Chapter 7 "THERE'S A LIGHT ON THE JETTY" The tanker that Teuber saw anchored near Molo San Cataldo as he flew north over the Adriatic Sea was the U.S.S. Pumper Y0-56 commanded by Captain E. A. McCammond. As soon as he was notified by the watch on the bridge that a flare had just been dropped over the harbor, McCammond ordered his crew to battle stations and hurried to the bridge himself. Sizing up the confusing situation, he decided that the best defensive maneuver he could make was to order all guns trained to the seaward side at maximum elevation and begin firing. "Pour it up," he called as soon as the gunners were ready. Neither McCammond, Ritter, his executive officer at battle control number two, nor O. V. Darr, the engineering officer, could see the enemy aircraft that were dropping the bombs, but periodically they could hear one of the Ju-88s roar overhead less than a hundred feet above the ship. During the initial minutes of the raid the captain was con- cerned about the U.S.S. Pumper being hit by one of the bombs, but as the raid progressed and the line of ships along the East Jetty began burning, his worry shifted to the danger they presented. The gunfire from the tanker and from two other tankers anchored near the U.S.S. Pumper was the heaviest concentration of defensive firepower thrown up from the harbor and the German planes picked easier targets, staying away from the area where the tanker was riding in the water. The burning merchant ships that were drifting free of the East Jetty as their mooring lines parted made McCammond nervous. He knew that many of these ships carried ammuni- tion, bombs, aviation fuel, and other explosive items that were more of a threat to the U.S.S. Pumper than the bombs from the enemy planes. He saw the John Bascom catch fire shortly after the John L. Motley began burning. On down the jetty he saw the John Harvey was a mass of flames. He did not, however, know about the lethal load of mustard gas: bombs aboard the John Harvey. Very close to the U.S.S. Pumper the Yug, a small Yugoslavian coastal vessel about eighty feet long, was aflame, too, but McCammond ignored her, concentrating on the ships carrying war cargo, especially the John Harvey. The John Harvey, loose now from pier twenty-nine, was drifting across the harbor directly toward the U.S.S. Pumper. McCammond could see the men aboard the ship fighting to douse the flames, saw a limping figure directing the battle with the fire. This was Captain Knowles fighting desperately to save his ship and his crew. Several of the crew members of the tanker wondered why the seamen on the John Harvey did not leap overboard, why they stayed and tried to keep the flames from spreading, unaware that Beekstrom and his de- tachment of the 701st Chemical Maintenance Company were staying in a final effort to keep the chemical bombs intact. Radioman Carl M. "Pop" Keefe was in his general quar- ters station on the bridge when the raid started, having just returned from liberty ashore. "Pop" Keefe was the oldest man aboard the U.S.S. Pumper at forty-nine years of age. He had grown up on the Mississippi River, enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War I as a landsman for Electrician (Radio) and, after attending a school at Groton, Connecticut, became a qualified listener on a device known as a "C" tube used for detecting submarines under the surface. He returned to shore after World War I, but promptly enlisted when World War II started and was assigned to the U.S.S. Pumper in December, 1942. Now, as he watched the John Harvey bearing down on the tanker, he wished he was back in Wisconsin punching a telegrapher's key for the C&NW Rail- road as he had done between wars. He knew that if the John Harvey exploded, as it appeared likely she would, the U.S.S. Pumper was in a precarious position. So did Coxswain A. M. Nikkila and Ship's Cook H. K. Olsen who were standing on the bridge watching the mer- chant ship moving closer and closer to the tanker. Momen- tarily an explosion on the south end of the East Jetty distract- ed the pair, but only for a minute. Stocky, quiet Nikkila shook his head slowly and muttered, "Nothing going to stop her from hitting us now." Nikkila was not entirely correct, although, at the mo- ment, the odds favored his prediction. The burning merchant ship bore down on the tanker as the ten-knot wind pushed her along. Once the John Harvey half-turned to the east, but slowly, inexorably the ship swung back on course for the U.S.S. Pumper and began closing the gap between the two ships. While she was still several hundred feet away, howev- er, the flames reached the mustard bombs and the coura- geous fight to save the ship by Captain Knowles, Lieutenant Beckstrom, and the others on board the John Harvey ended abruptly. The ship exploded. One moment the John Harvey was a huge mass of flames moving across Bari harbor from east to north, the next she was gone. To the men on the U.S.S. Pumper the world