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The Bari Raid 1943

Printed From: BMPT Forum
Category: General Discussion
Forum Name: Merchant Navy
Forum Description: Discussion on relevant issues
Printed Date: 29 May 2020 at 5:23am

Topic: The Bari Raid 1943
Posted By: Pioneer
Subject: The Bari Raid 1943
Date Posted: 10 November 2008 at 3:44pm
This is a replacement post that I had copy of.
Although Mr McConley was an American USN armed guard - he was at the time drafted to a Merchantman.
"The web site has had a request from one of our American cousins who is attempting to help a veteran suffering from the after effects of the disasterous Bari Raid"
In her own words-
"I am seeking information about the raid on Bari, Italy that occurred 2 December 1943. I am particularly interested in the exact date of the raid and I am hopeful to find some survivors who would be willing to write a brief statement about the presence of mustard gas, what they witnessed, and especially the first ship that brought supplies to them after the raid and the approximate time/date of that arrival. Anyone with any knowledge of the SS Johns Hopkins Liberty Ship is encouraged to respond also. I am trying to help an 86 year old US Naval Armed Guard Veteran to win his compensation case with the Veterans Administration and without this information and some statements, we have little strength. We appreciate all of you veterans for your valor and dedication to your country, and send our heartfelt gratitude for any assistance you can lend".
Bethany Kosmider
Theodore McConley -
If you can help with this request - I would suggest that you contact Bethany Kosmider direct, or PM me here.

Pioneer - Forum Moderator

Posted By: dgray
Date Posted: 15 November 2008 at 7:34pm
The Air Raid on Bari was an air attack on Allied forces and shipping in Bari, Italy by German bombers on December 2, 1943.
I think if you look at  the information at -    under the title "John Harvey", it states that:
"One of the destroyed vessels, the US - Liberty ship - John Harvey , had been carrying a secret cargo of 2,000 M47A1 - World War I type mustard gas bombs, each of which held 60-70 lb of sulfur mustard. The destruction of the John Harvey caused liquid sulfur mustard from the bombs to spill into waters already contaminated by oil from the other damaged vessels. The many sailors who had abandoned their ships for the safety of the water became covered with this oily mixture which provided an ideal solvent for the sulfur mustard...."
Cover up

At first the Allied High Command tried to conceal the disaster, in case the Germans believed that the Allies were preparing to use chemical weapons, which might provoke them into preemptive use. However, there were too many witnesses to keep the secret, and in February the US Chiefs of Staff issued a statement admitting to the accident and emphasising that the US had no intention of using chemical weapons except in the case of retaliation. - [9] - Dwight D. Eisenhower , the Allied Supreme Commander, approved Dr. Alexander's report. - Winston Churchill , however, ordered all British documents to be purged, listing mustard gas deaths as "burns due to enemy action". - [4]

US records of the attack were declassified in 1959, but the episode remained obscure until 1967.

In 1986 the British government finally admitted to survivors of the Bari raid that they had been exposed to poison gas and amended their pension payments accordingly. - [10]
Hope this helps....


Only a number, not even a name. How shall posterity hear of thy fame?

Posted By: dgray
Date Posted: 15 November 2008 at 7:38pm
Interesting thing about the "SS Johns Hopkins"...

One source -   says...

SS Johns Hopkins (Hull No 947)  Laid Launched  10 March 1943.  Mined in Marseilles 1944, repaired and sold private 1946, wrecked and abandoned 1966

The other -   says...
U-520, 12th Flotilla. On 10 Apr 1944  1416 AM 79 Ship sunk! S.S. Johns Hopkins (Liberty Cargo), 7458 tons  in Patrol grid BE33
Somebody must be wrong...


Only a number, not even a name. How shall posterity hear of thy fame?

Posted By: Pioneer
Date Posted: 15 November 2008 at 10:51pm
Very interesting Don,
Here is a very poor copy of an official document released after the 30-50 year rules
And here is the same document after running through an OCR program

A.M. Form 1701





WARNING ----      This cypher message must first be paraphrased if it is necessary to publish

                                Its text or to communicate it to persons outside British Government

                                Services and Departments. Messages marked One Time Pad: “O.T.P.”

                                are excepted from this rule.


EMC.                                                                       MS,         24189


                                                                                Rec’d  AMCS. 20084A HRS Dec.43.



