Chapter 9 "THE SHELTER'S FILLING WITH WATER" General "Jimmy" Doolittle was worrying, even before the German aircraft arrived the night of December 2. One of the main reasons his new Fifteenth Air Force had been organized was to split the enemy's defenses, especially the German fighter force, and help reduce the alarming casualty rate being suffered by the Eighth Air Force flying out of England and attempting to strike deep into the Reich. Dur- ing the fall months the Eighth Air Force had taken a severe mauling, so much so that the loss rate reached prohibitive proportions. Washington was faced with the sobering fact that during the latter part of 1943 German fighter forces in the west were increasing, not decreasing as had been expected. There was concern also about the improvement in perfor- mance among German pilots, mostly due to improved fighter tactics and increased firepower on the FW-190. Doolittle had received a report that concluded that the entire American daylight bombing program against strategic objectives located deep in Germany would be seriously threatened unless steps were soon taken by the Fifteenth Air Force to draw off some of the enemy's fighter planes. Washington was looking ahead to the invasion planned for the spring of 1944 across the English Channel, an operation that could not possibly suc- ceed if the Allies did not control the skies over Europe by that time. Time was thus a critical element for Doolittle and his new air force. He was aware that the British had voiced strong opposition to the formation of the Fifteenth Air Force, chiefly because they believed it diverted bomber groups from the scheduled buildup in the United Kingdom in preparation for the cross-channel invasion. Most British leaders believed the Italian project a doubtful venture. They pointed out the fact that only a small percentage of the Combined Bomber Offensive targets were closer to Italy and the Fifteenth Air Force than to the Eighth Air Force operations out of the United Kingdom. Even these could be bombed from England, if necessary. The heart of the German war machine was in the west and northwest, not the south. Nor did the British leaders think that the reputedly better weather conditions in Italy were a critical factor in daylight attacks by the American bombers, since it was the weather over the targets in Germany that really mattered, not the weather in the base area. Advances in weather forecasting techniques and navigation had made the weather in England a secondary problem. Any advantages that the Fifteenth Air Force might have because of longer hours of daylight during the winter months in Italy would be more than counterbalanced by the necessity of crossing the Alps where clouds and bad icing conditions were common at the great heights. These mountains also constitut- ed a serious obstacle to the safe return of damaged aircraft. Many an Eighth Air Force bomber had been able to limp home to its English base, losing altitude gradually. The crippled Fifteenth Air Force bomber returning to Italy from a mission against south German targets would be forced to stay high or crash. Doolittle knew that the odds he faced, both in his operations against the Germans and in his relationship with the British, were stacked against him during the initial stages of the organization of the Fifteenth Air Force, but he was determined to prove the worth of his men and planes by the end of 1943. A spectacular mission to the Messerschmitt works at Wiener Neustadt on November 2, one day after the formal activation of the Fifteenth Air Force, gave the cocky, tough-minded general a good start, but, after this one day of glory, trouble began. Bad weather, lack of radar equipment, and a critical shortage of long-range escort fighters prevented the Fifteenth Air Force from bombing high-priority targets in southern Germany for the remainder of November. By De- cember 2 Doolittle was so anxious to get his planes and crews into the air against vital targets in Germany that he literally walked the floor of his office in the former Italian Air Force Headquarters building near the harbor. Everytime he looked out the window and saw the ships waiting to be unloaded, ships that carried men and supplies for his new air force, he felt a sense of frustration that was nearly overwhelming. The needed bombs, crews, mechanics, ammunition, and fuel were so close to the bases at Foggia, yet so far. The growing pains were threatening "Jimmy" Doolittle's usual good humor. The genera] was leafing through a debriefing report of a mission flown by the Eighth Air Force to the Solingen area the previous day when he heard the sound of aircraft approaching Bari. He did not get up from his desk to look at the oncoming planes. He did not feel it was necessary. All day long the C-47s of the Fifty-second Troop Carrier Wing had been ferrying his men to the city from North Africa and it made him a little happier to know that several more planeloads were arriving. He started to study the mission report again when suddenly his office seemed much brighter than it had been previously. At first, he thought the lights had, for some reason, become brighter, but when he glanced toward the window facing the harbor he saw the flares floating down toward the ships anchored in the harbor. He knew instinctively what they were, where they came from, what they meant. Doolittle was still trying to get to his feet when the first explosion sounded. The windows on the side of the building facing the harbor were shattered instantly, the glass flying across the room. The door to his office collapsed into the room, narrowly missing the general. Standing by the shattered window closest to his desk, Doolittle looked out across the harbor. One look told him all he needed to know about the precious supplies he had waited for so long, the supplies--- and men--that were on the ships in Bari harbor. They were lost. Already the ships were burning and, even as he watched, one exploded. There was nothing the general could do but stand and watch the destruction helplessly. The first person Bruce Johnson, Fifteenth Air Force Headquarters commandant, thought about when the first enemy bombs exploded was his friend and commanding officer "Jimmy" Doolittle. Johnson had just started to walk out of the officer's mess hall when the initial blast occurred. Running outside, he reached the street as a low-flying Ju-88 dropped a string of bombs nearby. The concussion picked Johnson up and threw him approximately fifteen feet. He was stunned momentarily, but, as soon as he regained his senses, he got back on his feet and hurried to the Fifteenth Air Force Headquarters building to cheek on Doolittle. He found the general still in his office amid the broken glass and smashed doors staring at the scene in the harbor. "We're taking a pasting, Bruce." There was nothing else to be said. In the wing of the Fifteenth Air Force Headquarters building extending away from the street, Radio Operator Roy Gibson sent the air raid warning over his transmitter and then ran to the front of the building. Through the large, glassed-in-lobby area he could see hundreds of tracer bullets, criss-crossing the sky toward the harbor area. While watching the tracers he noticed the brilliant flares light Up the ships and he knew what was coming next. Turning to another radio - operator he asked, "Where's the shelter?" His companion had just arrived in Bari, too, and did not know any more about the layout of the headquarters building than Gibson. Realizing that they could not stay in the glassed- in-lobby, the two radio operators decided to go to the radio maintenance room in the basement of the building. Just as they turned to go the first bomb exploded and the glass front of the lobby was shattered by the concussion. When Gibson arrived in the basement, he noticed an opening at the far end of the maintenance room. Upon investigation, he discovered that a sloping driveway led up to a stone wall that surrounded the headquarters building and that two huge, thick, wooden doors formed a gateway through the wall. The doors were locked. Stooping low, Gibson looked under the heavy doors. He saw that the sky was still filled with tracers and periodically he heard a bomb explode in the harbor area. He was still stooped down when there was an extremely loud explosion and the wooden doors were blown off their hinges, hitting him a glancing blow. Glass from the windows in the building behind him hit Gibson on the back and neck, inflicting minor cuts. He rushed back into the basement and took cover in the maintenance room. Finally, at midnight, he was told it was safe to go to his quarters in the Italian schoolhouse four blocks down the street. After four hours of listening to the violent explosions and feeling the headquarters building shake after each one, Gibson was grateful to get away. The street was covered with glass fragments and stone and brick debris that had been blasted loose by the ship explosions, the bombs, and the machine-gun fire from the Ju-88s. He had no trouble finding his way to his quarters, however, since the fires burning in the harbor lighted the street with an orange glow. When he arrived at his room, the radio operator discovered that his bed was covered with broken glass and part of the ceiling was knocked down. After cleaning off his blankets, Gibson tried to get some sleep, but, despite the fact that he was exhausted, he could only doze a few minutes at a time. It was the most miserable night he ever spent. He even had trouble breathing as the smoke and fumes rolled inland from the harbor area.., and from the John Harvey. Cheedle V. Caviness of the Fifteenth Air Force Service Command was already stretched out on his bed in the school