Beyond Risico, James Bond’s forays into Italy are often little more than passthroughs. Bond spends more time in Italy in the movies — most notably Moonraker, with the motorized amphibious gondola and the infamous pigeon double take, and the last big scene in 2006’s Casino Royale. In the novels, John Gardner takes Bond on an Italian road trip in 1986’s Nobody Lives Forever. It’s a fun adventure that sees a price put on the head of James Bond by a resurgent SPECTRE, which had been revived in Gardner’s 1982 book For Special Services, under the leadership of Blofeld’s daughter (and which involves a fantasy village straight out of Diamonds are Forever and a plot to take over NORAD using ice cream that is straight out of, well, a much wackier series than James Bond is usually thought to be). Bond spends most of the time in cars and on the run from a rogue’s gallery of hitmen and mercenaries, so there’s precious little Italian flavor to the book.
The fact that Bond spends so much of Nobody Lives Forever driving is, at least, reflective of Ian Fleming’s own obsession with the horrible experience of driving in Italian cities, which occupies a substantial portion of his Thrilling Cities chapter on Rome and Naples. It is understandable. While driving through the Italian countryside is one of the most exquisite adventures than can be experienced by man and car, the cities were laid out for promenading Roman consuls and daydreaming Medici nobles. In Thrilling Cities, Fleming felt the need to vent about being a foreigner driving in an Italian city. Anyone who has driven in one can empathize; I once spent two hours trying to get to a hotel in Florence that was, by all reasonable assessment, completely inaccessible by road. That was until the hotel proprietor showed me how it was done: driving backward in the opposite direction on a one-way street.
In 1989’s Win, Lose, or Die, in which Bond spends a brief holiday on an Italian island, John Gardner seems to echo Fleming’s Thrilling Cities visit to Naples when introduced it thusly: “Naples was not James Bond’s favorite city. Now, sitting in a bumper-to-bumper, horn-hooting, yelling traffic jam, cramming one of the narrow streets down to the harbor, he placed it almost at the bottom of his list.” It’s not the first time Gardner’s Bond has been sour about a city to the point of refusing to partake of any local flavor (the only drink Bond has in Naples is a beaker of overpriced watery coffee on the ferry to the island of Ischia). In 1984’s Role of Honor, Bond reflects on how package tourism and strip malls have scoured away the once regal and romantic atmosphere of Monte Carlo. It is a conscious undoing, it would seem, of the exotic globe-trotting mood of Fleming’s book and of Fleming’s era, a realistic – if cynical – reflection on how the world has changed since James Bond first sat down at the Casino Royale’s baccarat table. On the other hand, who can trust John Gardner? In his 1992 novel Death is Forever, Gardner has Bond reflecting on how much he loves Paris and how it is one of his favorite cities. He also had 007 enjoying tea in 1990’s Brokenclaw, and if there’s two things Ian Fleming made it clear Bond doesn’t care for, it’s tea and Paris.
Gangs of New York
On his own trip to Naples, Fleming is quick to lose interest in the city itself. Much of the Neapolitan chapter of Thrilling Cities is taken up by a rather extraordinary account of Ian Fleming’s audience with infamous American gangster and founder of the Five Families structure of the American Mafia, Lucky Luciano. Fleming and Luciano had rather strange ties beyond that of a thriller author being fascinated by one of the most famous gangsters in history. It turns out both men played pivotal –and sometimes disputed – roles in the Allied invasion of Sicily during World War II.
On November 5, 1928, Arnold Rothstein was one of the most powerful men in Prohibition era New York City. On November 6, 1928, he was gunned down after a dispute over a gambling debt while playing cards at the Park Central Hotel on Seventh Avenue and 55th Street. The next day, he was dead from his wounds after a night at the Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital. Rothstein, an insatiable high-risk gambler most famous for fixing the 1919 World Series (and giving the United States the Chicago “Black Sox” as a result), was in the hole for $320,000 after a bad night at the table, a sum he refused to pay because he claimed the game was rigged and he was being set up. George “Hump” McManus was arrested for shooting Rothstein in the ensuing argument, but he was later acquitted. A number of other possible suspects have been named over the years, none conclusively. Rothstein himself refused to name names even as he lie dying in his hospital bed, telling the police “You stick to your trade. I’ll stick to mine.”
