SURGICAL TEAM NO. 16
3D AUXILIARY SURGICAL GROUP
IN THE FIELD,NORMANDY, FRANCE
6 August 1944
SUBJECT: Special Report of Activities of Team 16.
TO: Commanding Officer, 3rd Aux. Surg. Group.
1. In compliance with your order dated 30 July 1944, received 4 August 1944, Team 16 respectfully submits the following report on its activities from D minus 60 to B plus 30.
(a)Type of Training received in United Kingdom, None.
The personnel of this Team were not selected until 18 April 1944. Of the Officers chosen, only the leader had experienced previous field or combat duty. The enlisted men had done duty in North Africa and Sicily although not on the same team. Those chosen were:
Major Francis M. Findlay
Major Christopher Stahler
Captain Walter L. Twarog
Captain Sidney Simons
Sgt Robert J. Smith
Cpl Claude Thomas
Pfc John Curran
Pfc Clarence Merkord
Major Stahler was wounded on D day and returned to England as a patient. Captain Arthur D`Alessandro replaced, him on 24 June 1944 so that the team was short one Officer from 6 June 44 to 24 June 44.
On 21 April 44, this team was sent by train from the 3RD AUX. SURG. HEADQUARTERS at Stourport on. Severn, England to join the 60th Med. Battalion-6th Engineer Special Brigade at Torquee in Devonshire, England. This was a delightful seaside resort, but there were limited opportunities for training. During the 3weeks period that Team 16 were in Torquee, we were able to have 3 `dry runs` when simulated casualties were handled in the surgical tent set up by the clearing platoon in a nearby field. This was the only opportunity that the enlisted personnel had to familiarize, themselves with the equipment, supplies at hand, operating duties and techniques. Experience and advice as to equipment and supplies found useful in the Sicilian landing were offered to the Medical Battalion.
On16 May 1944, Team 16 was ordered to Dorchester, England and attached to 61st Med Battalion, 5th Engineer Special Brigade. During our stay in Dorchester, we were housed in 3 different camps-D11, D5, and D12 respectively. While in D5area, the camp was bombed, Three enlisted men being killed and 17 wounded, but fortunately our team escaped injury. All during this period in Dorchester area, there was no opportunity for training as all equipment, had been loaded prior to our Joining this unit - Company C of the 61st Med Bn.
On2 June 1944, our team was loaded on board a troop carrier, a 7,000 ton American ship manned by a British Crew.
Our fellow passengers were the 1st Battalion of the 16th infantry, 1stDivision, U.S. Army. This leading was from the Weymouth dock, the ship lying at anchor inside the breakwater in Portland harbour.
Our troop ship sailed out of Portland harbour at 1700 hrs 5 June 1944 taking its place in the convoy and making the English channel crossing without incident. This ship reached its rendezvous opposite Ste. Honorene off Omaha beach on the Cherbourg peninsula lying about 10 miles off shore at the appointed time. From aboard our ship while proceeding up the coast and while at anchor we witnessed the air activity and naval bombardment from before H hour until we left the ship. The first troops left the ship at 0300 hrs 6 June 1944 in LCA boats for the initial landings. Team 16 was scheduled to leave at 0800 hrs, but only 11 of the 18 small craft returned to our ship. The sea was very rough, so an American LCT was finally secured, we climbed down the side of our ship at 1130 hrs in company with two other 3RD AUX SURG teams and the personnel of the Medical Battalion to which we were attached. Aboard this smaller craft were two jeeps with attached trailers carrying observation aeroplanes and the bodied on seven American soldiers who had been killed in attempting the earlier landing.
Our first attempt to land was repulsed by shell fire and the naval ensign in charge of the LCT brought us two miles off shore out of range of enemy gunfire where we remained until 1730 hours when the landing was made. During this interval, several suffered severe `Mal de Mere`. We waded ashore at low tide in water waist deep amid Teller mines perched on piles driven into the beach. Beyond lay mine fields.
Apparently we were the first medical personnel on the Dog Red section of Omaha beach that ay for everyone sought our aid. This section of the beach was littered with the dead and dying, filled with broken bodies, wrecked equipment, beached boats and was the picture of despair and utter confusion. This section of Omaha beach was being shelled at regular intervals by heavy artillery using high explosive shells.