building on the night of December 2 when he noticed some peculiar light patterns on the ceiling of the room. The thought never entered his mind that the light came from flares dropped by enemy planes since he had been assured, as had the other Americans stationed or passing through Bari, that the German Air Force "was shot all to hell" and was nothing to worry about. When the lights continued to dance all around the ceiling of his room, however, Caviness decided to look out the window in an effort to determine what was causing the light. Just as he reached the window facing the harbor, he saw a geyser of water shoot a hundred feet into the air. This geyser was soon followed by several others. He had been in the USAAF long enough to recognize the cause of the geysers. "Bombs! Bomhs!" Before he could decide on his next move a bomb landed in the rear of the building--one of the string of bombs that knocked the wooden doors off their hinges at the spot where Gibson was taking shelter-and the concussion knocked Caviness flat. Getting back on his feet, he headed for the air raid shelter in the basement of the building. He had just reached the entrance of the shelter when another explosion at the harbor let go and he was thrown headlong into the shelter. Fortunately, neither blast injured him. When the all clear signal sounded, Caviness went back to his room and discovered that it was badly damaged. All the glass was missing, part of the front wall was blasted away, as was a section of the ceiling. He now had a very good view of the harbor and the scene fascinated him. The surface of the harbor was a mass of flames and he could see several ships that were burning along the East Jetty. Suddenly he saw flames shoot several hundred feet into the sky and before he could even lie fiat on the floor the force of the blast of an ammunition ship exploding hit the school building. A large window frame was dislodged and hit him hard on the knee. Limping badly, Caviness headed for the basement and the air raid shelter again. This time he stayed in the shelter, not venturing out until daylight the next morning. Harry Fischer of the Fifteenth Air Force Headquarters A-3 Section had arrived in Bari on December 2 from North Africa and was completely unfamiliar with the area. He, too, was quartered in the Italian school building. After eating in the evening, Fischer, Joseph Redden, and William Duncan went into the city, but, since it was getting dark and they were tired, the three men returned to their room early. Fischer was stretched out on his bed, just as Caviness was, when the first string of bombs exploded and the window glass of the building was shattered. He did not know where the air raid shelter was located, since no one had yet briefed him on its location, but he ran as fast as he could down three flights of stairs just to get out of the building. When he reached the street, Fischer discovered he had no shoes on so, as happens so often during such moments of danger, the unimportant seems important. Ignoring the bombs dropping in the area, he ran all the way back up the three flights of stairs, sat down on his glass-covered bed, and put on his shoes. When he reached the street the second time his friends had disappeared, so Fischer hurried to the beach about a block away and fell flat on his face. He never prayed so much in his life as he did during the minutes that followed, especially when three bombs landed in the harbor near the spot on the beach where he was stretched out. Dirt, sand, and oil were blown on him by the blast, but he was not injuredú William Blau, a friend of Fischer's, was also in the school building resting on his bed, disappointed because his two buddies, Ray Donahue and John Wood, had gone into Bali without waiting for him. Without warning, Blau heard a sound that reminded him of the roar of a big truck passing the building and he hoped that all the convoys would pass early in the evening so they would not keep him awake all night. A moment later the antiaircraft guns along the harbor opened fire and someone in the school building yelled to Blau, "Get out! It's an air raid? Blau did not wait for a second warning. He raced down the stairs, through the door, and into the street. Looking toward the water, he saw what looked like a fountain spurting skyward and redoubled his efforts to get out of the area. Following a man in front of him, Blau raced up the street as fast as he could run, turning right when his guide turned right. "Not that way," someone yelled from the darkness. The marshaling yards are down there." Blau and his companion whirled around and raced the opposite direction. Finally they ran into a small group of soldiers behind a low wall and joined them. Gradually, the turmoil seemed to quiet down some and as soon as the all clear sounded, Blau went back to his quarters. He, too, wanted to put his shoes