When he wasn’t gambling, Rothstein was the head of one of the most powerful crime syndicates in the world. He is generally considered to be the father of modern American organized crime, one of the city’s keenest minds and a man of impeccable manners and style who often played the role of mediator – for a hefty sum – when other New York gangs had disputes with one another. Even the infamous political machine Tammany Hall, by Rothstein’s time already in a state of decline, had to answer to Rothstein, who had successfully outmaneuvered Tammany and gained control of their most valuable asset: immigrant street gangs. Among Rothstein’s most valued operators were gangland luminaries such as Meyer Lansky, “Legs” Diamond, Dutch Schultz, and an ambitious young man named Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
It was Luciano who, in the chaotic power vacuum that appeared after Rothstein’s murder, stepped up and brought the city’s criminal enterprises under control. After Rothstein died, his various enterprises were divided up among a number of different gangsters. Luciano allied himself with a man named Joe Masseria, a Lower East Side gang boss with who Luciano had done business many times before becoming one of Arnold Rothstein’s lieutenants. Masseria was embroiled in a territorial dispute with a rival boss named Salvatore Maranzano. The resulting conflict, known as the Castellammarese War, raged from 1928 to 1931. By the end of it, both Masseria and Maranzano were dead.
Masseria was killed on April 15, 1931, while dining at a restaurant in Coney Island. He was shot to death by four men: Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, and Joe Adonis. Masseria had been dining with his trusted right-hand man, Lucky Luciano, who just happened to excuse himself to the bathroom right before the trigger men stepped into the room. If accounts of the American mob have taught us anything, it’s that if any member of a dinner innocently excuses himself from the table to visit the restroom or take a call, you need to take cover. Luciano inherited his former boss’ rackets and became second-in-command, below Masseria’s former rival Salvatore Maranzano. Until September 10, 1931. That’s when four men arrived at Maranzano’s headquarters at 230 Park Avenue claiming to be federal agents. Under the aegis of federal badges, two of the men disarmed Maranzano’s bodyguards. The other two stabbed and shot Maranzano to death.
The killers were Jewish mobsters, unknown to Maranzano who was an old school Sicilian and refused to work with or even get to know anyone not from Sicily. Luciano, by contrast, and the group of young gangsters with whom he surrounded himself and were known collectively as The Young Turks (after the group of revolutionaries in Turkey who orchestrated the downfall of the Ottoman Empire), was more than willing to work with anyone, as his long association with Arnold Rothstein proved. Marazano’s assassins happened to work for Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, Jewish crime bosses and close associates of Lucky Luciano. The hit was the first of what became known as the “Night of the Sicilian Vespers.” By the end of this string of murders, one man was left standing and found himself at the top of the heap.
Using lessons learned from Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein, Luciano maintained power through alliances. He devised the “five families” of the American Mafia, with himself as head of the powerful Genovese family; and The Commission, a sort of governing body that would declare territories and mediate disputes. Although this structure applied mainly to Italian mobsters, Luciano remained willing to work with any criminal of any nationality. By the time of his conviction for 62 counts of “compulsory prostitution” in 1936, Luciano was considered the single most powerful criminal in the history of the United States. Even while in prison, Luciano controlled the Mafia and lived in relative comfort. In 1938, with his appeals exhausted, Luciano turned over control of the family to his trusted underling, Frank Costello — though most everyone knew Luciano was still the man calling the shots.
That same year, one of the most remarkable men in modern Italian history passed away, leaving fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini free to pursue an alliance with Germany and Adolf Hitler.
Fiction Writers and Fascists
With his bald head, pointy Lenin beard and mustache, insecurity about his short stature, and tendency to lead his own private army in clandestine acts of conquest, Italian writer, poet, and political agitator Gabriele D’Annunzio could have made a pretty good Bond villain. Born in 1836, D’Annunzio rose to prominence rapidly, publishing his first book of poetry when he was only sixteen years old. He became the face of Italy’s Decadence movement, a literary revolution comparable to British Aestheticism and that sought to banish Romanticism in favor of a more primal, sensual, and sexually explicit approach. While still a university student, he became an avid supporter of Italian irredentism, the belief that the sundry Italian-speaking territories and city-states should be united into a single nation, even if those territories, like Corsica, Nice, and Savoy happened to belong to other nations.
