2 December 1943

2 December 1943

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2 December 1943

December 1943



A Luftwaffe raid on Bari causes an explosion on ammunition ships. Seventeen other ships are sunk by the blast


Hitler orders that German youth is to be enlisted in the armed forces

2 December 1943 - History

[Additional Medical Department histories (not part of the "US Army in World War II" series):]

  • Organization and Administration in World War II
  • Medical Training in World War II
  • Medical Supply in World War II
  • Medical Statistics in World War II
  • Personnel in World War II
  • Blood Program in World War II
  • Cold Injury, Ground Type
  • Radiology in World War II
  • Physical Standards in World War II
  • Combat Psychiatry
  • Developments in Military Medicine During the Administration of Surgeon General Norman T. Kirk
  • A History of the United States Army Dental Service in World War II
  • A History of the United States Army Veterinary Service in World War II
  • Wound Ballistics
  • Volume I: Actions of Medical Consultants
  • Volume II: Infectious Diseases
  • Volume III: Infectious Diseases and General Medicine

  • Volume I was never published
  • Volume II: Environmental Hygeine The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supply, and Services, Volume I
  • The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supply, and Services, Volume II
  • The Quartermaster Corps: Operations in the War Against Japan
  • The Quartermaster Corps: Operations in the War Against Germany

December 2, 1943 A Savior of Millions

Ancient Greek mythology depicts Hercules, poisoning arrows with the venom of the Hydra. Both sides in the battle for Troy used poisoned arrows, according to the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer. Alexander the great encountered poison arrows and fire weapons in the Indus valley of India, in the fourth century, BC. Chinese chronicles describe an arsenic laden “soul-hunting fog”, used to disperse a peasant revolt, in AD178.

The French were first to use poison weapons in the modern era, firing tear gas grenades containing xylil bromide against German forces in the first month of the Great War, August 1914.

Imperial Germany was first to give serious study to chemical weapons of war, early experiments with irritants taking place at the battle of Neuve-Chapelle in October 1914, and with tear gas at Bolimów on January 31, 1915 and again at Nieuport, that March.

The first widespread use of poison gas, in this case chlorine, came on April 22, 1915, at the second battle of Ypres.

The story of gas warfare is inextricably linked with that of WW1. 124,000 tons of the stuff was produced by all sides by the end of the war, accounting for 1,240,853 casualties, including the agonizing death of 91,198.

Had the war continued into 1919, technological advances promised a new and fresh hell, unimaginable to the modern reader.

Today we think of chemical agents in WW2 as being limited to the death camps of the Nazis, but such weapons were far more widespread. The Imperial Japanese military frequently used vesicant (blister) agents such as Lewisite and mustard gas against Chinese military and civilians, and in the hideous “medical experiments” conducted on live prisoners at Unit 731 and Unit 516. Emperor Hirohito personally authorized the use of toxic gas during the 1938 Battle of Wuhan, on no fewer than 375 occasions.

The Italian military destroyed every living creature in its path during the 1936 Colonial war with Ethiopia, in what Emperor Haile Selassie called “a fine, death-dealing rain”.

Nazi Germany possessed some 45,000 tons of blister and nerve agents, though such weapons were rarely used against western adversaries. The “ Ostfront ” – the battle on the eastern front – was a different story. Russian resistance fighters and Red Army soldiers were attacked, most notably during the assault on the catacombs of Odessa in 1941, the 1942 siege of Sebastopol, and the nearby caves and tunnels of the Adzhimuskai quarry, where “poison gas was released into the tunnels, killing all but a few score of the (3,000+) Soviet defenders”.

Russian soldier in a rubber gas mask, ww2

None of the western allies resorted to chemical warfare in WW2, despite having accumulated over twice the chemical stockpile as that of Nazi Germany. The policy seems to have been one of “mutually assured destruction”, where no one wanted to be first to go there, but all sides reserved the option. Great Britain possessed massive quantities of mustard, chlorine, Lewisite, Phosgene and Paris Green, awaiting the retaliatory strike should Nazi Germany resort to such weapons on the beaches of Normandy. General Alan Brooke, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces, said he “[H]ad every intention of using sprayed mustard gas on the beaches” in the event of a German landing on the British home islands.

The official American policy toward chemical weapons was enunciated by President Franklin Roosevelt, in 1937.

“I am doing everything in my power to discourage the use of gases and other chemicals in any war between nations. While, unfortunately, the defensive necessities of the United States call for study of the use of chemicals in warfare, I do not want the Government of the United States to do anything to aggrandize or make permanent any special bureau of the Army or the Navy engaged in these studies. I hope the time will come when the Chemical Warfare Service can be entirely abolished”.

The Geneva Protocols on 1925 banned the use of chemical weapons, but not their manufacture, or transport. By 1942, the U.S. Chemical Corps employed some 60,000 soldiers and civilians and controlled a $1 Billion budget.

In August 1943, Roosevelt authorized the delivery of chemical munitions containing mustard gas, to the Mediterranean theater. Italy surrendered in early September, changing sides with the signing of the armistice of Cassibile.

The liberty ship SS John Harvey arrived at the southern Italian port of Bari in November, carrying 2000 M47A1 mustard gas bombs, each containing 60 to 70-pounds of sulfur mustard.

Bari was packed at the time, with ships waiting to be unloaded. It would be days before stevedores could get to her. Captain John Knowles wanted to inform port authorities of his deadly cargo and request that it be unloaded immediately, but secrecy prevented him from doing so. As it was, John Harvey was still waiting to be unloaded, on December 2.

Air raid on Bari, December 2, 1943

For Luftwaffe Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the traffic jam at Bari was an opportunity to slow the advance of the British 8th army on the Italian peninsula.

The “Little Pearl Harbor” began at 7:25PM, when 105 Junkers JU-88 bombers came out of the East. The tactical surprise was complete, and German pilots were able to bomb the harbor with great accuracy. Two ammunition ships were first to explode, shattering windows 7 miles away. A bulk gasoline pipeline was severed, as a sheet of burning fuel spread across the harbor, igniting those ships left undamaged.

43 ships were sunk, damaged or destroyed including John Harvey, which erupted in a massive explosion. Liquid sulfur mustard spilled into the water, as a cloud of toxic vapor blew across the port and into the city.

