Monday, October 27, 2014

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 more of the back story, 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.

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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

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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.

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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".

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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.

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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:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

2. The Backstory of the 10th Armored

This is part two 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 month before they entered battle, let me give you some of the back story of the division. It was created in 1942 in the months after Pearl Harbor. The United States was finally in the war but without a broad-based and large enough military. In fact it was only through the first peace-time draft in history the previous two years that gave the foundation for what would become a huge fighting force. New armies and divisions were being created as long-range planning developed in Washington for a war across both oceans very far from home.

The 10th Armored was officially activated on July 15, 1942. My dad had been drafted in early 1941 and was put into the reserves in late 1941 or early 1942 after his initial active service training. Then, on July 25, 1942 he got his notice to return to service. A week later, August 6 he left his home in northern Pennsylvania for New Cumberland where his reserves met. Another nine days and he was called up and left for Georgia, arriving at Fort Benning on August 20. He was now with the medical battalion assigned to the 10th Armored, most likely the 80th Medical Battalion.

When the 10th was created the new commander, Major General Paul Newgarden held a competition to give the unit a nickname. They took the name “The Tiger Division” and lived up to the name for the next three years. Newgarden, it is reported, was a strong leader with a sense of pride in unit identity and the importance of teamwork. His initial work in forming the 10th was given a lot of credit from the troops when they reached battle.

The Tiger Division’s shoulder patch was the standard patch for
armored divisions, simply adding the number “10” on the top of the triangle. The top third of the patch was yellow that stood for the cavalry. At the beginning of the war the cavalry had been reorganized, mechanized and given armor. The lower left third was blue for the infantry and the lower right, red for artillery. The tank tracks signified the mobility of the division, the cannon was for firepower and the lightning for their speed of attack. All together the colors and symbols showed their teamwork. For the next year, Lester Nichols, author of the 10th’s history, Impact, writes, the
training was especially rugged. There was the Tiger Camp with its night problems, forced marches, endurance tests, 'dry runs' and firing problems. (What the medical battalions did then isn’t reported in the book. I will write more about the medical department in the war later.)
In that first year I know my dad had two furloughs home. The first was from January 28 to February 11, 1943 and the second in the spring when he made it back north for two weeks in late May. In late June the Division packs up and leaves Fort Benning, Georgia for maneuver training in Tennessee. There, Nichols reports, that the maneuvers were
the scene of combat with chiggers, choking dust, sleepless nights, sore backs and aching feet. As always, the ‘enemy’ was constantly pursued. The battle umpires, too, were on hand to declare tank, track and truck ‘knocked out’ by a hidden ‘enemy’ anti-tank crew.
The first week of September 1943 and the 10th moved to its new home. They left Tennessee and settled at Camp Gordon near Augusta, Georgia. Here they would continue to train, grow and develop into a highly effective unit for the battles that lay ahead.
Note: Some information in these posts comes from a combination of books as well as personal effects of my father’s family. Most notably is the book, Impact, The Battle Story of General S. Patton’s Spearhead Tenth Armored Division in Europe in World War II, by Lester M. Nichols (1954).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

1. Setting the Stage

It was seventy years ago that World War II had taken on a new and final dimension. After the D-Day invasion in June, the United States began to move troops into battle. They had been building up the forces since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Soldiers, techs, infantry, medics and all others had been in training across the country. New units, new divisions were created and filled with personnel. One of these was the 10th Armored Division which was created in 1942 and assigned to the Third Army, General George Patton's Army. Their timeline for their first two years was:
  • Fort Benning GA - 15 Jul 42 to 21 Jun 1943
  • Tennessee Maneuver Area - 24 Jun 1943 to 2 Sep 1943
  • Camp Gordon, GA - 3 Sep 1943 to 3 Sep 1944
  • Camp Shanks, NY - 4 Sep 1944 to  11 Sep 1944
  • NYPOE (SS Sea Owl) 12 Sep 1944 to 23 Sep 1944
This was my father's division. He was a Tec 5, a non-commissioned officer as a medical corpsman. He was assigned to the medical battalion of the 10th Armored. Seventy years ago this week he was in France getting final training and doing all they could to be ready for battle. I have been working on a family history that describes some of what was happening in those days. Part of the World War II story that unfolded between October 1944 and VE Day in May 1945 involved some of the fiercest fighting and greatest losses of the war. I will be doing some posting here on what was happening with my Dad's division in Europe in 1944. While it now feels like somewhat ancient history, for me and my generation, it is recent events. It is what made our parents' generation into what we now call the Greatest Generation. Perhaps it has taken me all these 66 years of my life to begin to understand what that means. I am humbled by it and am just here to tell part- a very small part of that story.