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What if the allies intercepted the German air raid at Bari, Italy, on December 2, 1943?

Discussion in 'What If - Mediterranean & North Africa' started by Brian Ghilliotti, Jun 15, 2017.

  1. Brian Ghilliotti

    Brian Ghilliotti New Member

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    Not sure if Italy is part of the "western front", but I post here anyway:

    What if the allies intercepted the German air raid at Bari, Italy, on December 2, 1943?

    This was an air raid by the German forces in Italy against a major allied logistical port on the east coast of Italy. It was apparently a major supply depot, left weakly defended by British forces since they believed that the Germans did not possess much air power on the Italian Front.

    The raid is notable for the fact that many allied ships docked at facility contained the chemical weapon 'mustard gas'. A wikipedia source used for this posting suggests it was stored in response to German threats to use chemical weapons in Italy, but other Youtube based historical sources (anything on the internet is of mixed quality) suggests that the allies were intending to use these weapons if the Italian front became too static and they wanted to speed up the progress of the front. This source states that the Germans became aware of the chemical weapons stored at the port of Bari, and allied plans to potentially use them, and decided to use a pre-emptive strike. Other sources state they were stored there "just 'in case' they were needed."

    The results of the raid were fairly destructive, giving it the name "the Little Pearl Harbor." Twenty eight ships were knocked out of commission, and around 2,000 military and non-military personnel died (officially). Many of the deaths and injuries were undoubtedly the result of people being exposed to mustard gas chemicals, released into the air or water. Many of the medical personnel who responded to the casualties did not understand what the air raid victims were exposed to, since these chemical munitions were largely kept secret.

    What if allied intelligence knew about the planned German raid and managed to intercept it?

    The result could have been a costly air battle for both sides, with more severe long term impacts on the German side. Depending on the severity of losses, it could have hurt the Germans long term defense capabilities.

    The allies probably would have realized that the Germans were aware of their chemical weapons plans, assuming it was not just retalitory in nature (whichI think). The ships would been quickly moved. The allies probably would have realized that the Germans would try again to target these chemical munitions, either by plane, submarine, or both, where ever the allies tried to hide them.

    There probably would have been a struggle within the allied command to either use them relatively soon or just remove them entirely out of the theater of operations. If the faction advocating immediate use of these weapons won out, and these weapons were deployed against the German front line in Italy, WW2 could have been a very different football game.

    Depending on how effectively the allies deployed these weapons, the German front at the time could have quickly collapsed. The outcome of the Italian front would have depended on how quickly the allies would have been able to exploit this temporary advantage and how fast Hitler could have resupplied the gassed out German Army in Italy. Reinforcements would most likely come in from the Austrian/Yugoslav side of Italy. To slow this process down, the allies would have had to contact and coordinate with any Italian or Yugoslav partisan groups operating in the area.

    The other impact of allied use chemical weapons in Italy would have been a change in German attitude toward use of weapons of mass destruction. Being a victim of chemical weapons in WWI, Hilter may have paused to listen to those in his command who argued that chemical weapons were not very accurate and hard to control. However, Hitler probably would have barked back to his generals and engineers to start figuring out how to canister these chemical weapons inside missiles and airplane bombs.

    Then the war would have become the first long term experiment in the use of weapons off mass destruction. We probably would have seen the sped up production of ballistic missile systems on the part of the Germans, who would be quick to recognize them as the ideal delivery system for these types of weapons.

    I suspect that the Germans would have exploited the propaganda "value" of many Italians dying as collateral damage during an allied chemical weapons attack. It probably would have been easy to portray the allied liberators as reckless and destructive "monsters" if many noncombatant Italian villagers became victims of these chemical weapons.

    The fact that the allies covered the whole thing up during and after the war suggests to me that they had more than just potential retaliatory intentions with these chemical weapons. Whatever their intentions were, the Germans put an end to these plans and woke the allies up in the process.

    I have given my answer to this "what if" question, look forward to yours.

    Brian Ghilliotti
     
  2. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    There is a specific sub forum for what ifs.
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Topic moved to Alt-Hist.
     
  4. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    The Allies did not exactly have a large number of night fighters in Italy in late-1943. Further such an interception would have required foreknowledge of the German bombers intended flight path - Think of Yamamoto's ill-fated aerial tour of the Pacific, and that was during the day.


    Bari could hardly be considered "weakly defended", or even "undefended" - as some myth-makers would have us believe. For the British, there were 32 3.7-inch AA guns, 36 40mm Bofors. Complementing this were 20 Italian 76mm & 75mm AA guns, 8 37mm guns, and 16 20mm guns. Not to mention a vast array of AA guns mounted on the ships in the harbor. There was also radar and searchlights for directing the land-based AA guns.

    The British also had an RAF night figther presence there, with the dusk patrol having landed before the attack began, and anywhere between 1 to 3 Bristol Beaufighters taking off to engage the German bombers.

    However, the AA defenses were hindered by the German use of their variation, Duppelstreifen, of "window" to jam British radars, which controlled the larger AA guns & searchlights. This use of "window" also hindered the British night fighter controllers in guiding the Beauforts to the German bombers, the volume of British flak did not help them either. Matters were not helped by the breakdown of telephone communications between the radar station and the gun operations control room.


    Only one ship had mustard gas, the SS John Harvey.


    Unfortunately, the youtube source is full of bull...Given that the vast number of Allied officers involved that were unaware of the contents of the John Harvey, and the level of secrecy surrounding the shipment, it is unlikely in the extreme that the Germans had foreknowledge of this shipment.


    Given that the raid was put together on short notice, less than 24 hours, how is Allied intelligence going to know this, and further, be able to act on it in a timely fashion?


    Not likely given the few Allied aircraft carrying radar capable of detecting other aircraft at a distance. In the gathering dark, the aircraft are just as likely to miss the Germans, as they are to make contact with them.


    This conclusion is most unlikely given the facts in evidence...The SS John Harvey was not attacked by any submarines during her passage from Oran to Bari. Where was this all out effort then? Further, the SS John Harvey arrived at Bari on November 28, 1943, and was still waiting to be unloaded on the evening of December 2nd. Yet, where were all the German attacks on the ship if the Germans had had foreknowledge of the Harvey's cargo? Certainly, if the Germans had had this foreknowledge, they would have attacked the ship ASAP, before it could be unloaded, and it's cargo distributed.


    Not much of one I suppose. While gas could produce a large number of casualties against an unprepared army, it was not particularly known for producing victories. Further, both the Germans and Allies were reasonably equipped to defend against gas attacks, so again, the gas effect on the outcome of the battle will likely be limited. Not to mention that mustard gas tends to be particularly persistent, and will likely hinder the Allies as much as any help it may provide.
     
  5. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Continuing...


    Again, unlikely. Immediate use by the Americans would be against the Bernhardt Line, which would still leave them facing prepared Germans on the Gustav Line. Immediate British use, may have led to a break through, but then again, it may not, as the weather was deteriorating rapidly, which would preclude any rapid exploitation if a breakthrough was achieved. Also, the Allies had tried to cut the German supply lines with Operation Strangle, which had been going on for sometime before the Allied landings in Italy. It never worked, because the Germans fought a defensive war, and thus, did not consume supplies and replacements at a high rate that they would have had they been more offensive-minded.

    At the time, there was really no coordination with Italian partisans, as the had mostly just formed. Yugoslav partisans might be a different story, but how many reinforcements came to Italy via Yugoslavia? You are also forgetting that France is yet another option for German reinforcements.


    However, gas, in the main, is used on the attack...And the Germans were not attacking the Allies in Italy. Instead, the were playing the long game, and letting the Allies wear themselves out by attacking their fortified lines. If anything, a retaliatory chemical attack would fall on the British Home Islands...Which was the most powerful break on the Allied use of chemical weapons during WW2.

    AFAIK, the Germans already had bombs and rockets suitable for the use of chemical weapons. All they needed to do was fill them up and ship them out.


    World War I was the first long term experiment in the use of weapons of mass destruction, and the did not prove to be particularly effective...

    The V-weapons were hardly the ideal delivery system form chemical weapons against troops - as the were horribly inaccurate. The most ideal delivery system, in terms of accuracy and range would be artillery.

    Against civilians, the V-Weapons would be little better. As, achieving a high density of mustard gas(if that was the gas used) to kill would be next to impossible to achieve. Roughly, to achieve the effect of the mustard gas on the SS John Harvey, something like 50 V-2s would all have to impact the same spot at the same time.


    Where is the use of the chemical weapons then. The Allies fought a lot harder battles in 1944, yet there was no use of chemical weapons...

    The Americans fought a lot harder battles in the Pacific in 1944-45, and still there was no use of chemical weapons...Although, there was ongoing discussion about there use, as well as development of more potent chemical weapons...
     
  6. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Forgot about the 10,000 character cap...
     
  7. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    The odds on hitting a particular freighter in a night attack aren't very high either. Especially if level bombing is used. Did anyone conduct night time dive bombing attacks during the war?
     
  8. SM Baker

    SM Baker Member

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    Very interesting reading. Takao makes very convincing counterpoints. Two great books written on this historic night are "Disaster at Bari" (Glenn B. Infield) and "Unsung Sailors" (Justin F. Gleichauf).
    The man who is in the photo on the left is my grandfather, Reginald J. Baker. He was a gunners mate (Naval Armed Guard), aboard the Liberty Ship, "SS John Bascom," which was moored very near the John Harvey.The John Bascom was the first to open fire on the Luftwaffe. She took 3 bombs right down the center and was sunk. Baker was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions, for helping save fellow shipmates from the sinking vessel, and wounds received. He died very young (35) from leukemia probably as a result of inhaling and swallowing mustard gas as he swam to the jetty. If there is a silver lining, it would be the development of chemotherapy that was a result of doctors' understanding of how the chemical affected white blood cells in those who were sickened and/ or succumbed.
     
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