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
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:
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.