seemed to stand still for several moments when the merchant ship blew up. There was a whispering sound as the air around the tanker was sucked toward the center of the blast and a fraction of a moment of silence. Suddenly the violence of the explosion ripped the area. The initial crack of sound threat- ened the eardrums of every man in the vicinity and seemed to vibrate every bone in a person's body until even those who were not knocked off their feet found it difficult to keep their balance. Bitter, the executive officer on the tanker, was lifted completely off his feet at battle control two and tossed onto the deck below. He was knocked unconscious by the force of his fall and injured his back seriously. Shrapnel from the mustard bomb casings smashed into crewman James Heeg's mouth and a piece lodged in the buttocks of Coxswain Dale Johnson. The tanker rolled about thirty-five degrees to port from the concussion, throwing most of the crewmen of the U.S.S. Pumper to the deck. The ship was literally showered with nose fuses and small fragments of the John Harvey. One piece of hull plating that was nine inches wide went through a port on the bridge breaking out the glass and lodging inside in the superstructure. Unbelievably, the closeness of the John Harvey to the U.S.S. Pumper saved the tanker from more extensive damage and prevented many deaths among the men aboard her. The merchant ship blew up with such intensity that most of the flying debris passed completely over the U.S.S. Pumper and hit other ships further away. The small Yugoslavian coastal vessel Yug simply disappeared, a victim of the explosion. Another tanker further north was also badly damaged and drifted toward the torpedo nets at the entrance to the harbor. The U.S.S. Pumper, however, once she had recovered from the initial blast and rolled back on an even keel, appeared in good shape to Captain McCammond. He immediately or- dered a complete check of the tanker made by the engineer- ing officer and, within a few minutes, Darr reported every- thing was under control and that the damage was not serious. The captain had been worried about his ship being full of aviation gasoline fumes, but, although the tanker was dented, she had not opened up, so none of the fumes escaped. The harbor, from the vantage point of the men aboard the U.S.S. Pumper, was dotted with burning ships, flaming oil and debris on the surface of the water, and hundreds of men in the water trying to reach safety before another ship exploded, the surface flames caught them, or they became exhausted and drowned. Since the tanker was on the opposite side of the entrance to the harbor from the East Jetty, McCammond had a perfect view of the holocaust and it made him sick. Every few minutes there was another blast, not nearly as violent as the explosion of the John Harvey, but stfil dangerous, especially to those on board the ships along the jetty. He could plainly see that the crews of those vessels were trapped. The flaming oil, dunnage, and other material lying on the harbor surface cut off any escape toward the U.S.S. Pumper from the East Jetty. The only hope for the men was to climb onto the seawall of the jetty and await rescue. The sailors on the ships nearer the dock or anchored in the center of the harbor had more opportunity to reach shore alive since they were on the land side of the flaming debris covering the water. If they were strong enough or lucky enough, they could swim to Moio Pizzoli or Molo San Cataldo. About an hour after the John Harvey blew up, Coxswain Nikkila asked for permission to launch the whaleboat in an attempt to rescue some of the men struggling in the water. "There seem to be more men swimming now than there were an hour ago," he explained. "Some of them are in bad shape." McCammond quickly gave his permission to use the whaleboat. Nikkila, Heeg, and Quartermaster, Third Class, W. E. "Bill" Olson manned the boat, launching it within a few minutes after permission was granted by the captain. They moved through the darkness very slowly, picking up survivors as they went. Many of the men were in bad shape, so bad that it was nearly impossible to get them into the boat. They were burned so seriously that as Nikkila and his companions tried to lift them into the motor launch flesh came off parts of their body. The screams of the wounded could be heard above the explosions. Others seemed to be having trouble breathing and complained, as had Vesole and Rudolph on the East Jetty, that they smelled garlic. They, too, were completely unaware that they were breathing fumes from the mustard which was now mixed with the oil. On their first trip the men from the U.S.S. Pumper learned why there was so much oil on the surface of the harbor. One of the German planes had bombed the large petroleum line running along the north side of the harbor and the oil was pouring out of the breaks. This oil, added to the dunnage, the debris from the exploding ships, and the