The Bombing of Bari Harbour 2 December 1943 - a white-wash?

Discussion in 'Italy' started by Desertman, Jul 26, 2012.

  1. Desertman

    Desertman Junior Member

    I am tracing the exploits of my father during WW2, who was in the RE 1017 docks op coy and have developed a website -
    RE1017 dockopcoy

    I have his personal army records and I have been to Kew archives - still have two files to go through.
    However, I am trying to find out exactly what happened on December 2nd 1943 when the harbour at Bari Italy was bombed - according to the Unit war dairies my father's unit was in Bari at the time and I recall he mentioned something about it when he was alive many years ago.

    I understand that the bombing incident has been covered up due to a secret supply of armament on board a vessel, American I believe...possibly chemical weaponry - the incident was classified as 'Top Secret' and much of it covered up.
    I have found a documentary on the incident and will try and get the link for those interested.
    In the RE 1017 docks op coy diaries noithing is mentioned - we see regular entries up to 29th November - then nothing until 8th December - but when I return to the archives I will check this period again.

    If anyone has any information on this incident I would be interested to hear about it
    Many thanks
  2. Desertman

    Desertman Junior Member

  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Desrt man
    No really big secret - the Luftwaffe got lucky - hit an American ship full of Mustard Gas - then hit an ammo ship - chaos - the oxygen was sucked out by the explosions - it was said that some 3000 died without a mark on them - forgotten the ships names BUT true story
  4. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    According to numerous sources - SS John Harvey.
  5. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    We mentioned it on the forum several times before.
    Havent got time now for to link to search results but it's on here somewhere.
  6. Desertman

    Desertman Junior Member

    Thanks - I did a search on here before I posted but could not find the posts - will search again - just trying to fiull the gaps
  7. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

  8. HAARA

    HAARA Well-Known Member

    Various sources suggest that '105 Ju88's' were used in the raid. Another source suggests that 17 turned back on route. Does anyone know where the actual number can be verified?
  9. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

  10. HAARA

    HAARA Well-Known Member

    Thank you very much indeed Lesley, that is a really good source, and seems well detailed and referenced - not the usual internet 'copy and paste' complete with inaccuracies (and there seem to be quite a few kicking about on Bari!). I'll pursue this further.
  11. Staffsyeoman

    Staffsyeoman Member

    My uncle was in one of the General Hospitals in Bari when this happened; he had been severely wounded when his signals truck hit a mine on 15 November. In the 1970s he told me stories that they could hear the bombers coming over and the German POWs in the next ward started cheering. Then there were explosions... he saw blackened bodies being brought in. And then, I could not find a thing about it. In the early 80s, the BBC did a radio documentary about it.
  12. HAARA

    HAARA Well-Known Member

    Thanks for that! I've been researching the Bari raid as part of following 76th HAA, who were there at the time - I have an eyewitness account. There also seems to be a lot of misinformation surrounding this event, but which in no way lessens the awfulness of the outcome. In particular, the nature of the John Harvey's cargo was known about by a lot of people before it docked, and why it was there.
    More to follow in due course!
  13. My 25 or 26 year old Italian Sicilian American Uncle Louie was a Merchant Marine on one of the ships waiting to be unloaded,
    filled with supplies on that tragic day in the early hours of December 2nd , 1943 when the Germans bombed 18 of our ships including the John Harvey which was loaded with mustard gas which very few people were even aware of ...
    I know of this because My deeply saddened Future Father deployed the very day that his only brother was killed
    finding out about it two entire months later & he told me lots of stories about that stinking war
    and I did some research myself on it as well ,
    to try and get some sort of an idea of what my poor young Dad and His Brother
    and so many of our noble loved ones had to so courageously endure Top Secret: Bari 2nd December 1943
  14. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Vets daughter

    This tale is very old hat by now but keeps coming up again and again - the ONLY reason that it was covered up (sic) - they didn't cover it very well as too many people knew all about -
    fact is that our allies THOUGHT that the enemy MIGHT use poison gas - as they did in the first war and so they made a very large amount of Mustard gas to reciprocate if they started to use chemicals etc - this was loaded on the John Harvey which found itself in Bari - as the ONLY fighting which was going on at the time in the Italian campaign was about 100 miles North of Bari near the Sangro River et al……where the enemy MIGHT have used their Gas - IF they had any … that time they still had a Luftwaffe - which got lucky to find Bari Harbour full of shipping and they bombed it - unfortunately they hit a ship full of Ammunition - which blew up the wreckage hit the John Harvey which then scattered their cargo all over Bari City between that gas and the explosion - most of the oxygen was sucked up causing many of the casualties…as you know people do need oxygen in order to live ...

    The main reason for the so called "cover up' was to try to hide the fact that the Allies HAD gas ready to be used - which might have set the enemy off and we would than have had a WW1 situation...
    and particularly in the Italian campaign where we were ALL suffering already- and we didn't need Gas thrown at us …the Mountains - Snow - Ice - extreme cold - cold food - lack of sleep - we
    didn't really need the enemy…or his gas...

