OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL
Medical Department Activities
European Theater of Operations
ALBERT J. CRANDALL
Major, M. C.
Third Auxiliary Surgical Group
First Airborne Surgical Team
8 June 1945
Interview with Albert J. Crandall, Major, M.C.
8 June 1945
(Personal Background–Major Crandall graduated from the Medical School
of the University of Vermont in 1933. His Reserve commission lapsed in 1938.
He volunteered and was inducted into the service 29 June 1942. He was
assigned from August to November, 1942, to the surgical service at Lovell
General Hospital. In September of that year he attended the Medical
Field Service School at Carlisle. He volunteered for overseas duty
and was assigned to the Third Auxiliary Surgical Group. This unit departed
7 December and arrived in Scotland 15 December 1942.)
Our voyage was very rough; in fact, it was said to be the roughest the
Queen Mary ever made. In a very heavy storm seven hundred miles off
the coast of Scotland we nearly capsized. After landing in Scotland our unit
was sent to Oxford, England. During the first few months there was little
actual work for us to do. We were sent around to various British hospitals
for courses and observation and to render some assistance to the British.
In May, 1943, we moved to East Anglia, where we acted, until December,
1943, as a surgical team attached at various times to the 77th, the 121st,
and the 231st Station Hospitals and to the 12th Evacuation Hospital. Our surgical
group comprised approximately thirty teams, of which twenty were general
surgical teams, four neurosurgical, four thoracic-surgical, and other units
which varied from time to time. For example, at times there were maxillofacial
teams and orthopedic teams.
Each team usually consisted of a leader of the rank of major, two assistants
of the rank of captain, an anesthetist of the rank of captain, four enlisted
technicians, and two nurses, when they could be used, that is, in field and
In December, 1943, we were recalled to the headquarters of the Third Auxiliary
Surgical Group, in preparation for the coming invasion of the Continent.
In February a call was issued for volunteers to be trained for parachute and
airborne operations. I volunteered and was assigned as leader of the First
Airborne Surgical Team, In March, 1944, we were attached to the 101st Airborne
Division. From then until D day we spent our time organizing and training
a small surgical group to serve this division. Training consisted of orientation
and airborne tactics, designed to develop a surgical unit that could work
efficiently when isolated, that is, without
channels of evacuation. The orientation was given on airborne transportation,
training in the loading and dispersal of equipment in preparation for flight,
maneuvers, and problems, until the last week in May, when we were sent to
the marshaling area in preparation for the invasion of Normandy.
Little was known at that time about the problems of airborne surgery,
and all that we had or did was based on theory rather than on actual knowledge.
My team was the first surgical team ever to be attached to on airborne division,
and up to that time the 101st Division had never been committed in actual
combat. This surgical team was composed of the usual personnel, except that
there were no nurses. Our equipment consisted of two general surgical sets.
We also requisitioned specialized instruments, such as neurosurgical instruments
and orthopedic instruments, which we knew we would need, because we were
the only surgical team accompanying the clearing station in the invasion.
Our equipment was not adequate; after the first operation we made some slight
We had expected that most of the clearing company would be airborne in
the invasion. Instead, because of the military situation, at the last minute
all the gliders except one were eliminated. The clearing company was to be
seaborne or else to go in on a second airborne wave, which meant that our
team would be the only Medical unit to accompany the assault wave in the invasion
of Normandy. In order to accomplish this it was necessary to pack all our
equipment in a single 1/4-ton trailer, which in turn was put into the glider.
Three of the Medical personnel were also in this glider. The others ware
dispersed among other planes. It was planned that the seaborne and later
airborne elements would get in touch with us as soon after landing as possible.
(The 82d Airborne also had a surgical team attached, but they came in the
night of D day. Therefore, ours was the only team to accompany the assault
We landed near Hiesville in Normandy at approximately H-4, or 0300, on
D day. Our mission was, first, to cover all landing zones and to render emergency
treatment in the zones in which we leaded and nearby zones. Next, the team
members were to assemble at a designated point. Following that we were to
establish a surgical station and operate it until contacted by later elements.
The plans worked out very well, considering the difficulties involved.
