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Fliegerführer Luftflotte 2 issued an activity report on the evening the 3rd which included the following:

105 Ju 88 employed by Fliegerkorps (Roman) II against Bari harbour. Very good results. 4 vessels sunk, 21 further vessels hit. Destruction in harbour installations. 2 a/c lost.

Ob. Südwest’s situation report of 3 December was a little less specific:

In the night of the 2nd/3rd, our heavy bombers attacked 12 shipping targets off and in harbour at Bari, in strength and with very good results. From the reports so far to hand, 2 ships were sunk. Aside from that a tanker exploded, as did a ship obviously loaded with ammunition. A large number of other vessels were hit.

OKW issued a similar account to the press, upgrading it soon after:

During the night of 2/3 December strong German bomber formations attacked the enemy supply base of Bari in Apulia and bomb hits caused lasting damage in the harbour area. According to reports so far to hand two freighters were sunk. Two others with fuel or munitions blew up after bing hit by bombs. Several more freighters suffered considerable damage.

OKW Communiqué (3 December 1943)

According to definitive assessments in the attack … on Bari … four merchant ships totalling 31,000 GRT were sunk, among them a large tanker. In addition nine freighters of 45,000 GRT in total took devastating hits, as did a medium-sized warship. Two of our own aircraft were lost.

OKW Communiqué (5 December 1943)

At a press conference on 17 December the US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, went public over the extent of the losses at Bari. He disclosed that 17 ships had been sunk, five of them American, and that about 1,000 people had been killed or injured including 37 USN personnel. This revelation was said by the Washington Evening Star to have come:

… after other sources of unquestionable authority had placed the total number of vessels lost at 17, approximately 50 percent … of the shipping in Bari Harbor at the time. In official quarters there was no disposition to deny that the blow was serious, reducing British Army supplies for two or three days—and in some respects the worst defeat inside a protected harbor since … Pearl Harbor …

The Associated Press correspondent went on to say that “the attack lasted only a few minutes. When it was over, harbor shipping was a shambles … The attack was carried out with obviously fine planning and brilliant execution”. Given the general performance of the German bomber force in the Italian campaign, it seems that an element of luck was also present. Nobody mentioned the release of mustard gas from the bombs aboard the John Harvey. There is nothing in German reports of Stimson’s statement to suggest that they had any prior knowledge of the true scale of their success.

Second time around

Air raid took place on Bari p.m. 13th. Bombs dropped causing no damage to port or casualties. A/A fire claim 2 shot down.

Admiralty War Diary, 14 December 1943

Reconnaissance of southern Italian harbours was resumed, “after a longish period of inactivity”, on 11 December, revealing 12–14 merchant ships in port at Bari that evening. A raid was mounted at dusk on 13th December, by Ju 88s of I. and III./LG 1 staging out of Tirana, Albania; according to the Kriegsmarine, 21 machines took part. The Allies identified seven during the operation but Y-Service information derived from subsequent movements suggested at least fifteen. Four of the aircraft had returned direct to Athens while 11 more from LG 1 moved from Tirana to Heraklion via Kalamaki on the following day.

continued on next page …



© Nick Beale 2019

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