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261st Medical Battalion, 1st Engineer Special Brigade

Operation Overlord



I. Activation and Early History.

A. The 261st Medical Battalion was activated 15 June 1942, per GO #64, Engineer Amphibian Command, at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts. 1st Lt. Howard F. Conn assigned and joined, per par 25, SO #12, Engineer Amphibian Command, and assumed command. On 30 June 1942, Captain Edward L. Tuckey of the 54th Medical Battalion assumed command per GO #1, 261st Medical Battalion, vice 1st Lt. Conn relieved. On 4 July 1942, a cadre of 219 EM was released from the 54th Medical Battalion per SO #23, 54th Medical Battalion. Company "A", 54th Medical Battalion, formed Company "A", 261st Medical Battalion, Company "C", 54th Medical Battalion, formed Company "B", 261st Medical Battalion, and first platoon Company "D", 54th Medical Battalion, formed Company "C", 261st Medical Battalion. Headquarters, 261st Medical Battalion, was drawn from the newly formed letter companies. Major Merle E. Smith, Inf., O232723, transferred from Headquarters, Engineer Amphibian Command, and assigned Commanding Officer, 261st Medical Battalion, per SO #34, Hq, Engineer Amphibian Command, 17 July 1942. This arrangement held until November 1944, when Lt. Col. Merle E. Smith, MC, was transferred to Headquarters, Utah District, Normandy Base Section, and Major Daniel I. Dann, MC, O-XXXXXX, assumed command.

1. The 261st Medical Amphibian Battalion was organized under T/O 8-195, W.D., 23 July 1942. The Battalion was assigned to and was an organic part of the 1st Engineer Amphibian Brigade, Engineer Amphibian Command.

2. Changes in designation.

a. Redesignated 261st Medical Battalion per letter, Headquarters, I Armored Corps, Reinforced, subject: "Change in Designation," file 322.1-C, dated 12 June 1943.

b. Redesignated as Caserta, Italy, 27 October 1943, under T/O and E 8-195B, dated 21 April 1943, per GO #79, Headquarters, Fifth Army, dated 27 October 1943. This plan has continued throughout the remainder of 1943 and 1944.

B. Early History - It was confusing to say the least. A month after the original cadre arrived the Battalion left for the Port of Embarkation, New York. On 6 August we sailed for the British Isles. The majority of our EM had been in the Army less than six months, and the majority of our officers on active duty less than one month. There were many changes during the early days at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. We start to get acquainted, to organize and to train. Because our equipment did not reach us in time we were unable to make the North African landing with our parent organization. In early December we moved to a staging area at Birkenhead, England. On 8 January 1943, we sailed for North Africa, and located at Arzew, Algeria. Here we did many and varied jobs. The three Medical Companies rotated among the three most important activities.

1. The Battalion had assigned and borrowed a total of 72 ambulances. Service was given in carrying to the various US Army Hospitals patients arriving at La Senia Airport, Oran, from the Tunisian Front, and also carrying patients from hospitals to the Port of Oran for embarkation.


2. Operated a Clearing Station Hospital in Arzew with a capacity of 100 patients. Also rendered dispensary and dental care to units in the environs.

3. Trained at 5th Army Training Center at Port Aux Poules. Invasion exercises and tactics were stressed.

On 11 July 1943, the majority of our men and equipment landed at Gela, Sicily, to handle the casualties and evacuation of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade Beachhead over which the 1st Infantry Division had made the assault landing. The casualties were relatively heavy in the particular sector. However the presence of the 1st Division Clearing Company, the 51st Provisional Collecting-Clearing Company, and the 2nd Armored Medical units in addition to ourselves provided adequate care. Following the beachhead phase the three companies ran small hospitals, each holding up to 150 patients. They were located at Agrigento, Gela, and Licata. On 19 August the Battalion was alerted for an immediate move to Bizerte for assignment to 5th Army for what was later discovered to be the landing at Salerno, Italy, on 9 September. The order was cancelled two days later and we remained in Sicily in bivouac. Up till the time of the alert the three companies admitted 3961 patients constituting a total of 9201 patient days treatment. During this period Headquarters Detachment maintained continual trucking service, first carrying supplies to the front line troops, and later transporting medical supplies from Licata to Palermo, Sicily.

