Villalba, Foothills of the Monti Erei
27 Miles North of Gela, Sicily
06:35, 27 June, 1943
mercilessly pulsating the sun had long ago burned away the morning mist and the
scenic but rugged hills of Villa Alba now stood indomitable against the
blue-grey sky of the green western Mediterranean. Despite the early hour
thirty-seven degree heat rained down on the rustic settlements between Gela and
Salvatore Lucania, alias Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano, had been born less
than fifteen miles from here in Lercara Fridi, where his relatives still worked for the most
influential Mafioso in Sicily, Don Calò Vizzini.
Above the settlements, tucked away, high in the foothills, the folds and
crevices were peppered with sentries.
In their traditional white collarless shirts, black waistcoats and
brandishing sawn off shot guns, the Mafiosi guards, perched high up on cliffs
and ledges were there to watch, record and report all Nazi troop and equipment
movements. Working in pairs one slept while the other stood watch. They had
been there since the invasion two years ago and would be there as long as the
most hated conqueror in their country's history remained.
Tucked away in one fold of a rock outcropping a man, barely a teen, sat
in the shade tossing pebbles into a small circle drawn in the dirt a couple of
meters away when a distant noise caught his attention. He sat up and listened
“Ehi! Veglia!” The
young lookout nudged his sleeping mate with his foot. “Ehi!
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes he looked up from his blanket roll just as the
hum of a small aircraft engine came into earshot. Both scrambled and took cover
in a large crevice of rock as they turned their eyes and ears to the sky.
Seconds later a U.S. Army, O.D. green, Piper Cub appeared lazily gliding over
the peaks. The two sentries raced into the open area and waved wildly. The
scout plane dove to 100 feet and buzzed their position. On the pull up he
dipped his wings signaling he had seen them. The plane flew out another half
mile or so, looped around and headed back in towards the peak, flying considerably
lower this time. The pilot opened his window, banked left and dropped a
weighted piece of cloth through the opening then faded into the distance back
south and out over the sea.
In an unintended competition the two dashed to where the cloth had landed,
retrieved it, removed the stone and unfurled it.
It was a bright yellow scarf emblazoned with an embroidered, red upper
case “L”. The older sentry handed it to his partner with a broad smile and, in
a barely restrained whisper ordered, “Andare! They come!”
With shotgun in hand and stuffing the scarf into his shirt, the younger
Sicilian half hustled half stumbled down the mountain, vaulted into the saddle
of his horse and in a cloud of dust vanished down the winding mountain pass.
Twenty minutes later, still at a gallop, the young rider arrived at a
small chicken farm on the northern outskirts of the small village of Villalba.
Abandoning his horse and out of breath he ran around back of the main house but
saw no one. A young woman opened a first floor window and yelled down at him.
He removed his hat before addressing her.
where is Don Vizzini?”
the hen house!” She ducked back in then stuck her head back out again. “If you
come in the house wipe your feet!” She vanished into the window and the teen
messenger double timed across the yard to a long narrow wooden building which
was in an advanced state of disrepair.
There at the far end stood a very tall, pear shaped, elderly man.
Surrounded by squawking chickens he was casually splashing feed across the
floor. Again the youth removed his cap
before he addressed the elder.
In ancient times The Village of White was legendary in far off lands
throughout the Mediterranean. By the
time the United States was 100 years old, Villalba was celebrating its first
millennium. Now, in a farmhouse that was 150 years older than the U. S. Capital
building itself, in the heart of the village, a special message was about to be
Even bent with age the defacto Capo di Tutti of Sicily, Don Calogero Vizzini, stood six foot four
and weighed in at 275 pounds. His oversized spectacles added rather than
detracted from the imposition of his person. Vizzini had what's known in
theatrical circles as 'absolute presence'.
The Calogero's worn, brown shoes had seen better days, his ballooned,
grey trousers rendered his lower frame featureless and over his short sleeved,
yellowed-white dress shirt his suspenders were forced to detour around the
sides of his rotund abdomen.
