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Caring for the Casualties in World War II


The U.S. Military Medical Corps coped with hundreds of wounded troopers throughout World Struggle II.

by Glenn Barnett

For hundreds of years wounded troopers of each nation have been answerable for a lot of their very own care. Medical consideration was primitive and sometimes not a excessive precedence for army planners past the officer corps. Sick and injured males needed to discover their very own means house from distant battlefields. Armies of peasant conscripts commanded by an insensitive royalty have been unprepared to adequately look after and transport males who have been mutilated in conflict. Rich nobles who might afford it typically introduced their very own docs to the battlefield to deal with their maladies. The widespread soldier died the place he fell.

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Amputations, if carried out in any respect, have been unspeakably primitive. Gangrene and illness have been passively accepted as inevitable. Surviving veterans who have been blinded or deafened or traumatic amputees spent the remainder of their lives as charity instances begging alms from passersby.

All that started to vary within the 18th century when higher drugs mixed with swifter transportation turned out there. Nice strides in look after the wounded advanced out of the Crimean Conflict and American Civil Warfare. The trouble was led by caregivers similar to Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, and Walt Whitman. Horse-drawn ambulances and common army hospitals with trendy gear have been among the many improvements.

By World Struggle I, motorized ambulance service whisked casualties from the entrance to remedy facilities with educated employees. Railroad strains carried them in relative consolation to rear-area hospitals, and steamships introduced wounded Canadians and People safely house throughout the waters in a comparatively brief time. However the advances in medical science in World Struggle II have been an exponential leap within the saving of lives and the consolation and restoration of wounded troopers.

50,000 Physicians

World Warfare II started abruptly for the USA on a quiet Sunday morning in Hawaii. Like all different branches of the army, the U.S. Military Medical Division needed to swell its ranks shortly to satisfy the problem of complete, and international, conflict.

In contrast to the preventing branches of the army, not simply any recruit or draftee certified for this extremely technical service. Educated medical personnel have been wanted, and plenty of them. Underneath the taciturn path of Surgeon Basic Norman T. Kirk, the division grew quickly. From a peacetime Military that boasted just one,200 docs, the division ultimately enlisted as many as 50,000 physicians by the top of the struggle in Europe. For the primary time in historical past, 83 of the Military’s docs have been ladies.

Two Army surgeons scrub up in preparation for a surgical procedure at a first aid station. Although significant advances were made in the treatment of casualties during World War II, conditions were often spartan.

Two Military surgeons scrub up in preparation for a surgical process at a primary assist station. Though vital advances have been made within the remedy of casualties throughout World Conflict II, circumstances have been typically spartan.

As well as, 15,000 dentists wore the Military uniform. Two thousand veterinarians handled the accidents of pack animals and oversaw their slaughter for meals. The variety of nurses within the Military Nurse Corps (ANC) rose from 1,000 to 52,000. By June 1944, all nurses have been commissioned as officers. The division additionally enlisted 1,500 dietitians, 1,000 bodily therapists, and 18,000 directors.

Along with the enlisted professionals, hundreds of normal GIs served as medics, litter bearers, and ambulance drivers. Males typically volunteered for these duties on the idea of spiritual beliefs or pacifist sentiment. The variety of males wanted for the Military mirror however don’t embrace the parallel progress of medical personnel wanted by the Navy.

Added to the division’s herculean process was the truth that on the outbreak of struggle it owned few medical devices. Most of that gear had been made in prewar Germany. No new shipments could possibly be anticipated. An entire new manufacturing base needed to be created in america to make the hundreds of devices and drugs that might be wanted.

Some artistic Military dentists discovered that by baking little balls of acrylic resin and portray them to specification they might make synthetic eyes that have been lighter, stronger, and safer than the German-produced glass eyes.

Moveable Surgical Hospitals: Precursors to MASH

The Cellular Military Surgical Hospital (MASH) of the Korean Warfare depicted within the film and tv collection is the Military medical unit of the favored creativeness. However the genesis of MASH was born of necessity within the hostile jungles of New Guinea in World Warfare II. They have been initially referred to as Moveable Surgical Hospitals (PSHs).

