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Chapter XLV

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



Accountability for public property arid the rendering of formal returns therefor had been a fixed principle in Army procedure for more than a century prior to 1917. In time of peace accountability had been rigidly enforced and returns of exactness required. In the early shipments of supplies to the American Expeditionary Forces in France the question arose concerning the liberality which might be allowed in accounting for medical and hospital supplies and the point at which it should terminate. It was foreseen that, not only would there be the hazards of wastage and loss incident to actual combat, but, because of the distance from the home territory and the length of the water lane the supplies must traverse, there would be the extra hazards of the sea and the ever-present submarine menace. Delays in delivery of the supplies to the supply depots of the Medical Department with the American Expeditionary Forces would be inevitable. It the officers in charge of those depots were to be held to a strict accountability for all the supplies invoiced from the home territory, great waste of time, energy, and effort would result from the multitude of surveys and correspondence incident to the adjustment of discrepancies between the quantities invoiced and received. The overseas depots would be taxed to the utmost in delivering supplies at the time and place, and in the quantities needed. Shipments would arrive at many ports and turn up at unexpected places.

The Surgeon General early decided, therefore, that it was impracticable and unnecessary to extend the peace time requirements of accountability to the American Expeditionary Forces. Such property as was actually received could be taken up by the supply officers and distributed and accounted for as the interests of the service demanded.

This decision to exempt the American Expeditionary Forces from the requirements of peace-time accounting gave rise to the question when, where, and how accountability of the issuing officers in the home territory would cease for supplies sent overseas. The appropriate place appeared to be the port of embarkation, and the time the date of loading on board the issue designated to transport the supplies. The manner did not appear so easy of determination. The surgeon, port of embarkation, Hoboken, on August 13, 1917, proposed that all medical property going to France be consigned and invoiced to the medical supply officer at the port who, in turn, would prepare the necessary shipping invoices, transfer the property to the general superintendent, Army Transport Service, upon notification that cargo space was available, and furnish the Surgeon General a copy of the packer’s list or


shipping invoices.1 This establishment of accountability at the port of embarkation did not appear to be necessary. It added another return to be rendered, examined and settled with all the attendant correspondence, and did not in any wise simplify the procedure. Consequently, the Surgeon General directed, in August, 1917, that the issuing officer was to formally invoice the property to the medical supply officer of the American Expeditionary Forces and distribute the copies of the invoice-receipt in the usual manner. The invoice was to serve as a notice to the medical supply officer of the American Expeditionary Forces of the supplies en route, to be picked up and accounted for in the manner prescribed by the commander in chief, A. E. F. A copy of the packer’s list and the original, or memorandum, bill of lading were to be sent to the medical supply officer of the port to which the supplies were forwarded.2 Upon arrival of the shipment the invoicing officer was notified.3 When the supplies were loaded on board the ship the Surgeon General was furnished a list of the supplies so loaded and the name and invoice number of the issuing officer.4 This report was accepted as a voucher to the issuing officer’s return, and the account was closed.

All supply bureaus apparently did not follow the same method in terminating accountability of supplies consigned to the American Expeditionary Forces. Under date of June 3, 1918, the following instructions were issued by the War Department:’

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3. Supplies intended for shipment overseas will be invoiced to the proper Port supply officer, and the accountability for such supplies will cease when they are delivered to the Embarkation Service at the port concerned, port supply officers filing with their returns proper evidence of that fact. Accountability for Engineer supplies may be dropped when turned over to a common carrier, as previously authorized in instructions of December 29, 1917, in which case the Engineer port supply officer will have reponsibility only for the property after receipt and until delivered to the embarkation service at the port, or, at the discretion of the supply officer, general Engineer depot, they may be invoiced to the Engineer port supply officer as in other bureaus, in which case they will be accounted for and dropped as specified for other bureaus.

4. Bureau chiefs charged with the administrative examination, and settlement of property accounts may accept as proper vouchers to returns certified invoices, accompanied by sufficient evidence from embarkation supply officers that the property enumerated on such certified invoices has actually been shipped overseas.

5. Port supply officers will furnish the chiefs of their respective bureaus overseas with itemized lists of all property shipped abroad. These lists will be used to form the basis for the preparation of such returns and the establishment of such methods of property responsibility and accountability as, in the discretion of the commanding general, A. E. F., may be necessary and practicable in the premises. Chiefs of supply bureaus will empower representatives on the staff of the commanding general, A. E. F., to act in their names in all matters connected with the examination and settlement of property accountability in Europe which, under the Army Regulations, are required to be performed by chiefs of bureaus of the War Department. In like manner the Secretary of War empowers the commanding general, A. E. F., to act in his name in all matters of property accountability in Europe which, under the Army Regulations, are required to be performed by the Secretary of War.

6. Supplies intended for oversea shipment through a port other than a primary port of embarkation will be shipped to the port quartermaster thereof, and accountability therefor


will be dropped by the accountable officer on filing with his return certified invoices accompanied by proper evidence from the port quartermaster that the supplies have been shipped overseas. The itemized lists called for in paragraph 5 will be sent to chiefs of bureaus overseas by the port quartermaster.

7. Supplies turned over to the embarkation service for shipment overseas will be in the hands of that service until delivered to the Government representatives at ports of debarkation abroad, and in case of loss or damage during that time, such proceedings and papers as may be necessary to protect the interest of the Government and to fix the responsibility for such loss or damage will he the duty of the embarkation service. Receipted copy of manifest showing delivery of supplies abroad will be considered sufficient evidence to relieve the embarkation service of further responsibility for such supplies.

These instructions established definitely accountability at the port and imposed upon the port medical supply officer the obligation of rendering periodic returns of medical property passing through the port. The question of how the accountability would terminate at the port was revived and forms of receipts by the embarkation service were worked out. The final result was a combination invoice and receipt form in letter size which was attached to the face of the packer’s list of articles in each consignment for loading. One copy was furnished the Surgeon General and the duplicate was retained as credit vouchers to the return of the port supply officer. This method of accounting at the ports of embarkation continued practically unchanged until the cessation of hostilities when the need for it likewise terminated.


(1) Copy of a proposed indorsement from the Surgeon, Port of Embarkation, Hoboken, N. J., to the Commanding General of that port, relative to the port medical supply depot, Pier 45, North River, New York, August 13, 1917. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 583-340/4.
(2) Letter from Maj. Edwin P. Wolfe, M. C., S. G. O., to Col. J. M. Kennedy, M. C., Hoboken, N. J., August 16, 1917, on policy of handling medical supplies at that port. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 538-340/4.
(3) Letter from the medical supply officer, Pier 45, North River, New York, to the Surgeon General, December 19, 1917. Subject: Form letters. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 583-539/58.
(4) Various reports of shipments of medical supplies overseas, rendered by the port medical supply officer, Pier 45, North River, New York, August to December, 1917, inclusive. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 583-539, general number.
(5) G. O. No. 54, W. D., June 3, 1918.