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USAHS U.S. Army Hospital Ships

Two hospital ships [HSS] operated by Military Sealift Command are designed to provide emergency, on-site care for US combatant forces deployed in war or other operations. Hospital ships have two missions. First, to provide a mobile, flexible, rapidly responsive afloat medical capability to provide acute medical and surgical care in support of amphibious task forces, Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force elements, forward deployed Navy elements of the fleet and fleet activities located in areas where hostilities may be imminent. Secondly, to provide a full-service hospital asset for use by other government agencies involved in the support of disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

During World War II, 27 hospital ships were in operation for the evacuation of U.S. Army casualties. The Navy Department operated 3 and the War Department operated 24. During World War II the Army Transport Service operated a total of 24 hospital ships which were manned by civilian crews, employees of the Army Transport Service. The medical staff were Army personnel. Most of the hospital ships were former passenger liners/troopships which were disarmed, repainted, and rearranged for hospital use. 6 Liberty ships were converted for hospital use.

Hospital ships played a major role in the evacuation of patients from overseas because of the maximum safety, comfort, and medical care which they furnished. At the commencement of hostilities, the Army had no hospital ships under its command. The first ship to operate under the Hague Convention left New York on 5 June 1943 and returned from Oran, North Africa, to Charleston Port of Embarkation on 25 June 1943 with 749 patients. On 11 June 1943 the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the conversion of 15 ships by 31 December 1943, 19 by 30 June 1944, and 24 by 31 December 1944. Five additional hospital ships were authorized on 26 December 1944, making a total of 2 authorized ships. The Surgeon General throughout the entire program of planning and building made recommendations for the construction and conversion of the ships. Transportation, not the definitive care, of the sick and wounded was the chief objective. The ambulance rather than the hospital function predominated, with the use of minimum personnel and equipment necessary for patient care during the voyage. Definitive treatment was carried out later in general hospitals.

By August 1944, there were 12 hospital ships serving in the Mediterranean area. Seven hospital ships served between the United States and the United Kingdom. Hospital-ship support for local use across the Channel was furnished by British hospital carriers. By September the Army had a total of 22 hospital ships. The U. S. S. Hope, Comfort, and Mercy, manned by the Navy but staffed by the Army Medical Department, departed United States ports in 1944 for duty in the Southwest Pacific Theater. These were the only vessels built as hospital ships for the U. S. Army fleet. All other vessels were conversions from cargo ships or troop ships. Of the 29 authorized, 26 were in active service by July 1945. Two ships were not completely converted because of the cessation of hostilities, and the third began to function in January 1946.

The maximum use of all hospital ships and of all medical hospital ship platoons, on both troop trans-ports and hospital ships, was essential. A close scheduling was main-tained on all ships and units. Hospital ships stayed in the United States ports only long enough to unload patients and receive essential repairs. Medical hospital ship platoons returned overseas immedi-ately after their arrival at ports of debarkation. When ships and units were no longer needed in the European Theater, they were de-ployed for use in the Pacific. Following VJ-day, sick and wounded patients from Army hospitals and internees and prisoners of war liberated from the Japanese were returned to the United States as rapidly as ships and air facilities became available from other theaters. By the end of 1945, about 625,000 overseas patients had been returned to the United States from all theaters.

Air evacuation, carried out by the Army Air Forces, played an increasingly important part as the war continued. In 1942, only about 5 percent of 71,728 patients evacuated from overseas theaters returned to the zone of the interior by plane, while in 1944 over 31,000 of the 172,000, or 18 percent, came by air. By 1945, the number of patients evacuated by air had increased to 86,755, or 23 percent, of a total of 383,963.

U.S. Army Hospital Ships

The first ship to be operated as a hospital ship was the newly converted USAHS Acadia; one dietitian and two physical therapists were assigned on her maiden voyage, on 5 June 1943, to North African ports. Inasmuch as military status had been achieved by that time, authorizations were filled through normal assignment procedures and the necessity to use volunteers was obviated. The USAHS Seminole was the only other ship on which a physical therapist was assigned. When the Acadia returned to the United States with her first complement of war casualties, it was learned that the physical therapists' activities had been exceedingly limited because of lack of space and equipment and that excessive motion of the ship made bedside treatment difficult. In view of the acute shortage of physical therapists, it was The Surgeon General's opinion that their services could be better utilized in Zone of Interior hospitals. The Acadia had already departed for her second trip when this decision was announced, but on her return, the physical therapists were reassigned and their positions were deleted from the tables of organization for hospital ships.

There were only two hospital ships in which dietitians did not serve, the USAHS John L. Clem and the USAHS Ernest Hinds. During the course of the war, 42 dietitians were assigned to hospital ships; the greatest number assigned at one time was 27. Eleven dietitians had tours in two or more hospital ships. A second lieutenant was authorized for ships carrying 400 to 700 patients, a first lieutenant for those carrying 800 to 1,000 patients, and a first and a second lieutenant for those carrying 1,500 patients.

