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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Air Raid on Bari

Air Raid on Bari

Alerts and anti-aircraft fire became common as enemy aircraft sought to destroy Eighth Army supplies in Bari harbour. On the night of 2 December there was a disastrous raid. In the words of S-Sgt Taylor:2

‘The hour is 7.30. The hospital is functioning in the routine manner for the evening. We have a good number of patients in, and a stretcher party has left for the railway station to unload a convoy of casualties due to arrive from the front. Up-patients and staff off duty are at the pictures in the patients’ recreation room. The performance is interrupted by the coughing bark of Bofors guns, and we can see through the window spaces the red and yellow tracer shells angrily streaking skyward. The performance stops and the crowd disperses to handy shelter, for we have had barrages over the city before, but the alerts have never lasted more than half an hour, and we expect to be able to resume our enjoyment of the pictures in a short time….

page 309

‘There are clouds in the night sky, and somewhere in those clouds lurk the enemy raiders. A dense fog, man-made, uncoils itself skywards, seeking to conceal from the Germans the object of their mission of destruction. A succession of equally spaced, parallel flashes, followed seconds later by a series of dull explosions, tells of a stick of bombs dropped from the planes above. There is a terrible beauty about the whole scene, reminiscent of a vivid fireworks display, only never did a child's fireworks have the evil significance of these instruments of destruction.

‘Without warning, a vast fountain of flame, with multi-coloured jets streaming from the top, arises in the air about a mile away. Those who pause to gape at the scene are, a few seconds later, flung flat by the mighty blast that follows the terrific explosion which the flame implied. There is a rattling of glass fragments as many of the windows shatter under the pressure of the blast. We take stock of the damage. Temporary bricked-up window spaces have been flattened, and one of these has fallen inwards in a room which only this afternoon had housed patients. Doors have been wrenched from their frames or split completely in two. There are no reports of any of the staff or patients injured.

‘But the raid goes on. Leaping flames and billowing clouds of smoke show where bombs have found their mark. There is another enormous explosion and a leaping column of yellow flame. By now some of the casualties from the raid are beginning to reach the hospital. Many of these are covered in oil and suffering from one or all of the effects of blast, immersion, and burns. There are Americans, Poles, Indians, Norwegians, and Italians. Far into the night the staff works to treat them and put them to bed.’

Fires on ships in the harbour continued for two days. All units were warned to expect an even bigger explosion from one of the ships on fire stated to be loaded with TNT, but this fortunately did not eventuate, thanks to cold-blooded efficiency on the part of the Royal Navy. In all, 17 ships were lost and over a thousand casualties sustained, 77 of the injured being admitted to 3 General Hospital, while a further 80 were treated and discharged. The work of construction was set back considerably. Much work for the next week was devoted to filling up window frames with calico. Then casualties from the Sangro demanded attention.