Bari (Italy) Raid
December 2nd 1943
"As I Recall"
The action took place during a critical time of the Allied Forces advance through the belly of Italy. Supplies had become a major factor in the battle. Bari was the most forward harbour of the ports able to cope with the crisis of supplies.
It was on this day December 2°" 1943, that a convoy of some 19 ships entered a very congested harbour. Already overstretched with a lack of berthing spaces, which meant this convoy of 19 ships had to be berthed side by side with their stem to the breakwater wall. This proved to be an easy target for the German Air Force during the air raid on that evening at 1900 hours. Together with the other ships in the harbour, 16 ships and 38000 tons of cargo were destroyed and an estimated 1000 casualties, many were victims of Mustard Gas poisoning which contaminated the water and with the oil from sunken ships, made a lethal cocktail for the survivors in the water. The Mustard Gas (liquid) was released from a ship sunk during the air raid.
Port of Bari at that time was the most forward base used by Coastal Forces for their operations in the Adriatic, and their new task assisting Marshall Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans in the liberation of their Adriatic Islands.
Because of the severity of the damage to shipping and the congestion within the harbour, Coastal Forces Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB’ S) were called upon to carry out rescue operations for survivors in the water and of the sinking ships. Many were covered in oil and their clothing contaminated with Mustard Gas.
Although no MTB’S were lost it created a serious operational effect for Coastal Forces, as many crew members were hospitalised suffering from Mustard Gas burns. Also those boats involved in the rescue operation had to return south to the Port of Brindisi to be de-contaminated before returning to operational duties. As did our Base Ship H.M.S. Vienna, which was seriously damaged during the raid, yet continued to give valuable first aid to survivors. ”
Sadly H.M.S. Vienna took no further part in the war.