We had not been on the beach ten minutes before we were greeted by shellfire. Major Stahler and I had paused a moment to ask directions of General Hoge and his aide. A moment later a bursting shell wounded General Hoge, his aide and Major Stahler and knocked me to the ground. A few minutes later, while I was dressing the General and getting his aide (who had a compression of his spinal cord) on to a litter, another shell struck a beached vessel loaded with tanks and ammunition setting the ship and its cargo afire. A whole series of explosions continued from this ship for over two hours and I was penned in by the tide, the burning ship and the mine field and unable to join the other members of my team who were giving first aid and picking up the wounded between bursts of shell fire on another sector of the beach.
The officers and enlisted men of team 16 joined in carrying litters to ducks [DUKWs]and out thru the water to smaller craft for evacuation to the ships lying offshore. They also worked in an aid station set up to the shore for several hours. As the tide has stated to come in, many wounded men had to be carried to higher ground to prevent drowning. It was 2200 hours before I left the beach to join Captain Simons and the men who shortly before had
left the beach and were working with the Medical Bn. personnel at a First [Division] Aid Post. This post had been set up in a pill box that had previously housed a German battery and was some 300 yards off shore about 50 feet above sea level. This pill box had a concrete and steel roof accommodated 50 litter patients at onetime. Captain Twarog cared for Major Stahler some 500 yards away as well as working in the aid station on the beach on 7 June 1944. We did not locate each other until48hours later following our separation caused by the burst that wounded Major Stahler. Major Stahler was evacuated the evening of 8 June 1944 by ship to Eng. after which the team worked as a unit. Major Stahler suffered f rom severe burns of the face, hands, ears and bilateral rupture of the ear drums. After 6weeks in England, Major Stahler returned to France with the 4th Aux Surg Group. We were sorry to lose him from our team.
(c)Early Medical Work On The Beach.
During the night of D Day 6 June 1944 all day and night 7 June 1944 our team worked giving plasma and morphine until 2000 hours 8 June 1944 and also dressing the wounded in this pill box so that these patients could be evacuated to ships off shore. Until the early hours of 8 June 1944 this pill box and section of Omaha Beach was under constant shell fire and the concussion from the high explosives landing all about was sufficient to blow clouds of sand and dust thru our pill box and knock personnel off their feet, Unless one were present it is impossible to appreciate the difficulties and dangers here. Special recognition is due the litter bearers who picked up these wounded and who evacuated them to the ships under shell fire.
Plasma was given during the night only under the greatest difficulties. It was impossible because of the blasts from shell fire to completely blackout the entrances to the pill box so that both patient and Doctor had to be covered with a blanket to conceal the flash light while an intravenous was started or a hypodermic given or a wounded examined or a dressing done.
The equipment of Company C - 61st Medical Battalion had been lost so only, the plasma units and dressings carried in by the battalion aid men were available for use. During this period this company with the aid of the surgical teams treated and evacuated approximately 140 patients thru this station. I am positive that several times this number of wounded men were evacuated the evening of D day direct from the beach by this group as I personally helped load two ducks [DUKWs] five different times in the three hour period between 1900 and 2200 hours on D day. Each duck [DUKW] carried from 6 to 10 patients each trip. It was impossible to keep accurate records of individual cases treated on D day. A conservative estimate would be that Team # 16 in conjunction with the other surgical teams attached to Company C of the 61st Medical Battalion helped in evacuating direct from the beach and thru the Clearing Station post set
up in the pill box at least 350wounded of whom 50 were seriously wounded on the 3 days 6-7-8 June 1944.
The real problem was to get the wounded off the beach out of the way of the incoming tide and out of shell fire to some ship where definitive care could begiven. Team # 16 devoted its efforts to this rather than to keeping records and there was no rest for over 48 hours.
(d)Professional Care of Patients and Lon Hours of Work in
The evening of 8 June 1944 Company C of the 61st Medical Battalion had secured enough equipment from other sources to set up a Clearing Station between Colleville and the Easy Red Section of Omaha Beach not far from the pill box where we had been up to that time. We began operating casualties that same evening at 2200 hours 8 June 1944 with Major Sutton`s team of the 3RD AUX SURGICAL GROUP. We remained in this station until 14 June 1944 when we were ordered to the 128th Evac Hospital off Utah beach between Boutteville and St Marie du Mond.
