Mustard Gas Kills Thousands In World War Two, part one

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Mustard Gas Kills Thousands In World War Two, part one

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The use of poison gas in war was outlawed by the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Asphyxiating Gases and the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare.

In World War One, the Germans decided to violate the terms of the these treaties and use poison gas which they did. The Allied powers followed suit. But World War Two was different for various reasons and neither side used poison gas in the European theater except by accident. This is an account of that terrible accident classified top secret for decades.


Magnificent view of Bari harbour today with the Teatromargherita (theatre) in the foreground. Allied freighter SS John Harvey carrying a secret cargo of mustard gas exploded in this harbor after a German air raid on 2 December 1943.



The same harbor on 3 December 1943, the day after the raid by the Luftwaffe.
Photo courtesy of:

In a devastating surprise attack on Allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari on the night of 2 December 1943, Luftwaffe bombers killed as many as two thousand people with half being Allied military and the other half being Italian civilians. Hundreds of the dead, no certainty over how many, were killed when mustard gas bombs aboard the American liberty SS John Harvey ship exploded after the ship was hit and set afire.


  Liberty ship SS John W. Brown.

Because Liberty ships were built to a standard design, SS John Harvey would have looked exactly like the SS John W. Brown. The numbers on the bow are Plimsoll marks which indicate how deeply the ship can be loaded depending on time of year and type of water. (Only one part of the world’s oceans are so fierce it has its own mark, Winter North Atlantic—WNA). The photo was taken on the Great Lakes in 2000. SS John W. Brown is one of only two surviving World War II Liberty Ships, the other being the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. (photo from Wikipedia, author unknown).


By | 2016-03-05T16:51:13-04:00 December 21st, 2013|Italian Campaign, World War Two|Comments Off on Mustard Gas Kills Thousands In World War Two, part one

About the Author:

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: