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Operation Report, Neptune, Omaha Beach

Operation Overlord

OPERATION REPORT

 NEPTUNE


OMAHA BEACH

26 FEBRUARY—26 JUNE 1944

PROVISIONAL ENGINEER SPECIAL

BRIGADE GROUP


5TH ENGINEER SPECIAL BRIGADE
6TH ENGINEER SPECIAL BRIGADE
11TH PORT

30 SEPTEMBER 1944



Map of Omaha Beach



327

Chapter 24

OPERATION OF MEDICAL FACILITIES


2401 Mission

    The 60th Medical Battalion, attached to the 6th Brigade, and the 61st Medical Battalion, attached to the 5th Brigade, were charged with the execution of the following missions: collection of casualties and sick in the Beach Maintenance Area, receipt of casualties from medical installations inland and preparation for their evacuation, establishment and operation of clearing stations, procurement of craft and DUKW's for evacuation of casualties to seaward, and the provision of first echelon medical service to those units in the Beach Maintenance Area that lacked medical detachments. The naval beach battalions were to operate aid stations on the beach and procure craft for seaward evacuation. It was planned that the 11th Port, upon completion of Mulberry “A,”  would take over from the brigades all seaward evacuation and the handling of medical resupply units landed from LST's (1). Before these operations could begin, however, Mulberry “A” was destroyed, and the plan was never used.


2402 Organization

    Plans for employing the 5th and 6th Brigades dictated the distribution of their medical battalions along different lines. Since the 5th Brigade was to comprise three battalion beach groups, the 61st Medical Battalion had to provide three collecting companies and three clearing platoons for attachment to the beach groups. The third clearing platoon included personnel of the station elements of the collecting companies and was authorized the necessary equipment on a special allowance. This combination of a collecting company and a clearing platoon was designated as a collecto-clearing company. Attachments were as follows:

        391st Collecting Company plus one platoon of the 643rd Clearing Company attached to the 37th Battalion Beach Group;

        392nd Collecting Company plus one platoon of the 643rd Clearing Company attached to the 336th Battalion Beach Group;

        393rd Collecting Company plus one platoon of the 643rd Clearing Company attached to the 348th Battalion Beach Group. (This clearing platoon was the provisional one composed of station elements of the collecting companies.)

____________________
(1)    FO No 3, Prov Engr Sp Brig Gp, Annex No 7, par 3, 11 May 44.



328

    The 60th Medical Battalion deviated less from conventional employment. The 6th Brigade plan provided for only one complete battalion beach group, the 149th, to which was attached the 500th Collecting Company and the 634th Clearing Company less one platoon. It was that by the time the remainder of the medical battalion landed, brigade headquarters would be established ashore. Consequently the 499th and 453rd Collecting Companies and one platoon of the 634th Clearing Company were to revert immediately after landing to the command of the Commanding Officer, 60th Medical Battalion.
    
    The success of these two types of organization will be examined later in this chapter, as will the functioning of the 12 surgical teams from the 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Group that were attached to the medical battalions at the beginning of the operation (2).


2403    Landings of the 60th Medical Battalion

    The 60th Medical Battalion had been split into 28 detachments for the lift. Six detachments landed on time and 22 were late. Eleven detachments arrived on the beaches where scheduled, and 17 debarked on the wrong beaches (3). The effect of this scattering upon the planned operation of beach medical facilities was unfortunate, but Army and Navy medical units went to work immediately in the confusion. In spite of enemy fire, they aided the wounded, established stations when and where they could, and evacuated casualties on craft that were hailed in for the purpose.

    The first Group medical battalion personnel on the beach were an officer and two enlisted men of the 634th Clearing Company of the 60th Battalion. They landed at 0855 hours but because of enemy fire could not accomplish their mission, which was to reconnoiter the proposed clearing station site at St. Laurent. Recruiting as assistants members of gap assault teams who had lost their equipment, the men treated casualties and established collecting points on the beach. At 1130 hours they evacuated 32 casualties by LCT. At about 1400 hours three officers and 25 enlisted men of the company's first platoon landed but were unable to leave the beach. They assisted in treating casualties and evacuating them to a collecting point in an anti-tank ditch. The Commanding Officer of the company and an enlisted man landed at 1500 hours with a 2 ½ -ton truck carrying medical equipment. Shortly after 1800 hours a first aid station was established 350 yards from the beach at Les Moulins, this being as far inland as it was possible to go at the time (14).

