Monday, October 27, 2014

Following the 10th Armored Division (3) - Medical Battalions

This is part three of a series that, over the next year, will follow my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. While we are still in the time before they entered battle, let me give you some of the back story of the division, this time by looking at the medical battalions in World War II.

To start, there are a number of good websites out there about medics and medical detachments in history. One is the WW 2 US Medical Research Center where a lot of my information comes from.

Here is a chart from the site showing the basic organization of a medical battalion, infantry division. As you can see, the battalion consisted of about 500 men. The same basic set-up was used in the armored divisions as well.

The MEDICAL BATTALION, Infantry Division consisted of:
  • 1 Battalion Headquarters
  • 3 Collecting Companies (usually designated Company A, B, and C)
  • 1 Clearing Company (usually designated Company D)
Battalion Headquarters established the Battalion's Command Post and was an agency of command and control. This was to be located in vicinity of the Clearing Station, which was the focal point of the Division medical support. HQ consisted of the Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer, Training Officer, and the Adjutant Personnel Officer. Another Officer in charge of Intelligence was later (1944) added and usually delegated as a Liaison Officer at Division Headquarters. The attached Chaplain was usually present at the Clearing Station.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Collecting Companies were the forward echelon of the Division Medical Service. They were the connecting links in the chain of evacuation between Infantry Aid Stations and Division Clearing Stations. Their mission was to:
  • Remove evacuees from Infantry Regiment Aid Stations to Collecting Stations
  • Prepare evacuees at the Collecting Stations for further evacuation
  • Transport evacuees by Ambulance from Collecting Stations to Division Clearing Stations
The major functions of the Collecting Companies were fourfold:
  • Contact -- to establish and maintain contact with the Medical Detachments of combat troops
  • Treat -- to establish and operate a Collecting Station, administering the treatment necessary to return minor casualties to their units, or to prepare more seriously injured casualties for further evacuation to the rear
  • Evacuate -- to relieve the Medical Detachments of casualties, moving these to the Clearing Station, or returning them to duty
  • Transport -- to transport casualties to the Clearing Station
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Clearing Company of the Medical Battalion operated Clearing Stations as necessary for the sorting and treatment of patients evacuated by the Collecting Companies. Patients were prepared at the Clearing Stations for further evacuation to the rear.

Primary functions of the Clearing Company included:
  • Reception -- receiving casualties brought into the Clearing Station by Ambulance of the Collecting Companies
  • Triage -- sorting of casualties according to the nature and severity of their injuries
  • Treatment -- administering appropriate treatment to save lives, reduce suffering, and prevent permanent disability
  • Care and Shelter -- providing temporary care and shelter of casualties until their physical condition permitted further evacuation
  • Slightly Injured -- returning slightly wounded casualties to duty with their units
  • Records -- preparing appropriate medical records for the patients
  • Dispensary -- operating and running a Dispensary for treatment of personnel of the Medical Battalion when the Division was not engaged in combat
  • Guard -- performing Interior Guard Duty for the Medical Battalion, sharing this duty with the Collecting Companies
The distribution of personnel was (1942 data) as follows :
  • 6 Captains, 
  • 6 First Lieutenants, 
  • 13 Non-commissioned Officers, 
  • 23 Technicians, and
  • 84 other Enlisted Men.
Prior to D-Day, June 1944 European Theater (ETO) medical personnel totaled 132,705, of whom 62,000 were with combat forces and the rest with the Services of Supply (S.O.S.) By March 1945 the number had increased to 245,387 men.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Geneva Convention compliant ID Card from WW II

At, is this part of an answer about medics in World War 2:
World War 2 medics carried no weapons. Under the existing conventions of war they were not supposed to be fired upon, but depending on the enemy this convention was not always adhered to. And of course some enemy weapons (bombs, artillery and mortar shells, land mines) were incapable of discrimination. Toward the end of World War 2 the helicopter was used as an airborne ambulance to evacuate the wounded to a field hospital, but mostly the medic was on his own, administering what aid he was able with the limited medical supplies he carried. Some procedures were based on expediency, such as allowing a badly wounded soldier to die in order to concentrate on saving another who had a better chance of survival. ...All in all, being a medic is World War 2 was not a pleasant job.
It is noted in some accounts that, at first, some soldiers resented the medics during training in the states. They were non-combatants and, as such, seen as less "macho." That changed once they all got into battle. There is this found on one of the medical history websites:
As stated by Stephen Ambrose, "It was the universal opinion of the frontline infantry that the medics were the bravest of all".
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
From a page on combat medics:
During the war, such drugs as sulfa (sulfanilamide) and penicillin were discovered as well as advanced surgical techniques, effectively contributing to the survival rate. A wounded soldier, if treated within the first hour, had an 85 percent chance of survival. Contributing to that survival rate was the speed with which the combat medic on the frontline attended to his patient. At the war's beginning the medics were often ridiculed, sometimes being called "pill pushers," or worse. In combat, however, that attitude drastically changed as they gained respect from all ranks. When a soldier cried out "Medic!" there was no hesitation, and they were eventually referred to as "Doc."

Medics did whatever was necessary to stabilize the wounded soldier, lessen his pain and get him to a forward aid station. The station lay within a distance of 300 to 1,000 yards of the front line where there was a sergeant and four litter-bearers. Once the wounded soldier was attended to, the "litter team" arrived to carry him to the main aid station or field hospital, today known as the M.A.S.H. unit, one to three miles behind the line. The physician on duty attended to the soldier's wounds and, if necessary, ordered transportation to the nearest general hospital for further treatment.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Portion of 10th Armored Medics at Camp Gordon, GA

My first reaction to reading this was utter amazement. I have always been conscious of the incredible logistics it took to go to war in Europe in the 1940s. The basic movement of so many troops across the Atlantic Ocean (and into the Pacific as well) is obvious. But the scope is nothing short of overwhelming, mind-boggling and just about any other word you can find to describe its immensity.

All told, 16.1 million American troops served in World War II; over 1.9 billion people were engaged from all nations on both sides world-wide. Staggering numbers!!! Even breaking it down to the Division level it is still staggering- a Division consisted of about 15,000 troops. 91 divisions were mobilized during the war: 68 infantry divisions, 1 mountain division, 16 armored divisions, 5 airborne divisions, and 2 cavalry divisions.

Still another insight- serving the 15,000 troops of the 10th Armored Division, there was a medical battalion of about 500. The work must have been everything from horrific to boring depending on what was happening. The level of what we today call PTSD for all these troops must have been as staggering as the numbers themselves.

With this kind of background, then, I humbly attempt to follow the 10th Armored with my Dad, a Tec 5, in 1944-45. I will never know his story specifically, but I honor all who like him did what they needed to do.

Here's a version of a documentary on WW 2 medics:

No comments: