A Small sampling of news that never made it to the front page, or into the History books we all read.
Mustard Gas laden US Liberty Ship is damaged in a German attack and the mustard gas chemicals killed Many US Service personnel.
(Present in direct violation of the 1925 Protocols of the Geneva Convention)
Bari Air Raid – 2 December 1943
Bari harbor (Adriatic coast Southern Italy) had neither adequate air nor ground defenses, but the Allies believed that the Luftwaffe based in Italy was stretched too thin to launch a major attack against the area. At the time, numerous Allied ships were in the harbor offloading supplies, and a large civilian population lived in the adjoining port city.
On the afternoon of 2 December 1943, the Luftwaffe made a reconnaissance flight and reported that conditions were favorable for a possible raid on the port area. Consequently, Field Marshal A. Kesselring ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb the installations the same day.
Offshore view illustrating the mustard-laden smoke column emanating from the "John Harvey" Liberty ship. Picture taken shortly after the German raid.
The attack opened at 1925 hours, with bombers (105 Ju-88s) dropping chaff to confuse radar and flares, although the latter were not needed as the harbor was illuminated at night to expedite unloading of supplies for the Allies engaged in the battle for Rome. Direct hits on 2 ammunition ships caused enormous detonations which shattered windows seven miles away. A bulk gasoline pipeline and supply were severed and the gushing fuel ignited engulfing other ships. Seventeen merchant ships laden with nearly 35,000 tons of cargo were destroyed ( 5 American, 5 British, 3 Norwegian, 2 Italian, 2 Polish, with another 7 vessels heavily damaged). The port area was closed for three weeks and was only back in operation by February 1944.
The unexpected attack against Bari harbor did enormous damage but did not delay the victorious advance of Allied Forces in Italy.
Among the ships sunk was the S/S “John Harvey” (Liberty ship), which was carrying mustard gas intended for use in retaliation by the Allies should the enemy initiate gas warfare. Most of the released gas vapors were carried out to sea by an offshore breeze, but many military and civilian personnel were temporarily incapacitated or killed by the amounts of mustard gas which were held in solutions of oil that were floating on the water. Out of 800 casualties hospitalized after the raid, 628 suffered from mustard gas exposure, of which 69 died.
Medical personnel treating the wounded were unaware of the presence of the toxic gas and therefore gave priority to those with severe blast or burn injuries. Casualties pulled out of the water (covered with oil and mustard gas solutions) suffered varying degrees of severe chemical burns causing the first deaths to occur without warning eighteen hours after exposure. About 90% of the gas casualties were American (the bulk of them US merchant seamen). Since no decent US Army Hospital (the 26th Gen Hosp / AAFSC would only set up 4 Dec 43) facilities were available in Bari – the medical equipment scheduled to be offloaded in the area was destroyed in the bombing – casualties were brought to British installations.
US Mustard Gas Kills Many US Servicemen in WW2
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