History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 9

This post contains details some may consider graphic.

This is the ninth 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. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 9]

There was no building fit to establish a hospital in, much less to live in. Nor was the muddy, soggy terrain suitable for pitching tents. The unit had to scout around for a place to set up.

Several members of the unit went over to Dachau and obtained entrance to the notorious concentration camp. It was a place of unbelievable horror and a sight that no one can forget. Guided by one of the prisoners, we visited the gas chamber where prisoners marked for extermination were sent. Outside the building was a huge pile of naked dead bodies, grotesquely sprawled one upon the other. The bodies were scrawny, emaciated, like wax dummies of skeletons. Slightly to one side lay a number of SS troopers beaten to death in sadistic revenge by the liberated prisoners. A stench of death hung in the air. It was all macabrely unreal.

Stepping inside the building, one entered the reception room where incoming victims slated for extermination were told to undress in preparation for showers. Each person was given a bar of soap and a towel. Scarcely suspecting, they were told to enter the adjoining room which was marked “Shower-Bath” and a heavy steel door closed upon them.  There was nothing alarming about the room which was of ordinary size. A number of apparent shower jets protruded from the ceiling. When the 250 victims were crowded into this room and the heavy steel door shut and locked, the “shower” was turned on. In approximately two minutes, the entire 250 would be dead of asphyxiation.

Through a bin-like door that opened from the other side of the room, the bodies were shoveled into the crematorium. Here in a row stood four or five huge furnaces with square openings large enough for one or possibly two bodies to be thrown in. We could still see bones lying in the furnaces. Across the room, through an open door,  we could see the storeroom for bodies awaiting the fiery ovens. It was a most sickening sight. Piled high to the ceiling was another mass of grotesque naked skeleton-like bodies, horribly unreal in death. The stench emanating from the room was overpowering.

According to the inmate, perhaps a million people had been exterminated in Dachau’s gas chamber and crematorium —  the largest percentage being persons brought there solely for the purpose of extermination and never seeing the inside of the prison stockade.

Going out of the crematorium and around the building, we saw another open warehouseroom, loaded with another mass of dead bodies. Here the stench was even greater. The horrors of the camp were indescribable, but among the things we saw was a little garden-like enclosure where high-ranking military prisoners were made to kneel with bowed heads and were shot in the back of the neck, the long rows of kennels where huge-ferocious dogs were kept and set upon living prisoners hung just off of the ground, and the string of 50 boxcars on a siding just outside the camp crammed full of dead bodies. There were prisoners just arrived at Dachau who were awaiting entrance into the camp. For eight days they remained crammed inside the boxcars without food, water or sufficient air. A few that managed to break out and attempted to escape were shot and found with legs or arms hanging outside the cars.

It was arranged for the entire unit to visit Dachau and see the horrors of the camp. It was something that every GI should have a chance to see.

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History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 8

This is the eighth 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. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 8]

…help with the Russian patients was a welcome addition. Our patients came from various DP Centers and were returned to their points of origin after treatment and care.

A 200-bed hospital was made ready for use. Our patients were almost exclusively Displaced Persons with the exception of a comparatively few GI’s who were admitted for injuries received in accidents and other ways; however, many more soldiers and DP’s were treated by our dispensary. As a matter of fact, our Receiving Office looked like a waiting list in a free clinic.

Extensive surgery was performed in our modern operating room. Sometimes we averaged four and five operations a day, working far into the night. Several Russian DP’s were brought to us as a result of attempting to kill fish and celebrating May Day with hand grenades, and had it not been for the skill and hard work of our surgeon and his able assistants, they would most likely have expired. The operating staff worked hard for three and a half continuous hours repairing a shattered body of one case.

May 8th news of the termination of hostilities in Europe. Everyone was very happy that half our mission had been accomplished and with renewed vigor turned back to their task of seeing the war through.

Unit A Joins Unit C at Heilbronn

On 12 May Unit A moved from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to join Unit C at Heilbronn. The work had been too heavy for one unit and the addition of a second was a great help.

With two units working together at Heilbronn, the work load was considerably eased. Two surgical services were maintained. The patients continued to be displaced persons from the same sources and the census was usually close to 200 patients. The dispensary treated many American GI’s daily.

On 9 June the hospital was turned over to a German medical staff by Unit A. Unit C had moved out several days earlier.

Unit B Moves to Allach

Meanwhile Unit B at Bad Mergentheim had received orders on 31 April to  move to Heidenheim but this was changed to Dachau before the move had been effected. While enroute to Dachau, orders were again changed and the new destination was Allach. The unit arrived at Allach which is 8 miles from Dachau on 4th May. The Allach camp was very similar to other extermination camps and there were 9400 inmates still present when the unit arrived.

Nearly all were suffering from typhus, tuberculosis, malnutrition, various skin diseases, and probably many allied diseases. Most of the prisoners, both men and women, were German, Hungarian and Polish Jews, brought there for the sole purpose of extermination at Dachau’s gas chamber and crematorium. Many of them never lived to be sent to Dachau. Starvation, disease and mistreatment took their toll before it was their turn to feed the fiery furnaces of the crematorium.

