I. HISTORICAL EXAMPLE
During the fierce fighting in the Huertgen Forest in Germany in Oct-Nov 1944, the muddy trails in that dense and depressing woods were barely adequate for the movement and supply of healthy troops, not to mention wounded ones.
Often most supplies had to be hand carried into the forest. Additionally, the Germans had scattered anti-personnel mines in profusion over the trails and clearings. The wet weather of the German fall turned even those trails into impassable quagmires.
The men of the 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, attacking along the Kall trail near Kommerscheidt, had no hope of safe evacuation if wounded. As the Regiment began to fall back under German counterattacks, the wounded were gathered into one column and, in hopes of safe passage, marched openly along the Kall trail. This enabled the remaining soldiers to proceed with their breakout attempt through the woods, unimpeded by the wounded.
The litter bearers, struggling through the mud, were often hit by artillery shrapnel, adding to the number of those who had to be carried. Four men were often needed to carry one wounded man through the mud. In desperation, the litter bearers were forced to gather the men together in a temporary aid station nearby.
The situation improved somewhat when the medics found some abandoned trucks and one Weasel (a fully-tracked, small cargo carrier) and loaded them up with wounded early on the 9th of November. A German patrol temporarily captured the soldiers and halted evacuation of the wounded for two more days. On the 11th of November, with the establishment of a truce and the assistance of a German doctor, the wounded were allowed to evacuate the aid station to better facilities in Vossenack. (1)
Later the following spring...
" I proceeded down the trail on foot. It was obviously impassable for a jeep; it was a shambles of wrecked vehicles and abandoned tanks. The first tanks that attempted to go down the trail had evidently slid off and thrown their tracks. In some cases the tanks had been pushed off the trail and toppled down the gorge among the trees. Between where the trails begin outside of Vossenack and the bottom of the canyon, there were four abandoned tank destroyers and five disabled and abandoned tanks.
" In addition, all along the sides of the trail there were many, many dead bodies, cadavers that had just emerged from the winter snow. Their gangrenous, broken and torn bodies were rigid and grotesque, some of them with arms skyward, seemingly in supplication. They were wearing the red keystone of the 28th Infantry Division, "The Bloody Bucket." It had evidently fought through there the preceding fall, just before the heavy snows.
" I continued down the trail for about half a mile to the bottom. There a tumbling mountain stream about six feet wide had to be crossed. A stone bridge had been over it but had long since been demolished, and a few planks were extended across the stone arches for the use of individual infantrymen.
" Nearby were dozens of litter cases, the bodies long dead. Apparently an aid station had been established near the creek, and in the midst of the fighting it had been abandoned, many of the men dying on their stretchers." (2)
OBSERVATIONS: The division had attacked on a narrow avenue of approach on terrain friendly to the enemy, and had failed to fully appreciate the terrain and weather.
CASEVAC was planned for only one route, and that route had not been secured, subsequently coming under constant enemy artillery fire. The unit was not prepared for the massive number of casualties which occurred. The CASEVAC system was not prepared to deal with poor trafficabiity due to rain and mud.
RESULT: The CASEVAC system was overwhelmed.
The 112th Regiment suffered 2,093 casualties in Huertgen: 232 captured, 431 MIA, 729 WIA, 167 KIA, and 544 non-battle losses.
LESSONS LEARNED: Casualty evacuation requires extensive planning, preparation, battlefield initiative, and coordination. Efficient or broken, your CASEVAC system will have a profound impact on the morale and combat effectiveness of your unit.
1. Charles B. McDonald, The Siegfied Line, pp. 371-372.
2. LTG James M. Gavin, On To Berlin, pp. 400-409.
Table of Contents
Section II: Plan
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|