on since he had run out of the school building in his bedroom slippers. The room was a mess, so as soon as he put his shoes on he went back to the street and watched the ships burning in the harbor. He was still in the street when the John Harvey blew up and the blast knocked him down, just as it did everyone else in the open. Lying on the ground, he watched the mushroom cloud of smoke drift toward the city from the stricken ship completely unaware that the deadly mustard fumes were mixed with the smoke. Robert M. Flynn was asleep in the school building when Oberleutuant Teuber and the Ju-88s arrived over Bari. The noise of the nearby antiaircraft guns awakened him and he, as Blau, Fischer, and all the others in the building, raced to the street below. He was still crouched in a doorway watching the burning and exploding ships in the harbor when an explosion so loud he "thought the world had blown up" echoed through- out the area and slammed him hard against the side of the building. By the time his head had cleared, a truck had stopped in front of the school building and the driver yelled to Flynn. "Hop in. I'll take you into town." Flynn and several of the other men climbed into the back of the truck, but they had gone only a short distance when the driver stopped. An English "fog" truck, a vehicle equipped to spread a concealing layer of chemical "fog" over the area, was at work and it was impossible to go any further along the road. The men got out of the truck and walked back to the school building as the smoke and mustard from the John Harvey combined with the "fog" and spread over the eastern part of the city. Carl Orgel, a maintenance engineer with the Fifteenth Air Force, had left the Italian school building earlier in the evening and gone into Bari to see a movie. He finally settled for Sun Valley Serenade at the Oriente Theater, a plush Italian movie house in the center of the city. When he first heard the noise of the bombs exploding above the voices on the screen he thought it was a truck backfiring. Settling back in his seat, he waited for the noisy vehicle to move on down the street so he could enjoy the movie. He had just made himself comfortable when there was a second explosion and the huge chandelier hanging in the theater broke loose from the ceiling and crashed on the people below. Fortunately, Orgel was not hit by the light Lxture, although some of the glass fragments struck him. The second floor balcony had protected him from a direct hit. His first thought was to get out of the theater, but he soon discovered that everyone in the movie house had the same idea. People--soldiers and civilians---were crowding toward the exits, knocking each other down, trampling those that were unfortunate enough to fall. He could hear agonizing screams from those being stepped upon and from those being crushed against the seats or walls. Despite the fact that the thunderous explosions seemed to be getting louder and nearer to the theater, Orgel decided the safest thing to do was stay in his seat. He was more willing to take his chances with the bombs than he was with the hysterical people jamming the exits of the theater. Finally, the crowd inside the Oriente Theater calmed down and when the all clear sounded they walked in orderly fashion out of the building. Orgel followed them and went back to his quarters in the school building, discovering the same mess that his buddies had discovered. The fact that he had been in the center of the city when the John Harvey exploded made him completely ignorant of the danger of the spreading mustard. Of course, no one else knew about the chemical that had been unleashed by the German bombers either. James Oteman, the C-47 pilot who had brought a planeload of Fifteenth Air Force men to Bari late on the afternoon of December 2, was admiring the feminine qualities of Betty Grable in the movie Springtime in the Rockies when he heard noise in the distance. He and Jens L. Lerback, his compan- ion, ignored the racket as they concentrated on the blonde bombshell on the screen, never dreaming that German bombs were exploding outside. A short time later Oleman heard a much louder noise and he turned to look at Lerback. Before he could say anything, however, a bomb exploded outside the theater in an alley and blew in the exit door along with some dirt and gravel. An antiaircraft gun on the roof of the theater began firing at the same time and the panic was on. He and Lerback hit the floor and rolled under the seats to keep from being trampled and waited until the crowd was out of the theater. They then started down the long corridor that joined the theater and the Grande Alborgo delle Nazioni, the hotel where they were staying for the night. About halfway down the corridor another bomb hit close by and Oleman was terrified to see the "brick" wall collapse and fall directly toward him and