From:- C, in C, MEDITTERANEAN.                          Date:-      19 Dec ‘43

                                                                                Rec’d      1643




                    I feel that their Lordships should be aware that

amongst vessels hit during the Bari raid on the 2nd

December was one containing 540 tons of mustard-gas bombs with

resulting widespread abnormal and heavy local concentrations.


2.                         In consequence a number of gas casualties were

sustained in H. M. Ships and amongst naval and D.E.M.S

ratings and merchant seamen. The number of these casual-

ties is greater than might otherwise have been the case

since the temporary dislocation following the raid and

normal need for secrecy regarding the presense of the gas

weapon it was not at first sufficiently realised what had

taken place and consequently the need for decontamination

and other remedial measures.


3.                         Immediately after the raid the harbour was cleared

at top speed because of fires raging and in consequence

ships arrived at the other heel ports and Augusta still



4.                         Amongst H.M.Ships contaminated and with gas

Casualties were BICESTER: ZETLAND: VULCAN: VIENNA and motor

torpedo boats.


5                           Steps have since been taken to decontaminate ships

and the situation is now in hand but there have been a

number of deaths and it is feared that more must be



6                           The question now arises whether it is desirable to

keep diagnosis secret in case of disability or death. If

so propose that in medical documents diagnosis should be

referred to as “chemical burns, conjunctivitis etc” quoting

number and date of letter which the Commander in Chief

will send to Admiralty giving the full facts. Need for

decision on this matter is urgent as patients are becoming



7.                 I am recommending to the Allied Commander in Chief

that an enquiry should be held to establish inter alia why

it was necessary for this consignment of gas to be in Bari.


8.                 Arrangements are also being made to collect informa

tion of the effects on ships and men who have been subjected

to the contamination.



 Here you can see the beginnings of the so called 'cover up' - the request to officially recognise the casualties as suffering from 'chemical burns or conjunctivitus' - although probably technically correct (chemical burns), the idea was obviously to hide the actual cause.

Pioneer - Forum Moderator

Posted By: dgray
Date Posted: 16 November 2008 at 2:16am
Well done Pioneer


Only a number, not even a name. How shall posterity hear of thy fame?

Posted By: Pioneer
Date Posted: 16 November 2008 at 8:17am
Thank you Don,
And just to add to the confusion of this tragedy-
From another source:
....The John Harvey may not have been the only ship carrying Mustard gas weaponry at Bari. Many of the crew on Lyman Abbott, which had also loaded at Baltimore, were seen to put on their gas masks during the attack and when fighting the fire. Also someone on board shouted “Gas” and this was before John Harvey exploded. The question is: who on board would have the knowledge to recognise the smell of gas and why was the ship carrying a supply of gas masks when this was not the norm? The ship was in no danger of sinking but when a rescue party boarded the ship they found it abandoned.

Many years later one of the rescue party wrote to the US Navy Department and asked some questions only to be told that “Our records show that only one ship was carrying Mustard gas, the Lyman Abbott”!!!
It appears that the "John Harvey" disintegrated in the attack, but the "Lyman Abbot" survived the War and was only finally scrapped during the 1970's after a busy commercial 'life'
All the above information is now known by "bakos", but it will be interesting to know the outcome of Mr McConley's claim.
I'll keep you posted with any news that I receive..

Pioneer - Forum Moderator

Posted By: George Southern
Date Posted: 16 May 2011 at 7:06pm
The Lyman Abbott was severely damaged in the wake of the huge explosion and caused several casualties and shortly afterwards was abandoned. I had been knocked unconscious by the same explosion and when I recovered took part with four shipmates in rescue and salvage operations from HMS Zetland's boat. We saw the liberty ship with fires along her upper deck and decided to give the crew a hand in fighting the fires but we found the ship deserrted. None-the-less we fought the fires for about 2 hours to get them under control. During that time I broke off to make a search of the ship in case anyone had been left aboard but nobody had.  
The Lyman Abbott was able to sail the next day for Augusta in Sicely for repairs and was able to return to Bari and discharged her cargo before Xmas 1943.
I was in the harbour from the first flare being dropped and after the Lyman Abbott episode, in a small boat with another shipmate, boarded four other abandoned merchant ships two on fire which took until dawn next morning. My account together with many other survivor's accounts and stories, including Lyman Abbott and  USS John Bascom survivors can be read, together with comprehensive British Official Accounts (once Secret) in my book 'Poisonous Inferno' by George Southern. To the best of my knowledge it is the only published book researched and written by a survivor who was there all night in the harbour.
George Southern BEM (Mil)
Honorary Citizen of Valletta Malta GC

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