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Chapter XLIV

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



The need of medical equipment for chartered transports and other vessels taken over by the embarkation service as troop ships early made itself known. The combat equipment of the organizations generally was shipped with troops property and stowed in the hold where it could not be used. Sometimes organization equipment was forwarded on a ship other than the one on which the troops were transported. These conditions not infrequently resulted in hardships and complaints.1 In the early days of our participation in the War, surgeons with organizations of the Regular Army and National Guard were expected to anticipate the needs of their units in medical equipment and supplies while en route and to submit requisitions for whatever was necessary. Many of them, in shipping their combat equipment, doubtless assumed that such needs, while on the transport, would be met from ship’s supplies. In embarking troops at New York, the medical officers with them seldom had either time or opportunity to report their needs to the port surgeon or to secure supplies before the ship on which they embarked sailed. To meet such needs there had been kept at the medical supply depot, New York, a limited number of modified regimental hospital equipments for transport use. These were issued to the first convoy.

The need of a definite transport unit equipment had not been sufficiently great prior to the movement of the first convoy to France to receive much consideration. It became acute at once upon the request of the commander of the port of embarkation, Newport News, Va., early in August, 1917, for unit equipment for 24 transports.The surgeon of that port, upon instructions from the Surgeon General, submitted a list of equipment in quantities thought to be sufficient for 1,000 troops or a lesser number. For larger vessels the quantities could be augmented as necessary.3 The transport unit equipment as adopted for this port is quoted below.4 Instructions were issued by the Surgeon General, August 20, 1917, to the medical supply depots at New York and Washington, to forward to the medical supply officer at Newport News the required quantities of the articles enumerated in the list for 24 transports. Smallpox vaccine, triple typhoid vaccine, and other biologicals were added in such quantities as the surgeon, port of embarkation, Newport News, deemed necessary.

[Transport unit equipment list]


[Transport unit equipment list - continued]

A somewhat more elaborate equipment, including a combination water, instrument, dressing, and utensil sterilizer set, was adopted at the point of embarkation, Hoboken, N. J.6

After varying experiences in providing the different transports and types of transports with initial equipment and replenishments, the surgeon of the port appointed a board of medical officers in the fall of 1918 to study the situation and compile a list of medicines and other supplies and equipment for transports. The situation by this time had materially changed. The wounded and sick with the American Expeditionary Forces were beginning to return to the United States in ever-increasing numbers. To the equipment required for the minor ailments arising among troops embarking for the front was added equipment and supplies to care for the wounded returning from the front. The equipment was sufficient to provide sterile dressings and to permit such operations as might be required among that class of patients.7 The list of equipment and supplies finally adopted appears below.

It may be stated here, in passing, that there were three types of troop transports in use: Vessels belonging to the Army Transport Service, manned by Army (military and civilian) personnel; vessels taken over or furnished by


the Shipping Board and manned by naval crews; private vessels chartered, as obtainable, for one or more trips, manned by private crews, or personnel who manned them while in commercial trade.

Medical and surgical supplies for the sick and injured of the troops in transit on ships of the Navy admitted to the sick bay or hospital of the ship were furnished by the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery of the Navy. Medical and surgical supplies required by medical officers of the Army in holding sick call and caring for minor ailments not requiring hospitalization were furnished by the Medical Department of the Army. In case a deficiency of Army medical supplies developed en route, the necessary supplies to make up the shortages were issued from the ship’s stores.8

Transport unit equipment, medical, 1918


Transport unit equipment, medical, 1918 - continued


Transport unit equipment, medical, 1918 - continued


Transport unit equipment, medical, 1918 - continued


(1) Paragraph 4, Cablegram 211, Headquarters, American Expeditionary Forces, Chaumont, to The Adjutant General, October 10, 1917. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Cable Files.
(2) Letter from the commanding officer, Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Va., to the Chief of Embarkation Service, August 2, 1917. Subject: Medical supplies for transports. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 583-538 NN/1.
(3) Letter from the surgeon, Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Va., to the Surgeon General, U. S. Army, August 7, 1917. Subject: Tentative list of supplies for Army transports. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O.,  583-538 NN/1.
(4) Medical and Surgical unit for Transport. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 583-538 NN/1.
(5) Letters from the Surgeon General, U. S. Army, to the officer in charge, medical supply depot, New York City, and Washington, D. C., August 20, 1917. Subject: Issues of  supplies to Newport News, Va. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O.,  583-538 NN/1.
(6) Correspondence between tile surgeon, Port of Embarkation, Hoboken, N. J., and the Surgeon General, U. S. Army, November and December, 1917. Subject: Transport equipment. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O.,  583-340 Emb.H./48.
(7) Correspondence between the Surgeon General, U. S. Army, and surgeons, Ports of Embarkation, Hoboken, N. J., and Newport News, Va., during October, 1918. Subject: Medical supplies for troop ships. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 583-Misc. /5. 
(8) Correspondence between the War and Navy Departments in November, 1917. Subject: Provision of medical and surgical supplies to forces of the Army embarked on ships of  the Navy acting as transports. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 530-714/1.