Chapter 10 "I CAN'T HEAR THE MUSIC" Kenneth Bixler, Richard Rodi, and Henry Philips, Jr., delighted that they had traveled from San Severo to Bari. As members of the 315th Service Group, they were preparing a new headquarters in the city so that when their unit was transferred from the command of the British Desert Air Force, along with the Seventy-ninth Fighter Group, within a few days they would be ready to operate. The three officers had arrived in Bari on December 1 and spent most of that day looking over the city. After working at a temporary headquarters arranged for by the Fifteenth Air Force during the afternoon of December 2, they headed for the officers' club to have dinner. The officers' mess they visited was on the waterfront at the end of a quay protruding some seventy-five yards into the harbor. Before the war it was one of the better restaurants in Bari. The dining room, on the level of the quay, was enclosed in glass and diners could eat and look out across the water. Below the dining room, nearly on the water level, were a dance floor and bar, both of which were also enclosed by glass and lavishly decorated. Bixler, Rodi, and Philips were in the dining room when a couple of antiaircraft guns opened up close by. None of the men were very concerned at the time. "Probably some nervous Italian gunners," Rodi muttered, continuing to eat as though nothing had happened. A few seconds later, however, they heard a distinct whine and knew that a bomb was dropping toward the building. They hit the floor. The first bomb exploded out in the water, close enough to take out all the windows of the officers' mess. Bixler saw the decorations that had been wrapped around one of the columns in a barber pole effect start to unwrap like a snake and eventually it covered him as he lay on the floor. The young waitresses were screaming hysterically and were cowering in the corners. A few Italian civilians in the officers' mess were also panic-stricken and Rodi moved to try to calm them. A second explosion splashed water from the harbor onto the floor of the room. The mirrors along the walls cracked, loosened, then fell headlong, missing people by inches. The waitresses howled louder and the young female vocalist stood wringing her hands and sobbing over and over, "I can't hear the music... I can't hear the music." Someone suggested evacuating the mess in favor of a shelter in the city, but Rodi knew that the streets, at the moment, were more dangerous than the building. Flak was falling along the road and side- walk accounting for many casualties, and flying debris from nearby bomb explosions was injuring countless civilians and military personnel as they tried to get to the shelters. He decided to stay in the officers' mess. He was still there with his companions when the John Harvey exploded, doing still more damage to the building. At about 8:30 P.M. there was a lull in the blasts and the three officers decided to try to reach their rooms in the city. Picking their way through the dining room past smashed tables, splintered chairs, and walking on broken glass, they reached the street that led away from the quay. They moved rapidly through the harbor area to their apartment, not stopping to cheek any of the destruction, determined to get into the comparative safety of their rooms. Rodi's room was damaged despite its distance from the harbor. The window was broken, a chair overturned, and his personal articles had been blown or knocked from the positions in which he had left them. While he was still trying to straighten the place up another alarm sounded. This time the three Americans scampered into the un- derground air raid shelter across the street from the apart- ment and they discovered, just as Ralph Scheer did, that they had made a mistake. There were hundreds of men, women, and children jammed into the shelter. Some were crying, some were staring in petrified fright. For two hours they stood inside the shelter while the water rose continually higher and higher around their legs and the oxygen supply became lower and lower. Since they were two floors below the street, they could hear nothing at first, but later there was one deafening explosion. It sounded as though a bomb had hit at the shelter's entrance. Instinctively, everyone turned to face the noise and was met with a cloud of dust, from the plaster walls and ceiling. For a horrible second Rodi feared the worst. He thought the shelter was caving in and the entrance--the only way in and out--was blocked. But when the dust cleared he was relieved to see that the shelter was still intact. The signs of panic were quickly calmed and nothing further occurred until the all clear sounded at 11:00 P.M. Back in his apartment the three officers joined a medic occupying the room next to Rodi's for a drink of brandy and for two hours repeated their stories and listened to others. According to most of the men who joined the group in the medic's room, the military and civilian damage was great. Between ten and seventeen ammunition and gasoline ships were reported hit in the harbor. One soldier said that the projection booth in the Ensa Theater had fallen forward into the balcony injuring the audience, some seriously. A direct hit was made across from the Corona Hotel, killing many and rendering the hotel useless. Occupants of the hotel, mostly military, were hunting rooms for the night. Rodi did not know what was rumor and what was truth, but he was worried about the delay in setting up the headquarters for the 315th Service Group since the efficient operation of the Seventy- ninth Fighter Group depended on the services of ground units as well as its flying personnel. The Seventy-ninth Fighter Group had moved to the Middle East late in 1942 and had become part of the Ninth Air