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History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 7

This is the seventh 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. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 7]

Early Monday morning, 30 April, an advance party of two officers and nine enlisted men left for Kaufburen, Germany, to make contact with the 54th Field Hospital, to which Unit A was to be attached as a fourth platoon to go into combat in support of a division. One officer and an ambulance returned to Weinsburg.

After many difficulties and after travelling 1500 miles, a total of six 2 1/2-ton trucks were secured from 132nd Evac Hospital to move our equipment and personnel. Authority to use these trucks was Seventh Army Advance Surgeon. On the whole, the organic transportation of field hospitals was found inadequate. We had six 6×6 trucks and one 10-ton tractor-trailer over and above the T/O & E and even so, vehicles were still insufficient in number to move the whole hospital at once. However, our excess transportation was used upon many occasions in helping move other field hospitals. In action, it proves most difficult to secure aid from QWC Trucking Companies since the field hospitals move as the line moves and when the line moves, unit with the greatest priority receive the QWC trucks.

On Thursday the advance party moved on from Kaufburen with the 54th Field Hospital Headquarters to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and secured five homes for living quarters. By Sunday evening, after much travail, all equipment and all personnel had been moved from Weinsburg to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Running water, electricity and central heating systems were available at our location. One ward and one squad tent were pitched to store equipment. One squad tent was pitched for mess. While Unit A was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the war ended and the 54th Field Hospital’s need for a fourth platoon no longer existed. No hospital was set up and the move had essentially proved to be nothing but a week’s vacation in the Bavarian Alps. No patients were treated.

Unit C Moves to Heilbrunn

An advance party of three officers and 18 enlisted men left Bad Mergentheim on 24 April. ON 25 April, the main body proceeded to the new area — a modern and very complete German hospital at Heilbrunn, (WS 0462) Germany.

The advance party labored under difficulties as the German occupants were being evacuated — German staff and German military patients under armed guard.

The hospital itself was found to be a very fine building built only a year before Germany went to war, and it’s equipment was complete in every detail. At first there was some difficulty due to lack of electric power, intermittent supply of water, and the fact that some of the facilities were out of order, but this was shortly remedied through assistance of AMG officials.

The problem of help in such a large plant was a big one, but we acquired a staff of German civilians for the kitchen, laundry and general cleaning, at which four Italian displaced persons also proved very useful.

Language difficulties were largely solved through the efforts of certain of our own personnel with the additional aid of a female interpreter, an American citizen, sent to us by the AMG Heilbronn. The arrival of a Russian nurse to [continued on Page 8]

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 6

This is the sixth 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.

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[Page 6]

Unit A officially closed operation of its DP hospital at 2400 27 April when 33 patients were sent to Unit C which had left Bad Mergontheim and established a DP hospital at Heilbronn, Germany. Six other patients were discharged to duty.

Transfer of patients to Unit C was accomplished by six ambulances and one truck, pooling vehicles of the entire 81st.

All our equipment was packed and such things as tentage, tent poles, stoves, latrine equipment and other essential things which obviously would have to be part of any advance party were loaded on our van. In this way we could move at a moment’s notice by loading the equipment, and an advance party could move out immediately with the van which already had been loaded. It was found advisable to keep one night ward man on duty for each ward as a protection for equipment stored there.

When our function as a hospital at Weinsburg had ceased and with Unit C nearby in Heilbronn, it was agreed to have our reports and mail sent to Unit C at night and have them deliver both ours and their reports by their courier. Also any information or mail could be picked up by Unit C courier and delivered to us the following morning when he returned from headquarters. In this way, drivers, vehicles and gas could be conserved.

Unit C Move to Bad Mergentheim

Unit C departed from Dieberg for Bad Mergentheim and set up tents one-half mile east of the city. Personnel, mess, and supply tents were set up and we then awaited orders which did not come until we had been there almost a week. No hospital had been set up and no patients treated.

Unit B Moves to Bad Mergentheim

Advance party of Unit B left Hammelburg 19 April for Bad Mergentheim, south of Wurzburg. The remainder of the unit followed Saturday, 21 April, leaving five enlisted men and one officer in charge of Camp Hammelburg area until arrival of the Third Army. Bad Mergentheim was found to be a health resort town with fine sanitoriums and hotels. The unit moved into a previous sanitorium recently used for German soldiers. Taking over management of this hotel, Unit B permitted the staff of 14 girls (12 German and 2 Russian) and one civilian man to remain and work for their keep in the kitchen, dining room, laundry, etc. This staff efficiently operated the establishment without cost, being extremely grateful for a place to live and good food to eat.

On 29 April, we received our first patients — 9 displaced persons of various nationalities — from the 93d Evac Hospital and set up a 20-bed ward on the third floor. The following day orders came to dispose of them and we did so by transfer to Unit A.

From then on the unit was officially “at rest” awaiting further orders. Daily we played host to weary ambulance drivers, transporting patients (displaced persons and liberated PWX’s) from one hospital unit to another, in a vain effort to dispose of them. It became quite evident that the “PWX” and “Displaced Persons” hospital program of the army was in the throws of birth pains. With no set program yet established, there was much confusion, duplication and ineptitude. Patients were getting a merry-go-round, being shunted from one hospital to another, with whatever medical treatment they received hardly enough to compensate for the arduors and risks of the constant travelling.