His first novel, Child of Pleasure, was published in 1889 and immediately became a scandalous sensation. When it was translated into English, it was substantially rearranged and had many of its more salacious passages removed entirely by the translator, Georgina Harding, who found that the fiery Italian novel’s explicit nature simply did not meet with the high standards of proper Victorian morality (it wasn’t until very recently that a full, uncensored English translation of the novel was available). Despite that, and thanks to an appetite for self-promotion that very nearly matched his appetite for sexual indulgence, D’Annunzio became an international success, not to mention an international scandal.
He was married in 1883 and had three sons, but by 1891 the marriage was over. In 1894, he began a high profile relationship with actress Eleonora Duse, for whom D’Annunzio wrote a number of plays. He also carried on a turbulent affair with Marchesa Luisa Casati, a relationship that would continue — on again, off again, until his death. He lived passionately and with great vigor, indulging his own whims and eventually, despite his success, bankrupting himself. He fled to France to avoid his debts, and there wrote the play The Martyrdom of St Sebastian, which earned him the keen ire of The Vatican. In 1914, at the onset of World War I, he returned to Italy, full of more nationalistic fervor than ever before, and immediately threw himself into the effort to get Italy to enter the war on the side of the Entente Powers (France, Great Britain, and Russia). He also found time to write the dialogue titles for one of the earliest and most stunning epic films, 1914’s Cabiria.
D’Annunzio didn’t limit his war effort to words, however. He entered the nascent Italian air force and made a name for himself as a combat pilot, culminating in leading the Flight Over Venice in 1918, a mission to drop propaganda leaflets on the Austro-Hungarian capital. At the close of the war, D’Annunzio was furious that, despite Italian war efforts on behalf of the Entente Powers, his country was treated like a second-rate country by the attendees of the Paris Peace Conference. In particular, the proposed secession of the city of Fiume, which had a large Italian population, infuriated him.
D’Annunzio’s Private War
On September 12, 1919, after raising his own army of some 2,000 men, D’Annunzio led a force into Fiume and took the city over, which up until then was occupied by a combined force of British, French, and American allies. After failing to get Italy proper to annex the territory, D’Annunzio and his makeshift army declared it the independent Italian Regency of Carnaro. He even attempted to establish his own alternate League of Nations, composed of countries like Ireland that he felt were being oppressed. In 1920, he even declared war on Italy itself, which brought his insurrection higher profile attention from the Italian military. In December of that year, after sustained bombardment courtesy of the Italian Navy, D’Annunzio and his personal country of Carnaro surrendered.
Despite his little rebellion, D’Annunzio suffered few consequences for his actions. In fact, the Charter of Carnaro, the document drawn up to outline the governance of Fiume, became the blueprint for another ultra-nationalist faction quickly gaining notoriety in Italy: the Fascists.
Taking their name from the Latin fasces, which was a bundle of rods tied around an ax and served as a symbol of authority during the Roman era (as well as an instrument of punishment and, if need be, execution), Italian fascists arose during World War One, when the still relatively newly unified Italian nation was deeply divided about joining the conflict. Ultranationalist in nature, and firmly believing that might makes right, the different Fascist guilds, or fasci, were committed to, among other things, pushing Italy to enter the war and to the opposition of Communism, Socialism, and liberalism. Among the most popular of the early fasci was the group Fasci of Revolutionary Action, of which young Benito Mussolini was a member. Although initially a member of an Italian socialist political party, Mussolini and other fascists soon grew disillusioned with the the philosophy, especially after the promises of the Russian Revolution gave way to the reality of Lenin’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. By the end of World War I, there was no reconciling fascism and Marxism.
Mussolini’s force of personality, dynamic speaking manner, and unflinching devotion to standing with his arms akimbo, quickly propelled him to the forefront of the fascist movement. In the years immediately following the end of World War I, Italy was wracked by socialist uprisings, strikes, and widespread worker unrest. Mussolini took advantage of the situation by allying his fascists with factory owners and captains of industry, quelling the strikes with sometimes shocking violence. Attempts to woo Italian conservatives saw many of fascism’s original revolutionary ideas (especially as relates to equality, populism, and universal suffrage) stripped away. Mussolini and his “Black Shirts” — a clothing choice he’d adopted from D’Annunzio’s rebels — soon expanded their campaign of violence from factory workers and socialists to entire towns. By 1922, Mussolini and the fascists had become so powerful that the broken and divided Italian national government led by King Victor Emmanuel III, fearing the bloodshed that would come from opposing Mussolini, appointed him prime minister of Italy. On October 30, 1922, Mussolini assumed power. That same year, Gabriele D’Annunzio fell out of a window.