These spartan PSH tents have been set as much as accommodate main surgical procedure, typically so near the entrance that they have been underneath hearth from the enemy. They retreated or superior quickly with the fortunes of conflict. A employees of a totally outfitted PSH might disassemble and cargo tents, gear, and personnel onto ready vans inside two hours. When vans proved unavailable or impracticable, pack mules or porters have been used. PSHs have been flown over the Owen-Stanley Vary with the troops to take part within the battle of Buna. PSHs proved so profitable that they have been duplicated in each theater of struggle the place People fought they usually have been an necessary hyperlink within the human chain that carried wounded troopers from the battlefront again to the house entrance.

Respect for the Medic

The entrance line of the entire medical operation was generally known as the help man or medic. The medic was not a educated doctor, however he had in depth Military coaching in first help. Throughout boot camp the medics have been typically subjected to ridicule by their gun-toting fellow grunts, however issues modified in fight. Then the lowly medic was universally beloved by the troopers.

The medic was the man who lanced and patched up the blisters. He gave aspirin for head colds and watched over the purity of his unit’s consuming water. Cartoonist Invoice Mauldin referred to as him “the personal soldier’s household physician.” In fight he was the one anticipated to return to the rescue of his wounded comrades underneath hearth. The pained cry of “Medic!” introduced him on the run. It was the speedy response of the medic and his litter bearers beneath hazardous circumstances, administering first help, making use of tourniquets, injecting pain-killing morphine, and dashing a casualty from the entrance to the rear hospitals that was answerable for saving many lives.

A Navy corpsman gives a drink of water to a wounded Marine on the island of Guam in the Pacific. In addition to the thousands of casualties treated by the U.S. Army medical personnel, the U.S. Navy also trained many for the war effort.

A Navy corpsman provides a drink of water to a wounded Marine on the island of Guam within the Pacific. Along with the hundreds of casualties handled by the U.S. Military medical personnel, the U.S. Navy additionally educated many for the conflict effort.

Mauldin chronicles one story concerning the medics in his ebook Up Entrance. The story facilities on the fight badge that distinguished a frontline preventing soldier from the rear-echelon troops. It was a logo of honor that earned a person his $10 a month fight pay, and the troops took satisfaction in sporting it.

In a type of incidents that angers troopers in wartime, these badges—and the additional pay they denoted—have been taken away from frontline medics. The rationale was that underneath the circumstances of the Geneva Conference medics have been to not be frontline fight troopers. The choice was ostensibly made for the medics’ personal security. Or in order that they thought. There was a direct uproar from the troops. It got here not a lot from the medics as from their GI pals whose lives that they had saved and in whose care they have been entrusted.

One soldier provided the last word menace, “Wait’ll Ernie Pyle hears about this!” The generals obtained the message, and the fight badges have been quickly restored to the medics.

Nobody might fault the bravery of the help man. By the top of the warfare 5 medics within the European Theater have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Tons of extra gained Silver and Bronze Stars.

Decreasing Battlefield Fatalities

Ideally, the system of medical remedy was arrange in order that frontline medics would be capable of deal with a wounded man the place he fell. This often consisted of a shot of morphine to stop him from going into shock, some sulfa powder to maintain his wounds from getting contaminated, and a speedy bandage to cease the bleeding.

Then stretcher bearers have been referred to as ahead to hold the affected person from the sector to a battalion assist station maybe a kilometer behind the strains. On the assist station extra thorough first help could possibly be administered, a analysis made, and a critically injured man stabilized. From there, the wounded have been carried or transported farther again to a amassing station that sorted out the extra critical casualties for the PSH (if out there) or despatched the wounded to a clearing station that consisted of 12 docs and 96 enlisted males.

His head bandaged, a wounded Marine on the island of Rendova in the Solomons receives continuing care at an aid station near the front line.

His head bandaged, a wounded Marine on the island of Rendova within the Solomons receives persevering with care at an help station close to the entrance line.

The clearing station was much better outfitted than the frontline medics, and main medical surgical procedures might be carried out in sanitary circumstances earlier than the worst instances have been despatched to an evacuation hospital some 12-15 miles behind the strains. From there, the critically wounded have been shipped to a basic hospital as close to to the house of the person soldier as attainable.