Mustard gas is a cytotoxic agent, capable of entering the system via skin, eyes and respiratory tract and attacking every cell type with which it comes into contact. First comes the garlic smell, as the yellow-brown, heavier-than-air cloud creeps along the ground. Contact first results in redness and itching, resulting 12-24 hours later in excruciating, untreatable blisters on exposed areas of the skin. Sufferers are literally burned inside and out, as mucous membranes are stripped away from the eyes, nose and respiratory tract.

Death comes in days or weeks. Survivors are likely to develop chronic respiratory disease and infections. DNA is altered, often resulting in certain cancers and birth defects. To this day there is no antidote.

A thousand or more died outright in the bombing. 643 military service personnel were hospitalized for gas symptoms. 83 of those were dead, by the end of the month. The number of civilian casualties is unknown. The whole episode remained shrouded in secrecy.

At the time, the nature of the chemical disaster at Bari was unknown. Everyone with any knowledge of John Harvey’s secret cargo was killed in the explosion. Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Francis Alexander, an American physician from New Jersey, was sent by the Deputy Surgeon General of the US Army to find out what happened.

Dr. Sidney Farber, regarded by many as the “Father of Modern Chemotherapy”

It was Dr. Alexander who figured out that mustard was the responsible agent, and from where it had come. In the process of testing, Dr. Alexander noticed the unknown agent first went after rapidly dividing cells, such as white blood cells. Alexander wondered if it might be useful in going after other rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer.

Based on Dr. Alexander’s field work, Yale pharmacologists Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman developed the first anti-cancer chemotherapy drug, in the treatment of lymphoma.

Dr. Sidney Farber of Boston built on this work, producing remission in children with acute Leukemia using Aminopterin, an early precursor to Methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug still in use, today.

Writers have labeled SS John Harvey a Savior of Millions, due to the vessel’s role in the pioneering era of modern chemotherapy drugs.

The claim may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not entirely so. The American Cancer Society estimates that there were 7,377,100 male cancer survivors in the United States as of January 1, 2016 and another 8,156,120, females.

Bari Raid, 2nd December 1943

Towards the end of November, beginning of December, two events in and around Bari, shattered the peaceful mood into which the war had slipped at this time in the area. The first of these occurred near the end of November, when HMS HEBE a fleet minesweeper blew up in the approaches to Bari. Several boats from the 24th and 20th flotillas raced to the scene of the explosion and rescued some of the officers and crew members. Several were lost.
The major tragedy occurred on the evening of December 2nd when a swift, successful German air raid, took place on the port of Bari during the dusk period, when the harbour lighting was on, and off-loading took place at the quayside. Earlier in the day, during the morning, the crews working on deck, heard the engine noise of a German reconnaissance aircraft buzzing over their heads, high up in the sky. The film that was taken revealed that Bari harbour was crammed full of merchant ships carrying food, equipment, ammunition, everything that was necessary to maintain the Eighth Army advance and keep the RAF and Royal Navy well supplied with all their needs to continue the war. In actual fact two complete convoys were inside the harbour. One at the quayside berths, which were all occupied, busily off-loading their cargo from their holds. The second convoy recently arrived, were awaiting clearance of the quays, and were anchored stern on to the east wall, side by side. A sitting target for the German bombers.
Five boats from the 24th flotilla were inside the boundaries of the harbour. MTB 86 lay alongside the bow of HMS VIENNA about to undergo an engine change. MTB 85 was out of the water on the slips being repaired and repainted. MTB’s 81, 242 and 243 were alongside in the old harbour. Several boats of the 20th flotilla were also involved.
MTB’s 97, 89 and 84 were at Komiza. And 226 had left Bari the night before the raid to sail to the island for operational orders.
At four o’clock in the afternoon, the non duty watch were allowed to take the Liberty boat ashore, and this meant the only half of each crew were aboard. A foreign film with English sub-titles was being shown in the cinema in Bari for all service units, and most of the crews took advantage of this free show.
As dusk neared, a strong force of Luftwaffe bombers flying low over the sea to avoid Radar beams, appeared over Bari harbour to release their bombs on merchant men unloading on to the well illuminated quays, and along the line of freighters anchored side by side, stern onto the east wall. The air defences were caught completely unawares, the German aircraft causing great damage and loss, leaving behind chaos and confusion. It was a well executed attack, all over in a few minutes, but the night was young, and many acts of gallantry were to be carried out in difficult conditions, before the effects of the attack could be overcome.

A total of seventeen merchant vessels were sunk in the harbour, and several others were badly damaged, including HMS VIENNA the Coastal Force depot ship, whose damage was caused by near miss bomb blast. One of the vessels sunk SS PUCK, had amid its cargo, engines and spare parts for the 24th and 20th flotillas. MTB 86 was awaiting the engines she carried as replacements. The major factor however, in the disaster that followed, was the blowing up of USS JOHN HARVEY, which in addition to its cargo of arms and ammunition, carried a large quantity of liquid mustard gas contained in carboys stacked on the upper deck. It was not intended to use it, and was held in a stock pile, in case it was needed as retaliation should the Germans decide to resort to its use.
The JOHN HARVEY was repeatedly hit and set on fire burning fiercely until the ammunition went off with a great explosion. When the dust settled, the liquid mustard gas lay on the surface of the sea, mixing with oil and other fuels used by the sunken vessels.
In addition to HMS VIENNA, many MTB’s of the 24th and 20th flotillas suffered damage of varying degrees. The biggest casualty was MTB 296, which was so badly damaged that she was written off and out of the war. Fortunately for the 24th flotilla, the damage suffered, was by comparison, of a less serious nature, and all nine boats were eventually able to make the patrol line.
Amid the chaos and confusion which followed the departure of the German bombers, every MTB that could move was ordered to go to the rescue of the merchant seamen in the water, and those still trapped aboard blazing vessels. MTB’s 81, 242 and 243, although only partly crewed, started up and crept around the harbour, picking up seamen from the acrid fumes coming from the surface of the water, and getting as near to burning hulks as they could to pluck off stranded crew members. Several merchant sailors had managed to get to the east wall walk way, and these too were rescued.
It became apparent that some of those in the water were so badly injured that they were unable to clamber aboard the MTB’s. Several of the officers and crews stripped off their trousers and upper clothes to assist those in the water to get aboard.

The compiler of this history was written to surviving officers of this disaster, reckoned to be second only in its scale to the Pearl Harbour losses, and asked them to add their own personal reminiscences of that night, to be included in narrative.
Here are their contributions.