his companion. He did not even have time to yell before the wall crashed down on his head. The "bricks" hit him--and bounced off his head harmlessly. The wall was made from light-weight material painted to resemble a brick wall and it was quite a relief to the pilot. In the hotel lobby Oleman discovered that the glass front was badly damaged. The revolving door was pushed inside the lobby and there was broken glass all over the floor. Upstairs in their room there was practically no damage. The room had a double bed and a large mirror hung over the head of the bed. Neither were disturbed. Since the window facing the harbor had a large wooden shutter closed over it, the glass was not even broken. Grateful for a place to sleep, Oleman and Lerback got into the bed. Before they could get to sleep, however, the John Harvey was ripped apart when the flames reached the mustard bombs. The heavy wooden shutters flew through the window, hurtled across the room and smashed into the mirror above the bed. The glass from the mirror showered down on Oleman and Lerback, cutting them slightly in several places. Through the open space where the window had been, Oleman saw an unbelievably large cloud at least three thousand feet high over the harbor drifting slowly inland. The cloud was full of fire and all kinds of burning objects. It was also full of mustard, the invisible menace from the John Harvey. Another pilot who had brought a planeload of cargo for the Fifteenth Air Force into Bari that same day was Edward Borsarge. He and two companions were in the Oriente Theater when the bombs were dropped and they managed to get outside within the first few minutes of the air strike. When he reached the sidewalk outside the movie house, Borsarge found himself caught in a milling crowd of Italians and Allied soldiers, each person seeming to want to go a different direction. Some were running toward the docks, others were running away from the docks. Others were just running back and forth. Borsarge fought his way into the middle of the street and headed for the nearest air raid shelter. When he got to the entrance of the shelter it was jammed with people. A young boy was on the ground and hysterical Italians were trampling over him. Borsarge helped get the boy back onto his feet, but when he tried to go into the shelter an old man stopped him. "Don't go in there. It's filling up with water." The flier turned and raced back to the lobby of the theater. On the way he passed another pilot he recognized. This pilot was standing in the street yelling and shaking his fist at the low-flying German bombers, bolstered by the large amount of Italian wine he had consumed earlier. Borsarge dragged him into the lobby before he got killed. They had just stepped inside the theater when the John Harvey explod- ed. Both Borsarge and his drunken companion were knocked down by the blast, but neither was injured seriously. Decid- lng the lobby was the safest place in the area, Borsarge sweated out the remainder of the air raid there. Ralph A. Scheer arrived at Bari on December 2 aboard a C-47. He was on his way from La Senia Air Base in North Africa to join the 376th Bomb Group at San Pancrazio, southern Italy; after registering at the Grande Albergo delle Nazioni, he decided to retire early. The sirens interrupted his sleep within a few minutes, however. He jumped out of bed and turned on the lights, but at that moment the hotel's power was knocked out. The same explosion blasted the toilet in his room off its base and water poured across the floor. Feeling his way out of the dark room, Scheer found the corridor leading to the lobby and followed it. Once he reached the hotel lobby he was swept up by the mass of humanity racing through the hotel on their way to the air raid shelter in the street and was carried along with them. The shelter resembled a subway tunnel and, with the rest of the crowd, he entered the tunnel. The moment he got inside he knew that he had made a mistake, but there was nothing he could do about it. The entrance he had just come through was the only opening into the tunnel and there was no way he could get through the crowd following him to get back out of the shelter. The room was jammed with Italians. Babies were crying, old men were coughing, women were wailing, and the smell of garlic nearly made him sick. Within minutes water began seeping into the shelter from the street and he feared it would drown them all. Fortunately, after what seemed an eternity, the all clear sounded and Scheer was able to get back to the street. He hurried to his room in the hotel and even the bed with one leg knocked off and the broken toilet looked good to him after the air raid shelter. Putting a chair under the broken leg of the bed, he crawled under the blankets and went to sleep. Within a short time the alert was sounded again, but this time Scheer refused