Different sufferers stayed within the evacuation stations whereas they recovered. In these instances the employees tried to make the hospital as therapeutic as potential. Correspondent Raymond Clapper reported from the 171st Station Hospital in Port Moresby, New Guineaa: “Vibrant flowers are planted in gardens throughout the hospital tents. Most of the boys are despatched seeds from house … Sufferers work a 5-acre backyard … Colonel Wilkinson [the commanding officer] picked a 15-pound watermelon outdoors his tent.”

In fact it was not all the time potential to be this organized, however it was an enormous step for soldier care and luxury over any earlier warfare. The mortality price of wounded troopers dropped from eight.1 % in World Struggle I to only Three % in World Struggle II. In the course of the Civil Warfare the mortality fee had been as excessive as 25 %.

Combatting Noncombat Deaths

Much more spectacular than battle wound survival was the decline in noncombat deaths. The demise price from pneumonia fell from 24 % to six % between the world wars. This advance in medical capabilities was largely credited to new medicine and drugs that, mixed with speedy remedy, helped finish the scourge of many illnesses.

It turned out that solely 585 U.S. troopers died of illness out of 918,298 males handled. The chances of survival improved because the conflict progressed. In 1943, one in 700 army malaria sufferers died. By 1944, the determine was one in 14,000, a powerful document contemplating that almost eight million American troopers have been concerned within the battle.

World Warfare II was the struggle of the “miracle medicine,” they usually have been extensively used. Within the jungle areas, males threatened by malaria lined up every day for his or her dose of atabrine, although it turned their pores and skin a sallow shade of yellow. By the 1940s, atabrine was considered simpler than quinine for malaria sufferers.

Sulfa medicine have been additionally extensively used to stop an infection by medics and docs on each entrance. Penicillin photographs got routinely for the least little sniffle. Morphine was virtually mechanically administered to a battle-injured man from little syrettes, a sort of one-time-use syringe that held half a gram of the painkiller. Many deaths as a result of shock have been prevented by this battlefield expediency, and multiple GI turned hooked on the drug.

The artwork of creating blood plasma from entire blood had been perfected. It was a lot simpler to retailer and ship plasma than entire blood, and plasma went in all places the Military went. However there have been unwanted side effects from haste and unknown elements. In contrast to entire blood, the plasma might be pooled, and shortly hepatitis discovered its means into the whole provide. Military docs shortly discovered from their errors. In mid-war, after hundreds of hepatitis instances, the plasma program was scrapped in favor of the now widespread blood financial institution. Civilians at house lined as much as give blood for the boys abroad.

An Army doctor sets up a life-giving flow of intravenous plasma for a wounded G.I. in the relative safety of a dugout on a Pacific Island.

An Military physician units up a life-giving movement of intravenous plasma for a wounded G.I. within the relative security of a dugout on a Pacific Island.

After the struggle, using the pesticide DDT was banned for its disastrous ecological unwanted effects. Nevertheless, it was used extensively through the warfare to fight bugs and their illnesses. Modern literature referred to as DDT a “miracle drug,” and everybody sang its praises. Troopers had their heads dusted with it to kill lice and different vermin. It was used all over the place on the earth for mosquito abatement. The liberal use of DDT was even credited with stopping a typhus outbreak in Naples in January 1944, and it saved maybe hundreds of army and civilian lives. In a really possible way, World Conflict II docs and troopers considered this cornucopia of medicine and drugs as an enormous development within the science of drugs. The fear about uncomfortable side effects didn’t enter the image till the disaster of struggle was safely over.

The Military Medical Division Goes Island Hopping

Because the scope of the conflict was worldwide, the Military Medical Division needed to keep duplicate operations in each theater. Within the South Pacific, starting in New Guinea and within the subsequent island-hopping campaigns the medical authorities have been as a lot if no more involved with disease-bearing micro organism, bugs, and mosquitoes than they have been with enemy bullets.