All the landings were made on small fields and in total darkness. It was
inevitable that they should all be crash landings. The planes were scattered
over a wide area. Our plane landed approximately two miles from the spot selected,
in a location surrounded by enemy positions. I believe that it was truly
remarkable that I was able to reach the rendezvous point, for this meant
crossing enemy-held territory in the dark. Between 0300, when we landed, and
0500, I made my way across the enemy territory and arrived at the rendezvous
point. Another of my men was four miles from the rendezvous point, so that
he had an even more difficult task. Every member of the team was injured,
some severely. Captain Rodda, for instance, received a costochondral
separation of three ribs, which must have been very painful. When I first
saw him, at approximately 1200 on D day, he seemed to be in very severe pain.
I received a neck injury in the crash, an injury to my right eye,
and a severe contusion of the back of the neck. The landings were made in
small fields surrounded by trees twenty to forty feet in height. Our glider
was the first one onto the field on which we landed; there had been no friendly
troops there before us.
As far as the infantry operations were concerned, I believe that this
phase of the invasion was entirely successful. Without this airborne landing
it would have been difficult to secure the beach.
On my way to the rendezvous I noted much small-arms and mortar fire and
plane activity. When I arrived, two other officers and three technicians
were already there. With the exception of one officer, they had landed
at the designated location. The glider carrying our equipment landed in the
assembly field in a crash-landing. The equipment was not damaged. We were
able to remove it by hacking away the side of the glider; this was done under
mortar fire. Fortunately, we were near a ditch, close by a hedgerow. When
the mortar fire was heavy, we stayed in the ditch. One dud landed directly
under the glider. If it had exploded, we would have lost the glider,
equipment, and probably part of our personnel.
We had depended on our 1/4-ton truck (jeep) to transport our trailer from
the assembly point to a chateau in Hiesville that had been selected from
aerial photographs as a good location for us. However, the glider carrying
the jeep crashed up on landing, and the jeep was totally destroyed. Two occupants
of the glider were killed, the pilot suffered two broken legs, and one occupant
received a severe head injury. Therefore, we had no organic transportation.
Luckily, there was a small artillery group coming in at this time who were
using jeeps to tow their37's. They had lost one gun, and consequently had
an extra jeep, which they lent to me.
One of the enlisted men and I got in the jeep and set off for the chateau.
In order to get there we had to travel the rough fields rather than the highways,
because the instructions to our Air Force were to blast anything that moved
on the highways. All this area was still in the hands of the enemy. We had
to bypass enemy machine-gun positions and other enemy concentrations, so
that our route was very circuitous. We had no reconnaissance, of course; we
were entirely on our own.
We reached the chateau shortly after 0700 and immediately set up a surgical
station, the first one of the invasion. About 1200 three other members of
the team arrived at the chateau and by 2030 or 2100 the station was in operation
and doing major surgery. We were operating three tables continuously, doing
all types of surgery. We established a definite system
for priority on cases; first we did the heads and chests and next the
abdomens and extremities, by 1400 all our personnel had arrived, so that
we had our full complement. However, this proved entirely too small a group
to handle such a large number of casualties. This was our main problem.
Before we took off for Normandy, we had felt that transportation would
be a big problem. We couldn't quite visualize how the casualties would reach
us. We certainly would have no transportation to go out to get them and bring
them in. However, this proved no problem at all. The casualties came
in in every conceivable way. We used our own truck whenever it could be
spared. Captured enemy vehicles ware used, as well as horses, improvised
litters and drags, and any other available means. Within an hour after we
opened our station, the entire courtyard was filled with casualties awaiting
We estimated that at the landing fields alone we treated 125 casualties.
At the station we cared for 250 to 300.
Our food situation was not very good--all we had was the “D” rations (chocolate
bars)–but we managed well enough on these. We used a lot of benzedrine also
to keep us going. The night of D day the second airborne echelon arrived.
Casualties were not as heavy as in the first wave, although some of the gliders
landed on the seas fields that we had used that morning. Some men
were captured and many were killed, because the enemy was still occupying
the same positions.
However, enough Medical personnel came in with the second wave to enable
us to operate five tables continuously. (Three were men from the 326th Airborne
Medical Clearing Company.) The seaborne echelon arrived that night also.
The men in this wave made their way up and across the beaches and made contact
with the paratroopers who had landed further inland and then made their way
toward the beaches. Thus a corridor was established there. The newly-arrived
Medical personnel had no equipment with them, and so it was necessary for
them to use ours. This proved to be fairly satisfactory. However, even with
the additional men from the clearing company our main problem wee still personnel.