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History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 5

This is the fifth 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.

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[Page 5]

We found all our buildings dirty with personal belongings left behind by the former occupants. Within 24 hours, and with the help of DP labor, we had all our facilities in working order and ready for operation. We found it more convenient and practical to secure our rations, water and gasoline through local distribution points. Our supplies (Medical and General) and also all hospital laundry were taken care of by our own headquarters.

It was found by the officer in charge of the blood unit servicing our platoon to be impractical for them to deliver blood each morning as is customary to field hospitals operating under normal conditions. It was agreed that whenever the need for blood should arise we could obtain some, and also keep enough blood on hand for our anticipated needs. It was further agreed that we should return all unused blood three days before expiration date and exchange it for fresh blood. We were serviced by a blood dispensing unit presently attached to the 132d Evac Hospital at Neckarsulm, 10 miles from our location.

Due to the difficulty of obtaining large size x-ray film from Medical Depots, we experimented with captured German x-ray film. We worked in close liaison with the French dispensary located in the DP Center. We agreed that all DP patients must first pass through the French dispensary. If they required hospitalization or further dispensary treatment which could not be obtained at the French dispensary for lack of proper equipment and supplies, they were then admitted to our hospital, and if the patient was a member of the DP Center at Weinsburg, they they passed through the French dispensary also.

We received patients from the 93d, 95th and 132d Evac Hospitals as well as from the Weinsburg DP Camp. Our capacity was 100-beds but could have been expanded to 150-beds if necessary. We had our own electricity throughout the entire area generated by our own generators. Also telephone communication was established from the administrative building to the various wards through field phones. Aside from the water we got each day, all other water was obtained through the town water supply which was very irregular. However, ample water was obtained for hospital use and also for the washing machine, which was used for all personnel laundry. Our mess facilities were in a tent and we had three latrines in the field to supplement the ones in our living quarters and hospital buildings. This was done to combat the irregular water supply necessary for proper sanitary methods in maintaining building latrines.

We didn’t have much captured material along medical lines to use in the hospital, but made the maximum use of desks, lamps, chairs, typewriters and other office equipment. The dispensary handled emergency cases in addition to our personnel. The Dental Clinic did a lot of emergency work from the DP Center. We had a visitor in the person of Lt Col Elder who was Chief Sanitary Inspector in charge of DP Centers for the Seventh Army.

We used to the maximum all the DP labor here for miscellaneous duties in wards, washing, general labor and maintenance work. This proved very satisfactory and also helped carry the load as far as our mess was concerned. 90 patients passed through the hospital while Unit A was at Weinsburg.

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History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 4

This is the fourth 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.

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[Page 4]

At this point we would like to note the immense help to our water problem when an engineer company attached to us a driver and 750-gallon water truck. Our three water trailers, one per unit, was far inadequate for our needs. The large water truck solved our problem very satisfactorily.

A few days after Unit B moved on to Hammelburg, Germany, to set up separately, Unit A departed for Weinsburg, Germany.

Unit B Moves to Hammelburg

Four days prior to our arrival, American infantry and tanks had liberated the area and the Germans had fled, taking with them several hundred American prisoners. Our mission was to set up a 2,000-bed hospital for displaced persons.

We had available an administration building, two hospital ward buildings, a large modern apartment building and two smaller ones, a stucco house, and a warehouse. This constituted the hospital compound but there were a great many other buildings and facilities in the surrounding area, the sum total of which had recently housed a large German military officer corps and 10,000 prisoners.

At the time we arrived the buildings were still occupied by German civilians and prisoners. We quickly evacuated the civilians who attempted to take everything but the walls with them. One-hundred German civilians from the town of Hammelburg were utilized for several days to aid in the cleaning of the looted, ransacked buildings. A detail of 15 MP’s arrived to guard us against an expected SS attack. These MP’s were later replaced by a battery of MP’s who took over policing the entire area.

Some of the buildings adjoining the hospital compound which had previously housed the German officers were very lavishly appointed and recreation facilities were luxurious. Much material which they had gathered by looting allied countries were left behind.

Our mess was overloaded with guests, including the British officers who ran the prison compound.

Work was completed for the handling of 112 patients and the quartering of all personnel of the 81st Field Hospital. Near the end of our stay, orders were received to increase our bed capacity first to 150 and then to 500, but this work was shortly interrupted by the news that the Third Army was to take over the area. We moved out without ever having officially admitted a single patient.

Unit A Moves to Weinsburg

When our unit arrived a Weinsburg, we found at our disposal for living quarters five private homes, procured by our advance party through the local AMG. Three houses were utilized for enlisted personnel, one house for officers and one for nurses. We also secured through the AMG three buildings for our hospital. These buildings were located in the DP Center which was adjacent to our hospital. The entire area was part of a German prison camp for allied officers. These had been moved out only a few days before we arrived.


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History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 3

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.

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[Page 3]

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.


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