mustard made the waters of Bari harbor nearly impassable, especially for injured, exhausted, and shocked seamen. The three men in the motor launch made three trips back and forth between the dock and the open areas of the harbor picking up survivors. As they prepared to make another trip, Olson suddenly pointed toward the north tip of the East Jetty. "Someone is signaling with a flashlight from the end of the jetty," he said. "They must be trapped out by the lighthouse." Nikkila looked toward the lighthouse and saw the blink- ing light that Rudolph from the John Bascom was using to try and get help for the men caught between the sea and the flaming ships along the East Jetty. After watching the light for a few moments, he looked at Olson. "Think we can reach them?" "We can give it a try." It was a hazardous, slow trip for the three men in the motor launch as they made their way through the fires in the harbor, past the exploding ships, along the broken petroleum line that threatened to burst into flames at any minute, dodging floating sections of damaged ships that appeared out of the darkness without warning. The entire harbor area was bathed in a red glow, giving the men in the water covered with the black oil a hideous appearance. As they neared the tip of the East Jetty, Nikkila saw black figures tinted with the same reddish glow waving frantically toward him, afraid that the motor launch was going to turn back and leave them stranded on the seawall. To his right, the coxswain from the U.S.S. Pumper noticed that the burning ships that had been anchored along the jetty were free of their mooring lines now and were drifting toward the lighthouse area where the men were trapped. The safe area on the East Jetty was getting smaller every minute. On the East Jetty Heitmann saw the motor launch approaching and watched it closely. Turning to Rudolph, he said, "Do you think they are coming for us?" The second officer, his flashlight batteries now dead, shrugged. "I'm not certain. I thought they saw my light, but after it went out the boat seemed to turn further to the northeast. They'll miss the jetty entirely if they don't turn back soon." The captain of the John Bascom heard several of the men on the seawall yelling toward the motor launch that was now moving almost parallel to the seawall, but he knew their voices were drowned out by the crackling flames and the intermittent explosions. There was nothing they could do now but wait.., and hope. While Heitmann, his crew, and the other seamen waited on the tip of the East Jetty for rescue, crews and troops on other ships in the harbor were fighting to survive also. On board the merchant ship S.S. Louis Hennepin, Signalman Robert Downey had been knocked down several times by ships exploding nearby. Finally he decided to stay on the deck temporarily in an effort to regain his strength and also stay out of the path of the flying debris that was hitting the Louis Hennepin from all directions. He had not seen even one of the attacking planes, but that did not concern him as he lay on the deck of the merchant ship trying to decide on his next move. The two British warships that had been tied up beside the Louis Hennepin were badly damaged and burning. Downey knew that his best chance of escape would be to try and get off the ship onto the dock. There was only one trouble. The mooring lines of the Louis Hennepin had burned away and the ship was swinging on the anchor chain. Sometimes she was eight to ten feet away from the dock, but at other times the ship drifted in and hit the dock broadside. The ladder that had to be climbed to get onto the dock from the water was between the hull of the Louis Hennepin and the dock and there was a possibility of a man getting crushed to death if he did not time the climb just right. Downey watched the ship swing out and back several times, trying to get a feel for the rhythm of the boat so he could clamber up the ladder while the ship was on its outward swing. The lifeless bodies of several seamen floating in the water by the dock was evidence of what would happen if he made a mistake. While he was still watching the bow of the boat moving, Downey saw a man start up the ladder and knew immediately that the seaman had timed it wrong. The merchant ship started swinging toward the ladder before the man was halfway up it. He did not have a chance. At that moment, however, a British sailor standing on the dock grabbed a long board and held it between the ship and the side of the dock. Wedged in this position, the board withstood the pressure of the ship's hull and kept an open space around the ladder. The seaman climbed to safety, followed by many others. By this time, Downey decided that the damage aboard the Louis Hennepin was not as serious as he had first believed, so he and several others stuck with the ship. The Samuel J. Tilden was not as fortunate as the Louis Hennepin. Captain Blair and his crew had done everything they could to save