There just weren't enough hands to do the work. We had to maintain a careful
priority system, operating on those who were most in need of surgery and
giving the others emergency treatment. All patients received excellent treatment
for shock; we were very careful about that.
The casualties were held there until evacuation was established.
The first evacuation of any consequence took place just before noon on 9
June. If we had had more surgical help in the intervening period, I
feel sure that we could have. saved more patients. However, the surgical
mortality rate not excessively high. I checked later with all the general
hospitals in England that I could, and from all reports our mortality rate
compared favorably with that found in any field or evacuation hospital. We
were in France for thirty-seven days; by the time I returned to England our
casualties were scattered throughout the British Isles, and in fact, many
of them were back in the United States. Therefore, it was very difficult to
get an report on casualties.
We operated at the chateau until 2345 on 9 June. At that time we were
attacked by dive bombers and the entire station was destroyed. There was one
direct hit, and a delayed-action bomb that struck twenty-five or thirty
yards from the hospital. This was a 1,000-kg. bomb, and when it exploded,
it totally destroyed the chateau.
I was performing an operation at the time the first bomb struck. Fortunately,
we had evacuated most of our patients that afternoon, so that there were
very few patients left in the hospital. However, we lost a lot of equipment
and also some personnel. None of the surgical team were killed, although three
The following day we moved to another site, borrowed some tentage from
other units, and set up again. We pieced together our equipment as best we
could until we could be resupplied.. On 10 June the 101st took Carentan and
in that town there were several hospitals, formerly German-occupied, from
which we obtained some instruments. We operated at that location for approximately
three weeks, and then we moved to a point just south of Cherbourg, where
we operated in a clearing station until the division was relieved. This occurred,
I believe, on 13 July.
Then we returned to England, to the same barracks we had previously occupied.
At this time we began a period of reorganization. We had learned many things
from our experiences in the Normandy Campaign. For example, we had learned
that a well-organized surgical service is absolutely essential to such an
operation. The ordinary setup of the medical clearing station is not adequate.
It cannot handle the medical care for an airborne mission, because when the
unit is isolated, it must act as a field or evacuation hospital. It is essential
to set up the various departments–triage, shook, preoperative, operative,
and postoperative (because there is no way of estimating how long the unit
will be isolated).
Of course, we discovered many instruments that we needed, particularly
for anesthesia. We also accomplished a reorganization of the surgical service
within the medical clearing company. This was all built around the surgical
team. We tried to organize the personnel into teams that could care for certain
types of cases. We were fortunate in getting some replacements who had had
surgical training. We had problems and briefing for missions and checked
as far as possible on the results of our work in Normandy, through the general
hospitals in England. We also checked the results in general in the
Theater, so that we had a broad view of the surgical picture.
We decided that it was of prime importance to have surgical personnel
who were capable of major surgery. This type of personnel were obtained
just before we set out on our next mission. Only a short time before we left
the First Auxiliary Surgical Team and one platoon of the 50th Field Hospital
were attached to the medical company. We told them about our experiences
and worked with them and organized the unit as well as possible.
On 17 September we again left England on an invasion mission. Again we
were with the 101st in the first assault wave, but this time there was a
larger Medical echelon in the assault wave. We used six gliders, three of
which carried personnel exclusively and three equipment and some personnel.
Instead of the eight men that were sent in on the assault wave in Normandy
to handle the medical care, we had ten Medical officers, two MAC's, and approximately
thirty enlisted men.
At 1345 on 17 September we landed at Zon, Holland, (again a crash landing)
with only one injury being sustained in the entire group--and that was a
comparatively minor knee and ankle injury which I suffered. We set up a station
there, close to the field on which we landed. This was a daylight mission,
the planes were close together, and we didn't have quite as much enemy opposition
as we did in Normandy--at least, there wasn't nearly as much after we hit
the ground, although the flak was heavy on the way over.
We set up with two tents and took care of all emergency treatment. Then
through a regimental surgeon we learned of a tuberculosis sanatorium in
Zon, which was very modern and could be used for our purposes very well,
and so two of us went into Zon and made the necessary arrangements with
the town officials for the use of the hospital by our men. The Dutch Catholic
order which was running the sanatorium gave us permission to use their facilities.
At 2000 or 2100 that evening we moved in and set up our surgical station
there, and within half an hour we were in operation.
As in Normandy, the initial flow of casualties was very heavy, and even
though our staff of Medical officers numbered ten, it was still inadequate.
The second wave didn't arrive for about twenty-eight hours, but the casualties
from the first wave kept us busy. We operated steadily, using the priority
system, and gave everyone emergency shock treatment. We worked continuously
the second wave arrived. Our personnel was then greatly augmented,
because in this wave was a platoon of a field hospital as well as personnel
of the medical clearing station and most of First Auxiliary Team. (Only one
member of this team had accompanied me in the first wave.)
I feel that results were very good throughout that campaign. We worked
at Zon for three weeks. Fortunately, our chain of evacuation was established
to the 124th Evacuation Hospital, of which Colonel Graham was the chief surgeon.
The intervening distance was considerable, about forty or forty-five miles
over rough road--between Zon and Bourg-Leopold, Belgium. As I recall, the
first ambulance came through late in the afternoon on 21 September. However,
there was no evacuation of any consequence until the 23d or 24th, and even
then it was very limited, because our troops had secured only a very narrow
corridor, with enemy positions on either side of the highway. It was a very
rough trip for the casualties, and so we held all major casualties, such
as the abdomens, at our station.
The mission of the 101st, like that of any airborne division, was to disrupt
lines of communication, to stop reinforcements, to take strong enemy positions,
and more or loss to create havoc in the enemy positions. Their particular
mission was to take the bridge across the Wilhelmina Canal. They took the
city of Eindhoven and several enemy positions in that area. Soon they established
a corridor between Eindhoven and Nijmegen for the British Second Army. Meanwhile,
the British 1st Airborne Division had landed at Arnhem and had suffered terrific
casualties. Almost every man was wounded, captured, or killed. The operations
of the 101st were entirely successful. They carried out their mission completely.
Over three thousand casualties passed through our station. The number
of wounds was actually about twice that figure, because shell fragments
caused a minimum of two injuries per person many of the casualties had as
many as a dozen wounds. The surgery, in both Normandy and Holland, ran fourteen
to sixteen percent head cases, twelve to fourteen percent chests, four to
six percent abdomens, and the rest extremities. These percentages are similar
to those in other operations. We had more fractures from jump casualties
than usual; for instance, there were more leg, back, and ankle injuries than
would occur in an infantry outfit. Aside from those, the typical of those
seen on any war front. From our station we returned a number of the minor
wound cases direct to duty. We always tried to do that in that type of operation,
because it was so difficult to get replacements. It would be very difficult
to estimate what percentage of cases were returned to duty in our area. Many
of them, returned from the battalion and regimental aid stations, we never
saw, because those who were brought in to us were mainly major surgical problems
and cases that would ultimately be evacuated. I should judge that the percentage
whom we returned to duty would be about ten percent.
Our station also received some combat fatigue cases, which were treated
by a qualified psychiatrist whom we had with us. The majority of the medical
cases were also returned to duty. Since the time element is very important
in surgery of the chest and abdomen, we performed these operations there
at the station. During the period that we were isolated we operated on every
type of surgical patient, rather than take a chance on possible loss of patients
After approximately twenty-one days at Zon we moved to Nijmegen. The evacuation
hospital remained at Bourg-Leopold and our cases now had to be evacuated
seventy miles, so that even more than before we had the problem of evacuation.
Frequently the enemy would make a night thrust and nip off the corridor. The
following day the road would be reopened again. We still evacuated through
the 124th and maintained contact with Colonel Graham. We asked him for suggestions
and criticisms and he assured us that our results were very, very good, fully
as good as any he had seen in other sectors.
We were able to use positive pressure anesthesia, which permitted us to
do exploratories on chests, to go into the thoracic cavity in order to
take care of the injury. We had a very low mortality rate on this type
of case. There were only two or three of these thoracic cases that reached
surgery that didn't survive. The ones who did not survive were very severe
injuries, of the type that couldn't have been saved anywhere. With the abdominal
cases results were excellent. Almost all the cases that reached surgery survived
and were evacuated to the 124th. Altogether, the deaths that occurred among
the surgical cases were comparable in number to those in other areas. During
the time that I spent in England I covered almost every sector and studied
their work, and I was convinced that major surgery can be done in airborne
operations just am well as it can be done in any sector.
At Nijmegen we established the hospital in a convent school which during
the German occupation had been used as a barracks. There were several large
buildings in the group. We selected three of them and up a very satisfactory
station, with all the necessary departments–admission, triage, operative,
postoperative, and shock. We. also had medical and combat fatigue sections.