On 19 October 1943, the Battalion sailed for Italy and on 24 October set up bivouac at Caserta. Except for some dispensary and evacuation work we did not accomplish much here. After turning in most of our equipment we sailed for Naples on 18 November and proceeded to the British Isles. We settled at Truro, Cornwall, England, on 12 December 1943. From this time until the Normandy Invasion on 6 June 1944, we devoted our efforts to organizing, planning and training for the coming invasion of France.

II. Specific Missions and Details of Operations for 1944.

A. All the training and experience acquired by this unit in its travels prepared us for our most important mission, the handling of casualties and evacuation on Utah Beach, Normandy, France.

The 1st Engineer Special Brigade established this beach in conjunction with the 4th Infantry Division which made the initial assault landings, and the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions whose parachute and glider-borne troops landed beyond the inundated area guarding the beach on the night before "D" day. The 1st Engineer Special Brigade and their attached Naval Shore groups developed this beach for the reception of troops, equipment and vehicles and for the evacuation of casualties. Companies "A" and "C", 261st Medical Battalion, landed on H plus 6 hours, D day and Company "B" landed on D plus 1 and set up next to Company "C" whom it relieved for 24 hours. On 1800 hours "D" day major surgery was being done by our medical officers and attached surgical teams. Working with the 4th Division medical units and those of the Engineer and Naval Shore groups our companies handled all the casualties on Utah Beach. All patients were "cleared" through the 261st Medical Battalion. Working with the Second Naval Beach Battalion Medical Section we handled all evacuation to the United Kingdom. As there was no air evacuation on this beach in the early phase and very little even much later we evacuated almost all the patients in the chain of evacuation scheme. All definitive surgery was performed at our companies until D plus 5. After that the Field and Evacuation Hospitals gradually relieved us of that task. After the first two weeks we were doing only the


"overflow" surgery; cases that occurred in the vicinity of our installations, or cases that "leaked through" during the chain of evacuation. At this stage our chief duties were holding and evacuation.

Evacuation was accomplished chiefly by jeep ambulances augmented by DUKWs and trucks. Patients were sent primarily to LST's and also to Hospital Ships via LCT's and DUKWs. The former method is the fastest and also the easier on the patient as the journey to the Hospital Ship involves moving the patient twice. First of all they are placed on the vehicles, then the LCT's, and then after a rough ride out to the Carrier they are hauled aboard. Or they are loaded on DUKWs at the Clearing Station and proceed directly to the Hospital Carrier. Where a long journey by boat is contemplated the Hospital Ship will assure a more comfortable ride. But on a short hop like the English Channel the limited and rapid handling of patients placed on LST's more than compensated for the smoother ride. The speed with which the Jeep ambulances could be loaded and unloaded was of great value in helping us overcome the obstacles presented to LST loading by the fast rising tides. Their disadvantages were: 1. The sickest patients ride better in ambulances. 2. During inclement weather the Jeeps afforded no protection. Hence, it would be of value to have several ambulances on hand in place of Jeep ambulances. Coordination between Army and Navy Medical Officers is essential to a smooth evacuation system. It is up to the Naval Officers to find ships for evacuation especially in the early phases when the Clearing Stations will be filled beyond capacity. The group on Utah Beach under Lt. Ernest Reynolds, U.S.N.R., was both veteran and capable. They attached an officer to each company who kept in contact with the Naval Beach Station by "walkie-talkie" or courier. Thus, it was easy to coordinate evacuation policies and procedures. We were able to get evacuation as needed except for a two day period, June 20-22, when a storm at sea prevented us from sending any casualties to ships. On 21 June we had 691 patients remaining at our three companies. However, the following day the storm subsided , we were able to evacuate 515 patients, and the emergency was over. Though carrying on the important function of evacuation until the beach closed, this Battalion was most valuable in the first four weeks of the operation - and especially during the first week. An analysis of the number of patients admitted and evacuated will illustrate this point