Force. The pilots of the group had flown ancient P-40s while moving westward in the wake of the British drive across Egypt and Libya to Tunisia. By escorting bombers, strafing and attacking enemy shipping, and supporting the ground forces, the Seventy-ninth Fighter Group played a prominent part in the Allied operations that defeated the Axis forces in North Africa, captured Pantelleria, and conquered Sicily. Now both General Clark and Field Marshal Montgomery were depending upon the group to help their armies in southern Italy. Any delay in its opera- tional status could be serious. Another American in the officers' mess that night vms Donald D. Mossman, commanding officer of the Base Petro- leum Laboratory of Petroleum Section, Allied Force Head- quarters, which was situated in the Anic Refinery. He man- aged to escape the mess without serious injury and, as he stood outside where a British crew fifteen yards away was firing Bofors guns over his head, Mossman could see the flames along the fueling quay. It was obvious to him that the bombers had hit the fuel lines running along the quay and he wondered how much aviation gasoline would be lost. The Fifteenth Air Force planes at Foggia needed every drop of fuel available, were waiting for it. Now they would be grounded. Mossman sighed and turned his eyes away from the fueling quay. There was nothing he could do about the fires. He suddenly felt sick. Walter Logan, the war correspondent attached to the British destroyers docked in Bari harbor, was nearly at the pier when the German bombers arrived and started attacking the ships. The first explosion knocked him down and he immediately lost consciousness. He did not wake up for three days. Meanwhile, a companion correspondent, Frank Fisher, was on the opposite side of the harbor and watched in horror as the bombs cascaded down from the Ju-88s. One of the initial string of bombs was off target and landed within yards of his car, but did not damage it. Leaping into the car, Fisher and several friends drove through the middle of Bari the other side of the harbor. A newspaperman, he felt he had to get the story of the bombing regardless of the danger. Watching across a neck of sea a short distance from the docks, he saw a yellow flame spread out and then a cloud of smoke pour upward, its underside tinged with red. Without warning there was a terrible blast and the whole sky turned red. "My God, they got the ammunition ship," a sailor near whispered. There was a few seconds of silence and then a wind whipped through the town like a tornado. Houses in the old section of the city folded up like cardboard dollhouses and collapsed. There was a continuous crunch of breaking glass, punctuated by the heavier sound of doors, window frames, and Venetian blinds being ripped out. Scores of civilians were injured by flying glass. They walked about as if stunned, their faces like maps drawn with lines of blood. A naval officer, slightly wounded, stopped to talk with Fisher and said that he was standing within two hundred yards of the ammunition ship when it went up and was not even knocked down. Yet, ten miles inland, the concussion blew out windows. The force was felt at some points twenty miles or further from the harbor. Everyone was talking about the force of the blast. None knew about the greater danger of the mustard. At the Bari airport, several miles from the city, Lester Y. Murphy was sleeping in the C-47 that James Oleman had flown to Italy that day. Murphy was crew chief on the plane and had stayed behind at the field to check the aircraft prior to the return flight to North Africa. Before bedding down in his sleeping bag, he made certain that the rubber porthole plugs were in the windows of the C-47 so that no light could escape from the cabin during the night and to keep out the cold. He had been asleep only a few minutes when he felt the plane rock violently and an instant later everyone of the rubber plugs came flying out of the windows straight toward him. He ducked instinctively, realizing later that the plugs would not have hurt him even if they had hit him. He was so scared at the strange phenomenon of the flying plugs that he scrambled out of the C-47 as fast as he could move. Standing beside the plane, he saw the red glow hanging over the city and knew that there had been an explosion. He was still wondering what happened to cause the fire when a plane roared over the airfield at low altitude and he recognized its silhouette despite the darkness. "A JU-88! My God, the Luftwaffe!" It was a sleepless night for the crew chief. William Jones of the Fifteenth Army Group was still working in his office at Santo Spirito several minutes after the planes he had heard pass the village had disappeared to the south. He had a lot of work to do and was not paying any attention to the periodic noises from the direction of Bari. He did not even look through the large glass doors toward the city seven miles to the south. He did not, that is, until the glass doors suddenly blew into the office, knocking his papers in all directions and nearly upsetting his desk. A fraction of a second later there was a loud blast and the interior of the room turned bright red. Shocked, Jones stared through the opening where the doors had been and saw flames shooting' high into the sky over the city of Bari. At that moment he knew who had been piloting the planes that had passed Santo Spirito a few minutes earlier. "The Germans! They've bombed Bari!" Jones recognized the overall importance of the air strike immediately, knowing full well that critical strategic deci- sions, both for future Allied bombing and for Allied ground attacks, were dependent upon the men and supplies coming into Italy through the port of Bari. The Cairo meetings