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Air raid on Bari
Part of the Italian Campaign of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-363-2258-11, Flugzeug Junkers Ju 88.jpg
Junkers Ju 88, the aircraft type employed in the raid.
Date 2 December 1943
Location 41°07′31″N 16°52′0″E / 41.12528°N 16.86667°E / 41.12528; 16.86667
Result German victory
 Germany  United Kingdom
 United States
Kingdom of Italy Kingdom of Italy
Commanders and leaders
Albert Kesselring
Wolfram von Richthofen
Harold Alexander
Arthur Coningham
105 Junkers Ju 88 A-4 bombers
Casualties and losses
One aircraft destroyed 28 ships sunk
harbor extensively damaged
1,000 military and merchant marine personnel killed
1,000 civilians killed

The air raid on Bari was an air attack by German bombers on Allied forces and shipping in Bari, Italy.

It occurred on 2 December 1943 during World War II. In the attack, 105 German Junkers Ju 88 bombers of Luftflotte 2 bombed ships from the Allied Italian campaign. They sunk 27 cargo and transport ships and a schooner in Bari harbour.

The attack, which lasted one hour, destroyed the port. It was not fixed until February 1944. The attack was called the "Little Pearl Harbor".

The release of mustard gas from one of the cargo ships added to the deaths. The British and American governments hid the news about mustard gas and its effects on victims.


In 1943, during the Italian campaign, the port of Bari in southern Italy was important for Allied forces. Ammunition, supplies, and provisions were unloaded from ships at the port, then moved to Allied forces.

Bari did not have good air defences. No RAF fighters were based there. There was not good anti-aircraft defences.

The Allies did not think the Germans could bomb Bari. They thought that the Luftwaffe in Italy could not do a major attack.

German air raids by KG 54 had bombed the Naples port area four times in the previous month.

Thirty ships of American, British, Polish, Norwegian and Dutch registry were in Bari Harbour on 2 December. The port was lit on the night of the raid to help the unloading of supplies.


On the afternoon of 2 December, a Luftwaffe pilot flew over Bari. His report made Albert Kesselring order the raid.

The Germans thought that destroying the port might slow the advance of the British Eighth Army. Only 105 Ju 88 bombers were available.

The attack started at 19:25, when two or three German aircraft circled the harbour at 10,000 ft (3,000 m). They dropped Düppel (foil strips) to confuse Allied radar.

The German bomber force surprised the Allies. They bombed the harbour and its ships and many of the bombs hit targets. Two ammunition ships were bombed. A petrol pipeline was cut and the fuel caught fire. The fire spread to many of the ships.

Twenty-eight merchant ships with more than 34,000 short tons (31,000 t) of cargo were sunk or destroyed. Twelve more ships were damaged. The port was closed for three weeks. It was reopened in February 1944.

Ships sunk in the raid
Name Flag Type Notes
Ardito Kingdom of Italy 3,732 gross register tons (GRT).
Aube France Cargo ship 1,055 GRT.
Barletta Kingdom of Italy Cargo ship. 1,975 GRT. Forty-four crew killed. Raised in 1948-1949 and repaired.
Bollsta Norway Cargo ship 1,832 GRT. Raised in 1948, repaired and returned to service as Stefano M.
Cassala Kingdom of Italy Cargo ship 1,797 GRT. Declared a constructive total loss.
Corfu Kingdom of Italy Cargo ship 1,409 GRT. Declared a constructive total loss.
MV Devon Coast United Kingdom Coaster 646 GRT.
Fort Athabasca United Kingdom Fort ship 7,132 GRT.
Fort Lajoie United Kingdom Fort ship 7,134 GRT.
Frosinone Kingdom of Italy Cargo ship 5,202 GRT.
Genespesca II Kingdom of Italy Cargo ship 1,628 GRT.
Goggiam Kingdom of Italy Cargo ship 1,934 GRT. Declared a constructive total loss.
Inaffondabile Kingdom of Italy Schooner Unknown GRT.
John Bascom United States Liberty ship 7,172 GRT. Ten crew killed.
John Harvey United States Liberty ship 7,176 GRT. Cargo of mustard gas bombs.
John L. Motley United States Liberty ship 7,176 GRT. Cargo of ammunition. Thirty crew killed.
Joseph Wheeler United States Liberty ship 7,176 GRT. Forty-one crew killed.
Lars Kruse United Kingdom Cargo ship 1,807 GRT. Nineteen crew killed.
Lom Norway Cargo ship 1,268 GRT. Four crew killed.
Luciano Orlando Kingdom of Italy Cargo ship Unknown GRT.
Lwów Poland Cargo ship 1,409 GRT.
MB 10 Kingdom of Italy Armed motor boat 13 tons displacement
Norlom Norway Design 1105 cargo ship 6,412 GRT. Six crew killed. Refloated November 1946, scrapped 1947.
Porto Pisano Kingdom of Italy Coaster 226 GRT
Puck Poland Cargo ship. 1,065 GRT.
Samuel J. Tilden United States Liberty ship 7,176 GRT.
Testbank United Kingdom Cargo ship 5,083 GRT. Seventy crew killed.
Volodda Kingdom of Italy Cargo ship 4,673 GRT.
Ships damaged in the raid
Name Flag Type Notes
Argo Kingdom of Italy Coaster 526 GRT.
Bicester United Kingdom Cargo ship 1,050 GRT.
Brittany Coast United Kingdom Cargo ship 1,389 GRT.
Crista United Kingdom Cargo ship 1,389 GRT.
Dagö Latvia Cargo ship 1,996 GRT.
Grace Abbott United States Liberty ship 7,191 GRT.
John M. Schofield United States Liberty ship 7,181 GRT.
Lyman Abbott United States Liberty ship 7,176 GRT.
Odysseus Netherlands Cargo ship 1,057 GRT.
Vest Norway Cargo ship 5,074 GRT.
Vienna United Kingdom Cargo ship 4,227 GRT.
HMS Zetland United Kingdom Hunt-class destroyer 1,050 t displ.

John Harvey

One of the destroyed vessels—the U.S. Liberty ship John Harvey—had been carrying a secret cargo of 2000 M47A1 mustard gas bombs. Each held 60–70 lb (27–32 kg) of the chemical. According to Royal Navy historian Stephen Roskill, the Mustard Gas had been sent to Europe to use if Germany used chemical warfare in Italy.

The destruction of John Harvey caused liquid sulfur mustard from the bombs to spill into waters. The many sailors who had jumped into the water became covered with the chemical.

Within a day, symptoms of mustard poisoning had appeared in 628 patients and medical staff. Symptoms included blindness and chemical burns.

Hundreds of Italian civilians also seeking treatment, who had been poisoned by sulfur mustard gas. By the end of the month, 83 of the 628 hospitalized military victims had died.


The Allies tried to hide the disaster. There were too many witnesses to keep the secret. In February 1944, the U.S. admitted to the accident. They said they did not plan to use chemical weapons unless Germany used them first.

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