Jungle rot was a GI-inspired identify used to incorporate quite a lot of horrible and mysterious fungal pores and skin illnesses that troopers contracted within the dense rain forests that coated tropical islands. Malaria, dysentery, typhus, and quite a lot of different illnesses sidelined extra troopers than did the entire Japanese Military. However battle casualties have been excessive sufficient, and Japanese troopers have been topic to the identical debilitating jungle illnesses as People. The Japanese didn’t sometimes have entry to care of the standard obtainable to U.S. troopers.

A single battle illustrates the effectiveness of the Military Medical Division. Within the battle for Saipan, American fight casualties amounted to three,000 killed and 13,000 wounded. Of the wounded, 5,000 have been ultimately returned to their models. From every amphibious marketing campaign extra was discovered about how you can deal with wounded males in battle, evacuate them to the seashore, and take away them instantly to ready hospital ships for main surgical procedure if wanted. Within the Pacific, useful service was rendered to the Military Medical Division by island natives who carried provides and gear, labored tirelessly as litter bearers, and guided troops by means of the trackless jungle.

With Merrill’s Marauders

Provides for the japanese Burma operations needed to be flown over the “Hump” of the Himalaya mountains. Weapons, ammunition, meals, and gasoline all vied for area with medical provides in crowded planes. From Chinese language airfields the provides have been loaded onto vans and pushed in lengthy convoys down the northern part of the Burma Street and eventually loaded on the backs of Chinese language coolies and pack mules to succeed in the entrance. Wounded troopers moved in the other way as soon as the valuable cargoes have been unloaded.

In Burma, the identical jungle illnesses that tormented the troopers within the South Pacific bothered the fighters on each side. Temperatures might attain 110 to 120 levels Fahrenheit. One infantryman stated, “You couldn’t inform the place the sweat ended and the rain started.” Area hospitals have been arrange alongside the Burma Street. They improved in high quality because the returning vans drove farther north. As all the time the rule was that the farther a wounded soldier was from the entrance, the higher the medical amenities.

An American surgeon and his attending orderlies perform surgery on a wounded Chinese soldier in the recently liberated Chinese city of Kwelin. This operation is taking place at a Portable Surgical Hospital, a facility established in close proximity to the front lines.

An American surgeon and his attending orderlies carry out surgical procedure on a wounded Chinese language soldier within the lately liberated Chinese language metropolis of Kwelin. This operation is happening at a Moveable Surgical Hospital, a facility established in shut proximity to the entrance strains.

Volunteer surgeons have been flown to distant jungle bases by the ever present Piper Cub plane to deal with casualties of Merrill’s Marauders in Burma. On the return journey out of the jungle, the planes might accommodate one casualty every. Evacuation by air was sometimes reserved for probably the most significantly wounded. After Merrill and his males captured the Japanese airfield at Myitkyina, Dr. Gordon Seagrave, who later wrote the e-book Burma Surgeon, served the medical wants of the Marauders by flying into the thick of the preventing together with 10 of his personally educated Burmese nurses.

When Dr. Seagrave arrived at Myitkyina, the Marauders managed solely the airfield. Japanese troops nonetheless held the encompassing jungle and fired on the airfield at will. There have been no tents to shelter the wounded, so Dr. Seagrave ordered that parachutes be stretched over poles to offer his nurses and sufferers some aid from the recent tropical solar and the frequent rains. The parachutes he commandeered had been utilized in provide drops to the beleaguered Allied troops, and every was brightly coloured to designate its contents. Though the colours gave away his hospital’s place, Dr. Seagrave figured that the Japanese already knew the place they have been. Shade was extra necessary than camouflage.

When wounded males have been prepared for evacuation from japanese Burma and China, they have been flown over the Hump in specifically designated Douglas DC-Three plane staffed by ladies referred to as air-evacuation nurses. These ladies have been reportedly chosen from amongst prewar airline flight attendants who had expertise in remaining comfy in all types of flying circumstances. Medical coaching was secondary.

Respecting the Purple Cross

The Pacific Theater held many risks for medical personnel. The famed Pink Cross image utilized by all docs and medics was not one which the Japanese commonly handled with respect. Japan had not signed the Geneva Conference earlier than the conflict and didn’t really feel obligated to abide by the worldwide guidelines of conduct towards medical personnel.

