NOTE: This post contains details that may be considered graphic to some.
This is the third 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.
Two days later, on the 30th of March, the unit learned it was attached to the Seventh Army instead of the Fifteenth Army. In a conference with the Surgeon, Seventh Army, Major Banks learned that platoons were being reduced to a capacity of 40-patients. Reorganization began to conform with this. Excess equipment was turned in and Headquarters was enlarged to 32 enlisted men and 6 officers.
On the 5th of April, the unit departed Trier WM 2211, 3-miles southeast of Dreisen, Germany, for the new location. With transportation our chief problem as usual, we used shuttle service, the first motor convoy departing at 1000 and the last at 2300. Transport to the new site, WM 8643, one-half mile northwest Deiberg, Germany, was completed at 0300. Platoons were set up.
Major Banks contacted the advance Surgeon and was informed that all units were to unite and operate as a station hospital and prepare to receive liberated allied prisoners, Russians, Poles, Serbs, French, etc. Bed capacity was set at 450.
Reorganization was completed and the hospital was ready to function the 7th of April. Just after evening chow the unit received it’s [sic] first patient, a Russian soldier liberated by the advancing American troops.
The following day the hospital officially began to receive patients. The 127th Evac Hospital transferred 171 patients to us, most of them suffering from malnutrition and TBC. During the night a sanitation problem arose. The practice of urination and defecation was being carried on in any area between the ward tents and the latrine. The ward boys, unable to speak the language of the patients, could do nothing except lead them to the latrine and point out the boxes. This was solved by finding proper interpreters among the patients and laying down the law.
A new problem developed when the patients’ mess discovered they were feeding nearly 800 at each meal while we only had 200 patients. It was found that the patients, starved so long in Germany prison camps, were each going through the chow line three and four times per meal. This was remedied by issuing meal tickets before they left the ward.
Evacuation of patients was begun when orders came that British Colonials and French, who did not have TBC, were to be evacuated by air through the 57th Field Hospital at Darmstadt. Russians and Serbs not requiring further hospital care were to be sent to the PWX Camp at Mannheim, while Italians were to go to the DP Center there for screening.
Admissions and dispositions were carried through satisfactorily, the only interruption being “Bed-Check Charlie”, who gave the highway adjoining a nightly strafing. Our location proved wise, for we were close enough to take advantage of the facilities of the highway, yet far enough away to escape physical danger of the road strafing.
The Platoons Separate
On the 14th of April, the advance Surgeon ordered one platoon to Hammelburg to operate a hospital in a former German prison camp, now captured by the Seventh Army. The hospital was to close, all patients to be evacuated to a railhead at Ludwigshafen where they would be placed on a hospital train. The move was made by ambulance and trucks — the 15 ambulances making two trips each. Our hospital at Dieberg had been in operation 9 days, handling 800 patients.