  15. HAARA

    HAARA Well-Known Member

    A lot of what has been said, and is constantly repeated on the internet by copy and paste, about the Bari raid is incorrect, and in some cases fundamentally flawed. Contrary to repeated stories, many people in authority knew full well that the mustard gas was on board the John Harvey, before it docked, and at the time it arrived. One of the problems of unloading the ship was due to the size of convoys arriving in Bari due to the need to escort them with a limited number of available naval vessel, meaning the harbour was overcrowded, and that the John Harvey could only be docked on the outer mole. To dock outside would have exposed it to E-boats and submarines. Contrary again is that the Allies weren't too bothered about security. Extensive standing orders, with regular revisions, were in place with regular tests, including dummy raids by Allied planes to test defences, and hourly testing of telephone lines between Sector Operations Room and Gun Operations Room. Reconnasaince planes were regularly intercepted and shot down by ground fire and RAF, including on the day of the raid.
    On the night of the raid the main telephone line between SOR and GOR Bari was out of action, despite the testing, leaving only an unfiltered line open, minimising the warning time. Luftwaffe dropped 'Window' which confused RDF station feeding SOR, and led to some doubt as to the origins of the interference. The duty GL stations at Bari did however 'see' the approaching raid once it gained altitude from its low level under radar approach, but at 22,000yds gave little warning, giving the attackers a considerable element of surprise.
    The John Harvey was carrying not only mustard gas bombs but conventional weapons, including white phosphorous. When these and the ship exploded after catching fire it showered the surrounding areas with mustard. This was seen later to have been one of the fundamental issues arising from the raid, and it was recommended amongst other improvements that mixed cargoes should not be carried.
    The ship sank, taking much mustard with it, but left a mixture of oil and mustard on the surface of the dock. This was then sent as a tidal wave across the dock when a second ship blew up, drenching many.
    The local hospital was alerted immediately after the raid by at least two sources that mustard was believed to be in the area, but these messages seem to have been lost in the understandable confusion and chaos following the raid. One of the biggest problem in diagnosis was that the mustard was in diluted form with the oil. Those brought into hospital suffering from shock were left in their soaked clothing, and wrapped in blankets, allowing the diluted mixture to be absorbed by the victims, this causing symptoms different from those usually seen as a result of mustard, and was therefore not recognised. Those who removed their soaked clothing suffered little.
    The 'cover up', as noted above, of mustard being amongst the cargoes was done for the simple reason of minimising the risk of German forces resorting to its retaliatory use, and from making a propaganda coup. It was formally instructed by Eisenhower for this reason.
    Roy Martin and dbf like this.
  16. merdiolu

    merdiolu Junior Member

    First of all RAF Desert Air Force , main tactical air arm and air defence unit of 8th Army dropped ball pretty badly in Bari. Air Marshall Arthur Conningham cmdr of Desert Air Force claimed on December 2nd a few hours before raid "I would consider it a personal insult if any German flies overhead. Luftwaffe is finished in Italy" (Gee reminds me Goring's "Call me Meier" boast in 1940 during BoB) in front of press. A subsequent investigation absolved Conningham any guilt later (wonder why ?) Mustard gas leak was hidden and cencored of course to prevent civilian panic , demoralization at front and home front and retaliation urges of course.
  17. HAARA

    HAARA Well-Known Member

    Yes, indeed. Wasn't helped by the fact that the regular dusk patrol had just landed before the raid, and took time to get airborne again. After the raid planes were kept in the air.
  18. well, what ever reason the mustard gas was onboard , many many people suffered terribly and died because of it and families were never the same after losing loved ones in such tragic ways ..I will never forget the sacrifice these and other soldiers made and now to see the poor excuses for leaders in this country now , our beloved heroes would roll over in their graves knowing of such disloyalty to our Country and the assault on our most basic of values , the absolute noble ethics this Country was founded upon
  19. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

  20. HAARA

    HAARA Well-Known Member

    Hi Matt,

    This article again, regrettably, perpetuates myths about the actuality of events, and I would refer you to my post above, which has been based research of official documents.

    Amongst other 'myths' it is incorrect for the article to state that there was only one AA battery present, when on the day of the raid Bari was defended by thirty-two British 3.7” anti aircraft guns (eight four gun batteries) and thirty-six 40mm Bofors together with twenty Italian heavy anti aircraft guns, twenty-four light anti aircraft guns, and British and Italian associated searchlight batteries.

    The guns came into action, together with the docked ships’ own A.A. guns, only after the flares and bombs started to fall, ships having been instructed under standing orders not to open fire until attacked and to coordinate their fire with an Italian radar and G.O.R controlled 20mm L.A.A. gun firing white tracer shell, the delay being due to the compromised communications described in my previous post. The Italian gun was mounted on a quay wall, but was put out of action early in the raid, leaving ships’ guns without guidance onto targets. Also, due to the lack of warning it had not been possible for the Navy to create an effective smoke screen, nor for the port to immediately switch off all lights. The A.A. claimed three aircraft shot down (Luftwaffe sources identify two aircraft lost) for 6,283 L.A.A. rounds fired in concentrations, 756 H.A.A. rounds in predicted shoots and 725 H.A.A. in concentrations. Italian heavy and light anti aircraft batteries fired 642 and 5,174 rounds respectively. Whilst one injury was recorded at H.A.A. batteries, L.A.A. positions reported one killed and five injured, as well as men being admitted to hospital due to their eyes being ‘contaminated with oil’. Searchlight batteries reported one missing, and smoke companies two killed, four missing, and six injured.

    It is interesting to note that the following was recorded at the official enquiry that followed the raid:
    “We wish to stress that even with a faultless defence organisation, no immunity to a crowded port so situated can be guaranteed” and that “the investigating officers… have not brought out sufficiently strongly that even had the defences not had defects [i.e. the compromised communications], the effect of the raid would in all probability have been precisely the same in the circumstances existing. The damage caused in this particular raid was attributable almost entirely to causes other than bomb damage, and it would be erroneous to allow the extent of the damage to bias views on the effectiveness or otherwise of the air or A.A. defences”, the disposition of shipping together with an ammunition ship blowing up being the principal cause.
    gpo son likes this.

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