August 27: Bari

After a long day of travel from the USA to Bari by way of a 5 hour layover in Rome, the ending gave way to an early dinner and tired body to bed by 10pm. The Italian restaurants don't open much before 8pm so "early" is not before nightfall!

Bari is the capital city of the province of Bari on the Adriatic Sea. It is a well known port and university city and is second only to Naples as one of the important economic centers of Southern Italy. During WWII it became the only European city to be exposed to chemical warfare, a distinction of unwelcome fame. It was an American ship that was sank by the German bombers in the harbor

According to Wikipedia:

"On the night of December 2, 1943, German Junkers Ju 88 bombers attacked the port of Bari, which was a key supply centre for Allied forces fighting their way up the Italian Peninsula. Several Allied ships were sunk in the overcrowded harbour, including the U.S. Liberty ship John Harvey, which was carrying mustard gas; mustard gas was also reported to have been stacked on the quayside awaiting transport. The chemical agent was intended for use if German forces initiated chemical warfare. The presence of the gas was highly classified, and authorities ashore had no knowledge of it. This increased the number of fatalities, since physicians—who had no idea that they were dealing with the effects of mustard gas—prescribed treatment proper for those suffering from exposure and immersion, which proved fatal in many cases. Because rescuers were unaware they were dealing with gas casualties, many additional casualties were caused among the rescuers through contact with the contaminated skin and clothing of those more directly exposed to the gas.

A member of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower's medical staff Dr. Stewart F. Alexander was dispatched to Bari following the raid. Alexander had trained at the Army's Edgewood Arsenal in New Jersey, and was familiar with some of the effects of mustard. Although he was not informed of the cargo carried by the SS John Harvey, and most victims suffered atypical symptoms caused by exposure to mustard diluted in water and oil (as opposed to airborne), Alexander rapidly concluded that mustard was present. Although he could not get any acknowledgment from the chain of command, Alexander convinced medical staffs to treat patients for mustard exposure and saved many lives as a result. He also preserved many tissue samples from autopsied victims at Bari. After World War II these samples would result in the development of an early form of chemotherapy based on mustard, Mustine.

On the orders of allied leaders Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Eisenhower, records were destroyed and the whole affair was kept secret for many years after the war. The U.S. records of the attack were declassified in 1959, but the episode remained obscure until 1967 when writer Glenn B. Infield exposed the story in his book Disaster at Bari. Indeed, even today, many "Baresi" are still unaware of what happened and why. Additionally, there is considerable dispute as to the number of fatalities. In one account: "Sixty-nine deaths were attributed in whole or in part to the mustard gas, most of them American merchant seamen. Others put the count as high as, "more than one thousand Allied servicemen and more than one thousand Italian civilians." Part of the confusion and controversy derives from the fact that the German attack, which became nicknamed "The Little Pearl Harbor" after the Japanese air attack on the American naval base in Hawaii, was highly destructive and lethal in itself, apart from the effects of the gas. Attribution of the causes of death to the gas, as distinct from the direct effects of the German attack, has proved far from easy."

Bari today is a bustling city complete with the traffic jams and crowds of people.

Bari Harbor View From Hotel

View of Old City

Another View of Old City

Ship Coming Into Port