the bombed merchant ship, but it was not enough. The Samuel J. Tilden had been anchored approxi- mately two miles out in the harbor, since she had arrived from Taranto, Italy, carrying U.S. and British military passen- gers and loaded with supplies shortly before the German bombers struck. Fly, the technical sergeant assigned to the 376th Bomb Group personnel being transported to Bari by the Samuel J. Tilden, had been watching C-47s make their landing approaches directly over the ship ever since they had arrived in the harbor so it was quite a shock when the Ju-88s began dropping bombs. He had thought the roar of their engines indicated more C-47s heading for the Bari airport at the outskirts of the city. So did most of the personnel of the Twenty-six General Hospital who were aboard the ship. Lieutenant John H. Adamson, Jr., heard the engines and turned to Leo Kaczmarczyk. "I can't understand why we couldn't get a seat on a plane," he said. "It sure would have saved us a lot of traveling time:' Kaczmarczyk did not even have time to answer. Several bombs suddenly exploded in the harbor west of the Samuel J. Tilden and the blinding flares lighted the entire harbor. Although the ship rocked violently, there was no damage during the initial moments of the air strike. A short time later, however, the Ju-88s made another pass over the Samuel J. Tilden dropping incendiary bombs. One of these bombs hit the ship immediately forward of the bridge. The explosion destroyed all wooden bulkheads, bulged the metal bulk- heads, buckled deck plates over the engine room and completely destroyed the engine room skylight. Fire broke out immedi- ately and spread forward to the bow and then aft. Captain Blair was furious because a British Naval Con- trol searchlight from the mole was still burning and illuminat- ing the Samuel J. Tilden. When he had brought his ship through the entrance of the harbor just prior to the raid, the beam of the searchlight had focused on her to aid the harbor pilot to board. Now, seven minutes after the first bombs had been dropped, the light was still outlining the Samuel J. Tilden, making her an excellent target for the Ju-88s. Blair had never entered another port controlled by the British where such a practice was used. In addition, as soon as the air raid began, the shore batteries, also controlled by the British, had opened fire with their 40 mm guns. Because of misdirected fire or unsuitability of the guns for antiaircraft defense, the Samuel J. Tilden and her crew were subjected to a continuous rain of shells from these batteries, destroying equipment, killing and wounding men, and rendering the ship incapable of defending herself. Since it was impossible for the gun crew to stay at their positions due to this shore fire, they were ordered to take cover. Because of this shore fire, the searchlight, and the Ju-88s that were now strafing the decks of the Samuel J. Tilden, since the German pilots could see so clearly by the beam of the searchlight, the captain considered moving his ship to a new position. Finally he decided that it was better to remain stationary than try to maneuver in the unfamiliar, crowded harbor among the ex- ploding ships. The fire spread throughout the vessel, and at 8:45 P.M. he gave the order to abandon ship. Blair immedi- ately went to his quarters, put the secret codes in a perforat- ed metal box, returned to the bridge and dropped the box into the water. He then went to oversee the abandoning of the ship, knowing that this was the first time at sea for many of his 209 passengers. The men of the Twenty-six General Hospital were below deck when the incendiary bomb hit the Samuel J. Tilden. Lawrence H. Buys was knocked down by the blast, but quickly regained his feet and rushed to aid some of the others who had been injured. A huge icebox had been overturned, pinning down several of the men who had been trying to make their way to the deck. Buys, Adamson, Byron A. Bell, Stephen Corey, and others put their shoulders to the icebox and managed to lift it high enough for the pinned men to pull themselves free. Once topside, the medical personnel of the General Hospital joined the men of the 37th and 98th Bomb Groups lining up for the available lifeboats and rafts. Number three lifeboat had been destroyed by the attacking planes, but the remaining boats were in good condition. Fifty-six men boarded the lifeboats while eighty others got onto the rafts. One hundred and fifteen more of the passengers and crew took to the water on floats. Once off the ship the survivors of the Samuel J. Tilden found the harbor a maelstrom of fire, blasts, screaming men, and drifting ships. Some of the lifeboats were towed toward shore by harbor motor launches, but the others found the going very difficult because the surface of the water was thick with oil. The rafts were at the mercy of the wind and every time a ship in the harbor exploded, the rafts were tossed in a different direction. The