«Winchester, UK Washington, USA First published by Zero Books, 2012 Zero Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Laurel House, Station ...»
He had though, he claimed ‘lanced the Jewish abscess’ and dreamed that ‘the world of the future will be eternally grateful to us’.20 The act would indeed be remembered, with horror. It was the very nadir of the depravity of the Second World War.
Chapter Twenty Five The Second Invasion of Europe The argument over the ‘Second Front’ ran from 1940 to 1944 when in June American and British forces at last invaded Normandy beginning the western assault on Germanoccupied Europe.
The reason why the Second Front was delayed was that British and American military leaders feared what it would cost them. Their hostility to German domination of Europe was not principled, but pragmatic. Western leaders supported Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, and the ascendance of reactionary and collaborationist regimes in Europe. They objected to German domination because it threatened their own global standing. So it was that the first four years of the war were fought to decide which colonial powers would hold sway in North Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia.
For much of the war, the US was content to fight the war through proxies. Nationalist and Communist Chinese were armed to fight Japan. When the Soviet Union showed that it could reverse German conquests in the east, US aid began to flow to Russia. Even Britain was, to US strategists, a proxy that could be relied upon to take the fight to the enemy – though the British, struggling to hang onto their Empire were also reluctant to commit their own forces to a direct assault on Europe.
By 1944 the policy of leaving Europe to German control was falling apart, because the German Empire in Europe was falling apart – in the east, where it was overextended, and in southern Europe where the Italians had pulled out of the Axis.
Why, after so many delays did the western Allies agree to invade Europe? Harry Hopkins told Roosevelt on 17 March 1943 ‘one of two things would happen – either Germany will go Communist or an out and out anarchic state would set in; that indeed the same kind of thing might happen in any of the countries in Europe and Italy as well’.1 The reactionary regimes that had succeeded in containing radical and popular movements in Europe from 1933 to 1942 were exhausted. Instead of keeping a lid on the revolutionary movement they were provoking ever greater opposition. Partisan resistance to German domination threatened open rebellion not just against the occupiers, but against the stability of the capitalist social system itself. Instability, and the rise of the armed resistance, was a potential nightmare for Western policy makers. They would have to invade Europe to save the established order from total collapse.
The invasion would bring the most intense fighting between the western Allies and the Axis forces that the war had seen. But at the same time, western policy was to contain the popular opposition to the collaborationist regimes from spinning out of control. The Allies would use overwhelming force to ensure that they could dictate the settlement in Europe, and stop the European peoples from seizing power for themselves. ‘Liberation’ was the propagandistic goal, but the Allies fought to make sure that the liberation was on their terms and to avoid the danger that the Europeans would liberate themselves.
Rajani Palme Dutt, the Anglo-Indian Communist anticipated the likely response to a
breakdown in the Nazi regime:
In such a situation of general disorder, with spreading civil war, and with the popular forces still poorly armed and only partially organized, a trained and disciplined army of one million in the field could do a great deal to take over from Hitler the task of holding down the peoples of Europe and strangling the socialist revolution – just as the British forces in 1918 took over directly from the waning German imperialist forces in the Baltic States.2 Fenner Brockway, the Independent Labour Party leader, too, saw the likely course of
When the revolts against Nazism begin, British and American troops will probably be in occupation of parts of Europe; as the revolts develop, the occupation will extend.
This occupation, if it is under capitalist direction, will allow the revolt to go sufficiently far to enable “safe” governments to assume control, but no further. After that the British and American forces would be used to maintain law and order, or in plain words to prevent or undermine the socialist revolution.3 Both the western Allies and the Soviet Union began to push forward, just as the partisan movements were on the verge of liberating their own territories. The American radical
Dwight MacDonald explained the military thinking:
The Allied High Command like the Red Army High Command, does not approve of cities spontaneously liberating themselves without waiting for the duly constituted military authorities. Most irregular, most irregular! 4 In 1944, events began to move much more quickly. The governments of Finland and Rumania pulled out of the Axis. More importantly, partisan bands in Greece, Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, Italy and even France were directly challenging the German-backed authorities.
The partisans took succour from Allied victories insofar as they hurt the enemy, but as they would quickly learn, ‘liberation’ at Allied hands led to the loss of their power.
