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General Surgical Team No. 14, 3D Auxiliary Surgical Group

Table of Contents

Operation Overlord

[GENERAL SURGICAL TEAM NO. 14

3D AUXILIARY SURGICAL GROUP]

SUBJECT: Report of G.S.T. [General Surgical Team] #14, Third Auxiliary Surgical Group, covering period (D-60) to (D plus 30) with additional preliminary survey to August 7, 1944

TO: Commanding, Officer Third Auxiliary Surgical Group

I. A) Preliminary period in England: This team went to Torquay March 29, 1944 (D minus 39) where it was attached to the 634th Clearing Station of the 60th Medical Battalion which was the Medical unit supporting the 6th E.S.B. [Engineer Special Brigade]. During this preliminary period 2 field maneuvers were engaged in, which amounted briefly to drills in setting up the hospital and organizing the loading of trucks. As attached teams (those of Majors Hurwitz, Campbell, Oxford and Reiter) our chief problem was one of seeing that equipment was obtained by the Clearing Station which would enable us to perform major surgery immediately upon landing on the beach. Once the equipment was obtained the main task was preparing the material for use-cutting and sewing Laparotomy sheets-wrapping and autoclaving all gloves, linens, and dressings-lubricating instruments, replacing missing parts and adjusting autoclaves, anaesthesia machines and sterilizers-making overhead lights and collapsible tables, and completely repacking all chests assigned to the surgical tents so that each contained only items that would be used.

B. All of this, except some of the carpentry, was performed by members of our teams assisted by the 5 enlisted men of the Clearing Station who were assigned to the surgical tents. Nevertheless in the time spent in Torquay with the cooperation of the Clearing Station Officers and by having our enlisted men excused from most of the routine duties, a quite complete and efficient set-up was accomplished. Only 3 of the trucks could be expected to land during the first 24 hours, consequently the packing had to be done carefully. This was ably done by Captain Butner, the Platoon Commanding Officer, with our suggestions to aid him.

C. Finally, there was a considerable problem in obtaining our own personal equipment such as; gas impregnated clothes, shoe ointment, eye ointment, gas capes, picks, shovels and in correcting deficiencies in routine G.I. clothing. Most of this we accomplished ourselves with the good cooperation of personnel of the marshalling areas and by mak-


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ing personal visits to rail heads and other dumps.

D. In other words this was not a period of training as much as a period of equipping ourselves  and coordinating our teams with the Clearing Station. As such it was vital to the later success of our efforts and could have been increased by several weeks with profit. The delay in obtaining even vital equipment through routine sources was considerable.

II. Beach Landing

A.  The 4 surgical teams embarked at Weymouth on an LST 5 days prior to D day. Our companions were part of the 116th Infantry, a group of attached Artillery, and 2 officers of the 634th Clearing Company. Except for one false start, the cross Channel run was uneventful. We arrived off of the designated beach at approximately H minus 3. By H plus 2 hours we had all disembarked on a Rhino Barge and started the run to shore. The sea was very choppy and an excellent job was done by Naval personnel in getting all of the vehicles on the barge in spite of this sea. The run in was slow, taking about 4 hours. At H plus 7 orders were received to attempt landing on Dog Red beach-our originally designated beach-Dog White, still being untenable.  Approach to Dog Red brought artillery shells in our direction when we were a few hundred feet off shore. A strong wind and tide were running parallel to the beach and our craft became entangled with the stern of another Rhino attempting to beach. On all sides were wrecked and burning craft and shells were falling frequently within a 100 yard distance.

B. The Rhino was manipulated away and made another attempt to beach. Once again the Ensign in charge made his approach at an angle from down wind and down current, in spite of my pleading, and the inevitable result was that the barge hit the beach sideways. A Rhino next to us was in the same predicament and the entire row of its vehicles, near the beach, had toppled over into the water. We were stuck sideways and our Rhino tug had disappeared. Shells began landing all around, one explosion wounding 3 men on our barge.

C. The situation was serious. I asked the Ensign what he was going to do and he replied "there is nothing we can do-we're stuck." I asked an air corps Lieutenant Colonel and an Artillery Major, that were on board, if they would help rectify the situation, but both refused. Therefore I stepped over my authority and ordered the ensign to give command of the barge to a petty officer whom I had noticed for several days was very efficient. Within 10 minutes this petty officer, in spite of one motor being damaged by an underwater obstacle, had worked the barge off. He did an excellent piece of maneuvering and undoubtedly saved the barge, its equipment and personnel from being battered to pieces by artillery shells.