Exactly what happened on August 13, 1922 — just two months before Mussolini was offered the prime ministership — remains unclear. What is clear is that on that day, D’Annunzio — reportedly whilst in the act of fondling his lover Luisa Baccara’s sister (while Luisa herself sat in the same room playing the piano) and quite possibly high on cocaine — took a head-first tumble out of a window, fracturing his skull. The fall was attributed to many things: an ill-aimed lunge for the object of his affection, an overly forceful rebuke and push from the woman, or the simple fact that D’Annunzio was whacked out on drugs at the time. True to form, D’Annunzio himself made sure the accident became a major event and remained shrouded in mystery, only adding to his dangerous allure. And then there was the other theory: that it was attempted murder.
Although the poet’s seizure of Fiume, his raising of his own private radical army, and the charter drawn up to govern their new territory, were a major influence on Mussolini and the fascists, D’Annunzio himself did not particularly care for Il Duce. Mussolini regarded the wildly magnetic decadent a potentially dangerous political opponent. On the day of D’Annunzio’s accident, there was an additional guest at the writer’s Lake Garda retreat: Aldo Finzi, one of Mussolini’s most trusted lieutenants. Other than the appetite for scandal, there is little to implicate Finzi in the accident or suggest that he was there to kill D’Annunzio (or, at the very least, send a message). But the accident, whatever the cause may have been, effectively took D’Annunzio out of the political realm. He retired from politics, removing himself as the sole domestic threat to Mussolini’s reign. Mussolini, for his part, wanted to make sure D’Annunzio stayed out of politics for good, indulging D’Annunzio’s voracious appetites for sex and drugs and supplying him with a regular stipend. “When you have a rotten tooth you have two possibilities open to you,” Mussolini said. “Either you pull the tooth or you fill it with gold. With D’Annunzio I have chosen for the latter treatment.”
Among D’Annunzio’s appetites was one for Amaro Montenegro, first produced in 1885 by Bolognese citizen Stanislao Cobianchi. While traveling through the territory of Montenegro, Cobianchi became obsessed with the restorative herbal elixir Karik. Upon his return to Italy, Cobianchi set about reproducing the spirit, resulting in Amaro Montenegro, named after Princess Helen of Montenegro, who became the second queen of the new Italian state upon her marriage to King Victor Emmanuel III. Where many amari are known for the bitter, pungent flavor, Amaro Montenegro is a more balanced blend of some 40 different herbs and botanicals, resulting in a sweeter, more citrusy, orange peel flavor on top of the characteristic bitterness one expects from amaro. By itself or on ice, it’s a thoroughly pleasurable way to spend some time. D’Annunzio wet his whistle with it frequently, calling it “liquore delle Virtudi” — the liquor of the virtues.
Sex, drugs, Amaro Montenegro, a fractured skull, and Mussolini weren’t enough to successfully keep D’Annunzio entirely out of the political spotlight, however. In the 1930s, D’Annunzio was vociferously critical of the growing alliance between Italy and Hitler’s Germany, campaigning against Italian entry into World War II on the side of the Axis powers and satirizing Hitler and the Nazis in his writing. Mussolini disregarded D’Annunzio’s warnings, however — though in 1944, the fascist dictator admitted that it had been a mistake, and that he should have listened to D’Annunzio. Less than a year later, Mussolini was dead, strung up by an Italian people who had had enough of fascism, of Nazis, and of Il Duce. D’Annunzio did not live to see Mussolini’s downfall. He himself passed away in 1938 of heart failure, the same year Lucky Luciano symbolically turned over control of the New York mafia to Frank Costello.
