and Politics, p. 52 »

310 John Ezard, “Error led to bombing of Monte Cassino”, Guardian, 4 April 2000 »