This was the man who
could be counted on to correct the recurring injustices of the law. The man
all knew that no starving peasant ever came to his door and went away empty
handed. If you were of his cosca, his clan, you
feared no outsider.
Vizzini?” The old man slowly turned and looked down his thick, horn rimmed
The kid approached and held out the folded yellow scarf.
Americani!” The boy added. The old man set the feed
basket aside and took the scarf, unfolded it and gazed at the embroidered,
It wasn't long before the boy realized that Vizzini wasn’t staring at
the piece of cloth but rather through it. Being the first time he had actually
met Don Vizzini, he respectfully stood silent. After a long while the old man
stepped forward, broke into a broad grin and shook his head.
“Salvatore. Salvatore Lucasia.”
“What does this tell you Don Vizzini?”
“Something important!” Putting his arm around the young man he started out
of the coop and towards the house.
“Such as?” Vizzini stopped in the middle of the yard.
“Some things you should not know.”
“But why Don? We fight together. I give my life for you, you know that!”
“I know that mio figlio.”
He put his paw of a hand on the young man’s cheek. “When
you become old you will know many things.” Vizzini paused at the rear door
of the house. “But if you know too many things, you may
not live to be old.” The Don tucked the
scarf in his pocket and opened the door to the house.
“Don, what do I tell the others?” Michael called
“Tell them to meet at Chiesa Madre tonight, at
eleven.” The teen displayed obvious disappointment. “And tell them that soon we
have our country back!”
He knew the long awaited day of the invasion was at hand.
03:00, Sunday 10 July, 1943
The Mediterranean Sea
3 Miles Southwest of Gela, Sicily
Onboard SS Robert
The fleet had arrived during the night under cover of
darkness. The weather was rough but not unbearable, pretty much as it had been
since the start of the operation less than an hour ago. Winds out of the West
at 35-40 knots, 10 foot chops and just enough rain to make life miserable up on
the weather decks. The twenty degree rolls were easily coped with, although
they did make life a little less convenient.
The port side, forward look out on the fleet's lead ship
had just reported to the Quarter Deck of the Watch on the Flag Ship. The
Sicilian coast had been spotted. The information was relayed to the wheel house
and the C.O. ordered all ahead one third and that the sighting be disseminated
to the accompanying fleet.
All two thousand five hundred vessels.
So reliant were the Allies on the success of the S.O.E. Mincemeat operation and the
intelligence provided by their New York Mafia connections that not only were
they about to assault the Axis strong hold in the Med with what was the largest
armada ever assembled accompanied by 160,000 troops, 14,000 vehicles, 1800 big
guns, and 600 tanks all led by their senior Admiral, Sir Andrew Cunningham, but
aboard on separate ships were the Allies two most famous, first string,
superstar generals, George S. Patton and Sir Bernard Montgomery. The follow on
invasion of the Italian mainland through Anzio was already in the advanced
stages of planning.
‘Old Blood and Guts’ George was to lead the U.S. 7th
Army in an all out assault along the southern shores while Monty would
take the British 8th Army along with the Canadian First onto the
eastern shores of the 10,000 year old island country.
The invasion scenario had the Americans, 6th
and 12th Army Groups and 45th Infantry Divisions supported by a
reinforced battalion of the 82d Airborne, to assault Gela and capture the
south-western territories of the island while the Brits and Canadians did the
same on the Eastern beaches of Catania. This operation was the first time in the war the Americans and British were
to work together on any appreciable scale and it was the first all-out amphib
invasion of the war. More importantly, it was the first combat test of the
newly formed airborne troops. There was a lot that could go wrong. There was a
lot that did.
As the American Army's target city Gela was a deep water
port and the available enemy artillery had been largely neutralized, the
fleet's Flag Ship orders were to take her nine inch guns within 2,000 yards of
the beach, drop anchor and establish a Command & Control center primarily
as a fire base control to support the landings.
Although German Intelligence swallowed the British ruse
hook line and sinker, code named “Mincemeat”, as to where the invasion would
take place, due to traffic control considerations the German High Command were
slow to transfer troops to Greece, and so the attacking armies were heading
into a significantly bigger fight than anticipated.
At least the weather was with the Allies so although the
sporadic winds would be a hazard to the airborne troops, visibility would allow
naval gunfire to be brought to bear with more precise accuracy.
Below decks on the 03 level, on board the Liberty Ship S.S. Robert Rowen, the chow line
stretched back through the hatch to the engineering spaces however, this
morning three Marine sentries had head-of-the-line privileges.
With two trays each they pushed in front of a crusty
Boatswain's Mate 1st Class who had no sense of humor about being cut off by a
gang of Marines and made no secret of his emotions.
“Fuckin' Jarheads!” He cursed aloud.
“Fuck you, Squid!” Corporal Deuth,
the Marine detail leader, returned the compliment to the BM1.
A junior Seaman behind the Boatswain peered over his port
”Hey Boats, how come they always call us, 'squids'
anyways?” The junior member of the Marine detail leaned over and enlightened
“That’s because a squid is a small, spineless sea
creature which lives off Marine waste.”
The cooks behind the line could’ve cared less who they
were serving but hoped a fight might break out, or at least a skirmish,
anything to break the monotony. When it didn't they just continued to fill the
plates with greasy bacon patties, instant scrambled eggs and cold toast shoving
the tin trays back across the stainless steel counter. Once on the trays half
the food slid off in the next roll of the ship. The sentries picked the patties
up off the deck and plopped them back onto the plates.
“Three second rule.” One shrugged.
“What’a ya wanna do about their coffee?” One of the
privates asked Corporal Deuth.
“Fuck it! We'll come back for it, or they can get it
themselves!” Deuth placed one full tray on top of another.
“They're not allowed out!”
“Then I guess they don't get coffee!” The Corporal led the
detail around the galley to the port side and through the forward compartments.
“Who are they anyway?” They talked as they made their way
through the narrow passageways.
“Scuttlebutt has it they're here by orders of a special
House sub-committee of something or other.”
“Yeah? When'd you get that scuttlebutt?”
“Right after we shoved off from Tunisia. Two guys from up
in CNC were jabber jawin' and one of 'em said something about spooks being sent out by a
“If they're so fuckin' important why the hell are they
billeted in the chain locker?”
“Must be under a non-fraternization order.”
“That's some serious non-frat order!”
“Wake up! They're fuckin' spooks!”
“Thank you Dick fuckin' Tracy!”
“Why do ya think they ain't got no names or ranks on
The chain locker of any ship, located in the most forward
hold, was never meant to house troops, much less civilians. The overhead is
high, the narrow deck is riddled with fixtures and beams, it's usually the
narrowest compartment on the ship, and there is no forward bulkhead, only the
forward keel. The compartment is half filled with steel anchor chain on both
sides, and on a ship the size of the S.S.
Robert Rowan each link is the size of a man which means there's nowhere to
lie down. Except when the ship's at anchor. Of course the problem is it takes
about two to three hours after they drop anchor for your ears to stop ringing,
even if they're plugged with those tiny, useless little pieces of rubber foam
they give you. Oh yeah, there's one additional treat.
The two giant, gaping holes in the bulkhead to let the
chain out are the same ones which also let the sea, the wind and the cold in.
Although they wore no rank two of the men perched on the
huge pile of anchor chain, by their demander and bearing, were obviously
One was a lawyer-turned Lieutenant Commander assigned to
Naval Intelligence and temporarily attached to Bill Donovan's Office of
The other, younger one, was an Intelligence officer
nobody could figure out anything about. Except that he always spoke to them in
flawless Sicilian. As they were all Sicilian, they didn't mind but figured him
to be a lieutenant at least. Probably.
Lieutenant Commander Anthony Marsloe and Lieutenant Paul
Alfieri had been assigned this mission for several reasons.
Marsloe, being a long standing fixture in New York D. A.
Frank Hogan's office, had been in on
Operation Underworld almost from its inception last February and therefore
rode the wave of transition when it escalated into its present format, known by
Naval Intelligence as 'F' Section, which had now become a sub-section of the
Office of Strategic Services.