Mussolini continued to expand his campaign of subjugation. With the Italian socialists beat up, the one remaining force powerful enough to stand against the blackshirts and mobilize workers against the fascists was the Mafia, concentrated in their cultural stronghold on the Italian island of Sicily. Mussolini declared war on the Mafia, rounding up its community leaders, throwing them in jail, and generally making a bitter enemy of la cosa nostra. It’s extremely unlikely that in his wildest dreams, Mussolini imagined that imprisoned American gangster Lucky Luciano would use this to his advantage, and to the advantage of the Allied Forces. All that was needed was to do a little fishing.
On September 29, 1939, Admiral John Godfrey, Britain’s director of naval intelligence, issued a document comparing wartime deception of an enemy with fishing. “The Trout Fisher casts patiently all day. He frequently changes his venue and his lures. If he has frightened a fish he may ‘give the water a rest for half-an-hour,’ but his main endeavour, viz. to attract fish by something he sends out from his boat, is incessant.” According to historian and author Ben McIntyre, and now accepted largely as fact by most everyone, the memo was signed off on by Admiral Godfrey but was written by Godfrey’s assistant, Ian Fleming. Fleming hadn’t been working for Naval Intelligence very long at the time the memo was issued, having only come on as a full-time employee in August of 1939, at which time he was given the codename 17F.
Fleming was not the sort of man who seemed fit for a particularly promising military career. His position at Naval Intelligence was granted him largely as a favor to his mother, Evelyn Beatrice St. Croix Rose, who became Evelyn St. Croix Fleming — Eve for short — when she married Scotsman Valentine Fleming, the son of an extremely successful banker. A graduate of Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, Valentine quickly rose to prominence, becoming a member of Parliament in 1910. He was a popular politician, being described by one fellow parliamentarian as “”one of those younger Conservatives who easily and naturally combine loyalty to party ties with a broad liberal outlook upon affairs and a total absence of class prejudice… a man of thoughtful and tolerant opinions, which were not the less strongly or clearly held because they were not loudly or frequently asserted.”
The couple had four children, all boys: Richard, Michael, the black sheep Ian, and the star of the Fleming clan, Peter. At the outbreak of World War I — a war notable for the number of upperclass society members who enlisted to fight — Valentine joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. He was killed on May 20, 1917, by German bombardment in Picardy, France. His obituary was written by his close friend, the same man who had called him “a man of thoughtful and tolerant opinions,” Winston Churchill. His will bequeathed Eve and their sons with a sizable estate and fortune — provided she never remarry (Eve complied, though she didn’t think much of the stipulation). She did, however, carry on a long-term affair with the painter Augustus John, with whom she had a daughter, Amaryllis Fleming. Amaryllis became a cellist of no small renown and even had an (admittedly awkward) compliment paid to her by her half-brother Ian in his short story “The Living Daylights,” in which James Bond muses, “There was something almost indecent in the idea of that bulbous, ungainly instrument between her splayed thighs. Of course Suggia had managed to look elegant, and so did that girl Amaryllis somebody. But they should invent a way for women to play the damned thing side-saddle.”
Young Ian Fleming was not a model student, though neither was he idle. With his friend Ivar Bryce, who became Ian’s lifelong friend (not to mention the man responsible for the long passages about guano in Dr. No — the Bryce family money had come from guano farming), Ian started a magazine called The Wyvern, which featured poems and artwork (including art from Augustus John, father of Ian’s half-sister) as well as forays into political thought. Among it’s more controversial assertions was one in favor of the British Fascisti Party, which had been horrified by the events of Russian Revolution and inspired by the uprisings of, among others, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Benito Mussolini. Fleming never graduated from Eton. Nor did he graduate from his next school, the Sandhurst Royal Military College, which he departed under an air of scandal regarding something to do with a lady. He didn’t graduate from his next two universities either, though his studies during that time took him to Austria, where he befriended a former British spy named Alban Ernan Forbes Dennis and his wife, novelist Phyllis Bottome. His relationship with these two planted the seeds for both of Ian Fleming’s future careers.
Acquaintance with Bottome might have also taken the edge off Ian’s early pro-fascist sentiments, as she herself was a committed anti-fascist and, later, an outspoken opponent of Hitler and the Nazis. Her 1938 novel Mortal Storm was adapted into a movie in 1940 starring Jimmy Stewart as a German who refuses to join the Nazi Party. Production studio MGM was nervous about the movie. The United States was not yet in the war, after all, and Germany was still a viable and substantial market for movies. The studio did what it could to obscure the political message of the film, being vague about it being set in Germany and making sure never to overtly state that certain characters were being persecuted because they were Jewish. The half-hearted concessions didn’t pay off. The Nazis banned the movie, and in further reaction, banned all MGM movies.