__________________________

(2)    Opn Plan Neptune, 5th Engr Sp Brig, Appendix No 1, 2 May 44; FO No. 3, 6th Engr Sp Brig, Annex No 10, pars 5 e (1) - 5 i, 15 May 44; FO No 3, Prov Engr Sp Brig Gp, Annex No 7, par 3, 11 May 44; Interviews with COs, 60th and 61st Med Bns, 17 Aug 44.

(3)    Opn Report Neptune, 6th Engr Sp Brig, par 22 a (2), 20 Jul 44.

(4)    Opn Report Neptune, 6th Engr Sp Brig, par 22 c (1), 20 Jul 44.



329

    The 500th Collecting Company came ashore at 1615 hours after suffering 10 casualties when their craft, the LCI 92, hit a submerged mine and was set afire by an oil shell. Personnel worked with the 634th Clearing Company on the beach and at Les Moulins.

    The Commanding Officer of the 60th Battalion was wounded when he disembarked from a rhino ferry on the afternoon of D-day. He was treated by litter bearers of the 500th Collecting Company and evacuated.

    The 453rd Collecting Company reached the shore on D+l, and the 499th Collecting Company on D+l and D+2 (5).


2404    Landings of the 61st Medical Battalion

    The advance group of battalion headquarters detachment was the first part of the 61st Medical Battalion to land,  arriving in two groups from LCVP's on Easy Red Beach. First ashore were five enlisted men and two officers, accompanied by two officers and 18 men of the 393rd Collecting Company. The group arrived at 1345 hours, 30 minutes late. The headquarters men came off their craft with typewriters, hand files, and other office equipment, but no medical supplies. The group was scheduled, on landing, to proceed to Fox Green Beach, but they remained on Easy Red, where wounded and dead littered the beach. The wounded called out for help, and the men of the headquarters and headquarters detachment, dropping their typewriters, gave what aid they could, stripping medical packs from the dead. (6).

    The group worked in a small defilade, protected from sniper fire that continued from a pillbox until about 1600 hours. Towards 2200 hours, firing having quieted down, a safe spot was found on a hill behind the beach, and a temporary station was set up. The wounded were carried there, and by midnight this sector of the beach was clear of casualties. About 2300 hours some of the wounded were evacuated on an LCVP.

    Meantime, the 391st Collecting Company had arrived on Easy Red Beach at 1400 hours, although this unit was to have landed ahead of all other 61st Battalion units. Heavy equipment of the battalion had been held out, and although this saved it from losses, personnel of the 391st, in caring for the wounded, were obliged to use whatever supplies they could obtain from the wounded and dead and from naval stores.

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(5)    Journal, 60th Med Bn, 6, 7, and 8 Jun 1944.

(6)    This was not altogether successful, because some of the troops had discarded their packets and filled the pouches with cigarettes and candy. This information was given orally by the medical workers. Medical battalion officers reported that, in some instances, the medical pouches of aid men also contained items other than those prescribed.



330    Illustration [not used]



331

    The 393rd Collecting Company came ashore between 1400 and 1500 hours on D-day. The 392nd arrived as planned about 1600 hours on D+1 (7).


2405    The Navy’s Contribution:  Medical Workers and Equipment

    Naval beach battalion officers and men, like those of the Army, worked as best they could during the early hours of the assault, treating the wounded. In all, the beach battalions brought ashore 18 medical officers and 144 corpsmen. Their functions were to provide medical care for any personnel on the beach and to operate a sea evacuation station on Easy White Beach. They also set up aid stations and, in the general confusion, hailed in craft on which the wounded were evacuated.

    Medical workers made use of Navy, as well as Army, equipment. On D-day, 10 Navy units of medical resupply, each including, among other things, 100 litters, 360 blankets, 8 cases of plasma, 14 splint sets, and 3 boxes of dressings, came in on LST’s. On succeeding days more units were unloaded, until the planned total of 300 had been received. Much naval equipment remained in use ashore during the period ending D+20 (8).