Following Commander Haffenden's orders it was Marsloe
who, as former resident 'expert' on Sicilians and the Mafia in the NYC D.A.’s
office, organized the offshoot of 'F' Section, an intel office organized
specifically to gather intel about southern Sicily, which they named the
Turning in his fountain pen and briefcase for a back pack
and .45, he fit right in to the early profile of Wild Bill Donovan and the
other New York lawyers who made up the early members of the O.S.S. the
forerunners of the CIA.
The young, well-built Lieutenant with him was more of a
mystery, even to Marsloe. He appeared to be just one of those dozens of kids
who kept knocking on the door of Naval Intel trying to get in on the Big Game
and who was finally somehow granted admission. Marsloe was the Honcho but in Special
Ops that just means you take the blame if things go South.
Of the two Alfieri, looking as if he were going on a
woodland hike in his civilian clothes, had the shit mission. It
was simple but shit. Get ashore, beg, borrow or steal whatever resources
required, locate the Italian Naval HQ outside Gela, as reported by Luciano and
his guys, get into the Admiral's office and steal anything you can carry.
“Oh yeah,” Commander Haffenden added just before Alfieri
shipped out, “We might have some questions. So try to come back in one piece.”
They were also there to land four Italians, Sicilians
really, tentatively labeled as V.I.P.'s. Their special V.I.P.'s? Gino Giuliani and three others who were
lifetime members of the New York Italian American Club on Mott Street.
All were born and reared in Southern Sicily, all except
Enrico who was from Brooklyn. The Syndicate members had all volunteered to make
the landing and not because they were anxious to once more see their home turf.
Two of them could not have cared less if they ever set foot in Sicily again,
but someday soon, after the Army, Navy and Marines had fumigated the place of
Mussolini's vermin then packed up and gone home, they would act as the forward
organizers to re-establish Syndicate operations. Providing the Fascists didn't
Of course for the time being, as far as the Navy was
concerned, they were doing their patriotic duty to aid the landing by acting as
“Why the Feds so interested in Gela any ways?” Gino directed his question at Marsloe.
“According to our sources in New York that's where Mussolini set up
headquarters for the navy. We're bankin' on there
being some valuable intel if we can get there in time.”
“Naval Headquarters in Gela?! You
fuckin' kiddin' me? You ever been to Gela?! They roll up the fucking streets at half past
“Maybe that’s the reason he chose Gela!” Marsloe remarked to Alfieri in
“There you go! See, you ain't as dumb as you look!” Gino quipped.
Enrico sat isolated from the others. Not by choice but
because Gino threatened to knife him if he didn't take his smoked sardine
breakfast elsewhere. As it was, Gino had two full sea-sick bags sealed up on
the deck across from him and was gradually working on a third.
Suddenly the ten dogs on the single hatch to the chain locker
cranked open and the three Marines came in with the breakfast trays. About two
minutes after Gino's tray was laid in front of him and he got a whiff of those
greasy bacon patties, he was working away filling that third bag.
“Thirty minutes to launch, Sir. Launch officer needs you
on deck, starboard side ten minutes prior.” Deuth addressed Commander Marsloe.
“Roger that Corporal. Tell him we're in route.”
The Commander was the only one who finished his bacon and
eggs, and half of Gino's, and the Sicilians were glad when it was time to move
Up on the main deck, in the fresh air Gino started to
regain himself but became a little concerned when he spotted some flashes of
light in the distance, beyond the hills of the town.
“Hey Commander. You sure it's safe to go in there
now? I mean we don't gotta
worry about bein' shot at or nuthin'?”
“What's'a matter Gino? You
gonna tell me you never been shot at?” Marsloe chided.
“Sure! Loads'a times! Just
never by nuthin' shootin’
fuckin’ Buicks!” Gino barked. The Commander laughed.
“Seriously Sir. We got anything to worry about?” Enrico asked. Alfieri jumped in with a pat on
“Look at it this way Enrico. If we pull this off we're
“And if we don't?!”
“Then we're dead heroes! Either way, we get a medal.”