Fleming tried his hand at becoming a diplomat but not pass the requisite tests. All the while, his reputation as a womanizer and a bad egg grew, with a string of affairs with an assortment of women — some married, others not. His mother finally used her connections to secure him a job in journalism, a trade for which he showed some genuine talent and took him to the Soviet Union (where, perhaps, he acquired his taste for vodka). Ian’s career as a journalist, however successful, was overshadowed by the writing career of his older brother, Peter. Unlike Ian, Peter had been a star pupil at Eton and was more amiable to marriage (which was to the actress Celia Johnson, in 1935). But he also possessed the same restless spirit as his brother Ian, and in 1932 the following advertisement in The Times launched Peter’s adventure and travel writing career:
“Exploring and sporting expedition, under experienced guidance, leaving England June to explore rivers central Brazil, if possible ascertain fate Colonel Percy Fawcett; abundant game, big and small; exceptional fishing; room two more guns; highest references expected and given.”
Percy Harrison Fawcett was a famous explorer and British officer (and the man many peg as the inspiration for Indiana Jones, though Indiana Jones has almost as many “this was the real life Indiana Jones” candidates as James Bond) who disappeared in 1925 in Brazil while searching for a city he thought to be the fabled El Dorado. Although an experienced explorer with an equally experienced and well-provisioned crew, Fawcett and his men (including his own son), never returned from the expedition. An account of the calamity that befell them, of Fawcett’s life as a soldier and explorer, and of the speculation about what fate ultimately befell them, was recounted in the 2009 book The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. A substantial amount of evidence and many subsequent expeditions had shed more light on the disappearance by the time of Grann’s book, but when Peter Fleming and his expedition set out in 1932 to uncover Fawcett’s fate, it was still a total mystery.
Peter’s account of the disastrous expedition, Brazilian Adventure, was published in 1933 and became a major hit, quickly cementing Fleming as a preeminent writer of non-fiction adventure accounts. He became a reporter for The Times, and in 1934 an account of his overland journey from Moscow to Peking was published as One’s Company. Shortly thereafter, he completed a similar journey from China to India, which was published by Jonathan Cape — the same company that would eventually published Ian’s James Bond novels — as News from Tartary in 1936.
When the Second World War broke out, Peter enlisted, first with the Grenadier Guards infantry unit, and later as one of the organizers — along with his brother Ian — of the “Auxiliary Units,” a secret organization that would become resistance fighters in the event of a German invasion of the British Isles. As for Ian, his troubled continued even as his brother’s stock soared. Ian entered the banking business, which he did not care for and at which he did not excel. Finally, in 1939 and at the behest of the Governor of the Bank of England, Montagu Norman, Fleming joined Naval Intelligence under Admiral Godfrey.
On His Majesty’s Secret Service
Because of a mercurial temperament, Godfrey was not a particularly well-liked man, but his new assistant, despite no real qualifications for the job, seemed particularly adept not just at devising new schemes but at communicating them in a way that would get them accepted, no matter that many of them seemed little more than the fanciful machinations of an overly imaginative writer. The Trout Memo opened the door for a number of “dirty tricks,” the most substantial of which was codenamed Operation Mincemeat. Although the idea for Operation Mincemeat (which was part of a larger campaign of deception known as Operation Barclay) was officially credited to Captain Ewen Edward Samuel Montagu, it is generally assumed that the initial idea began with Ian Fleming (the 2014 biopic mini-series Fleming goes so far as to assert that the entire operation was devised by Fleming, and that Montagu and Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley of the RAF took the idea and claimed it as his own).
Operation Mincemeat, and the whole of Operation of Barclay, was designed to trick Hitler, Mussolini, and the Axis powers into thinking that in invasion of the European continent was going to come through Greece when, in fact, the plan was to attack through Italy with an initial invasion in Sicily (code named Operation Husky). In order to aid in the deception, which included fabricating the existence of entire armies, Operation Mincemeat transformed the body of a 34-year old Welshman named Glyndwr Michael into Captain William ‘Bill’ Martin of the Royal Marines. An entire backstory for the fake soldier was devised, including snapshots of a non-existent girlfriend (in reality, photos of Nancy Jean Leslie, a staff member at MI5) and an impressive assemblage of pocket detritus which included receipts, love letters, banknotes, and other such everyday pieces of personal ephemera.