2406    Sea Evacuation

    On D-day, any available small craft were used to ferry casualties to LST’s, all of which were equipped and manned for the transport of wounded. The first hospital carrier arrived on D+l (9). Southampton and Portland were reception ports for the wounded on the near shore. Flag signals were arranged to inform medical authorities on the near shore when a ship was bringing in casualties, so that medical facilities could be made ready. In practice, however, these signals were not observed or were not observable. The hards were crowded with craft reloading troops and supplies destined for the far shore, with the result that during the first few days some vessels were kept out at sea with wounded men aboard longer than was desirable. Later the officer in charge of evacuation designated a beach for the use of ships and craft carrying wounded, and further delays were avoided (10).

________________________

(7)    Journal, 61st Med Bn.

(8)    Interview with Medical Officer, Prov Engr Sp Brig Gp, 20 Jun 44.

(9)    Action Report, Comdr Assault Force “O”, Part VI, p 147, par 8, 27 Jul 44.

(10)    Interview with liaison officer of Admiral Kirk’s staff with brigades, 20 Jun 44; Interview with medical officer of 11th Port, 24 Oct 44; Interview with Historical Officer, Office of the Surgeon, Hq European T of Opns, 25 Oct 44.



332    Illustration [not used]



333

2407     Further Landings and Operations on D+1 (See Plate 71.)

    During the hours of darkness on the morning of D+1, collection of casualties on the beach continued, and as many as possible were evacuated by the 500th Collecting Company. Additional officers, men, and equipment of this company landed, and these worked along the beach until 1500 hours, when permission was obtained to establish a clearing station in the valley about 300 yards northwest of St. Laurent. There were sufficient supplies to equip three ward, tents, and there were surgical instruments on hand. The station was established by 1900 hours, and surgical care of non-transportables was initiated at 2000 hours. During the remainder of D+1, 91 casualties were treated, and 83 were evacuated by sea.

    The first element of the 499th Collecting Company was on the beach at about 1730 hours on D+1 and proceeded to Exit D-l at Vierville, where a station was set up. Emergency treatment was rendered to casualties, and evacuation seaward was effected, although transportation was inadequate. Casualties were heavy because at the prolonged shelling of the exit, which was still under fire (11).

    Units of the 61st Medical Battalion, some of which had made contact with each other on D-day, were operating effectively on D+1, and supplies began to arrive. The battalion was operating two stations, one in an anti-tank ditch and the other in a pillbox behind Easy Red Beach. Two tents came in, and the stations moved into them. Further evacuation efforts were more successful, although the beach was still under fire until about 1300 hours, and care was given to patients who could not be evacuated (12).


2408     Later Operations (See Plate 72.)

    Medical units from the evening of D+1 through D+20 settled into a routine which in the main followed the plan. The companies of the 60th Battalion established their stations in the vicinity of St. Laurent and began receiving and evacuating American and enemy casualties as well as French civilian wounded. Evacuation of the latter presented a serious problem. No provision had been made to transport them across the channel, and medical installations had difficulty in finding room for them until they could be placed in the hospital at Bayeux or in the home of friends. Casualties were heavy. Snipers were active in the vicinity, shooting at troops on the Exit D-3 road, but they did not molest medical personnel.

    During the period following D+2, the 60th Battalion station was

_______________

(11)    Opn Report Neptune, 6th Engr Sp Brig, par 22 d (1), 20 Jul 44.

(12)    Journal, 61st Med Bn.



334

enlarged as additional supplies were landed, and the first platoon of the 634th Clearing Company established a holding station for about 100 cases able to return to duty within 10 days. The battalion suffered seven casualties ashore during the period ending D+20 (13).

    On D+2 the 61st Battalion units set up their third collecto-clearing station on the beach. The 391st Collecting Company moved to the top of the hill near the air strip on D+3, and the other companies followed them to this location. The 392nd was the last company to move when, on 18 June, it transferred from its location at the Fox end of the beach. The 61st Battalion’s casualties were three who were killed in action, three missing in action, one who died of wounds, and 22 who were wounded in action (14).