between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Chiang Kai-shek from November 22 to 26; the following conference at Teheran between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin on November 28; and the final discussion being held the next day, December 3, between Churchill and Roosevelt before each left for home undoubtedly concerned the future course of the war in all theaters. The concern that Jones felt over the importance of the Bari bombing was justified. It was ironic that an Italian port that had shortly before December been in enemy hands was now a key to future operations in Italy and an important factor in the invasion of the Continent across the English Channel. The strategic situation as discussed by the Ameri- cans, British, Russians, and Chinese during "Sextant" (the code word for the Cairo meetings) and "Eureka" (code word for the Teheran conference) had drastically changed within the past few weeks. Italy had surrendered as expected, but the help she had given the Allies was disappointing. On the other side of the world, the tide was turning against Japan in the Pacific and the possibility for her decisive defeat in- creased the Pacific theater's need for American resources. In the ETO, Operation Overlord, the cross-channel invasion planned for the spring of 1944, demanded men, equipment, and supplies unequaled in the history of warfare. Conse- quently every piece of equipment, every man, every round of ammunition, every bomb, and every gallon of aviation fuel lost at Bari could completely upset the delicate balance of the plans decided upon at Cairo and Teheran. During the meeting at Cairo, Roosevelt and Churchill decided on a tentative course of action to present to Stalin on November 28 at Teheran. Basically they agreed that Opera- tion Overlord had top priority. "Overlord remains top of the bill," ChUrchill stated, "but should not be such a tyrant as to rule out every other activity in the Mediterranean." Still feeling that "he who holds Rome, holds the title deeds of Italy," Churchill wanted to keep the Mediterranean strong. Stalin, however, sided with the Americans during the Teheran conference by placing Operation Overlord at the top of the Allied operations priority. He did agree that the movement of Allied troops up the Italian Peninsula was important if, and this was a complete surprise to both Churchill and Roosevelt, the forces turned left into France instead of right into the Balkans and Austria. He firmly believed that this pincer movement would aid in making Operation Over- lord a success. While some English and American leaders considered this as an attempt by Stalin to keep the Western Allies out of the postwar Balkans, there was enough evidence that it was sound advice since it would force the Germans to fight on two fronts. With this small piece of encouragement, Churchill, who desperately wanted to keep the British and American forces in Italy strong, immediately pressed for Operation Shingle. Operation Shingle was designed as a knock-out blow to the German forces defending the Gustav Line by landing troops on the beaches of Anzio, a little town thirty- three miles south of Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea and sixty miles behind the German line of defense. By the time the Teheran conference ended, Churchill had convinced his com- panions that it was advisable to leave sixty-eight LSTs which were due to return from Italy to the United Kingdom on December 5 for Operation Overlord, in Italy until January 15, 1944. He planned to use these craft for Operation Shingle. Unfortunately the Germans had no intention of cooperat- ing with Churchill or any other Allied leader. Kesselring's Gustav Line, the scene of Garibaldi's triumph over the Neapolitans in 1860, was much stronger than either the British or American commanders had anticipated. Trying to move up the peninsula on schedule, the British Eighth Army and the Fifth Army, created out of three American and three British divisions, found the going rough and slow. Mud, dirt, slush, rain, and Germans were everywhere. Vehicles quit running, bridges were washed out or dynamited by the enemy, snipers were on every high ridge to pour fire down on the Allied soldiers. It soon became evident that neither the Eighth nor the Fifth Army would be in Rome by the end of December, 1943, as Churchill expected. It also became obvi- ous that the Fifth Army could not reach the Anzio area in time to support the forces that would be landing there in Operation Shingle. The British prime minister refused to give up on his idea, however, deciding that, if the Fifth Army could not reach Anzio, the solution was to strengthen the Shingle force so it could stand on its own feet against the German troops that would be in the area. Two important problems had to be solved: more men and more supplies were needed! The success of Operation Shingle would de- pend initially on its shock effect, but overall only a fast buildup of men and supplies, faster than Kesselring would reinforce his own troops and supplies, would guarantee the operation. A large concentration of men, equipment, and supplies at Bari to be moved northward to Anzio as needed was imperative. Twenty-four hours before Roosevelt's and Churchill's meeting at Cairo on December 3, however, the Luftwaffe made their very successful raid on the ships in Bari harbor. It was little wonder that, as Jones stood outside his office at Fifteenth Army Group Headquarters in Santo Spirito and watched the fires and explosions in Bari harbor, he felt frustrated. It was possible--even probable--that this disaster would have a serious effect on future Allied operations in both the Mediterranean and European theaters of war. Per- haps the Pacific, too.
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