“Relax Gino. Most
of the fightin's died down by now. Besides the
beaches are secure. The battle lines are mostly in land now.” Marsloe assured.
Although it had been relatively quiet through the
boarding and launch of the landing craft as they descended the cargo nets
serving as rope ladders, no sooner had they cast off and the cox’wain headed in towards shore when things seemed to pick
A stray Italian fighter came out of nowhere and headed
straight for their assault boat. The Cox'swain immediately
steered into an uneven ‘S’ pattern, but there was little time. The fighter
banked and let go two three second bursts strafing the Robert Rowen. The on board crew returned fire, but despite a round
pinging around the rear bulkhead of the launch craft, no one was hit.
“Where the hell'd that little son-of-bitch come from?”
Enrico asked to no one in particular.
“I don't know, but he's got friends!” Commander Marsloe
answered as he pointed off the starboard bow. Three more fighters were bearing
down on the convoy.
“A tausend boats in the fuckin'
water and he's gotta come at us?!” Enrico cursed.
“JESUS FUCKIN' CHRIST!” Gino suddenly yelled at the
top of his lungs and hunkered down and tried to sink into the wet deck. The
wings of the fighters streaked low overhead but didn't fire. Seconds later
several of the others noticed Gino staring out off the port side.
There, 100 meters or so out from their boat was the
fuselage of an O.D. green, U.S. Army glider minus its wings. However the
wreckage was gliding gently towards shore, like a giant, closed-in canoe being
paddled by three of the crew on top of it using their rifles as paddles.
“Where's a fucking camera when you need one?!” The coxswain asked out
“GINO! You okay?!” Enrico yelled.
“Do I fucking look o-fucking-kay!? I wanted to come back someday but not like
this! TELL THE DRIVER TO TURN THIS FUCKING FERRY AROUND!” Just as Gino was
having second thoughts about his loyalty a pair of German bombers appeared out
“COX'SWAIN, FULL AHEAD! MAKE FOR THE NEAREST BEACH!”
Marsloe yelled. Still three quarters of a mile off shore things weren't looking
too good for the O.S.S. group. The bombers came in at danger close altitude and
released their loads at about six hundred yards out. The good news was that they released too late and didn't
kill anything except some fish. The bad news was they came around for a second
Having saved half their load until they got the windage
and elevation, the bombers were luckier this time.
Two bombs from the second bird missed their targets,
but the last two hit directly amidships of the Robert Rowan.
The force of the explosion lit off the ship's magazine
which was enough to lift the entire hull out of
the water by three feet. A cylindrical smoke plume rose five hundred feet into
the air with searing hot wreckage rocketing out in all directions. Like contrails from a rudderless aircraft
burning shrapnel showered the surrounding area and was carried by the wind for
over half a mile.
As the shock wave rocked their landing craft several
chunks of smoldering shrapnel fell onto the O.S.S. group and two of the crew
were burned though not badly. When the dust cleared however, a large smoke pot,
part of the ancillary cargo in the boat, was burning away. The Cox'swain was the first to notice.
“GET THAT FIRE OUT!” He yelled at the passengers.
Also on board the landing craft was an Ensign Parle, a 27
year old Naval Reserve officer from Omaha. He was the first to act. He rushed
to grab one of several fire buckets onboard but most of the sand had been spilt
in the rough seas and what remained was caked thick from the rain of sea water.
The smoke clearly marked the vessel for miles around and was noted by the enemy
aircraft loitering over the fleet.
What he did next would save the boat and all aboard, but
several days later claim his life.
Realizing attempts at extinguishing the large pot were
pointless, he shoved his way through the panic-stricken passengers and blinding
smoke and wrestled the device to the deck and away from the large cargo of
ammo. Gasping heavily and vomiting from the thick chemical fumes and with his
last bit of breath he lifted the 150 pound, smoldering pot over the gunwale and
into the sea.
He collapsed to the deck gagging and vomiting more
violently before going unconscious.
A squadron of Allied fighters appeared and chased the
errant Italian fighters out of the area.