to risk his life in the shelter. He decided that the Luftwaffe did not have enough planes to make him go back into the tunnel-like air raid shelter and stand shoul- der to shoulder with the screaming Italians again. The hotel was deserted. Looking around the lobby, he saw that one wall was made of fieldstone, so he moved an overstuffed chair against the wall and sat down to await his fate. He did not have long to wait. There was a tremendous blast at the harbor and, to his horror, the fieldstone wall began to fall. Scheer was too seared to move. The wall crashed on him.., and he stood upright and still alive! Like the "brick" wall that had hit Oleman, the "fieldstone" wall was made of cardboard. The rest of the night was anticlimactic to Scheer. A wall figured in the experiences of Ben Peralta, a supply officer with the Fifteenth Air Force at Bari, but this wall was for real. Peralta and a New Zealand officer were having an Italian dinner, complete with an ample supply of red wine in a small restaurant near the waterfront when the bombs started to explode. As soon as the bombs landed near the eating place, the other diners, the owners, and everyone else left, leaving Peralta and his companion alone in the place. The bombing became more intense and the building shook, but the two officers kept on eating and drinking. Suddenly, as one bomb blasted a hole in the street less than a hundred yards from the restaurant, the New Zealand officer yelled. "Let's get out of here." He promptly got up and crouched under a heavy Italian archway in the building, but Peralta refused to leave the table which was placed against a very strong-looking stone wall. The New Zealander would not take "no" for an answer, however, and grabbing Peralta by the arm, he pulled the American under the archway. A minute later another bomb exploded nearby and the stone wall collapsed, smashing the chair Peralta had been sitting on to splinters. All he received under the archway was a few scratches from the glass and mortar that was hurled around the restaurant by the blast. That was one wall that was not imitation. Down the street at General Depot Number Five, John Kiser was still considering the sins of gambling, the question that was being kicked around in the day room when the antiaircraft guns suddenly began firing. Without a word the meeting broke up as the men scattered. When the chaplain regained his speech, he muttered that everyone should go to the air raid shelter, hut he was too late. Much too late. Everyone had disappeared. Kiser went directly to the base- ment of the warehouse, feeling it was the safest spot, but as the explosions ripped away the windows, doors, and shutters of the building he wondered if he had made a mistake. Especially when he heard shrapnel hitting on the roof of the warehouse as many of the antiaircraft shells fell off target and exploded. Finally the all clear sounded and Kiser left the base- ment. Outside he saw that the depot warehouse had taken a beating. There were no doors remaining, since the bombs had either splintered them or ripped them entirely off the hinges. The window glass was all shattered and most of the frames had been blown inside the building. The roof had gaping boles in it and the slate lay in piles inside the building. From a distance the docks were a mass of flames and, knowing there was nothing he could do to help, Kiser went to his room. His bed was piled high with white powder, since the mortar knocked loose from the ceiling had been sifted by the mosquito netting and deposited on the blankets. Cleaning the mortar from the bed, he crawled underneath his blankets. He was still cold, so he put his heavy topcoat on top of the blankets and as he got warm he began to doze. Suddenly he heard nine short blasts on a ship's whistle somewhere in the harbor and, although he did not know what the signal meant, he recognized its urgency. Before he could get out of bed, however, the entire sky was illuminated and he saw a brilliant flash through the hole in the wall where the window had been earlier in the evening. Kiser ducked his head under the covers just as slate from the roof of the building fell on his bed. The dust was so thick he could barely breathe as he lay in the bed and listened to the series of explosions and felt the warehouse tremble from the concussion. Then, almost as suddenly as it began, the bedlam was over and the quiet frightened him. Coughing, shaking, Kiser lifted the blankets from his head and looked toward the harbor. An enormous cloud of smoke was drifting toward the warehouse and it seemed to be coming from a ship that had just exploded in the harbor. He did not know it, but he was staring at the remains of the John Harvey. He was also watching the most deadly cloud he had ever seen in his life. He did not know that, either.
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