There were many combat fatigue cases. Many of these, I believe, were
returned to duty after treatment.
We operated there until either late in October or early November, when,
although the hospital was plainly marked, we received 4 direct hits which
caused total destruction. We lost many of our medical personnel, none of
them surgical, however. Many of the men from Medical Clearing Company were
killed or injured and also several from the ambulance company that was attached
to us at the time. Again we were fortunate in that we had evacuated a number
of our casualties the previous day, and we had reached a point in the campaign
when the casualties weren't very heavy.
Next we moved to a monastery where we set up a small station to take care
of minor cases. By then the area was well secured and the 124th had moved
up to Nijmegen, where they established in an old German hospital. They took
care of major surgery there. The platoon of the 50th Field Hospital acted
as a small clearing station rather than as a unit giving actual treatment.
Around 28 November the division was relieved and returned to Rheims, France,
where there was a rest camp. We established a small station hospital there
to care for casualties in the 101st Division–in other words, ordinary garrison
problems. This hospital was set up by the 50th Field Hospital and our surgical
team was attached to and worked with this field hospital. Practically
no members of the medical clearing station were being used at this time.
We stayed there until 18 December, when we received word of the break-through
in Belgium which was the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. The
101st was ordered to go up there to the Bastogne area. Our unit was also ordered
there. By this time our personnel was in good shape and we had replaced
most of the lost and damaged equipment.
Again my surgical team was the only one to accompany the division in the
operation. On the morning of 19 December we arrived and set up in an area
just north and west of Bastogne, in tentage. At that time evacuation was
not considered to be a problem, and so we planned on operating only the nontransportable
cases, evacuating the transportables to evacuation hospitals. At 2200 or
2300 on 19 December the place was completely overrun by a German panzer division.
I am not sure how large a group it was, although we did count approximately
twenty tanks, as well as many tank-destroyers.
As I look back on the episode we should have been more familiar with the
current military situation; we should definitely have posted sentries and
have established some type of reconnaissance. I believe if this had been
done, we might have evaded capture. The panzers shot up our whole establishment
pretty well, although again it was plainly marked. All of the surgical
team and almost all of the medical clearing station, all equipment, and all
transportation were captured. The German commander ordered us to load our
wounded on our vehicles and to fall back into the enemy positions.
We went toward Houffalize, Belgium. The commanding officer of the panzer
division promised us that we could set up our station and take care of our
wounded. However, this proved to be merely a promise; he just kept us on
the move. After a brief move we ran into our own artillery, so we moved back
toward Prüm in order to avoid the fire. Before we reached Prüm,
our casualties were unloaded at different places. Near Prüm four of our
serious casualties were unloaded and left behind. With them were left four
doctors from the medical clearing company who were told that they were to,
work at this station. The rest of us were moved on a short distance and put
up overnight in an old farmhouse. The next morning we again started on the
march toward Germany. After we had marched most of the way to Prüm, the
Germans split the prisoners into two groups--officers and enlisted men. The
officers were put into a 6 x 6 truck and transported through Nieder Prüm
to Gerolstein. There we were kept overnight in an old warehouse. There we
found approximately one thousand other American prisoners, many of whom were
very ill, exhausted, or badly wounded. Conditions were extremely poor here;
there was absolutely no heat and practically no food.
The following morning we were taken out of the warehouse and loaded into
boxcars (the little French “forty-and-eight” cars of World War I fame). The
Germans packed about sixty-five men into the enlisted men’s cars and between
thirty and sixty into the officer's cars. The doors were then barred and
locked. We stayed in the town of Gerolstein all that day and part of the
night and then we were moved out of town a little way to a village named Oberning,
I believe. There on 24 December, while still locked is the boxcars, we were
strafed by our own fighter planes, using .50 calibers and rockets. I should
judge that about twelve of our number were killed and over a hundred severely
wounded. The boxcars were unlocked and we moved our casualties into a station
and did what we could for them. I had managed to
carry with a musette bag full of medical equipment, but that didn't help
We wanted to evacuate the worst of the casualties to Gerolstein, but an
interpreter who went into the town on reconnaissance told me that it was
filled with wounded, many of whom were Americans, so that it was not possible
to send any of our casualties there for treatment. On Christmas morning
every man who could walk was started on the march into Germany, across the
Rhine River. There was very little food and the weather was very severe.
Many of us wore only lightweight clothing, entirely unsuited to such a march.