Lt L.V. Strong DSC RNVR, Skipper of MTB 81.

“ On returning to harbour, after the attack, we had been ashore, we found the whole area an inferno, with the water in places afire. Our four MTB’s were at the quayside apparently undamaged. I was ordered verbally by NOIC’s flags to set about rescue work, as I was the Senior Officer present. I was about to ask him for the order in writing then NOIC himself appeared and gave the order, jumping aboard 81 at the same time. We found an Italian 5000 ton ship with her stern on fire lying against a Liberty ship, which NOIC said was full of bombs and ammunition and had a coil of rope on fire. 81 got a line from the ship and we towed it clear by approximately 100 yards, by going full ahead on all three engines. NOIC then took all our extinguishers and boarded the Liberty ship which had been abandoned”.

Lt C.R. Holloway RNVR, Skipper of MTB 242

Note in his diary dated 2/12/1943

“Air raid on Bari Harbour by Luftwaffe. Crew of MTB 242 up all night rescuing merchant seamen from burning ships and in the water. Seventeen merchant ships sank over 1000 people killed.”

Lt E Young RNVR, Skipper of MTB 86.

“ We were alongside HMS VIENNA’s port bow all night awaiting new engines and some spare parts which were part of SS PUCK’s cargo. She was one of the merchant vessels that sank in Bari Harbour. Some of my crew assisted in the saving of merchant seamen’s lives”.
Although VIENNA was badly damaged by the effects of bomb blast, 86 was shielded by her, and came out of the inferno comparatively unscathed. Lt Young took 86 out of Bari the following morning and sailed down to the Coastal Forces base of Brindisi on two engines. Upon arrival the skipper and most of his crew were taken to hospital and detained for treatment to their mustard gas blisters and burns.

Lt P.H. Hyslop RNVR, Skipper of MTB 85.

“ My boat MTB 85, was out of the water on a slipway in the north western corner of Bari Harbour. When I returned to the quayside, I commandeered an Italian boat and used it as a rescue craft.”

Lt H.C.H. Du Boulay RNVR, Skipper of MTB 243.

“ I was driving 243 all the time in the Bari air raid, and we picked up 40 to 50 survivors of every nationality under the sun.

An account from Lt B.G. Syrett RNVR, who was a spare C.O. for the 20th MTB Flotilla at Bari, when the air raid took place.

An extract from his diary.

That evening I was pressured into services on HMS VIENNA as officer of the day. I had the doubtful honour of keeping most eventful watch in the ship’s history. It started with a surprise visit of Captain Coastal Forces (Capt Stevens RN) with my consequent attendance at the gangway for his arrival and departure.
At 1930 hours, I was in the Cypher Office with Sub Lt Morris RNVR working hard on a cypher. Suddenly a few guns started pooping off and Morris rushed to open the door to find the harbour lit up with parachute flares. I dragged Morris inside the door and shut it and we both wondered for a second or two what it was all about.
We were not left long in doubt. Bombs began to rain down: the chatter of 20mm guns and the louder booming of the 40mm and 4.7’s joined the cacophony. Outside our door a pom-pom opened up and all hell seemed to be let loose. Occasionally the old ship would shudder as a near miss shook the water. Then a bomb fell just off the starboard bow to be followed up by an incredible welter of noise as one landed just off the port quarter. The Cypher Office collapsed on top of us, flames shot up where a second before had been steel plating.
After about two minutes we managed to dig ourselves out and get out on to the upper deck - even remembering, despite our fear, to take the confidential books with us.
All around the harbour lay burning ships, VIENNA’s No 1 shouted “she’s sinking”,
But she wasn’t, the old lady was battered, but not beaten. Bomb blast had parted all her lines but we soon got more ashore and were back alongside. Just as this was achieved, the raid stopped and , to herald this, a gigantic explosion shook the whole harbour as a ship on the other side of the dock blew up.

Then it began to rain. The heavy down pour went on for several minutes only to finish as suddenly as it began.
After a quick inspection of VIENNA’s damage I joined other officers in the wardroom. By this time one could hear cries in the water around us from wounded and others needing rescue from the water. The “rain” it was later learnt was infact liquid mustard gas returning to earth after the explosion.
Rescue parties were quickly organised and the Vospers MTB’s did noble work. Not then having a boat, I went down to the sick bay to see if I could help. As I arrived the first survivors were being brought aboard. Very quickly the sick bay was filled to capacity, then the sick bay flat soon every cabin and most sheltered deck space was occupied by survivors. Most of them were wounded, and all were covered in a thick oily mixture.

I did what I could to help by cleaning wounds, removing soaked clothes, washing faces, handing out tea and cigarettes and putting on bandages and slings (made from my own shirt). Nationalities included Norwegians, Italians, British, American, Japanese and Lascars. I eventually stopped for a rest at about 0300 hours.

Ships were continuing to explode. Memorable stories about Coastal Force officers and crews were fairly numerous. Johnny Woods (Lt J.R. Woods RCNVR), skipper of MTB 297 was ordered to torpedo a blazing ship just outside the harbour which was drifting shore wards. Boats which had been blasted away from VIENNA’s side by one bomb, had been blasted back by the next. Hunks of Liberty ships hurtled through decks and into engine rooms (and the heads).

Perhaps one of the best achievements involved Laurie Strong and Leo Cruise. A new Liberty ship had been abandoned by her crew as she lay between two blazing ships, one of which was a tanker. Leo bordered her and passed down a line to MTB 81, who then towed her to safety. Another note worthy effort when ‘Duke’ du Boulay (243) went alongside a blazing tanker and successfully took off survivors. Quite a night.
In the aftermath of the Bari air raid, the harbour was closed for some time, while wrecks were cleared, and under water obstacles removed.
Bomb damage to the vital infrastructure of the harbour was repaired, and it was some two to three weeks before merchant shipping could again use it’s facilities to off load their cargo. Coastal Force craft were diverted to ManFredonia and Brindisi temporarily.

The success of the raid had its effect on the advance of the eighth army. Lack of essential supplies contained in the sunken merchant men, held up the forward momentum of the campaign. The winter of the 1943/44 found the front line stabilized near Ortana, when the weather deteriorated with long spells of rain, and tanks, transport and soldiers became bogged down in the mud, and swollen rivers became to difficult to cross.