Number Admitted (Cumulative)

Number Evacuation (Cumulative)

13 June 1944



20 June 1944



27 June 1944



6 August 1944



31 December 1944



Thus, for the first week the Battalion averaged 1035 admissions each day. Then the rate fell and the average daily admission rate for the first two months was 571.6 patients. After that the rate became much lower - the breakthrough at St. Lo had occurred on 25 July 1944, and the front had moved in all directions requiring new evacuation points. It is evident that the handling of 7245 casualties during our first week in France represents the peak of our accomplishments. Also, more definitive surgery was done on our patients during the first week than at any later time.

Headquarters Detachment landed on "D" plus 1 and immediately started to run the medical dump for the beach. Also accomplished was the most important job of handling the medical records and reports for our unit, as well as consolidating


Records for the 1st Engineer Special Briade which numbered over 17,000 troops. In August the 261st Medical Battalion was assigned by the Surgeon Normandy Base Section, Com Z, to stage all hospital units and all female personnel arriving over Utah and Omaha Beaches from the United States and United Kingdom. The following were staged:

1. 32 General Hospitals

2. 5 Station Hospitals

3. 1 Evacuation Hospital

4. 11 Field Hospitals

5. 2 Auxiliary Surgical Groups

6. 2 Ambulance Companies

7. Miscellaneous groups from female organizations such as ATS, WAC, ARC, etc.

Throughout our stay on the beach our trucks were handling supplies for the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. Later on they hauled supplies from the Depot at Omaha Beach to Paris for the Surgeon, Normandy Base Section. Starting in August some of our Jeeps were used by the Surgeon, Communications Zone, and they have been stationed in Cherbourg, Paris and Rennes. This latter policy held till the end of the year.

B. As the beach slowed down our Company "A" moved a short distance inland, near Ste Marie Du Mont and our headquarters. They set up a Clearing Station Hospital and handled principally troops of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. During the last week of August they were joined by Company "C". At this time Company "B" started to handle only the POW patients from the nearby stockades, and this policy continued throughout the year. On 11 September 1944, Company "B" joined the remainder of the Battalion. This arrangement lasted through November. At that time the bivouac and stations areas were becoming almost unusable because of the deep mud. On 11 December 1944, Headquarters and Company "B" moved to Ste Mere Eglise, and were followed shortly by Company "A". The latter ran a dispensary at Ste Mere Eglise and dispatched personnel to the 1st Platoon at Valognes to augment the 61st Medical Battalion Clearing Station that was running a 200 bed hospital. Company "C" moved to Granville during the last week of December. They took over the dispensary care for the surrounding area and also handled quarters cases. This arrangement prevailed at the end of 1944. Thus, we had gone from a very definitive and important assignment in the summer to handling various odd jobs at the close of the year.

III. Military and Civilian Personnel. This unit received a large group of replacements in February 1944, to bring us up to 15% overstrength. They were direct from the United States, had completed basic training, and were most under 21 years of age. They augmented our unit very well and proved to be excellent soldiers, though not highly trained technicians. In general, they were the best replacement group we have ever received. During 1944 over 5% of our command had attacks of Malaria - from one to nine times. Some had their first known attack in England or France, while others were definite repeaters from Sicily. No civilian personnel were utilized during 1944. POW details were of value during the latter months of the year.

IV. Training of Personnel and Organization of Equipment.

A. Training. During our stay in England we trained hard for the coming invasion. The training was divided as follows:


1. Physical training - including calesthenics, marches, organized sports, litter exercises over obstacles, etc.

2. Individual training - including medical, CWS, first aid, and all the fundamental training necessary for a soldier.

3. Group training. Squads and sections, with their own NCO's handling definite assignments, were stressed very much. Thus the leaders of the litter squads, the various divisions of the Clearing Station, etc., were given practice at running their part of the SOP. This proved invaluable especially on the Normandy Beach where our medical officers were too busy to do anything other than Medicine or Surgery. These NCO's had been taught to think for themselves and handle their own departments.

