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Chapter XX

Books and Documents > Medical Department of the U.S. Army in the World War, Volume III, Finance & Supply





At the time we entered the World War, and for some time thereafter, the Medical Department was charged with the proper designing of motor ambulances,b their purchase, inspection, and maintenance. For the effectual conduct of this work there was organized in the finance and supply division a motor ambulance section which, as related in Chapter I, eventually became the motor ambulance subdivision.

While the assistant chief of the finance and supply division was in general charge of the activities concerning automobile ambulances, the chief of the motor ambulance subdivision was an expert from civil life, selected for his special qualifications.

An idea of the organization of the motor ambulance subdivision can best be gained from a description of the manner in which it functioned. This was as follows: The technical expert who was in general charge was charged also with design, production, inspection, and assembly of motor ambulances. The technical assistant was charged with legal matters, contracts, and correspondence. A motor ambulance experimental station was maintained in Washington,
D. C., for testing and for development of changes and improvements in detail of design and construction. Inspection groups were detailed at the factory of the General Motors Truck Co., at Pontiac, Mich., and at the factories of the several body manufacturers, for inspection of the work in progress and its acceptance when completed. This personnel directly represented the Surgeon General at the several factories and were responsible for production and periodic reports thereof, and for improvements in methods, processes, and design. A motor ambulance supply depot was established at Louisville, Ky., for receiving, assembling, testing, storing, and shipping motor ambulances, motor cycles, and spare parts therefore.c


a The motor ambulance did not entirely eliminate the animal-drawn ambulance. Tables of organization required that one of the four ambulance companies authorized for each Infantry division be animal drawn. So they were in the United States. Overseas, animal-drawn ambulances were not much used, and indeed were not sent over except with the first few divisions, as the 1st and 2d Regular Divisions and the 26th and 42d National Guard Divisions. Animal-drawn ambulances, with all spare parts and repairs, were furnished by the Quartermaster Corps.
b The motor ambulance board, which was referred to in the introduction to this volume, continued to function for several months after the declaration of war, April 6, 1917, thus accounting for frequent references to it in succeeding pages, in connection with the design of ambulances. Its duties gradually were assumed by the motor ambulance subdivision, Surgeon General’s Office.
cA full account of the activities of this depot appears in Chap. XLI.


The following extract from a memorandum to the Inspector General indicates briefly the functions, duties, and methods of the motor ambulance subdivision of the Surgeon General’s Office, as of April 26, 1918:1

(1) The general problem of “providing motor ambulances of satisfactory quality and design, in necessary quantities, and at the right time” is assigned to one office, including personnel at one motor ambulance experimental station, one body-producing plant, one chassis-producing plant, one motor ambulance supply, repair, and salvage depot. The responsibility of the officer in general charge of this work has been clearly outlined. His authority under the approval of the colonel in charge of the supply branch is clear. The responsibility and authority of each officer in charge of the various stations under the directing Washington office have been clearly outlined.
(2) The general problem of “providing motor ambulances of satisfactory quality and design, in necessary quantities, and at the right time” is regarded as including (1) engineering and design, (2) procurement, (3) production, (4) inspection, (5) proper delivery f. o. b. factories. At the directing Washington office, and at each station, each of the above five subdivisions is intimately involved, and interdependent in the successful solution of the general problem stated. No one can be handled independently, or even without the closest cooperation and knowledge of the others. Division of responsibility and authority, as per these subdivisions, has not been found necessary or desirable. On the contrary, it is believed such subdivision would lead to confusion of responsibility and authority, overlapping if not conflicting effort, mistakes, and delays in the successful emergency solution of the general problem.
(3) Care has been exercised in the selection of experienced officers in charge of this work at its various stations; each has his responsibility and authority clearly outlined on paper, and in a definite, complete production problem; and the Medical Department submits that its system for “providing motor ambulances of satisfactory quality and design, in necessary quantities, and at the right time,” is successful.
(4) The officers in charge at the various stations look to one office for authority and direction. They are kept in touch, as far as practicable, with the aims and general operation at other plants and at the Washington office.
(5) The general problem, including its various subdivisions, at the various stations and plants, is not too large for competent experienced officers in charge to successfully handle. On the contrary, there is great advantage, both theoretical and practical, in assigning to officers in charge a definite, complete problem, with responsibility and authority to see it through. Enthusiasm, overtime efforts, exceptional cooperation, and teamwork have resulted in motor ambulance work.

The personnel at the motor ambulance experimental station at Washington was employed continually in working out improvements in design and preparing detail drawings of these improvements, in making road and shop tests, in making inspections of motor ambulances and equipment and Medical Department personnel at the various camps in charge of such vehicles and equipment, and in giving instruction at various Medical Department schools. This personnel was very intimately associated with the ambulance section in the Surgeon General’s Office and was used to develop the details that section desired. In the summer of 1918, the personnel on duty at this station consisted of 8 commissioned officers of the Sanitary Corps and 12 noncommissioned officers and 5 privates of the Medical Department.2

The inspection groups at the plants for manufacturing chassis and bodies consisted, August 30, 1918, of 4 officers of the Sanitary Corps and 17 enlisted men (5 noncommissioned officers, 12 privates), Medical Department, at the General Motors Truck Co.’s plant, Pontiac, Mich.; 2 officers of the Sanitary Corps and 5 enlisted men (4 noncommissioned officers, 1 private), Medical


Department, at the Anderson Electric Car Co.’s plant, Detroit, Mich.; and 1 officer of the Sanitary Corps and 4 enlisted men (3 noncommissioned officers, 1 private), Medical Department, at the plant of the Elkhart Carriage & Motor Car Co., Elkhart, Ind. Their principal duties were to supervise production, watch processes of manufacture, correct defects in methods and products, carry out the policies of the central office, and keep it informed of progress in production.2


(1) Memorandum from the Surgeon General, April 26, 1918, to Maj. Robert D. Palmer, Office of the Inspector General, April 26, 1918. Subject: Organization of the Medical Department for the provision of ambulances. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O.,750-519./45.
(2) Letter from the Surgeon General to The Adjutant General, August 30, 1918. Subject: Motor Transport Corps, On file, Finance and Supply Division, S.G.O., 750-519/1.