Local author uncovers documents proving army and mafia teamed up in WWII

Operation Underworld: How the Mafia and US Government Teamed Up to Win World War II, tells a story that the US government has kept secret for decades.

SAN DIEGO – “How the Navy defended New York Harbor in World War II, and the way they did that is they asked the Mafia for help,” said Matthew Black , author of San Diego.

That’s right – gangsters – including Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Black, who lives in Point Loma, has spent much of the pandemic sifting through thousands of pages of documents. Many included information classified for decades by the federal government.

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“I got cross-eyed at my computer screen,” he said with an animated smile. “I have about 60 tabs open at a time. I need 6 computer screens to pull information from…and some scenes have gotten so messy. You’re drawing from 10 sources at a time , so it was very difficult.

On February 9, 1942, the SS Normandie, a French ocean liner, suddenly caught fire while docked in New York Harbor. It was caused by sparks from a welding torch, but as it happened just two months after the Pearl Harbor bombing, Black said the US government suspected sabotage.

“Oh my god – there must be enemy spies working in the port – and so it’s become a big problem for the navy,” he said.

This was a big problem, mainly because workers at the docks also handled sensitive equipment and war materials.

The Navy needed its men to infiltrate the workforce here – to monitor suspicious activity.

But strong unions made that impossible until the Navy secretly teamed up with key mob members.

“When they asked for their help, they were able to get their men in, figure out who was the enemy, who was helpful, and the story evolves from there,” Black said. “It’s going crazy places.”

Lola R. McClure