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Death in no mans land. German infantrymen try to save a dying Scotsman between the lines. click HERE

An act of Chivalry by the enemy allows two men to reach a comrade. Illustrated with Sturmbataillon Rohr documents. HERE

Carrying a burden whose lives depended on them the stretcher bearers were the first link in the medical chain. For awards to stretcher bearers and accounts of the men at the front click HERE

The desperation and horror encountered in the Hospitals can be found HERE

An act of Bravery with no hope of reward. Soldiers save badly wounded enemy officer HERE



The Sanitätswesen (Medical branch) was an independent branch of the military but was meshed at many levels with the other branches of service.






The evolution of the Medical Branch.

At mobilisation the service was commanded by a Chef des Feldsanitätswesens who was at the Grosse Hauptquartier.
The Feldsanitätschef commanded not only the Sanitätsdienst but also the Freiwillige-Krankenpflege (Volunteer helpers), whose Militär-Inspekteur reported to him.

Each Armee-Oberkommando had an Armeearzt and each Etappe an Etappenarzt.
The Etappenarzt had an Etappen-Sanitätsdepot, a Krankentransport-Abteilung and a number of Kriegslazarette-Abteilungen (One for each Korps within the Armee).
A Korpsarzt was at Generalkommando level with twelve Feldlazarette (or four to six for a Reservekorps). The Feldlazarette were operationally under the command of the Sanitätswesen but actually belonged to the Train Branch.
Both the Armeearzt and Korpsarzt had a surgeon and hygienist attached to them in an advisory capacity.
At divisional level was a Divisionsarzt with one or two Sanitäts-Kompanien.
At Regimental level and lower were variable numbers of doctors, Sanitätssoldaten and Hilfskrankenträger.

In 1916 a restructuring of the army took place under Hindenberg which also affected the Sanitätswesen.
In December 1916 the official divisional strength was set at one Sanitäts-Kompanie and two Feldlazarette which came under the command of the Divisionsarzt. The remaining units were pooled at Armee level, the Korpsarzt at this stage giving up his command of the Feldlazarreten.

In the opening stages of the war captured motor vehicles had been pressed into service to complement those of the Sanitäts-Dienst. In April 1915 these were reorganised as Etappen-Sanitäts-Kraftwagen-Abteilungen. With the reorganisation of the Kraftfahrtruppen branch these vehicules were moved to Armee level and were renamed Sanitäts-Kraftwagen-Abteilungen (SANKA). The main task for the SANKA was the transport of wounded and medical equipment. They were also to be used as a mobile X-ray unit and as disinfection units.
While the Feldlazaretten were part of the Train, the Kriegslazaretten were formed with the men of the Kriegslazarette-Abteilung of the Etappe, each Etappe having enough men to form three Kriegslazaretten.

When a soldier was wounded, the following was supposed to happen:

He was brought to, or made his way to, the first aid posts of the regiment or company (Truppenverbandplätzen) or directly to divisional first aid posts (Hauptverbandplatz) where the divisional Sanitäts-Kompanie sorted the walking wounded from the more seriously wounded.
The walking wounded (Leichtverletzte) were sent to the Leichtkranken-Sammelstelle then on to the Leichtkranken-Abteilung in the Etappe. The badly wounded were taken to the Feldlazarette where they were sorted into transportable and non transportable wounded. The transportable wounded were taken to railheads by the Krankentransport-Abteilungen where they were sent by Lazarettzug to Reservelazaretten in Germany.
The non transportable wounded were looked after in the Feldlazarette. If the division advanced or moved it took its Feldlazarette with it and the Kriegslazarette set up and took over the patients. The goal was to look after the wounded until they were transportable and could be sent back to the Reservelazaretten.
In static or trench warfare the relief of the Feldlazaretten by the Kriegslazaretten was unneccesary and the care of the non transportable wounded was shared by the Feldlazaretten and the Hauptverbandsplätze. The Kriegslazaretten would then set up in the Etappe and operated as "normal" hospitals. In quieter periods of the trench war the wounded could be sent there to recover without having to send them to Germany.

Left: Stretcher bearers collecting the wounded and dead.

By the end of the war there were 314 Sanitäts-Kompanien, 592 Feldlazaretten (including 113 Reserve and 26 Landwehr), 72 Kriegslazaretten-Abteilungen, 22 Krankenträger-Abteilungen, 62 Lazarettzüge, 100 Leichtkrankenzuge, 85 Vereins-Lazarettzuge (privately sponsored) and 23 Etappen-Sanitäts-Depots.
Excluding sickness cases the Sanitätswesen treated 4,215,662 wounded soldiers between 1914-18.
The passage of the wounded man is never easy and although WWI saw many improvements in care and treatments of the wounded, it also saw new problems for the medical profession.
The war of movement meant that the wounded man was soon out of the line of fire as the battle moved on. If his army was advancing he would usually be found by his medical services, if they were retreaing, with luck, that of the enemy. The trench war saw a different scenario. The soldiers lived in their positions with dirt, mud and rats. It was often not possible to bury the dead and the wounded would often be left to die in No Man's Land.
The explosives used in the artillery shells were more powerful than in previous wars, but the metallurgists had not yet perfected the shell casings. This meant that although the projectiles used in WWII were more lethal and had more shell splinters, those of WWI caused more damage to the man being hit by the splinter as they were much larger and caused terrible damage to tissue and bone.

Another factor was the very intensity of the artillery fire which increased as the war progressed. This caused the first cases of shell shock which were handled by different doctors in very different ways. The use of poison gas was also a major, until then unimagined, factor in the war.

 
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