men in the lifeboats, rafts, and on the floats were doused continually by the dirty water that was stirred up by the explosions. It went into their eyes, up their nostrils, down their throats. After awhile they felt their skin burning and many of the men found it difficult to breathe. The mustard was taking its toll. The Joseph Wheeler and John L. Motley had disappeared. There were no survivors except the men who had been ashore. Chester B. Filewiez, Utility, aboard the John L. Motley, was in Bari when he heard the ack-ack guns begin firing. As soon as possible he and a companion, Osmond Jackson, made their way to the harbor, but all they could see when they arrived where the John L. Motley had been moored was fire and smoke. The closest he could get to the site was approximately two city blocks, but that was close enough for FileWiez to be convinced that he no longer had a ship. Another member of the John L. Motley crew who was on shore leave that evening, Deck Engineer Carl Smith, arrived at the dock about the same time as Filewicz, saw that his ship had blown up, and began searching among the hundreds of wounded and exhausted men already on the dock for survivors from the ship. The only one that he located was Radio Operator Melvin H. Bloomberg who was severely injured. Stopping a British soldier driving past in a jeep, he loaded the injured radio operator on the vehicle and started for the nearest hospital. Fred McCarthy from the Joseph Wheeler had just started to spend the ten dollars he had borrowed from a friend aboard ship. He had found a place to get a bottle of wine and was negotiating the deal with the Italian operating the place when the antiaircraft guns began firing nearby. "What's going on?" he asked the Italian shopkeeper. The man shrugged, "The British are practicing again." When the firing continued, however, McCarthy decided to investigate. As soon as he stepped into the street he knew that it was no practice session. It was the real thing. Planes were roaring overhead, bombs were exploding on Via Abate Gimma, and shrapnel was slamming into the street all around him. Running from doorway to doorway, McCarthy made his way back to the dock where he was supposed to board the motor launch for the trip back to the Joseph Wheeler. The motor launch was not waiting. No one even stopped to answer his question. The dock was in utter confusion with men running in all directions, injured men lying everyplace, shocked survivors walking around in circles talking to them- selves. While he was still trying to decide on his next move, there was a violent explosion out in the harbor and McCarthy was knocked over backward. AS he lay stunned on the dock, he suddenly wondered what had happened to his friend "Bouncer" Ryan who had remained behind on the ship. McCarthy did not know it, but Ryan was already dead. Chief Mate Roy J. Newkirk of the Joseph Wheeler had gone ashore early on the morning of December 2 after being relieved by the second mate. He, too, hurried toward the deck as soon after the German air strike as possible, but it was impossible to get out onto the East Jetty because of the burning ships. The flames blocked his path completely. In- stead of returning to the city, Newkirk helped pull survivors out of the water and also cut one tanker loose from its mooring lines so it could escape the inferno along the jetty. Choking from the smoke and fumes in the area, the chief mate then returned to the boat pool area. The Hadley E Brown had reached dockside for unloading prior to the air strike by the Luftwaffe, but Robert Kirchhoff was still nervous thinking about the crowded harbor condi- tions. He had been in many ports since the beginning of the war, but he had never seen one as jammed as Bari harbor was on the night of December 2. Nor had he ever seen one lighted at night as this harbor was; he did not like it, did not like it at all. He was in his quarters aboard the ship discussing the situation when the general alarm suddenly sounded. His first thought was that it was another drill, but within a few seconds he heard a bomb explode along the East Jetty and knew that it was no drill. Racing to his gun position, he completely ignored the port rule that the guns aboard ship were to remain covered. Grabbing his machine gun, he began firing at the flares hanging above the Hadley E Brown and twice he got off a few shots at German aircraft that flew over the ship at mast level. By the time the Ju-88s left the area Kirchhoff had used all the available ammunition and was hunting for more. He had been so occupied with his gun that he had barely paid any attention when a bomb hit the port bow of the Hadley E Brown. Now that he had more time to look around, he discovered that he and the remainder of the crew were in a precarious situation. The hull was badly damaged and the ú gangplank that had been in use was completely smashed. Two ships nearby along the dock had also been hit. One was an ammunition ship, the