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D. After pulling off and pausing we made one more start to the beach when orders came from the beach that no Rhinos were to come in until further notice. Our Rhino tug was gone, one engine was out of commission and the landing gear was damaged. There were 3 wounded men aboard-one a perforting wound of the abdomen, so a short run was made to a nearby L.S.T. where the wounded were transferred.

E. We moored to this L.S.T. for the night - a very wretched night, all of us wet and cold and the best beds being on ammunition trucks. During the night there were two air attacks by bombs but none came close enough to injure any of us. Two air strafing attacks however were aimed directly at us.

F. The next morning at dawn we contacted a nearby vessel which had LCVP's and arranged to have 2 of them bring our 4 teams and the Clearing Station Officers in, leaving the

Rhino and its passengers at the LST. 3 teams (Major Williams, Campbell and my own) were on one. It was a short but wet run to shore where we attempted to land on Easy Green (Dog Red was still under heavy fire). We got stuck on 2 underwater obstacles but got off. Stuck firmly on a third there was nothing to do but hit for shore. This was done partly swimming and partly wading in water up to the chest. All made it safely and without incident except for one man who went under, lost his full equipment, but was pulled out by an officer.

G. On the beach a few paused to assist in first aid to wounded men lying in a tank trap. Then we proceeded inland 500 yards where the 1st Division Clearing Station was set-up. They were in need of surgical personnel so our teams started operating and I attempted to go around back of Dog Red in an attempt to find our clearing station personnel and equipment. After proceeding about 1 mile and reaching St. Laurent-Sur-Mer I was stopped by the enemy troops fighting with our infantry. At noon Major Bauer of the clearing station informed me that Lt. Col. Bullock, Commanding Officer of the 60th Medical Bn. had been fatally wounded. He said that our most important vehicle had gotten ashore, had been captured, but now was believed to be on the road just off of Dog Red Beach. With him, Sgt Mitcham and I started out to find it. Sniping was still abundant but we found the vehicle approximately 200 feet off the beach in the cluster of houses called Les Moulins. Two of the clearing station enlisted men were there and one British first aid man giving first aid to about 25 wounded Americans and British in the garden of a shattered house. Major Bauer took the vehicle up the road of a mile to an alternate place to set up the hospital. Sgt. Mitcham and I remained,


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to give first aid to these men, some of whom were seriously injured and to get them ready for transportation to the 1st Division Clearing Station. Plasma, Morphine and Bandages were available from our truck. This was a rather hot spot with several snipers around. Two of the less severely injured men persisted in hopping up and taking shots at them which only drew return fire.

H. By late afternoon our Clearing Station Platoon was set up with the equipment from this one truck. In the evening another truck was found, the third had been lost. Once set up, the teams which had been doing excellent work at the 1st Division Clearing Station in spite of inadequate material, joined up and work started. Captain Smazal and Captain Torrado had given shock therapy to about 15 patients and operated on 2 at the 1st Division Clearing Station.

I. The next 5 days were extremely busy. All types of cases were handled, a total of approximately 1150 cases passing through the clearing station during this period. Our 4 teams did all of the surgery, most of the shock therapy and a good bit of the minor dressings and triage. This team performed 32 major operations in addition to the other work. The one truck which was planned to carry supplies for 24 hours lasted for 48 hours and then the second platoon joined us and we carried on without any deficiencies for another 48 hours. After this 4 days however, supplies, particularly linens were running out and we were forced to use jackinette and rubber sheeting for drapes and make other compromises. On the whole our planning in Torquay justified itself completely.

J. Work was performed in these 5 days amidst the usual hazards of forward surgery. One sniper remained for 3 days in the bushes of a 30 ft. hill just above us before he was cleaned out. He never molested us but was frequently shooting over us at individuals passing along the road. His bullets could be seen by twilight. We slept entirely in our slit trenches because of frequent air attacks at night on the nearby beach. Surgery was often performed during these attacks with heavy flak overhead but this did not hinder us in carrying out our work. We went without food for 1 spell of 24 hours and water was very low for a period of 36 hours causing some dehydration in all of us. These matters were easily corrected as soon as the Clearing Station officers began searching for dumps. The 4 teams combined to work in a schedule of on 16 hours and off 8, part of the time off being spent in the shock tent. Because of the air raids at night some of us did not get much sleep but the period was a short one and on the whole tolerated without too much difficulty.


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K. My greatest problem was attempting to stimulate the correction of such matters as deficient food and water and to contact First Army to secure aid from a Field Hospital in the period when we were swamped with cases and running out of supplies. This was not done but fortunately the First Army Medical Chief appeared on the scene on the 4th day and immediately issued orders for a nearby waiting Field Hospital to swing into action.