The simply acknowledged purple and white emblem of the Worldwide Pink Cross was no assure of security. Medics and litter bearers have been killed and maimed on each entrance. American medical crews shortly discovered to smear mud over the pink and white image emblazoned on their tents, helmets, and vans to stop themselves from being extra of a goal than they already have been. In New Guinea, American docs hooked up to the PSHs got goal follow with M-1 carbines when a few of their noncombatant colleagues have been killed by the enemy.

German troopers often revered the corpsmen and the Purple Cross, however not all the time. Medics have been killed throughout Europe. Allied troopers, nevertheless, weren’t all the time scrupulous with German Pink Cross males both, and lots of of them fell in fight to American bullets.

A prisoner is given medical care by medical care by medics of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division near Bologna.

A prisoner is given medical care by medical care by medics of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division close to Bologna.

Captured docs of each side have been put to work by their enemies. There have been many instances of German docs who had been taken prisoner engaged on People and captured American docs given German wounded to look after. As a rule, captured physicians have been handled as revered colleagues by their counterparts. One American physician reported that he and German physicians freely taught and discovered totally different medical procedures from one another. The American medical corps usually offered the identical care to wounded German prisoners as to Allied casualties.

Illnesses and Accidents of the Mediterranean Marketing campaign

Through the North African marketing campaign, the specter of illness was not as extreme because it was within the Pacific. Nonetheless, desert bugs, snakes, and bugs could possibly be simply as harmful as their jungle cousins. Medical corps personnel discovered an incredible deal in North Africa whereas treating fight casualties, they usually utilized that information in the course of the preventing in Europe.

The Italian marketing campaign introduced new classes and refinements to plain medical procedures. A dentist invented a strategy to hold a soldier’s neck in traction through the use of a plate that match the roof of the mouth after which was tied off to the stretcher. This saved time for the frontline docs who beforehand needed to immobilize an injured soldier in a forged earlier than shifting him to the rear.

In any conflict venereal illness can turn out to be a serious drawback. Indicators and lectures warning the troops concerning the curse of VD have been widespread however by no means utterly efficient. In Italy, as elsewhere, particular prophylactics stations have been arrange by the medical division to distribute condoms to the lads. These stations have been refereed to as “professional stations.” Nevertheless, when the Military Public Relations Workplace (PRO) arrange store in Italy to accommodate the rising variety of civilian press who needed to cowl the warfare, its acronym PRO confused multiple soldier who walked into the Public Relations Workplace looking for condoms.

Large Medical Preparations for D-Day

Maybe the most important problem confronted by the Military Medical Division through the conflict was the buildup for the battle on the seashores of Normandy. Heavy casualties have been anticipated throughout Operation Overlord. All of the expertise and classes discovered within the amphibious landings of the Pacific in addition to in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy have been utilized in the course of the planning of the most important invasion the world had ever seen.

In England, 97,400 hospital beds have been designated for casualties. In complete, lodging for 196,000 sufferers have been ready. Eight thousand docs and 10,000 nurses have been tapped to look after the wounded. There have been 800,000 pints of blood plasma stockpiled. As many as 600,000 doses of penicillin have been readied for the invasion, with one other 600,000 to be prepared through the month following the June 6, 1944, landings. Fifteen hospital ships and 50 devoted Pink Cross airplanes able to carrying 18 severely wounded males on cots have been ready. Touchdown craft have been typically laden with wounded for the return journey to England after disgorging their cargoes of provides and automobiles on the seashores of Normandy.

Clearly marked by large red crosses atop its tents, a U.S. Army field hospital has been erected on the Cherbourg Peninsula in France during the summer of 1944. The distinctive markings were placed for easy visual recognition from the air.

Clearly marked by giant pink crosses atop its tents, a U.S. Military subject hospital has been erected on the Cherbourg Peninsula in France through the summer time of 1944. The distinctive markings have been positioned for straightforward visible recognition from the air.

General, the plan labored, however there have been difficulties at occasions. The carbon monoxide of auto exhaust typically permeated the tank decks of transports when wounded males have been introduced aboard and laid down the place tanks had rested so lately. The strolling wounded have been despatched on deck, climate allowing. Tough seas have been an element within the weeks after D-Day, and storms tossed males who have been already in ache.