other a tanker. Both were burning furiously and the tanker, its hull ruptured, was spraying fuel over the Hadley E Brown. Kirchhoff was still worrying about the fuel saturating the deck of his ship when there was a terrific explosion. The Hadley E Brown keeled over on its starboard side, slammed into the dock, then rolled the oppo- site direction. Bodies flew through the air mixed with a wide assortment of debris and ship sections. Kirchhoff felt some- thing hit his life jacket directly below his chin and reaching down, picked out a two-inch, jagged piece of shrapnel. It was his souvenir from the John Harvey. The shrapnel, fortunately, did not hurt him, but the unseen mustard from the same ship was moving toward him mixed with the smoke and fumes in the sky, the oil on the surface of-the harbor. Captain Hays of the U.S.S. Aroostook had tried to get permission to move his tanker to the unloading area, but the British port director was too busy to be concerned about one more ship, even one loaded with nineteen thousand barrels of hundred-octane gasoline. Hays was just leaving the Psy- chological Warfare Board Headquarters in Bari to go to the Petroleum Section of the Allied Force Headquarters to con- tinue his efforts to get his tanker unloaded when the first flares were dropped over the harbor by the Ju-88s. He immediately ordered his driver to take him to the port area, arriving there within eight minutes. Every effort by Hays to get a motor launch to take him back to the U.S.S. Aroostook failed, since the rescue of the men floundering in the flaming harbor took priority. He decided to try and proceed to the outer end of the fueling quay which would take him to within a few hundred yards of his ship, but a direct bomb hit about one-third of the way out the quay blocked him. The bomb ruptured one of the main gasoline pipes and a raging fire prevented Hays from going any further. After waiting a few minutes, the determined captain lowered himself to the side of the seawall opposite the fire and crawled past the flames. Once he was beyond the fire, he climbed back onto the fueling quay and hurried to the outer end of it where once again he found himself trapped and unable to reach his ship. The sky was bright as day and Hays could see the men aboard the U.S.S. Aroostook fighting to save the ship. While he was not close enough to see the details of the damage suffered by the ship, he knew that the German planes had hit her. Actually the U.S.S. Aroostook had suffered considerable damage, but was in no immediate danger of sinking. Both Wellin lifeboats had been pierced by shrapnel; a hole had been made in the deck amidships; all doors, officer's country, passageway, and stateroom had been blown off; the six-inch fueling hose was pierced by shrapnel; all windows in the lower wheelhouse were blown out; and the starboard diesel engine was damaged. Hays considered swimming to his ship from the quay, but he gave up the idea because the fires on the water were spreading rapidly. All he could do was stand and watch his crew fight to save the U.S.S. Aroostook. Two ships anchored within four hundred yards of the U.S.S. Aroostook sustained direct hits and immediately sank in six fathoms of water, the upper decks and superstructure still burning fiercely. Despite the nearness of the flaming ships, however, the men of the U.S.S. Aroostook refused to quit battling. Boatswain K. R. Groote remained at his station in the completely exposed firing control tower, ducking the burning debris and shrapnel flying through the air, and directed the firing of the ship's guns. The effectiveness of the barrage from the ship was evidenced by the fact that the Ju-88 bombed nearby ships instead of risking another pass on the U.S.S. Aroostook. Hays was still on the fueling quay when the John Harvey exploded and was nearly blown into the sea by the force of the blast. He suffered partial deafness from the blast and it was several minutes before his head cleared. It was then that he saw that the executive officer of the U.S.S. Aroostook, John Umstead, Jr., had managed to get his ship underway. He was maneuvering the ship through channels of burning oil and gasoline on the waters and sunken ships in the harbor to a safer anchorage further north. The captain, realizing that he could not reach his ship at that time, turned and started back the fueling quay toward the dock. Near the fire on the quay he discovered that several of the men from the U.S.S. Aroostook who had been on shore liberty and were unable to get back aboard were assisting in removing wounded to ambulances from boats that had picked them up from the harbor waters. The wounded were in various states of shock and exhaustion, but they all had one thing in common--they were covered from head to foot with the oil slime that was lying on the surface of the harbor. None were aware that the deadly mustard was mixed with this oil slime.
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