I had no overcoat and no gloves and wore only an airborne combat suit.
We arrived at Kelburg on Christmas night. Approximately thirty-five of the
men could go no further. They simply dropped in their tracks because of exhaustion,
frostbite, respiratory infections, and injuries. Many of them had untreated
wounds. The German noncommissioned officers in charge of the column told
me to keep those thirty-five men in the old stable in Kelburg that night
and to pick up transportation in the morning in order to catch up with the
main column and continue the march.
We stayed there overnight and the following morning I picked up a German
truck and a bus which were en route to Mayen and loaded my patients in them.
We passed the marching column before we reached Mayen, as they had only marched
a short way out of Kelburg. We were marched to an old German slave
labor camp, where we stayed for the night. The marching column caught
up with us there. We were given a little bread to eat, and the following
morning we started toward Coblenz. We marched all that day and part
of the night, crossed the Rhine River, and came to a large German O.C.S.
camp about a mile northeast of Coblenz. We were put up in stables for
the night and the following morning again resumed the march. We marched all
day and reached a town five kilometers away, Birges. There we were quartered
for the night in an old sleigh warehouse which furnished practically no shelter
at all. We stayed there that night and through the next day.
At about midnight we were again loaded into boxcars and moved on to Muhlberg.
Stalag 4B, the prisoner-of-war camp for British noncommissioned officers,
was located in this town. We were processed at this camp and remained
there for approximately seven days. Then all of our group except two
Medical officers from the clearing company were transported by boxcar into
Szubin, Poland, where flag 64 was located. Approximately 1,600 American
officers and 200 noncommissioned officers and technicians were in that camp.
We stayed there until the morning of 21 January, when our company of guards
decided to move us back into Germany, because the Russians were advancing
so fast from the east. Another forced march was begun that morning, and by
2000 or 2100 we hard marched twenty-eight kilometers, arriving at Sierniki,
Poland. Many of the men straggled behind on the march. This was
due to a combination of factors; the weather was very severe and many of
the men, having been prisoners a long time, were in poor condition because
of the inadequate diet and the lack of exercise. At Sierniki I worked
all through the night trying to help those
who had frostbite of the toes and other painful conditions. I was able
to help them to some extent.
The following morning at 0600 I asked permission of the senior American
officer to speak to the senior German officer about the condition of the
men. This permission was granted, and through the interpreter I had an interview
with Colonel Schneider. I described the condition of the troops and told
him that it would be foolish to think that they could stand a forced march,
that many of them would die or drop out. His reply was that his orders were
to march this column of prisoners into Germany and that he therefore had
no choice but to do it. I asked him whether it wouldn't be possible to bring
some German Medical officers in there and let them look at the men, for
I felt that he would accept their opinion rather than mine, and after all,
the health of these men was my responsibility. After some persuasion he agreed
to break the column into three groups. One group was to stay at Sierniki
under guard, another group was to continue with the march at the regular
pace. The third column would be composed of men who had minor ailments, such
as foot complaints, which would permit them to march, but at a slower rate.
He told me that judging from what he knew of the military situation, that
area would undoubtedly be overrun by the Russians within twenty-four to thirty-six
hours. He asked me how many I thought would need to be left behind in the
first group, and I told him approximately one-third of the entire column.
After a hasty examination and division of the column, we left 175 in this
group. I feel that, had we had a better opportunity to organize the group
and to pass the word around, we could have left more. Some of the officers
did not understand the situation and some thought that the Germans would
shoot anyone who seemed to be avoiding the march, because we just didn't
have the time to get the idea across to everyone. However, we were able to leave these 175
I continued with the fast column. About 1630 on 22 January we arrived
at the little Polish town of Ntzel. There we halted and were given some
margarine and other rations. We were on the main street and I noticed a
building there with a Red Cross flag in front of it. I asked permission
to go in, because I expected that I might find one of our men there who
had fallen out during the day, with what his buddies thought was a fracture
hip. Before I had been able to reach him, the German commanding officer
had picked him up in his car and taken him on ahead, and so when I
saw this building marked by the Red Cross, I thought that he might be in
there. They let me go in, with a guard, and I did find the injured man there.
He was unconscious and was having convulsions at intervals. He had a fracture
of the lower extremity. Two other men were also there who had dropped out
on the march, one undoubtedly an acute abdomen and one with a fractured
foot. (Incidentally, although this building was marked by the Red Cross
flag, there was a strong garrison of storm troopers there, a lot of bazooka
ammunition, and many machine guns in the windows.)
The German commanding officer gave me permission to take care of these
men, provided that as soon as I had cared for them, I would rejoin the column.
He said the column was to be moved about five kilometers west. There were
no facilities in this building whatever, but I was helpless to improve our
situation until the guard who had been put over me left and another came
in. The latter was a man who had been brought from France in the early part
of the war and had become a Nazi soldier. He helped me establish contact with
a Polish civilian who told me where there was a hospital and transportation.
Meanwhile, soon after our column had marched away, the Germans had blown
up a bridge on the outskirts of the town. We knew that the military situation
was none too good; we could hear the Russian artillery not far away.
I somehow obtained a sleigh and some horses and talked the German guard
into letting me take these men to a hospital. We loaded the men on the sleigh
and drove to a German hospital in Wirsitz, arriving there at 2200 or 2300.
This was a Polish hospital, operated by a Catholic sisterhood and staffed,
they told me, until less than an hour before our arrival by German doctors.
I put my patients in bed and saw that they were cared for and I also helped
the sisters with some Polish casualties who wars there.
I learned through the Polish underground that my column had arrived in
Poladowa, but that the Russians had made a crossing of the river, and that
the German guards were no longer with the column of American prisoners. Since
these prisoners had several other medical officers with them, I thought that
it would be wiser not to try to return to my column, so I remained in the
hospital, working with the casualties. About eighteen hours later I heard
that the Russians had boss pushed bask and the Germans had come back in, picked
up the column of American prisoners again and started them on another forced
march. My guard was still stationed in front of the hospital. There was considerable
Russian air activity over the city, but the artillery was no longer audible.
The Polish underground informed me that two Americans had escaped from the
marching column and reached our vicinity, but were picked up by the Germans.
They had been hiding, but I guess they couldn't stand the cold and had come
The Polish underground was in touch with me continuously for about five
days, while I worked in the hospital. The Germans were in and out
all of the time. My guard left; I don’t know what happened to him.
On 3 February a small force of Russians came into the town. I got
in touch with them immediately and told them that I had some Americans there,
as well as some of the men for whom I had been caring. I continued
to care for these patients, plus some wounded brought in by the Russian troops,
for several days, until Russian doctors arrived. When their doctors
came in, the local Russian Commissar ordered me back toward Warsaw, although
he didn't say how or when, nor did he allow for food, transportation, shelter,
or clothing. His only instructions were that I should make contact
with the American representative.
I tried to stay at the hospital, taking care of the patients, until I
could make some contact and at least have some idea where and how I could
reach an American representative. Finally the Commissar sent an officer
over to tell me to be on my way, and so I left. I marched back through
their lines and the first night reached Nakel, in terrifically cold weather.
The cold was almost unbearable and there was nothing to eat. I stayed
overnight in the town and the next day marched to Szubin. That also
was a terribly cold day. I returned to our old prison camp, where I
found quite a few Americans, who were very communicative, as well as many
French, Serbs, Czechs, Italians, and other nationalities who had escaped
or been liberated and who had no doctor. We set up a small American
“concentration camp” for the ex-prisoners of war, where we took care of all
nationalities. There was a large hospital at Szubin which had been operated
by Dr. Drugg, former professor of surgery at Cologne. I worked in this
hospital and each day went to the concentration camp for sick call.
I would spend two or three hours a day at the camp and the rest of the time
at the hospital.
About a week after we opened this camp American casualties began to come
in. I noticed that several of the EMT’s had been signed by members
of my surgical team. Through the Poles I was able to establish contact
with two of these Medical officers and bring them to Szubin. We worked
there together for a few days, and once again I was ordered by the local
Commissar to move along, toward Warsaw or Moscow or anywhere in an easterly
direction. We left Szubin, hiking most of the time, except for one short
ride, and eventually arrived in Bromberg. There were three hospitals
there, and we knew there was work for us to do, so we stayed there for a little
over a week, caring for Polish casualties and the casualties among the liberated
British, French, and Americans. Then we decided to move on again. We fortunately
got an all-day ride to the town of Szczercow, where we stayed for several
days, doing medical work. After that we moved on again, hiking and
hitchhiking and riding in and between boxcars, until we arrived at a little
town about twenty kilometers from Praga. From there we hiked into Praga,
which was just across the Vistula River from Warsaw. In both towns
we tried to establish contact with some American representative, but were
unsuccessful. We had previously tried to wire Moscow several times,
also to no avail. No one seemed to have knowledge of anyone who would
have any authority over Americans or British or any other Allies except the
When we realized the situation, we began to look around to see what we
could do in that locality. We made contact with the University of Warsaw
Medical School, which had been operating underground throughout the German
occupation and which now was just setting up again in an old German school
in Praga. The faculty were all very nice to us; they were eager, of
course, to hear the latest data on American medicine, penicillin, the sulfa
drugs, and new surgical techniques. We stayed with them for ten days,
and tried to earn our way but there was practically no food and they were
very crowded, so we felt that we mustn't impose on them any longer but should
move on toward Moscow. We stopped briefly at an American camp which
had been established outside of Praga. The camp was full, so that there
was no room for us. They had practically no facilities or food; consequently,
we traveled on. We hitched a ride out of Praga to the north, and
after two days of traveling by day and resting by night, we reached a small
town where there was a railroad siding. We went to the station, hoping
to get a ride toward Moscow or any place where there were Americans who might
help us to get back to our own area. Fortunately, while we were there,
several boxcars loaded with British and Americans stopped at the station
en route to some concentration area.
We tried to board the boxcars. At first the men were reluctant to
take us. They said that they didn't know their exact destination.
They were coming from the vicinity of Lublin. After some discussion, we
were finally allowed to board the cars, and after ten days and nights of
travel, we found ourselves in Odessa. There for the first time we
discovered an American representative, a Major Hall, a member of the American
Medical Mission who had been sent down from Moscow. He arranged passage
for us on the British boat, the Duchess of Bedford, which left Odessa within
a week of our arrival. We went through the Black Sea, the Dardanelles,
stopping at Malta, and finally came to Marseilles. At Marseilles I
wired the ETO Surgeon, requesting orders to return to active duty in that
Theater. I received no reply. From Marseilles I proceeded to
Naples, where I went to the 7th Replacement Depot. Soon orders came
through for several of us who were in the depot to be flown directly to
OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Conditions in Germany.
As I saw Germany and the German people in December and January I was impressed
by their confidence in von Rundstedt’s army and in their ultimate victory.
I also was impressed by the fact that they seemed to be in fairly good circumstances.
Judging from their physical appearance, they had plenty to eat, and their
clothing didn't look too bad.
At this time Allied air activity on the western front was at its peak,
which meant that practically nothing moved, by road, rail, water, or air.
I can see that it would have been very difficult for them to feed the thousands
of prisoners that they had on hand. I don’t know whether they made any serious
attempt to do it. However, I do know how difficult it was for us to
get transportation, so it must have been hard for the Germans to get food
in for the prisoners. Whatever the cause, there certainly was no food
for us and no medical supplies and we were given no help at all in caring
for the wounded. We had no personnel to handle the patients adequately,
even if we had had facilities. It was just a matter of no food, no
clothing, no shelter, and no medical provisions.
I received the impression that the Russians didn't like Americans to see
too much of their activities. The treatment accorded me and my men
Russians was anything but good. They did not give us any help at
any time and they were always antagonistic. Aside from the individual
soldiers whom we cared for, the Russians did not seem appreciative of the
surgery that we performed for them.
Airborne Medical Operations.
I believe that in an airborne operation early surgery is essential, and
therefore there should be adequate personnel committed early in the operation.
This means that there is definitely a place for the airborne surgical team,
which I think should be permanently attached to the medical clearing company
or whatever medical group is serving that combat unit. They should
be permanently attached, because it is essential to have a smoothly functioning,
well-organized surgical section in a station when it is isolated and even
after it is no longer isolated. Evacuation may not be good, the nontransportables
must always be operated, and the Medical unit is way out in front of the
With a division I think that there should be a minimum of four surgical
teams. These would not necessarily have to be auxiliary surgical teams,
but judging from what I have seen, a clearing company usually has no one
who is qualified to do major surgery. In some clearing companies I
have found one or two men who were so qualified. If there is adequate
personnel in the clearing company to form these four teams, that is fine;
if not, I would recommend that at least two auxiliary surgical teams be attached
to each company. With two such teams, the work could be scheduled on
twelve-hour shifts. I believe that this arrangement would result in
maximum efficiency. Our team once worked for one hundred hours straight,
without rest, but that is too long.