I’ve been doing research for my next novel, Software by the Kilo and have always had a strong interest in World War II. Part of the novel takes place in Italy in World War II, one scene in particular during the bombing of Bari, Italy. Few people are aware of this bombing, which at the time was referred to as “Little Pearl Harbor”. As with Pearl Harbor, the Allies were caught completely unawares, this time because they were certain their airforce owned the skies over Italy. There wasn’t a single German bomber shot down, and the pickings were easy because the Allies had lights on in the harbor to speed the unloading by working at night.
There was mustard gas on one of the US Merchant Marine ships, the John Harvey which was destroyed in the bombing. The gas was being transported to Europe to be kept if needed for retaliation in the event Hitler used chemical weapons. This fact was covered up by both the US and British governments for a while, and it contributed to the deaths of many civilians and servicemen.
The table below compares Pearl Harbor with the bombing at Bari. Obviously the global impact of Pearl Harbor (bring the United States into the war) is much larger. But the civilian deaths in the Bari bombing (over 1,000) were much much higher. The goal for the Bari bombing was to slow the delivery of goods and aircraft to the Allied forces marching on Rome through Bari’s until then undamaged port. Both accomplished the enemies goals, although the duration of the outage of both facilities was certainly less than hoped for.
Bari is also interesting for other reasons, including that the commander of the newly created Fifteenth Air Force that was headquartered in Bari was Major General James H. Doolittle, the aviator who led the bombing mission of Japan in April of 1942.
|Date||December 2, 1943||December 7, 1941|
|Attacker||Axis (Germany||Axis (Japan)|
|Defender||Allies (US, British, others)||Allies (US)|
|Planes attacking||105 bombers||353|
|Planes shot down||0!!||27|
|Casualties||1,000 military and merchant marine personnel killed,|
1,000 civilians killed
|2,345 military and 57 civilians killed|
|Length of port closure||closed 3 weeks||port not full operational for 3 months|
|Allied mistake||Mustard Gas on board John Harvey; lights on in port at night for unloading; main early warning dish broken||Radar warnings ignored|
|Axis mistake||Not launching third and last wave of attack|
|Length of attack||little over one hour||ninety minutes|