During our stay with Company C of the 61st Medical Battalion we worked with Major Sutton`s team. A large part of these 6 days the leader of Team # 16 spent in triage of patients for both teams. The anesthetists and other personnel of the two THIRD AUX SURGICAL TEAMS interchanged and worked together as the specific needs arose. Our team did not function as a distinct entity during much of this 6 day period. However 32 patients were operated upon either by Captain Twarog or Major Findlay at this location. On 11 June 1944 two 4th Aux Surgical Teams joined us and Captain Twarog and Major Findlay triaged cases for these groups, who were new to the field, and assisted these teams in pre- and post-operative care of the more seriously wounded as well as helping with the operation in 15 additional cases.
A large percentage of the patients handled here were German Prisoners of War, there were several French Civilians but the majority were wounded American Soldiers. Only about a third of the patients operated on were strictly speaking non-transportable. But because of the tactical situation and limited facilities for evacuation surgery for these men was necessary at this location at the time.
All during this period there were evening air raids and bombing each night with accompanying anti aircraft fire as well as sniping from adjacent edges both night and day but fortunately for us no members of Team #`16 was injured. A few American soldiers were killed or wounded in nearby fields by air bombs and flak and each day others were blown up by land mines.
We operated 12 hours out of each 24 hours during this period and on two occasions we worked 28 hours at a stretch to clear up the wounded list. The pre-and post-operative wards required much additional time because of lack of female nursing personnel.
(2) Evacuation Hospitals.
a. Team # 16 travelled from Omaha beach to the 128th Evac Hosp on 14 June 1944 by way of Douve pontoon bridge, beyond Katz, as Carentan was still under shell fire. We arrived at the. 128th Evac Hosp between Boutteville and Ste Marie du Mond at 1630 hours 14 June 1944. We began to operate at 2400 and worked in the operating tent a 12 hour shift from midnight till noon each 24 hour period. As we had the full responsibility for the after care of our operated cases, we usually spent from 2 to 4 hours on the wards on our off time and on two occasion when we had some severe fulminating gas cases, we spent almost the entire 24 hours on duty in the wards or operating tent.
b. At this Evac Hosp, we did 42 operations upon 37 patients in the 6 days we were there.
these patients included four with gas gangrene and the injuries were chiefly badly compounded fractures as most of the chest and abdominal cases during that period were operated by the staff of the Evac Hoop. At this hospital we operated the cases as sent to us as triage and preoperative treatment were handled by the chief of Surgery. This hospital was very busy during this period with many major cases. We worked with 3 other 3RD AUX SURG teams during this period: Maj Allen Boyden, Maj Robert Coffey and Maj Frank Wood.
c. Due to Col Wylies foresight in bringing additiona1 food supplies from England, our mess was excellent. Our relationships with Lt. Col. John Snyder, Chief of Surgery, were most cordial and our stay at the 128th was a happy one. German planes and the accompanying anti-aircraft fire were a nightly occurrence. During one of these raids, a large piece of flak went thru the water can next to where Sgt Robert Smith of our team was sleeping, but he escaped injury.
d. On 20 June 1944, we were ordered to the 67th Evac Hosp-3 miles from Ste Mere Eglise. This hospital was new to the field and had been in operation only 48 hours when we joined them. Ours was the first surgical team to be attached to this unit. We were accorded every facility and courtesy by Col Crawford, the commanding Officer. We were given one wing of the operating tent, our advice and suggestions based on our previous work were sought. We were asked to take the difficult and serious cases because of our anesthesis abilities and the fact that we had our organized team. The nurses in the operating tent made our enlisted men feel at home and rendered real help. Capt D`Alessandro joined us 24 June 44 filling the vacancy left by Major Stahler.
