This is the second in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing a document that belonged to my father titled “History of the 81st Field Hospital.” It details the hospital’s preparations in the U.S. before deployment and operations in Germany during WWII. This field hospital eventually reached German concentration camp survivors.
Registry No WD 84
HISTORY OF THE 81ST FIELD HOSPITAL
Organization enroute to the European Theater of Operations on the first of the year 1945. It was a rough lengthy voyage with subs trailing the convoy a good part of the trip. On the 7th of January we entered the English Channel, arrived at Southampton and received orders to proceed to the French port of Le Havre. Other units aboard ship were ordered to disembark at Le Havre, but port authorities had no orders for our unit this date. We headed back across the Channel to England and lay at anchor outside Southampton. Rumors persisted that a sub pack was operating near port waters. Upon sealed orders, the ship lifted anchor and continued the voyage back to the Atlantic mouth of the Channel and around the western coast of England. On the 11th of January the ship put in temporarily at Wilford Haven, Wales, due to increased submarine menace. We attempted to leave harbor during the night, but were forced back by U-boats. Sub activity and heavy depth charges were heard during the night. At noon the following day, with strong corvette and destroyer escort, the Vollendam made a run for it, travelling at full speed through the Irish Sea, entering the Firth of Clyde, and docked at Gourock, Scotland, on the 13th of January.
The next day the unit arrived at its new station, Oulton Park Camp, Cheshire, England, and began operations under administrative jurisdiction of Headquarters, XV Army. Medical personnel and technicians were assigned on detached service to the 68th, 109th, 129th and 137th General Hospitals. From the period of 6 February to 4 March, the assigned personnel remained on detached service. Good Conduct Medals were awarded qualified enlisted personnel under GO #1, 81st Field Hospital, dated 3 February 1945.
In these hospitals, the men received their first beneficial training. Here they had contact with actual battle casualties and actually worked at their jobs as they have to under own operations.
On the 15th of March, vehicles loaned to the unit, tractors, trailers, 6×6’s and vans, were loaded and departed for the continent. During the next few days, TE equipment was loaded and on 21 March the 81st Field Hospital departed Oulton Park Camp, Cheshire, England, for a staging area in Southern England. Personnel travelled eight hours by train, arriving at Salisbury, England, then moving by truck to Staging Area C-5.
A convoy of borrowed vehicles, with equipment, departed 23 March for transportation on LCT across the Channel. The remainder of the personnel moved to port the following day and boarded the Sobieski, a Polish steamer, which transported the unit across the Channel to Le Havre.
By rail, via Paris, the unit travelled to Luneville, France, near the German border. Arriving in the middle of the night, we were billeted with the 51st Station Hospital.
Departing Luneville by truck the next morning (27 March), the unit headed for Mannheim, Germany. We arrived within seven kilometers of Mannheim before we learned that orders had been misinterpreted and we were to proceed to Marsheim rather than Mannheim. Mannheim at this time remained in German hands. At 0400, just before dawn, we found the 27th Evac Hospital and billeted in their area.
We selected a bivouac site about 1-mile north of 127th Evac Hospital, which was also in that area. Our equipment convoy, which had divided at C-5, arrived in tact. Each of the three platoons set up completely, including individual messes.