When the transports reached English waters, sufferers have been often transferred to smaller craft and landed on empty seashores in order that the wounded wouldn’t need to disembark on the foremost ports, which might add to the confusion on the overworked docks. It was thought-about necessary to have solely outbound visitors on the crowded port amenities, which have been overflowing with males and materials headed to France.

The returning wounded have been carried onto the smaller boats, which then headed for a seashore touchdown the place ambulances and medical personnel can be ready. The ships bringing wounded typically needed to watch for the right tides earlier than touchdown. Within the early days of the invasion, it might take so long as 14 hours for a person to succeed in a hospital in England. From England, wounded American and Canadian troopers sailed house aboard specifically designated and absolutely outfitted hospital ships that would carry as much as 500 males every. The ships housed full working and surgical amenities.

Medics arrived in Normandy on D-Day, proper together with the troops. By D+1 area hospitals have been being arrange on the seashore. By June 10, the primary nurses arrived, and in early July absolutely staffed surgical tent hospitals in Normandy have been able to performing 15 surgical procedures directly.

Treating the Wounded within the European Theater

Though casualties from the invasion of Europe weren’t as excessive as feared, there have been nonetheless hundreds of them. Alongside battle casualties, area hospitals typically discovered themselves treating instances of “psychoneurosis” or battle fatigue. Relaxation and care restored most of those sufferers to their models, however a couple of males suffered extra extreme psychological incapacity and have been despatched house to hospitals for long-term care.

The surgeon basic commented, “There’s nothing mysterious about psychoneurosis. It doesn’t imply madness. It’s a medical time period used for nervous issues. It manifests itself by tenseness, fear, irritability, sleeplessness, lack of self-confidence or by fears or over-concern about one’s well being … A few of our most profitable enterprise and political leaders have been psychoneurotic.”

As nicely ready, outfitted, and manned as the sector hospitals have been they could possibly be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of casualties produced by trendy warfare. An officer of the 171st Station Hospital remarked, “4 days after we got this actual property (in Port Moresby), which was coated with excessive kunai grass, we had 500 sufferers.”

Medical Personnel of the U.S. 35th Infantry Division carry litters of wounded soldiers toward the rear near the snow-covered town of Lutrebois, Belgium.

Medical Personnel of the U.S. 35th Infantry Division carry litters of wounded troopers towards the rear close to the snow-covered city of Lutrebois, Belgium.

In Bastogne, through the Battle of the Bulge, the help station of the 101st Airborne Division turned a area hospital with no method to evacuate the wounded. The hard-pressed corpsmen quickly ran out of morphine, plasma, and bandages. These needed to be air dropped into the enclave. A name went out for surgeons, and a few hearty volunteers flew into Bastogne by glider to carry out emergency operations.

All through the Battle of the Bulge, troopers on each side suffered terribly from the chilly of the winter offensive. Trench foot was extra widespread than fight wounds. The 77th Evac Hospital was outfitted for a most of 750 sufferers. Through the Bulge it acquired twice that quantity.

Returning Residence

The ultimate hyperlink within the chain of wounded males flowing again from the entrance was the arrival residence. The Military Medical Division didn’t see its job as full when severely wounded males arrived stateside. Males newly blind, deaf, or with lack of limb wanted rehabilitation. Hospitals and vocational packages have been arrange and staffed for the hundreds who required further assist in retraining for civilian life.

Immediately, the packages of the Veterans Administration are taken without any consideration and even anticipated for wounded troopers. They have been improvements of the 1940s, and hundreds of males went by way of rehabilitation.

A curious duality exists within the army thoughts. On one hand more and more damaging strategies are being devised to kill and maim troopers and civilians; on the opposite, nice strides in army drugs are being made to save lots of lives. If the Military Medical Division has a legacy, it’s that the development of affected person care and speedy response to damage have additionally improved peacetime medical care.

Glenn Barnett is a frequent contributor to WWII Historical past. His father was commanding officer of the 23rd PSH in New Guinea.