Soon after the recovery teams started work to clear up the harbour, a battered HMS VIENNA was towed out of Bari and taken down to Brindisi. She was so badly damaged that she was unable to fulfil her roll as a Coastal Force depot ship. However, a useful job was found for her, as she was moored and used as store for spare parts etc.


Peter Bickmore B.E.M
53 Clyde Way
Rise Park
Romford RM1 4XT
Or e-mail at: [email protected]

Coastal Forces Veteran Association

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

20 December 1943



(Air Mission)

The President of the United States takes pleasure in awarding the MEDAL of HONOR to



for service as set forth in the following

“For conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a radio operator-air gunner on a heavy bombardment aircraft in a mission over Bremen, Germany, on 20 December 1943. After bombing the target, the aircraft in which T/Sgt. Vosler was serving was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire, forced out of formation, and immediately subjected to repeated vicious attacks by enemy fighters. Early in the engagement a 20-mm. cannon shell exploded in the radio compartment, painfully wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the legs and thighs. At about the same time a direct hit on the tail of the ship seriously wounded the tail gunner and rendered the tail guns inoperative. Realizing the great need for firepower in protecting the vulnerable tail of the ship, T/Sgt. Vosler, with grim determination, kept up a steady stream of deadly fire. Shortly thereafter another 20-mm. enemy shell exploded, wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the chest and about the face. Pieces of metal lodged in both eyes, impairing his vision to such an extent that he could only distinguish blurred shapes. Displaying remarkable tenacity and courage, he kept firing his guns and declined to take first-aid treatment. The radio equipment had been rendered inoperative during the battle, and when the pilot announced that he would have to ditch, although unable to see and working entirely by touch, T/Sgt. Vosler finally got the set operating and sent out distress signals despite several lapses into unconsciousness. When the ship ditched, T/Sgt. Vosler managed to get out on the wing by himself and hold the wounded tail gunner from slipping off until the other crewmembers could help them into the dinghy. T/Sgt. Vosler’s actions on this occasion were an inspiration to all serving with him. The extraordinary courage, coolness, and skill he displayed in the face of great odds, when handicapped by injuries that would have incapacitated the average crew member, were outstanding.”

Technical Sergeant Forrest L. Vosler, Air Corps, United States Army, is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C., 31 August 1944. Shaking Sergeant Vosler’s hand is Under Secretary of War Robert Porter Patterson, Sr. (U.S. Air Force)

Staff Sergeant Forrest Lee Vosler was the radio operator/top gunner aboard the Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29664, Jersey Bounce, Jr.,¹ one of 21 B-17s of the 303rd Bombardment Group, Heavy, sent on Mission No. 90, an attack against Bremen, Germany. The bomber was under the command of 2nd Lieutenant John F. Henderson. Captain Merle R. Hungerford, an instructor pilot, acted as co-pilot. The bombers encountered heavy antiaircraft fire over the target, and were attacked by as many as 125 enemy fighters. Bombing from an altitude of 26,200 feet (7,986 meters), the B-17s dropped 24 tons of incendiary bombs.

Staff Sergeant Forrest Lee Volser was the radio operator on this Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29664, the “Jersey Bounce Jr.” (U.S. Air Force)

Jersey Bounce, Jr. was hit by anti-aircraft artillery just after its bomb load was released. The number 1 engine, outboard, left wing, and the number 4 engine, outboard, right wing, were damaged. When the B-17 slowed and dropped out of its formation, it became a target of opportunity for the Luftwaffe fighters.

The crew reported that as many as ten fighters attacked, one after another. Flight engineer and top turret gunner Staff Sergeant William H. Simpkins, Jr., was credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter, and right waist gunner Sergeant Ralph F. Burkart shot down a Messerschmitt Me 210 twin-engine heavy fighter. Sergeant Stanley E. Moody, the left waist gunner, destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and probably shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine fighter.

The heavily-damaged bomber flew at low altitude as it headed for the North Sea, and then toward England. Vosler sent repeated distress signals which allowed search and rescue aircraft to locate the B-17. Lieutenant Henderson ditched 42-29644 within sight of land. The crew were quickly rescued by a small coastal freighter, MV Empire Sportsman.² The bomber crew was then transferred to a British air-sea rescue boat.

Forrest Lee Vosler was born at Lyndonville, New York, 29 July 1923. He was the son of William I. Vosler, a farmer, and Lottie I. Furness Volser. He attended Livonia Central High School, Livonia, New York, graduating in 1941. He was employed as a drill press operator by General Motors at Rochester, New York.

Forrest Lee Vosler enlisted in the Air Corps, United States Army, at Rochester, 8 October 1942. He was 6 feet, 1 inch (1.854 meters) tall and weighed 147 pounds (66.7 kilograms). After completing basic training at Atlantic City, New Jersey, Private Vosler trained as a radio operator at Scott Field, Illinois, and as an aerial gunner at Harlingen, Texas. After completing training Private Vosler was promoted to Sergeant, 25 May 1943. In August 1943, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. Deployed to the United Kingdom, Staff Sergeant Vosler was assigned to the 358th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the 303rd Bombardment Group, Heavy, at RAF Molesworth (AAF-107), Cambridgeshire, England.

Technical Sergeant Vosler was the third of only four enlisted airmen two be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. Vosler was hospitalized for the next 12 months. After recuperating from his wounds, Vosler was discharged from the Army Air Corps, 17 October 1944. In addition to the Medal of Honor, Forrest Vosler had been awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, Air Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze service star, World War II Victory Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation.

Following the War, Forrest Volser was employed as an engineer at radio station WSYR, the oldest continuously operating radio station in the Syracuse, New York, area. He attended the College of Business Administration, Syracuse University, at Syracuse, New York. He was a member of the Sigma Chi ( ΣΧ ) fraternity.

Forrest Vosler married Miss Virginia Frances Slack, 28 October 1945, at the Grace Episcopal Church, Syracuse, New York. The ceremony was presided over by Rev. James R. Rockwell. They would have a daughter, Sondra Lee Vosler, and a son, Marcellus Vosler.

Vosler had lost one eye and found that blurred vision in his remaining eye made it impossible to keep up with his studies. He dropped out of college at the end of the 1945 fall semester.

“Woody” Vosler worked for the Veterans Administration for thirty years.

Forrest Lee Vosler died at Titusville, Florida, 17 February 1992 at the age of 68 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Forrest L. Vosler Noncommissioned Officer Academy and the Forrest L. Vosler Veterans Memorial Park at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, are named in his honor.

A Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress (B-17F-95-BO 42-30243). (U.S. Air Force)

Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29664, Jersey Bounce, Jr. The bomber was on its 32nd combat mission. It had been flown by at least nine different pilots and with different combat crews.

42-29664 was delivered from the Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington, to Denver, Colorado, 30 January 1943. It arrived at Salina, Kansas, 12 February 1943, and was sent on to Morrison, New Jersey, 28 February 1943. It was then flown across the north Atlantic Ocean to England. The new B-17F was assigned to the 358th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), at RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, England, 21 March 1943. It carried group identification markings VK C painted on its fuselage.

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 9 inches (22.784 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.375 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1 inch (5.187 meters). Its empty weight was 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) loaded, and the maximum takeoff weight was 56,500 pounds (25,628 kilograms).

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, producing 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff and 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. War Emergency Power was 1,380 horsepower. The Cyclones turned three-bladed constant-speed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine is 47.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 55.10 inches (1.399 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

These engines gave the B-17F a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet, though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).

With a normal fuel load of 2,520 gallons (9,540 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 2,880 miles (4,635 kilometers). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

358th Bombardment Squadron flight crew. Most of the men in this photograph were aboard “Jersey Bounce Jr.”, 20 December 1943. Front, left to right: Sgt. Edward Ruppel, ball turret gunner T/Sgt. Forest L. Vosler, radio operator/top gunner S/Sgt. William H. Simpkins, Jr., flight engineer/top turret gunner Sgt. Gratz, tail gunner (replacing the critically wounded Sgt. George W. Burke, who was rescued by Vosler) Sgt. Ralph F. Burkhart, waist gunner. Rear, left to right: 2nd Lt. Warren S. Wiggins, navigator 2nd Lt. Woodrow W. Monkres, bombardier 2 Lt. Walter J. Ames, co-pilot 2nd Lt. John F. Henderson, aircraft commander. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F Flying Fortress was armed with up to 13 air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions.

The maximum bomb load was 20,800 pounds over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.

The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.

Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses remain in existence.

This restored Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29782, is on display at The Museum of Flight at Seattle’s Boeing Field. (Boeing)

¹ “Jersey Bounce” was a popular song of 1942.

² M/V Empire Sportsman was built by Richards Ironworks Ltd., Lowestoft, Suffolk, 1943. 325 Gross Registered Tons.

The Angels: A History Of The 11th Airborne Division, 1943-1946

Publication date 1948 Usage Public Domain Mark 1.0 Topics WWII, World War, 1939-1945, United States. Army, World War II, World War, 1939-1945 -- Regimental Histories -- United States, United States. -- Army. -- Airborne Division, 11th, Parachute Troops, United States. -- Army -- Airborne Troops, United States. -- Army -- Parachute Troops Publisher Washington, Infantry Journal Press Collection wwIIarchive additional_collections Language English

The Angels: A History Of The 11th Airborne Division, 1943-1946
Chapter 1: ACTIVATION 1
Chapter 2: TRAINING 5
Chapter 3: THE LIGHTER SIDE 12
Chapter 4: CAMP POLK 16
Chapter 5: NEW GUINEA 21
Chapter 6: LEYTE: 6 TO 11 DECEMBER 1944 31
Chapter 10: THE LOS BANOS RAID 93
Chapter 14: OKINAWA TO JAPAN 147

March 27th, 1993 is a Saturday. It is the 86th day of the year, and in the 12th week of the year (assuming each week starts on a Monday), or the 1st quarter of the year. There are 31 days in this month. 1993 is not a leap year, so there are 365 days in this year. The short form for this date used in the United States is 3/27/1993, and almost everywhere else in the world it's 27/3/1993.

This site provides an online date calculator to help you find the difference in the number of days between any two calendar dates. Simply enter the start and end date to calculate the duration of any event. You can also use this tool to determine how many days have passed since your birthday, or measure the amount of time until your baby's due date. The calculations use the Gregorian calendar, which was created in 1582 and later adopted in 1752 by Britain and the eastern part of what is now the United States. For best results, use dates after 1752 or verify any data if you are doing genealogy research. Historical calendars have many variations, including the ancient Roman calendar and the Julian calendar. Leap years are used to match the calendar year with the astronomical year. If you're trying to figure out the date that occurs in X days from today, switch to the Days From Now calculator instead.

December 20th, 1952 is a Saturday. It is the 355th day of the year, and in the 51st week of the year (assuming each week starts on a Monday), or the 4th quarter of the year. There are 31 days in this month. 1952 is a leap year, so there are 366 days in this year. The short form for this date used in the United States is 12/20/1952, and almost everywhere else in the world it's 20/12/1952.

This site provides an online date calculator to help you find the difference in the number of days between any two calendar dates. Simply enter the start and end date to calculate the duration of any event. You can also use this tool to determine how many days have passed since your birthday, or measure the amount of time until your baby's due date. The calculations use the Gregorian calendar, which was created in 1582 and later adopted in 1752 by Britain and the eastern part of what is now the United States. For best results, use dates after 1752 or verify any data if you are doing genealogy research. Historical calendars have many variations, including the ancient Roman calendar and the Julian calendar. Leap years are used to match the calendar year with the astronomical year. If you're trying to figure out the date that occurs in X days from today, switch to the Days From Now calculator instead.


Toward the end of 1943, the federal government, in partnership with the City of Seattle, opens a rapid treatment center for young women infected with venereal disease. The facility is located at the Crittenton Home for unwed mothers in Rainier Beach, leased to the city for the duration of World War II. The project is part of a wider effort to keep syphilis and gonorrhea from sapping the strength of the nation's fighting forces.

The Crittenton Home

In 1899 a group of women in the Seattle area, inspired by the message of millionaire-philanthropist Charles Crittenton, formed a Rescue Circle to help "fallen women" in their community. The home they established quickly evolved from one meant to rescue prostitutes to a sanctuary for pregnant teens and unwed mothers. When the original home in Rainier Beach proved inadequate, the women replaced it with a sturdy brick structure. The Crittenton Home weathered changing economic times and social norms for nearly three quarters of a century, with one significant interruption during World War II.