4. Technical training - Much time was spent in organizing adequate Surgical Sections. The Battalion conducted a school for technicians run by our medical officers and NCO's. The development of a practical operating room in tents, sterile technique, administration of intravenous fluids and plasma, use of catheters and stomach tubes, and the preparation of sterile goods was stressed. This training more than anything also paid dividends as the medical officers were able to depend upon these EM to carry out many of the routine procedures. Before leaving for France a large quantity of material was sterilized and packed in waterproof cases.

4. Company problems - A company would practice the setting up of its station and the reception, handling and evacuation of casualties, utilizing the clearing, litter and motor sections. The records group practiced the tagging and recording of simulated casualties.

6. Division and Corps problems - Each company participated in landing exercises with divisional assault teams. The entire Battalion took part in the "Tiger Exercise" during the last part of April. This closely resembled the invasion of France. These problems took place either at Pentaman, Cornwall, England, or Slapton Sands, Devonshire, England.

7. Special problems. On 12 April 1944, Companies "A" and "B" took part in a special problem called "Splint". It was run off in conjunction with the medical group of the 2nd Naval Beach Battalion and the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment, 1st Engineer Special Brigade. The exercise was supervised by Colonel Snyder, Executive Office to the Surgeon, 1st U. S. Army. This maneuver was considered very important by the Allied High Command with regard to the evacuation of casualties on the coming invasion. 200 troops were used as simulated casualties. All phases of casualty handling from the time of admission to the reception of patients aboard ships were demonstrated. The problem was run off before a larger delegation of ranking officers of both the United States and British Armies and Navies. The results demonstrated clearly that large numbers of casualties could be evacuated off a beach without disturbance to the other functions of the beach. Our companies gained more practical value from this exercise than any other because they had available a large number of men to use as simulated casualties. Most previous exercises had given us experience only in movement of men and equipment and the setting up of a bivouac and station.

D. Organization of Equipment. Our equipment was adequate. Our authorized T/E plus additional authorization by the First U.S. Army enabled us to carry on the medical functions required of us. This additional equipment included anaesthesia, oxygen and suction apparatus, X-ray and fluoroscopic equipment (used infrequently),


an extra generator and extra tentage. As the need for surgery at our installations diminished and the surgical teams left us the equipment was turned in to the Army Depot. This is a good policy as extra equipment was needed only temporarily. Our supply of expendables was always good. We had sufficient blankets, litters and plasma at all times, and whole blood most of the time except between "D" plus 2 to "D" plus 4 when there was a serious shortage of litters and blankets. Care was taken of our equipment to prevent unnecessary damage and loss. Some of our vehicles were unable to beach successfully because of high tides in Normandy and they were submerged. However, they were all towed out the following day and put in usable condition -

and most of the equipment was recovered. Battalion supply was kept busy especially by the three medical companies. But in addition they were responsible for the medical supplies for the 1st Engineer Special Brigade which numbered over 17,000 troops. Later on they handled medical supplies for the Utah Beach Command which numbered over 32,000 troops. Each of our companies had various improvisations that they utilized especially in surgery. These included armboards and "Mayo" tables to fit on litters (used for operating tables), operating lights, drainage apparatus, etc. Also the steel racks used on the Jeeps to carry four patients were improvised by the Battalion Motor Section.

V. Special Courses. Some of our medical officers were able to attend special schools while in England. These included Plaster Technique, Neuropsychiatric and Shock Schools. These proved valuable especially the course in Plaster Technique. Our officers had to put on Tobruk Splints, Spicas, etc., while on the beach, and the refresher course was of great advantage to them. These refresher courses are an excellent policy.

VI. Messing. At times this was a difficult problem. Each company had only one kitchen and at times had to feed up to 500 at one meal, including personnel and patients. However, once functioning during the first week of the landing in France, we were able to serve hot meals to everybody. In the first few days it was coffee and "K" or "C" rations - but during our second week on the beach we were able to start serving "B" rations.