A beach head had been established so there was no enemy
gunfire and as soon as the ramp hit the sand several men carried the casualties
off the craft and were met by two corpsmen from the landing party who
immediately went to work.
The O.S.S. group gathered themselves and made their way
up the beach to a command tent to get their bearings.
“Why'd he make such a big deal? It was just a smoke pot!” Gino commented.
“A smoke pot which was sitting on top of 300 pounds of
ammo!” Marsloe informed him. Gino turned white. Again.
They looked back out to sea to watch the smoldering wreck
of the Robert Rowen gradually sink
beneath the waves.
“There’s a fuckin’ close call to tell your grand kids
One hundred yards up the beach they came on a General
Purpose Tent, Large and entered. Inside the tent Marsloe took the lead and
approached an NCO.
“We're looking for your Skipper.”
“That's him over there. Holding court by the map
boards.” They headed towards the tall Colonel telling a story while surrounded
by half a dozen lower ranking officers.
“So Mountbatten grabs the hailer from the BM and yells
out to Hewitt, 'How far has General Patton gotten?' And Hewitt clicks his
hailer and yells back, 'The General is back on board this ship!' You could hear
the laughter all over the decks! I nearly pissed my trousers!”
“Sir, Lieutenant Commander Anthony Marsloe, from F
Section. Are you the C.O.?” annoyed by the interruption he looked the group up
“Oh yeah, my Spooks. We got word you were coming in.”
He turned back to his audience. “Dismissed.” The officers dispersed and the
Colonel led the O.S.S. group into the rear compartment of the tent. The C.O.
took a seat behind a small collapsible table and spread out a map. Marsloe
stepped front and center as the others
bunched in around him.
“The situation as we speak is that we are engaged in a
battle on Biazza Ridge, west of Vittoria, here where
it crosses the Gela-Vittoria road.” He indicated a point on the map. “It's
turning into a regular slug fest with some German tanks and supporting
infantry. A little earlier we were able to bring some Naval gunfire to bear
thanks to a Navy L.T. who jumped in with the Five-O-Fifth. That was a couple of
hours ago but we haven't heard from him or them since.” The spooks followed him
as he shifted to the larger hanging map. “Everything from this blue line south
“What's the yellow line?” Marsloe asked.
“What we used to call no-mans-land.”
“I still fuckin' do!” Gino chimed in. The
C.O. pushed on.
“After an unopposed landing the only serious opposition
we hit on the whole fucking island was here at Gela! Seems the Krauts didn't
get the word to go see the Acropolis. 1st Division was met with a counter
attack by German Armor. We were pushed off
the grid and by sun-up we were back on the beaches. At one point Mk VI's broke
through but were engaged by the cruiser Savannah and the destroyer Shubrick and are now part of the history books.
Yesterday highways 115 and 117 were filthy with Italian
tanks from the Niscemi, and Livorno Infantry who
pushed the attack on the city. But again the Shubrick with the Boise opened up on them and cancelled
their dance card. We know the 15th
Panzer Division is out there, but we're not sure where. We can't push too hard,
at least till they show themselves, or we'll get strung out.”
“What's'a all this mean for
us, Sir?” Asked Lieutenant Alfieri
focused solely on his mission.
“Well, seein' as how I
haven't got a god damned clue what your mission is, I don't know. But why ever the hell you're here, just stay
outta the way until the smoke clears, wait till you see the ass end of my jeep headin' north, and then assume the A.O. is yours.”
“We're here to assist in the re-organization of the
civilian population Colonel.” Marsloe Informed.
“Re-organization of the civilian population?” The C.O. wasn't quite sure how to take that.
“Well good-fuckin' luck with that little task,
“Why's that Sir?” Asked Alfieri.
“You ever tried to organize a bunch of Italians? Damn
near fuckin' impossible! Like organizin’ a Chinese
“We understand sir. That's why they sent Sicilians!”
“Well, if our Intel is right, in less than 48 hours,
Gela is yours, gentlemen. And Sicilians. Questions, comments snide remarks?”
“Just one.” It
was Enrico. “Where can we get something