L. On June 12th, D plus 6 we moved with Major Hurwitz's team to the 3rd platoon of the 51st Field Hospital near La Cambe. This was a wonderful relief to land in an outfit which was well organized and well run. Many of our headaches immediately ceased even though there was very heavy work to be done. At first this outfit had to act as an evacuation hospital, handling all cases coming down the line but within a few days it returned to its primary function of treating only the non-transportable cases. Here we did all of the surgery, much of the shock therapy and triage and supervised the post-operative care.

M. During the next 3 weeks-up until D plus 30 we operated on 96 cases, the majority being major cases. This necessitated very long hours of work but most of all a persistent period of work, since frequently when work became lighter in our platoon, we were temporarily transferred to another platoon or to another outfit (24th Evac Hosp) to assist them in heavy periods. The maximum time we have worked without pause was 36 hours. On several occasions we went 24 hours straight but on the whole have found it not wise to persist in operating for more than 16 hours straight.** Work with this Field Hospital was performed fairly far forward, frequently in advance of our artillery and within hearing distance of rifle and machine gun fire  from the front but except for frequent night flak, and an occasional nearby bombing or strafing we have not been in much danger.

N. The followings are some figures - a preliminary report - which are self explanatory:

Estimated cases given first aid on the beach and during preliminary phases - 50

Estimated cases given shock therapy and first aid at Clearing Station - 60

Number of cases operated on until D plus 7 - 32

** At times the persistence of heavy hours of work has been staggering - One's mind becomes dulled, his knees weak, his head dizzy and aching and his disposition very touchy.


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Number of cases operated on D plus 7 to D plus 30 - 96

Number of cases operated on D day to D plus 30 - 128

Number of cases operated on D day to August 7 - 295

Of the 295 cases the following breakdown can be made-(The classification is made by the most serious wounds present) 

Abdominal (alone)   74

Chest   (alone)     79

Thoraco-abdominal (combined)    18

Extremities 104

Miscellaneous (Genitalia, Buttocks, Burns

Maxillofacial)    27

TOTAL  302*

(* 7 cases had 2 wounds of equal importance eg: abdomen and compound femur)

Of the 295 cases treated approximately 250 were major and 45 Minor.

COMMENTS:

1. In this campaign we believe the greatest single blessing from the medical point of view, has-been the availability of blood bank blood. In contrast to the African and Sicilian Campaigns we are now being able to operate upon and save patients that could never have survived on plasma alone.

2. Rapid evacuation, and good treatment by medical personnel in forward areas has been another important factor in lowering mortality rates.

3. Penicillin and Sulfanilamides have been helpful in combating infection but in our opinion should be continued for more than 48 or 72 hours on serious cases. Not infrequently we have had infections flare up after their discontinuation and are now continuing both in abdominal and chest cases for at least 5 days with definite success.

4. The presence of shock teams from general hospitals in the past 3 weeks has been of great value and in our opinion the policy should be started again, if in any way possible. It is impossible for one surgical team to be doing 2 major operations and be running the shock tent simultaneously without great slowing in our surgical output.

5. Major Hurwitz's team is an excellent team. Their cooperation was complete. We miss them.

COMMENTS ON PERSONNEL:

1. T/4 Mitcham, T/4 Schmidt and T/5 Roberts have performed a superb job. Completely untrained before entering


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the Army, they are now good operating room and scrub nurses. Their conduct and cooperation can not be praised sufficiently. We have done many major operations - even abdomens -  with one of them as our only assistant. Pfc Pelusso has improved distinctly.

2. Captain Smazal has been a fine assistant. He is very conscientious. Already a good orthopedic surgeon, he has now proven himself capable of handling almost any type of injury.

3. Captain Hayman, once again, has proven to be an excellent anaesthetist. His extensive use of intratracheal anaesthesia, bronchoscopy and the performance of paravertebral blocks has contributed greatly to our success.

4. Captain Torrado is learning fast and is becoming a good assistant.

5. The 4 nurses, Misses Parker, Bernick, Trainor and Ralph, have considerably simplified our problems in Central Supply and aided in the Operating Room. Our standards have improved since their arrival.

The efficiency and cooperation shown by Lt. Col. Harper and particularly Major Bobbett, Commanding Officers of the 51st Field Hospital and the 3rd Platoon respectively has contributed greatly to our efforts. This is the best platoon of a Field Hospital that I have worked with in any of the 3 Campaigns. The personnel of the Field Hospital Platoon is in general excellent.

[signed]

BENJAMIN R. REITER, MAJOR

G. S.T. #14.