VII. Throughout the year the amount of professional work performed by our medical officers varied greatly. Until June it was minimal since there was only routine sick call mixed in with training. On the beach it reached its peak - and has since declined. We have found that we work well with Auxiliary Surgical Teams. Two of the teams with us on Utah Beach had worked with us in Sicily and had requested that they join us for the invasion. They were from the 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Group and were headed by Major Allen M. Boyden, O-XXXXXX, and Major Robert M. Coffey, O-XXXXXX. Four of the six attached teams joined us nearly two months before the invasion, and the other two over a month before it. This proved effective as we were able to get a complete knowledge of how we would function together, and we were able to coordinate procedures. The major surgery was performed by the attached surgeons as was the "final triage". Our doctors handled the pre and post operative cases and the minor cases. The only fault was that we did not have sufficient teams on hand. The surgeons worked too long a shift and were forced to run too high a back-log on casualties awaiting operative care. Four teams per company would be much more effective during the first week of a major landing.

VIII. Dental. The dental clinic continued to function as an integral part of the Battalion, giving necessary dental attendance to all members of its command, other


U.S. Army units, Allied and POW personnel. At various times the dental officers were placed on temporary duty with other units of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade in order to facilitate dental care in those areas in which it was not available. Instructions in oral hygiene were given to all units serviced. A mobile laboratory was attached during March and again for six weeks in July and August. These particular months were selected as we wanted to have the military personnel fit for the trying period of the invasion and the increased need for prosthesis was the natural aftermath. Many full and partial dentures were lost due to nausea during the crossing.

During the invasion and for the two weeks following only emergency dental treatment was rendered as other duties proved more compelling. Dental personnel assisted the medical officers and were largely responsible for the admission and evacuation of patients. The excellent manner in which our dentists took over this responsibility enabled us to relieve medical officers to work in the surgical sections. Oral surgery cases were few and those encountered had been given reasonably good care at the forward stations. These were carefully checked preparatory to evacuation.

To complete the dental history we are inclosing a consolidated statistical report for the current year. Among other things this report will show that our dentists, though in the field, were able to accomplish considerable laboratory and prosthesis work.

IX. Final History of the 2161st Medical Battalion. In January 1945, this unit was transferred out of the Normandy Base Section to Channel Base Section, France. On 18 January 1945, the move took place. In the new area the four companies were located as follows and performed the indicated duties:

Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment - Feeamp. Usual administrative duties, Battalion Motor and Supply functions.

Company "A" - LeHavre. Running a hospital in buildings with capacity of 200 patients.

Company "B" - Lucky Strike Camp near Cany Barville. Running 150 bed tent hospital . Handling primarily transient troops whose hospitalization period will not exceed seven days. Running a large dispensary service and "clearing" all patients from the camp.

Company "C" - Twenty Grand Camp near Duclair. Running 120 bed tent hospital. Duties similar to those of Company "B".

Effective 28 January 1945, the 261st Medical Battalion was disbanded and its personnel and equipment were used to form the 98th Medical Battalion which consists of:

1. Hq & Hq Det, 98th Medical Battalion.

2. 761st Medical Collecting Company.

3. 762nd Medical Collecting Company.

4. 763rd Clearing Company.

5. 764th Motor Ambulance Company.

Some pertinent points are of interest in this report on the 261st Medical Battalion, which report is in reality an "initial" and "final" one.


1. The Battalion existed for 31 months.

2. There was about a 25% change in personnel from the time it was organized until it disbanded.

3. 75% of its members have served 30 months overseas and have participated in four campaigns.

4. Number of deaths in action: 5.

5. Number of missing in action: 0.

6. Number of wounded in action: 17.

7. Number of decorations:

a. Legion of Merit: 2

b. Bronze Star: 21.

c. Purple Heart: 17.



Major, MC,

Executive Officer

98th Med Bn

SOURCE: National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 112, Records of the U.S. Army Surgeon General, World War II Unit Records, 261st Medical Battalion, Annual Report 1944, Box 357.