2409 Surgical Teems

    Twelve surgical teams came ashore with units of the two medical battalions, and although they did heroic work on D-day and D+1, their skill probably was not put to its greatest use. The members of these teams were specialized surgeons, and it was planned that they would be able to give more immediate expert care to the seriously wounded than had ever before been achieved.  Because of the conditions on the beach, however, and the lack of necessary equipment, these specialists were limited to administering plasma and treating the wounded for shock. The medical units were handicapped by an insufficiency of officers, and the members of the surgical teams helped to supply this lack, many of them going without rest during the first two days to administer what amounted to first aid to the wounded. One team, for example, established a first aid point near Exit E-1 with elements of the 393rd Collecting Company, and treatment was given at this station until noon of D+1, when the surgeons were relieved. Others worked at the clearing station set up by the 1st US Infantry Division above Exit E-l. By D+2 enough of the surgical equipment, which had been held off the beach until it could be brought in safely, had arrived, and the teams were then able to start doing the specialized job that had been planned for them (15).


2410     Medical Section of the 11th Port

    The medical section of the 11th Port was split into three groups for the lift, the first two of which arrived 8 June and the third on 12


__________________


(13)    Journal, 60th Med Bn; Interview with officer of 60th Med Bn; Opn Report Neptune, 6th Engr Sp Brig, pars 22 a (2). 22 c (2) - 22 c (6), 20 Jul 44.

(14)     Journa1,  61st Med Bn.

(15)    Interviews with Medical Officers of Prov Engr Sp Brig Gp, and of 60th and 61st Med Bns, 10 Jun 44 and 17 Aug 44.



335

June. As new units of the port arrived and were assigned bivouac areas, the office of the port surgeon set up a dispensary to serve units lacking medical detachments (16). The 11th Port also participated in the setting up of the Evacuation Center, which is discussed below.


2411 Air Evacuation

    It became evident soon after D+4 that most evacuations would be by air; the planes were available, the weather was good enough to permit flying most of the time, and this method was faster and more satisfactory than evacuation by sea. Patients previously called non-transportable were moved by plane, and the number of non-transportables was reduced to an average of about six per day.

    Air evacuation, scheduled. to begin 20 June, actually started 20 June, D+14, when 13 men, including seven prisoners of war, were transported by plane. (See Plate 73.) . By D+14 air evacuation of wounded was so successful that LST's were employed for this purpose only when unfavorable weather prevented flying.

    An agreement between First US Army and the Ninth US Air Force provided that transport type aircraft returning from the beach to the United Kingdom would be used for air evacuation of the wounded, unless military necessity required otherwise. The Ninth Air Force was to provide transport aircraft equipped with litter racks and was to assume responsibility for the medical care and treatment of casualties from the time they were loaded on en aircraft until they were unloaded at an airdrome convenient to a fixed hospital. For its part, the Army was to establish a holding unit near each evacuation airdrome aim was to load them into the aircraft provided (17). Patients for air evacuation were originally handled by the 393rd Collecting Company, which had set up an installation near the St. Laurent air strip. About 18 June, the 60th and 61st Battalions joined in forming the Evacuation Center, a holding unit for all cases to be dispatched by air, if planes were available, or otherwise by sea. Combination of the medical battalions for the operation of the center was not contemplated in Operation Plan Neptune but came about as the result of unexpectedly large numbers of patients who could be evacuated by air.

    General Order No 2 of the Group officially established the Evacuation Center to “hold, administer medical treatment to emergency cases, and. evacuate to the United Kingdom casualties processed to Omaha Beach.”  The Group Surgeon was designated Commanding Officer of the center, to which the following personnel was attached:

___________________

(16)    Opn Report Neptune, 11th Port, par v (1) - v (3), 19 Jul 44.

(17)    Opn Plan Neptune, First US Army, Annex No 5, par 8, 25 Feb 44.



336    Illustration [not used]



337

    61st Battalion, less detachments.
    2nd Platoon, 634th Clearing Company, 60th Battalion
    499th Collecting Company,  60th Battalion.

    An officer and three enlisted men from the 11th Port (18).
    
    The 61st Battalion units were to operate a holding capacity for 750 litter cases, the clearing company platoon was to take care of 250 ambulance cases, and the collecting company was to provide litter bearers and. to load patients on ship or planes. The officer from the 11th Port was Control Officer of the center. The center, which had a capacity of 1000 patients to be evacuated, had no room for patients who could have been returned to duty within a few days. The holding station set up by the first platoon of the 634th Clearing Company was too small to accommodate all such patients, and the evacuation Center could give treatment on 17 in emergency cases. The result was that all patients were evacuated from the center to the United Kingdom, including those who had light wounds or trifling ailments.

    Figures on air and sea evacuation are given in Table 24. Evacuation figures of the 5th and 6th Brigades should not be compared for the period D+7 through D+13, because pressure being applied to the left flank, inland from the 5th Brigade's sector, had increased the number of casualties in that area, and because attachment of a platoon from the 634th Clearing Company (6th Brigade) to the 30th US Infantry Division had left the 634th with insufficient personnel to handle large numbers of casualties. When these factors reverted to normal, the numbers evacuated by the two brigades once more became comparable (19). It may also be noted that air evacuation was not hindered by the storm of 19-22 June, when evacuation by sea was impossible.


2412     Conclusion

    The great heroism of medical men in working under fire on D-day and D+1 to treat the wounded on the beach, and the establishment of the Evacuation Center highlighted the first 20 days of the operation from the medical point of view. Evacuation by air broke all records, and through this means of transportation great numbers of men quickly reached medical installations in the United Kingdom where there were full facilities for the treatment of their wounds.

    The advantage, and disadvantages of the plans for organizing and

________________________

(18)    GO No 2, Prov Engr Sp Brig Gp, 22 Jun 44.

(19)    Interviews with Medical Officer, Prov Engr Sp Brig Gp, 20 Jun 44 and 31 Jul 44.



338

moving the two medical battalions merit some discussion. The plan for collecto-clearing companies adopted by the 61st Battalion was sound enough, in the opinion of officers of the battalion, except that the provisional nature of the organizations led to constant confusion in the planning for the lift to the far shore. As has been pointed out, the situation in the 60th Battalion area was such that it was more practicable to have a separate clearing company in operation. The most important consideration, however, is that the conception that medical units should operate only in the sectors of the engineer battalion beach groups to which they were attached, did not meet the demands of the situation. These units should be so employed as to give most efficient service to the tactical unit supported by the beach group regardless of its location. This point is best illustrated by the situation as it developed in the 5th Brigade sector. The principal job of the 61st Battalion was to Collect and clear the combat wounded coming back from the front lines, and a1most all these casualties were returning through Exit E-1. Since this was true, the only function that could have been performed by the medical groups farther east on the beach was that of caring for the few men injured while working in that area. The Commanding Officer of the 61st landed fairly early on D-day and was able to assemble his personnel and put them to work at the points where their services were most needed. During the battalion phase of the operation, his companies were attached to the engineer combat battalions, but to achieve an efficient organization of medical services on the beach, the Commanding Officer of the 61st was obliged to assume his functions as Brigade Surgeon in command of all his companies before the brigade phase had begun.

    Further, in the opposed landing, clearing companies had little opportunity to perform their normal functions. The collecting companies were useful on the beach, but the clearing companies would have been more effective had they been held offshore, together with the surgical teams, until such time as beach conditions, would permit them to carry out their prescribed duties. Additional medical personnel and surgical teams might well have been stationed on casualty-equipped ships assigned for the purpose and anchored offshore. Here, definitive care could have been given to the wounded, and the surgical teams could have exercised their professional skill under conditions of reasonable quiet end with proper equipment. Such additional units would not, of course, have been on call for shore duty. As matter developed, the clearing activities on the beach on D-day were little more than valiant attempts. The first time that collecting squads tried to assemble a group of wounded at a point on the water's edge, they drew enemy mortar fire which landed with deadly accuracy in the midst of the group. Following this tragic incident, which demonstrated clearly the impossibility of setting up a clearing station on the beach, squads of four litter bearers each were obliged to rush one casualty at a time to the evacuating craft, and groupings were avoided.

Table 24   Evacuation of Casualties from Omaha Beach