e. The67th Evac Hosp is the first American installation at which the leader of team 16 has worked in 20 months overseas where he has felt that the services of his team not only were sought, but were appreciated by the commanding Officer, and most of the staff as well. At this hospital in8 days, team 16 operated upon 70 patients. In addition to our duties as a team, our anesthetist assisted the anesthetists of the Evac Hosp on many occasions and at the request of the commanding Officer of the 67th Evac Hosp. Our leaving was postponed so that the services of the anesthetist of team 16 would be available for the care of a critical non-transportable patient- Lt Col Chambers of General John Lee`s staff.
f. The team leader and the associate surgeon often worked individually by their off time to assist various members of the Evac Hosp with operations, in the triage of patients, checking the wards for post-operative complications such as bleeding, infection and respiratory distress. Six cases of Gas Gangrene were treated hereby our team without a death even though one patient had been wounded 6 days before admission and another 8 days prior to operation.
g. In this Evac Hosp, it was the custom to work 12 hours in the operating room and once a week in order to change shifts an 18 hour period was spent in the operating room. This 18 hour period is too long a period for efficient service to the patient when people have been working steadily 12 hours a day for a week.
When teams have not been working, they can frequently do a single stretch of 18 hours with distinct .advantage to the patient, but for a steady grind, it has been the experience of team 16 that the 8 hour shift-8 hours on and 8 hours off duty-:is a better arrangement. This gives an even division of the work and serves patient and medical staff much better than the longer hours. It has been our observation that with careful triage and pre-operative preparation of patients, and the organization of surgical staffs into teams more patients will receive better care than when surgeons attempt single handed to deal with battle casualties or when staffs work long hours after they are fatigued.
a. On 28 June 1944 Team 16 was ordered from the 67th Evac to the 45th Field Hospital near Valognes. Upon reporting, we were assigned to the 2nd Platoon who were in bivouac near Ste Mere Eglise. On Monday, 3 July 1944, this platoon moved to a field next to the 90th Division Clearing Station near Orglandes. That afternoon we received 14 badly wounded, non-transportable cases in a few hours.
b. Team l6-started operating as soon as the first patient was in condition and with the help of` Captain Stone`s team of the 4th Aux Surg Group, these patients were all handled without confusion or delay. Two of these patients were received in a semi-conscious condition, in shock, and died in less than hour in spite of all measures employed to resuscitate. Team 16 operated 8 of the remaining12 patients. The facilities and help given our team by the 45th Field Hospital were excellent.
c. On 7 July team 16 was ordered to the 1st Platoon of the 45th Field Hospital to help their cases. When we arrived, there were 39 patients in the pre-operative tent. After a nights work, we left the platoon with only 8 unoperated cases remaining. The two teams attached to the platoon were refreshed after a night`s sleep, while all the other patients, either had been operated or treated for shock, so that they could be safely evacuated. The leader of team 16 spent this period in triage for all 3 teams while the other members of team 16 operated 4 severe and difficult cases
d. Further work with the 45th Field Hospital falls in the second month after D Day and will be recorded in a subsequent report.
e. Team 16 has worked very long hours in every installation that they have been attached to at certain periods, but this seems to be inevitable in times of war when a drive is on and casualties are numerous. After 20 months overseas, much of the time spent in the field, the leader of team 16 has noted a very definite and gradual improvement in .the care that wounded men are receiving. The policy of placing platoons of Field Hospitals close to the front along side of the Division Clearing Station is to be commended and continued as it has no doubt saved many lives.
The heavy mortality will occur in these Field Hospital platoons and there is where an experienced surgical team and skilled nursing can render is greatest aid.
It is unfortunate that the obsolete table of organization permits no recognition by promotion for those doctors who served there. The type of work done in many instances, the judgement and skill required, the tremendous hours worked, surely warrant more than a Captaincy for anesthetists many who are well over 40 years of age with over 2 years of active service. There are several individuals now in the 3RD AUX SURG GROUP who fall in this category. As the two anesthetists who held the rank of Major were transferred out of our group and none promoted to replace them, it seems as though these deserving Officers have either been overlooked or discriminated against rather unfairly. I would respectfully call this o your attention for, consideration and appropriate action.
Major, M. C.
Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 407, World War II Unit Records, 3d Auxiliary Surgical Group (Surgical Team Reports on D-Day), Box 21664.