Bari: A Second Pearl Harbor

Thursday, Dec 2, 1943

My parents wouldn’t know about this disaster until long after the war.  Winston Churchill made sure of that! Today the Germans conducted a massive and lethal bombing raid on the town of Bari in southeastern Italy. This once sleepy town had become a major depot for Allied war supplies, chiefly for General Bernard Law Montgomery. For that reason, it was under British jurisdiction although it had recently been designated headquarters for the newly activated American Fifteenth Air Force. With such a concentration of forces and supplies, concerns had been expressed about security prompting British Air Vice Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham to hold a press conference the very afternoon and assure reporters that the Luftwaffe was defeated in Italy. ‘I would regard it as a personal affront and insult,’ he haughtily declared, ‘if the Luftwaffe would attempt any significant action in this area.’ Yet this very afternoon a German reconnaissance plane eluded detection over Bari and returned to report that a raid would be feasible. At 7:30 this evening, a wave of Ju-88s covered the skies. It was – but should not have been – a total surprise. Ships loaded with munitions blew up in the port. The surface of the water was aflame as sailors dove off the sinking vessels. By the time the operation ended 20 minutes later, 17 ships were sunk and there were over a thousand casualties. Worst of all, one of the ships had been carrying a cargo of deadly mustard gas which now spread through the atmosphere. As a result, the wounded died of respiratory failures before the doctors realized what they were dealing with. Finally, an urgent message was sent to Deputy Surgeon General Fred Blesse in Allied headquarters in Algiers that the wounded were dying of a mysterious malady. He sent Lt. Col. Stewart Francis Alexander who finally verified the gas and began proper treatment. No wonder historians label the bombing of Bari “a second Pearl Harbor.”

 

This entry was posted in Jewish life in America during WW II, Today in WWII, Uncategorized, World War II. Bookmark the permalink.

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