The makeshift marine also had on his corpse a letter from Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Nye, Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff, in which were mentioned Allied plans for Operation Husky — the invasion of Europe through Greece and Sardinia — as well as a “fake” operation called Operation Brimstone, meant to fool the Germans into thinking the Allies would invade Europe through Sicily. With all this in place, the body of Captain Bill Martin was consigned to the sea, at a place where they could be certain it would wash up on the beach in Huelva, Spain, where local authorities would doubtless report its discovery to the local German Abwehr (military intelligence) agent, a man by the name of Adolf Clauss. Eventually, it percolated all the way to the top of the German chain of command.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels didn’t entirely buy it. Mussolini didn’t buy it at all. He was convinced that the attack would come through Sicily. But Hitler bought it, and that was ultimately all that mattered. Substantial German forces, including Panzer tank divisions commanded by the legendary General Erwin Rommel, were relocated throughout Greece and Sardinia. On July 9, 1943, Allied forces began Operation Husky, the invasion of Europe — by landing in Sicily. Even after weeks of fighting, Hitler was still convinced that it was all a feint, and that the true invasion would still be through Greece. By August 17, it was too late. The Allies had taken Sicily. However, something funny happened on the way to Italy. In advance of, and during the Allied landing, a number of local Sicilian resistance fighters had been harrying the German and Italian troops. They greeted Allied soldiers and served as guides, local liaisons, and guerilla fighters. It turned out they were members of the Sicilian Mafia, compliments of Lucky Luciano.
See Naples and Die
The lengths to which Luciano facilitated Operation Husky remain a topic of debate. According to Luciano himself, he single-handedly won the war for the Allies. According to others, he simply conned his way out of prison using lies about his contacts back in Sicily. As is usually the case with the history of espionage (and with most cocktails and spirits, for that matter), the truth is probably some blend of these things. Luciano had already secured himself a transfer to a posher prison by agreeing to help the US Navy protect the strategic — and vulnerable — docks of New York city from German saboteurs and spies. The government attempted to recruit the dockworkers to the cause of patriotism, but the docks belonged to the Mob, which meant they said nothing and cooperated with noone without the say-so from Luciano. The government was initially hesitant to play ball with one of the most notorious criminals in American history, but when the burning and sinking of the ship SS Normandie was attributed to German agents, the United States decided to do business with its own Public Enemy No. 1.
Once Luciano gave the OK, his associates Meyer Lansky and Alberto Anastasia (also one of the founders of the Mafia’s bloody hit squad, Murder, Inc.) worked the docks and the dock workers, ensuring no further incidents occurred and that no workers went on strike for the duration of the war. It was suspected that the burning of the Normandie had not been the work of German agents at all, but was in fact orchestrated by Anthony Anastasia (Alberto’s brother) in order to help nudge the government toward working with Luciano.
When planning commenced for Operation Husky, Luciano was again recruited to provide services to the Allies. Working with the New York Mafia, Vito Genovese, Luciano, and their associates back in Sicily — who, remember already had a chip on their collective shoulder thanks to Mussolini’s fascists cracking down on the Sicilian Mafia — a large amount of intelligence was generated for the Allied invasion, including detailed maps and contacts. Much like Chinese triads during the Ch’ing Dynasty, the secret society known as the Mafia became freedom fighters. Once again, exactly how much of a contribution Luciano made remains a source of controversy, but it was enough either so that in January of 1946, Luciano’s sentence was commuted. He became a free man, provided he agreed to leave the United States. On February 10, 1946, Lucky Luciano set sail for Naples where, a little over ten years later, he would sit down for an interview with writer and journalist Ian Fleming, one of the architects of Operation Mincemeat.
Sadly, by that time, Luciano’s health was failing, so they did not share a Negroni. As to whether or not they reminisced about their shared clandestine roles in the invasion of Sicily…well, I suppose that remains within the realm of classified information.