Icelanders were the first to experience the benign dictatorship that the Allies had to offer. When the Allies occupied Iceland in 1940 they were challenged by trade unionists there (the sheer weight of Allied purchasing on the Island started an inflationary spiral). In 1941 the trade union Dagsbrun struck threatening the building of an airfield outside Reykjavik. Threatened by the use of troops the Icelanders prepared an English-language leaflet: ‘You are called upon by your officers to murder us. Don’t do it’. The British imprisoned five strike leaders, banned the Communist Party paper The People’s Will and sent the MP and editor Einar Olgeirson to prison in Brixton.5
The Allied invasion of Sicily came before Normandy. The US Navy’s Lieutenant Commander Charles Haffenden, recruited American-based Sicilian Mafiosi, Vito Genovese, Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, Joseph Bonnano and Joseph Lanza. Mussolini’s Sicilian prefect Cesare Mori had been intolerant of the bandit gang, but Haffenden saw them as useful power brokers. In July 1943 a US plane made contact with Don Calogero Vizzini the Sicilian Mafia leaderknown as Don Calo, flying a yellow pennant with the letter ‘L’ (for Luciano). A few days later Don Calo led US tanks into the town of Villalba, again displaying Luciano’s colours. Don Calo’s men had seized the Axis commander Lieutenant-Colonel Salemi after telling his troops to make themselves scarce.6 The value of the Mafia to the Allied Military Government was that they were a militia who were neither for Mussolini, nor for the communist partisans. At the end of July ‘Don Calo
Vizzini was made mayor of the town’, remembers one witness:
Almost the entire population was assembled in the square. Speaking in poor Italian, this American lieutenant said “This is your master.” The townsfolk soon learned what Don Calo’s rule meant. A meeting held by the Italian Communist Party in Villalba heard the firebrand Girolamo Li Causi say ‘don’t be fooled by these landowners…’ at which Don Calo gave the signal and his men opened fire on the crowd gathered in the square, wounding fourteen. The American OSS officers were embarrassed enough to advise: ‘give the incident as little publicity as possible’.7
Don Calo, Mafia chief installed by the Allies
Genovese, who had dealt in stolen gasoline ration tickets in America, worked as an ‘interpreter’ for many US officers, including the head of the Allied Military Government in Italy, Charles Polletti. Genovese used his position to raid the Army stores: ‘that connivin’ louse was sellin’ American goods to his own Italian people’ grumbled Luciano. Interviewed many years later, Poletti was strangely reticent: ‘We had no problems at all with the Mafia’, he said. ‘Nobody ever heard of it.’ 8 Harold Macmillan thought that Poletti was ‘Tammany personified’: ‘He is the “boss” of Sicily, and just loves it.’ 9 Economically, the south had been bankrupted by the war, and only the Fascists’ price and rationing system stopped runaway inflation, which broke out once the Allies landed.
Unable to get a reasonable price, farmers withheld their grain and the cities starved. To restore order, the allies recreated Mussolini’s police state.
In western Sicily the Allied authorities shut down flour mills and bakeries alleging criminal speculation in grain prices. On 19 October 1943, Allied troops fired on a demonstration against wage and price levels in Palermo leaving 14 dead. The exploitative ‘collective contracts’ between workers and employers that had been introduced by Mussolini were continued by Lt. Colonel Charles Poletti for AMGOT.10 The use of criminal gangs to put down militant workers was not restricted to Sicily. In 1948 the French police used gangsters of the Unione Corse to attack striking dockworkers in Marseille. ‘The Unione Corse obliged by providing an army of strikebreaking longshoremen to unload the ships and a crew of assassins to gun down defiant union leaders.’ 11 Like the Mafia, the Unione Corse had been involved in actions against the Axis in the war.
Throughout Greece’s fierce war of resistance against first the Italians, and then German occupation, British Special Operations Executive Officers had tried to build up a right-wing alternative to the radical ELAS resistance movement, and its political arm EAM.
Eventually Britain used the Soviet Union’s influence to rein in ELAS. Following preparatory discussions between Eden and the Soviet Ambassador to London in May, Stalin and Churchill agreed that Greece would be a part of the British sphere of influence at a conference in Moscow in October 1944. Between the two discussions a Soviet mission to Greece under Colonel Popov, had contacted the partisans to tell them of their agreement in July.12 The British with American and Soviet support pushed the Communist leadership into accepting the installation of George Papandreou’s puppet government of ‘constitutional’ (meaning unrepresentative in this case) politicians. Harold Macmillan told Papandreou that
there would have to be some token action against the Germans to justify Allied support:
It was vital to have a National Army partly to play some part, however modest, in the war against Germany so long as it lasted, and partly to maintain internal order. It was only when a National army was created that he could proceed to disarm the guerrillas.13 At Caserta, EAM, Papandreou and the Allies agreed that all guerrilla bands would be disarmed, before the formation of a new Greek Army, with only Serafis dissenting.
Meanwhile, the Allies recruited national Bands from the rapidly disintegrating collaborationist Greek forces to take on ELAS.
Even as they were using the Soviet leadership to get leverage over the Greek Resistance, the British were using the threat of Soviet invasion to scare the Germans into helping them deal with the Resistance. In December 1943, the British Middle East HQ sent Captain Don Stott to negotiate with Hitler’s envoy in Greece, Hermann Neubacher of the Gestapo on the best way to defeat the partisans. ‘This war should end in a common struggle by the allies and the German forces against Bolshevism,’ Stott told them.14 It was point of view that Neubacher understood well, having already said that ‘we are the sole obstacle in Greece to the revolutionary success of the Soviet policy against British interests in the Mediterranean.’ 15 According to Albert Speer, German troops cut off on the Greek islands were given safe passage to the mainland on the understanding that they would be used to hold Salonika until the British took over.16 Captain Don Stott, who brokered the deal to take over the Nazis’ anti-ELAS Security Battalions The conditions were prepared for the British Expeditionary Force under General Scobie to enter Greece. ‘Do not hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress’, read Churchill’s orders of 5 December 1944.17 At first, though, the EAM did not want to fight, but instead welcomed the British: ‘perhaps because the order had been given from Moscow, EAM seemed ready to accept the situation fairly goodhumouredly.’ 18 Churchill was not satisfied, telling Scobie ‘the clear objective is the defeat of the E.A.M.’ - not the German or Italian armies, which had already been defeated. And making clear his desire to inflict a physical defeat, Churchill added ‘the ending of the fighting is subsidiary to this’.19 On the same day, in the House of Commons, an opposition amendment regretted that the King’s speech of 29 November ‘contains no assurance that H.M. Forces will not be used to disarm the friends of democracy in Greece and other parts of Europe, or to suppress popular movements which have variously assisted in the defeat of the enemy and upon whose success we must rely for future friendly cooperation in Europe’.