The anniversary of the Bari Raid will soon be upon us.
The port of Bari in Italy, situated on the Adriatic coast, was the scene of a relatively unknown but devastating incident during the Second World War, which involved Coastal Forces units stationed there. An operation aimed at supplying the British and American front lines in Italy, which saw the port kept fully lit of a night as part of round-the-clock efforts, turned to disaster when supply convoys berthed in the crowded port were attacked on the night of the 2nd December 1943 in a German bomber raid.
Not only did some of the ships packed into the harbour that night contain ammunition, but unbeknown to most there, one of the American Liberty ships bombed that night, the SS John Harvey, was carrying a deadly consignment of mustard gas. The gas was being transported in strict secrecy, for use it is claimed, as potential retaliation against German forces, should they ever have resorted to the use of chemical weapons themselves.
News censorship was maintained around this event for many years, with those injured by the gas being made to sign the Official Secrets Act, and this newsreel footage made at the time naturally makes no mention of the toxic agents swirling around the harbour at this point.
Nazi Raid on Bari
Clicking on the image above will open this newsreel on the British Pathe web site
This secrecy was to prove all the more disastrous, since some of those rescued from the water suffering from exposure and covered in oil mixed with the gas in its liquid form, which served to bind the chemical agent to their skin, were left wrapped in their contaminated clothing, while the more seriously injured were tended to. This was to lead to many suffering burns from which they later died, while those who fortuitously washed themselves down survived.
Peter Bickmore who served with Coastal Forces, and who sustained injuries himself due to the gas, provides this account of the Bari Raid within the articles section of the main web site.