Location: Fulton Fish Market and the Meyer Hotel, 119 South Street
Closed lipped and insular, the longshoremen of the Fulton Fish Market proved impossible to infiltrate, but the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) knew there was no other option. By 1942, Nazi submarines pushed the Allies to the breaking point, sinking 650,000 tons of cargo a month. Observers spotted U-boat wolf packs roving up and down the cost of Long Island. Then on February 9, the troop transport Normandie spontaneously combusted on the West Side of Manhattan.
Nazi Spies in New York
To ONI, it was obvious. Nazi agents had infiltrated the Port of New York, and only the mob had the power to hunt them down. Here at the Fulton Fish Market, the United States Navy orchestrated one of the most unusual alliances of WWII that remained a secret until 1977, when author Rodney Campbell uncovered the classified Herland’s Investigative Report, a 101-page summary of the Navy’s involvement in Operation UNDERWORLD.
Tsar of the Fish Market
The task of penetrating the Fish Market fell to Commander Charles Radcliffe Haffenden, the swashbuckling leader of ONI’s investigative unit. With the help of the head of the New York Rackets Bureau, Murray Gurfien, Haffenden contacted the fishy tsar of the Fulton Fish Market, Joseph “Socks” Lanza, a hulking 250 lb mafia bulldozer in the Luciano Crime Family whose resume included arrests for burglary, extortion and homicide( https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/08/26/socks-lanza-the-seafood-king-strikes-again/ ).
Up in The Old Hotel
From his headquarters in the Meyer Hotel above the infamous Longshoreman bar, the Paris Café, Socks’ clammy grip on the United Seafood Workers Union stretched from Florida to Maine.
The NY DA’s office arranged a secret meeting with Socks where Gurfein pleaded:
“Many of our ships are being sunk along the Atlantic coast. We suspect German U-boats are being refueled and getting fresh supplies off our coast…You can find out how and where the submarines are being refueled.”
Socks jumped at the chance to aid the Navy, but the DA’s office wiretapped Lanza’s phones at the Meyer hotel to ensure his loyalty. Their bugs would record conversations detailing Navy inspired mayhem that included assaults, break-ins, and possible murders.
The next morning Lanza called his long time associate Benjamin Espy, a former bootlegger who served time in Lewisburg Penitentiary. Together Lanza and Espy demanded that ship suppliers report unusual purchases of fuel to them. Next, the two gangsters moved onto the fishing vessels and set up a network of fishermen to keep an eye out for submarines. The fish racket boss’ success startled Haffenden. Sensing the Mafia’s influential grip, the commander requested union books to place agents on long-range fishing vessels. Socks responded by providing his personal books used for no show payoff jobs, and Haffenden’s agents sailed aboard mackerel fleets bound for Maine, Florida and Newfoundland under the protective wing of the Mafia.
Commander Haffenden wanted more. He wanted access to the West Side piers controlled by the Irish Mob’s Joseph Ryan and his enforcer Johnny Cockeye Dunn, as well as the Brooklyn waterfront, controlled by Albert Anastasia. Joe Socks balked at the prospects of facing Anastasia’s explosive temper and legendary trigger finger. Furthermore, Lanza lacked the influence to cross the ethnic divide into Irish controlled Hell’s Kitchen.
According to Socks Lanza, there was only one man capable of:
“Snapping the whip in the entire underworld.”
That man was New York’s imprisoned emperor of vice, Lucky Luciano.