In 1943, the Crittenton Home became a "Rapid Treatment Center" for women with venereal disease (STDs). The women targeted were the "Victory Girls" who populated Seattle's downtown and waterfront, as well as other ports of embarkation, during the war years. Not exactly prostitutes, these good time girls were willing to give their all for the war effort. The resulting outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea threatened to sap the fighting power of the armed forces, so punitive measures were taken. In many places, women and teens were arrested and detained if suspected of being infected if contagion was proved, they could be quarantined, even when no law had been broken. In an obvious double standard, infected enlisted men were treated on base and were not subject to arrest. Nor was the young age of some of the girls considered a cause for charges against the men involved.

Threat to Public Health

So serious was the perceived threat to public health that the federal government established an agency, headed up by one Eliot Ness, with funding from the 1941 Lanham Act, to combat the problem. The Seattle treatment center, run jointly by the city and the feds, was one of 59 nationwide under the aegis of the Division of Social Protection of the Federal Works Agency. Many were set up at former Civilian Conservation Corps camps in rural areas. The Crittenton Home, already fitted up for the care of girls and young women, and far removed from temptation, also seemed an ideal location for what were, in most cases, first offenders. (The word "amateurs" is often used in government reports.) The trustees of the home were persuaded to lease the building and grounds for the duration of the war.

The program for the residents was quite similar to that of the Crittenton girls: school studies, chores, occupational training (typing, sewing), and fun and games interspersed with medical exams and treatments. A type of self-government prevailed, including elected officers. However, unlike their predecessors, the inmates of the euphemistically-titled Lake View Manor School for Girls were all court-mandated. Further, they were not (necessarily) pregnant. The grounds were patrolled by guards. When one "faithful and respected guard" died, the inmates raised funds for a floral arrangement (Tattler).

An Urban Curiosity

Situated as it was within an urban area, the home found itself something of a curiosity. Visitors included society women such as Mrs. Kenneth B. Colman (Edith, 1905-1970) and attorney Lady Willie Forbus (her name, not a title, 1892-1993), Seattle Mayor William Devin (1898-1982), and Father (later Bishop) Thomas Gill (1908-73), all in addition to a stream of public health and military officials. The residents were often called upon to entertain visiting dignitaries with skits and songs.

Lake View Manor did aspire to something more than medical cures the authorities hoped fervently for moral rehabilitation and "individualized redirection," as well. A memo to Ness written by his local representative invited him to come and see "what can be done with promiscuous girls." The writer added that the inmates are "worthwhile human material" (Cooley, May 9). The regional representative enclosed copies of the Tattler, a typewritten newsletter written by the residents, as evidence of their creative spirit. True to its name, the Tattler offered up gossipy, often catty, tidbits about both residents and staff, using full names. For example, "Where on earth did Alice Flowers get those bedroom slippers? For a while we thought someone had dyed their French poodles red and turned them loose in the house" (Tattler).

Treatments at the time consisted of sulfonamides for those with gonorrhea, and a combination of drip and injection therapy with drugs containing arsenic for those infected with syphilis. "Rapid treatment" typically meant six to 10 weeks of confinement, as opposed to a year or more of outpatient treatment. The use of penicillin, which could effect a cure in a far shorter period of time, was just around the corner.

The war on VD included weapons familiar to other epidemics, including AIDS in the 1980s and COVID-19 in 2020: swab tests, quarantine, contact tracing, and medical monitoring. For the Lake View Manor women, medical follow-up meant periodic tests to assess whether disease was still present. Three negative gonorrheal cultures were required before a woman was eligible for release. Tattler snippets refer frequently to the intimately-obtained cultures in humorous terms: "Wonder why some of the girls are having such a hard time sitting down recently? Essie, you should be built more like Doreen" (Tattler).

The use of the Crittenton Home for the treatment center lasted from late fall 1943 until spring of 1945, scarcely a year and a half. Estimates of numbers served at any given time range from 43 to 100 women. The annual budget was $100,000. Early on, planners had promised that inmates would receive assistance with placement in jobs once they left. No information is available to determine actual results. Because the Crittenton board had leased the property to the city, the trustees were able to reopen the home to unwed mothers by August 1946.

Seattle Office of Arts & Culture
King County

Thunderbird Treatment Center (former Crittenton Home), Rainier Beach, 2020

The port of Bari, Italy, was crowded on the afternoon of December 2, 1943, when Captain Otto Heitmann returned to his ship, the John Bascom , with the two thousand dollars he had drawn from the U.S. Army Finance Section to pay his crew. Bari was a pleasant, peaceful city on the heel of the peninsula, little changed by the war except that in 1943 American and British military personnel crowded Victor Emmanuel Street and Corso Cavour instead of the Germans, who had been forced to flee northward. Usually Heitmann enjoyed the time he had to spend at this port on the Adriatic Sea while his Liberty Ship was unloaded, but he was nervous this December day. There were too many ships in the harbor. Without even lifting his binoculars to his eyes he could see the Joseph Wheeler, Hadley F. Brown, Pumper, Aroostook, John L. Motley, Samuel J. Tilden , and Devon Coast , all jammed in the main section of the harbor or along the east jetty. He had been told there were at least twenty-nine ships at Bari waiting for aviation fuel, bombs, ammunition, hospital equipment, and other military supplies to be unloaded. The John Harvey , a Liberty Ship captained by his acquaintance Elwin P. Knowles, was anchored at pier 29. Heitmann idly wondered what she was carrying, unaware that the secret cargo aboard the John Harvey had already set the stage for tragedy at Bari.

Heitmann stared skyward in the direction his second officer, William Rudolph, was pointing. There, high in the sky where the last rays of the sun glinted on its wings, was a lone plane crossing directly over the crowded harbor.

High above Bari harbor in the plane, Oberleutnant Werner Hahn counted the Allied ships in port and knew the time had come. The Luftwaffe reconnaissance pilot banked his plane northward and hurried back toward his home base to report.

While Heitmann was standing on the deck of his ship in the harbor watching the plane high above him, General James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle was busy in his Fifteenth Air Force headquarters building along the waterfront. The man who had become famous as leader of the raid on Tokyo in 1942 was struggling with the multitude of problems involved with a new organization. All day long he had heard C-47’s flying in men and supplies for his air force, and the sound of one more aircraft didn’t interest him. What did interest him was getting the B-17’s and B-24’s at the Foggia airfield complex, seventy miles to the north, into operation as soon as feasible. The possibility of a German air raid on Bari was out of the question. Hadn’t British Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, commanding officer of the British air forces in the area, assured everyone that very afternoon that the Luftwaffe did not have the resources to attack the city or the harbor? “I would regard it as a personal affront and insult if the Luftwaffe should attempt any significant action in this area,” Coningham had stated. So even when the lights were turned on along the harbor for the unloading that would continue through the night—positive proof that the British, who controlled the harbor, “knew” it was secure from enemy attack—Doolittle wasn’t apprehensive.

As the lights were turned on at Bari harbor, 105 Ju-88 bombers led by Oberleutnant Gustav Teuber swung west far out over the Adriatic Sea and headed straight for Bari. Teuber’s estimated time of arrival over the harbor was 7:30 P.M.

In the city many of the inhabitants were hurrying toward the Chiesa San Domenico opera house on Victor Emmanuel Street. The evening concerts were a part of Italian culture and were held regardless of which nation controlled the country. The fishermen and their families who lived in the old section of the city near the waterfront, however, seldom could afford the concerts. The younger members usually went to Bambino Stadium to watch the Americans play baseball or football. The older inhabitants often went to Mass in the Basilica of San Nicola, the church built to honor St. Nicholas, better known in many parts of the world as Santa Claus. The sick and disabled stayed at home among the narrow, winding streets bordered by one—and two-storied houses jammed close together. Old Bari had few escape routes from it … and those who lived there would soon need them all.

Fifty miles east of Bari, Oberleutnant Teuber looked at his watch. It was 7:15 P.M. He could not yet see the glow of the harbor through the cockpit window of his Ju-88, but he knew they were getting close to their target—the Allied ships in Bari harbor. He gently nosed his plane down to wave-top level, and the other aircraft followed. They were now below the radar defenses of the city.

As the German bombers roared in, ten minutes later, Teuber saw the ships lined up in Bari harbor and gasped. It was unbelievable. He did not have time to count them, but there were targets everywhere he looked. Selecting one of the ships, he called to his bombardier: “Prepare to drop bombs!” The ship he had selected was the John Harvey .

The first bomb explosions were off target and hit in the city, but as Captain Heitmann watched aboard the John Bascom , Teuber and his fellow pilots discovered their error and began “walking” the bombs out into the water toward the ships. Yard by yard the bombs came closer, working their way up the line of moored ships one by one. The Joseph Wheeler took a direct hit and burst into flames moments later the John L. Motley , anchored next to Heitmann’s ship, took a bomb on its number-five hatch, and the deck cargo caught fire. It was too late to move the John Bascom . Suddenly a string of explosions ripped the ship from fore to aft, and Heitmann was lifted completely off his feet and slammed hard against the wheel-house door. The door broke off its hinges, and both the captain and the door hit the deck.

At pier 29 a small fire had started on board the John Harvey .

General Doolittle was leafing through a report on his desk when his office suddenly became much brighter. Before he could get to his feet, the windows on the side of the office facing the harbor shattered, and the glass flew across the room, narrowly missing him. Hurrying to the opening where the glass had been a minute before, Doolittle looked out at the harbor. One look was enough. His men, his supplies, his equipment for the Fifteenth Air Force were gone.

The citizens of Bari, unaccustomed to air attacks, were confused and frightened. Those who were in the opera house were unharmed, but many were panic-stricken. In the old city, people hurried from the Basilica of San Nicola where they had been attending Mass when the first explosions sounded. They had just reached the street when another stick of bombs hit nearby. Hundreds were now racing through the old section of Bari, trying to escape the narrow streets where flames made it nearly impossible to breathe. Their immediate concern was to get away, even if it meant drawing closer to the burning ships in the harbor. They dashed wildly, running into each other, knocking children to the street in their headlong rush to what they thought was safety. Many of them reached the edge of the harbor moments before the flames on the John Harvey reached the cargo the ship was carrying.

The explosion of the John Harvey shook the entire harbor. Clouds of smoke, tinted every color of the rainbow, shot thousands of feet into the air. Meteoric sheets of metal rocketed in all directions, carrying incendiary torches to other ships and setting off a series of explosions that made the harbor a holocaust. Jimmy Doolittle, still standing by the shattered window of his office, was staggered by the terrific blast. Huddled on the east jetty, Heitmann and other survivors from the ships in the harbor were bathed in the bright light momentarily and then bombarded by debris, oil, and dirty water. The inhabitants of old Bari who had rushed to the harbor to escape the flames within the walls of the ancient section were gathered along the shore when the John Harvey exploded. There was no time to run, no time to hide, no time for anything. One moment they were rejoicing in their good fortune in escaping from the flames of the old city the next they were struck by the unbearable concussion of the blast. Some were blown upward, their broken bodies flying twenty-five to thirty feet high. Some were hurtled straight back the way they had come.

A short time after the John Harvey exploded, Deck Cadet James L. Cahill, a member of the ship’s crew who had been on shore leave, reached dockside. He looked around wildly.

“She’s gone!” he exclaimed. “The John Harvey is gone!”

A British major standing nearby looked at the distressed crewman. “A pity. What did she carry?”

“Ammunition, I think.” Cahill’s face clouded. “And … and …”

“I don’t know. Nobody knew. It was a big secret.”

The “secret” to which the deck cadet referred became vital within twenty-four hours at the various hospitals in the Bari area where the hundreds of victims were taken. At the Three New Zealand General Hospital, the Ninety-eight British General Hospital, and the American Twenty-six General Hospital, the horde of incoming patients filled all available beds, and many were placed in vacant rooms that were still not equipped for use. The nurses and doctors were overwhelmed but did their best to treat the victims for their injuries and the obvious shock most of them had suffered. At least they could be wrapped in blankets. Unfortunately, many of the survivors were still in their dirty wet clothes the next day when a striking variation from the normal symptons of shock was noticed by the medical personnel. Nearly all the patients had eye troubles. Weeping became very marked and was associated with spasms of the eyelids and a morbid fear of light. Many of the survivors complained that they were blind.

Other puzzling factors were the pulse and blood pressure readings of the patients supposedly in shock or suffering from immersion and exposure. The pulse beat was barely evident, and blood pressure was extremely low yet the patients did not appear to be in what doctors call clinical shock. There was no worried or anxious expression or restlessness, no shallow breathing, and the heart action was only a moderately rapid 110–120.

