Crime doesn’t pay… except when it helps decide the course of a war. Here are five cases of criminals joining the war effort:
1. The Jewish Mafia opened the New York docks to the Navy so Nazis there could be caught
During World War II, Nazi U-Boats were a major threat on the East Coast and the Navy suspected Nazi saboteurs and sympathizers to be behind a few incidents such as the sinking of the cruise ship Normandie.
Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky wanted to help European Jews, and that meant helping the Navy. He got them past longshoremen blockades at the docks, had his men violently break up gatherings of Nazi sympathizers, and even helped capture a group of Nazi saboteurs who holed up in a New York hotel.
2. The mobster “Lucky Luciano” aided Operation Husky from a cell in New York.
Lansky wasn’t the only mobster to help the Navy. Charlie “Lucky” Luciano was in prison but volunteered to jump into Europe to rally friends and associates in Sicily and Italy to help the Allies invasion of the “soft underbelly of Europe.”
The Navy turned him down for frontline duty, but did allow him to contact his associates in the area. They responded with photos, maps, and other reconnaissance, aiding the risky Operation Husky.
3. A single vigilante in the Civil War crippled Union shipping on the Tennessee River.
Jack Hinson was a dutiful informant for both sides during the American Civil War, but he spent most of his time trying to stay out of the whole thing and just run his farm. But then the Union executed and beheaded two of his sons on suspicion of Confederate activity.
Hinson went nuts. He had a custom sniper rifle made and began straight murdering any and every Union soldier he could get a shot off at, starting with the lieutenant and sergeant who led the execution of his sons.
4. D-Day was made possible by boats popularized by smugglers.
Andrew J. Higgins was a successful businessman who began building boats for trappers and lumbermen in Louisiana operating in the bayou. There is speculation that he may have ran booze himself, which may or may not have been true, but his boat business was definitely fueled by bootleggers.
That ended up being good for the Marine Corps and Army, because that booming boat business provided the armored boats that landed troops across the Pacific and on the Normandy beaches.
5. A Pirate queen won a war against the Chinese, British and Portuguese navies.
In the early 1800s Ching Shih was a Chinese prostitute that a pirate lord was in love with. He married her and the two grew his fleet from 200 to 600 ships before he died in a storm. Shih then built an entire pirate nation with a code of laws and a fleet of 1,800 ships. The Chinese emperor raised a force to bring her down, but that failed and so he asked for help from the British and Portuguese.
After the trilateral alliance failed to defeat her in over two years of war, she offered the Chinese government to disband her fleet if her leaders were offered positions in the Chinese navy, she was given a royal position, and the Chinese paid for the pirates to transition to a life on land. The government agreed and the war ended.