On the morning following the German air raid, skin lesions were noticed on many of the survivors. The coloration of the lesion area was most striking: bronze, reddish brown, or tan on some victims, red on others. The distribution of the burns was varied, but a certain pattern began to emerge. It seemed to depend upon the degree of exposure to the slimy waters of the harbor. Those who had been completely immersed were burned all over, but those who had gotten only their feet or arms in the water were burned nowhere else. Survivors who had been splashed by the water had lesions where the water hit them. And those who had washed the slime from the harbor waters off their bodies and put on clean clothes had no burns at all.

The doctors and nurses did everything they could think of for the victims, but none of the normal treatments for burns or shock or exposure aided the survivors. They would improve temporarily, take a sudden turn for the worse, and then abruptly die for no apparent reason. By the end of the second day after the Bari attack it was clear that outside help was needed: the mysterious deaths among both military and civilian casualties were increasing.

Allied Force Headquarters in Algiers, under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was aware of the disastrous air strike made by the Luftwaffe at Bari. However, it wasn’t until General Fred Blesse, deputy surgeon for Allied Force Headquarters, received a “red light” call from Italy that anyone outside the Bari area was alerted to the mysterious malady that was causing so many deaths. He immediately dispatched Lieutenant Colonel Stewart F. Alexander to Italy to investigate.

Alexander, a graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, had served as medical officer with General George S. Patton, Jr., had been one of the few medical officers present at the Casablanca conference, had later joined the staff of General Mark W. Clark, and had finally moved to Algiers and the Allied Force Headquarters after having been selected by Eisenhower for his staff. Alexander had also worked at the Medical Research Division of the Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, before going overseas. The knowledge gained there would be invaluable at Bari.

On reaching Bari, Alexander immediately toured the area military hospitals, consulting with the medical staffs and examining the casualties. As he stepped into the first hospital, he turned to the British officer accompanying him and asked one question: “What is that odor? Garlic?”

“No, it’s from the patients. ,W& haven’t had time to disinfect the wards since their arrival from the harbor.”

Alexander remembered the long hours of research at Edgewood Arsenal: the same odor had permeated his laboratory there. Yet he couldn’t believe that the odor in the hospital came from the same source. Surely not.

As he examined the small blisters on the patients, however, Alexander saw more evidence that fitted in with the strange odor. The fluid accumulations of the blisters in the superficial layers of the skin were diffused, and in many cases it was difficult to determine where the edges of the blisters were located. He checked x rays taken of the victims and discovered that very few of the patients with the mysterious symptoms had suffered blast damage to their lungs, yet they had lower-respiratory-tract symptoms. He watched one patient, who appeared to be in marked shock but was remarkably clear mentally, tell a nurse he was feeling much better—and then die seconds later without any indication of distress at the time of death. Alexander was now convinced that his initial theory was correct.

“I feel that these men may have been exposed to mustard in some manner,” he explained to the shocked hospital officials. “Do you have any idea of how this might have occurred?”

Those who heard Alexander’s statement that December day were stunned. After their initial reaction, however, they remembered a statement Franklin Delano Roosevelt had made in August, 1943, after he had been alarmed by reports of the imminent use of chemical agents by the Axis. In part the statement said: “As President of the United States … I want to make clear beyond all doubt … [that] any use of poison gas by any Axis power … will immediately be followed by the fullest retaliation …”

Was it possible that poison gas had been aboard one of the bombed Liberty Ships, brought to Italy for stockpiling in case it was needed? Alexander was determined to find out. If he was to save any of the victims still alive, he had to find out, and fast.

The British port authorities, when questioned, either did not know at that time or would not disclose for security reasons whether any of the ships carried poison gas. Alexander finally persuaded them to sketch the location of as many ships as they could recall, hoping that by correlating the deaths in the hospitals with the ship positions, he could narrow down his investigation to one or two of the Liberty vessels. He also alerted the military dock units to watch for any sign of chemical containers, had samples of the slimy harbor water analyzed, and ordered autopsies on the victims. His efforts paid off with dramatic suddenness when he received a telephone call from a British officer at the dock.

“We have just recovered a bomb casing from the floor of the harbor. It definitely contained mustard.”

Shortly afterward, the bomb casing was identified as an American-type M47A1 hundred-pound bomb. The sketch of the anchored ships indicated that most deaths occurred near ship No. 1, which was identified as the American merchant ship John Harvey . Finally—and reluctantly—the British port officials admitted that the manifest of the John Harvey listed a hundred tons of mustard bombs, intended for storage in Italy in case they were required for retaliation after an Axis poison-gas attack. It was obvious that when the ship exploded, the mustard in the bombs was released. Part of it mixed with the oily water of the harbor, part of it with the smoke clouds drifting toward the city.

There were 617 recorded mustard-gas casualties among the military and merchant-marine personnel at Bari on the night of December 2, 1943, and eighty-four victims died. The full count will never be known, nor will the number of civilians who died from the mustard ever be learned. When it is considered that of the 70,752 men hospitalized for poison gas in World War I, only 2 per cent died, the disaster at Bari is put in its true proportion. Seventeen ships were totally destroyed by the German bombers, and eight others were damaged—the worst shipping disaster suffered by the Allies during World War n with the exception of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Bari mustard tragedy was kept secret long after the end of World War II and is little known even today. It had far-reaching consequences, however. One lesson learned was the absolute necessity that those involved with the shipping of chemical agents should notify the proper officials immediately in case of a mishap or danger of a mishap. Very few of the mustard casualties need have died if their exposure to the poison gas had been known immediately. If the warning had been given at once, not only would the casualties have been treated differently, but many of the rescue personnel, crew members of the ships not sunk, and hospital personnel would not have suffered chemical burns as they did.

In addition, the action of the British officials made the situation worse. The British controlled the port, and they were extremely reluctant to admit that any Allied ship carried poison gas. Even when Alexander had proved beyond a doubt that the casualties were suffering from mustard exposure, Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused to permit any British medical reports to mention the mustard. The official reports, except for one or two preliminary reports issued before his ruling, stated that the burns should be listed as “ NYD ”—“not yet diagnosed.” This restriction prevented medical staffs in many of the outlying hospitals, where a large number of patients were taken, from knowing the victims’ true condition until too late, causing many unnecessary deaths.

Bari was the only major poison-gas incident of World War II. The tragedy was and is a grim reminder that all nations have secret stores of chemical agents ready for use against each other if the need arises. The victims of Bari, those who died and those who lived, learned the horrors of chemical warfare. Even in an age when the nuclear bomb is the ultimate in weapons, poison gas is still a fearful threat. Let the user beware.