Hospital ships were not authorized spaces for occupational therapists nor supplies and equipment for such a program. By June 1944, it was recognized that, although the arts and crafts materials selected for use with regular troops were "suitable for the ordinary patients," ships' chaplains reported that psychiatric patients needed specialized equipment. The Army Service Forces, Special Services Division, therefore, suggested to The Surgeon General that a special kit be prepared for use by ships' chaplains "when mental cases are present." In view of his previously established policy that occupational therapy (personnel, supplies, and equipment) would be authorized only for Zone of Interior programs, and that arts and crafts activities on hospital ships and in oversea hospitals were the responsibility of the Red Cross, The Surgeon General advised the Special Services Division that the Red Cross would furnish special supplies.

The U.S. Army Transport Agwileon (of 6678 gross tons) was originally the passenger steamer Havana, built at Philadelphia, Pa., in 1906. She subsequently served between 1917 and 1925 as the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort (AH-3). Reconstructed in 1927-1928, she then resumed commercial service as SS Havana. Following a grounding in 1935 the ship was renamed Yucatan, and after capsizing at her New York pier in 1941 she was renamed Agwileon and returned to service as a freighter. She was chartered by the Army in November 1942 and converted into a troopship. After one voyage to Oran and Gibraltar in April-June 1943 she was modified for hospital ship employment, being redesignated and renamed Shamrock in August 1943.

U.S. Army Transport Bridgeport (of 7995 gross tons) was originally the German commercial steamer Breslau, built at Vegesack, Germany in 1901. During and after World War I she had active Navy service as USS Bridgeport. In reserve after November 1924, she was turned over to the War Shipping Administration, which employed her as a freighter in 1942-1943. Between September 1943 and August 1944, the ship was converted at Jacksonville, Florida, for use as a U.S. Army hospital ship. Renamed Larkspur, she made three voyages to England between September 1944 and February 1945.

The U.S. Army Transport Siboney (of 6937 gross tons) was built at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1918 as the commercial passenger liner of the same name. During 1918 and 1919 she served as USS Siboney (ID # 2999), then returned to civilian employment as the New York and Cuba Mail Steamship Company's S.S. Siboney. With World War II raging in Europe and the United States striving to enhance its defenses, in June 1941 the ship was chartered by the Army. Siboney was undergoing a major refit at New York when, in January 1944, she was selected for conversion to a U.S. Army Hospital Ship. Renamed Charles A. Stafford, she emerged from the shipyard in September with a single smokestack replacing her original two, new boilers and a number of other improvements.

In April 1941 the U.S. Army purchased the 5341 gross-ton passenger liner Kent, which had been built at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1918 and served in 1918-1919 as USS Santa Teresa. Renamed Ernest Hinds, she was converted to a troopship at Boston, Massachusetts, and took part in maneuvers off Cape Cod before being transferred to the Navy in July 1941. After serving as USS Kent (AP-28) for eight months, she was returned to the Army in March 1941 and again became USAT Ernest Hinds. The ship was converted to a hospital ship at San Francisco, California, between September 1943 and June 1944. She then steamed through the Panama Canal to begin service between the U.S. East Coast and the Mediterranean Sea. Ernest Hinds's hospital ship service ended in September 1945.

In March 1941 the U.S. Army purchased the 5211 gross-ton passenger liner Irwin, which had been built at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1918 and served in 1919 as USS Santa Ana. Renamed John L. Clem, she was converted to a troopship at New York City, and operated between the United States East and Gulf Coasts and ports in the Caribbean and Central America from June 1941 and September 1943. She was then sent to Mobile, Alabama, where she was converted to a hospital ship. Upon completion of this work in June 1944, John L. Clem steamed across the Atlantic to begin duty in the western Mediterranean.

In 1924 the inactive passenger liner Republic, which had previously been the USS President Grant and had served as a U.S. Army transport earlier in the decade, was refitted with oil-burning machinery and given a new superstructure that quite markedly changed her appearance. She was then placed in commercial operation by the United States Lines. In August 1931 Republic was transferred to the War Department and resumed service as an Army transport. The Navy took her over in July 1941, placing her in commission as USS Republic (AP-33). In January 1945 Republic was returned to the Army. Converted to a hospital ship, with no change in name, her re-entry into service was delayed by major repairs to her machinery, and she did not begin her next trans-Pacific trip until late 1945 or early 1946.

The passenger-cargo ship Panhandle State (the nickname for West Virginia) was the first ship built for the short-lived United States Mail Steamship Company. After only eight roundtrips between New York, Boulogne, and London, U.S. Mail folded and its ships were transferred to United States Lines. Renamed President Monroe in 1922, the following year she was sold to the Dollar Steamship Line of San Francisco and, from 1924, put in round-the-world service: New York, Havana, the Panama Canal, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Kobe, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Penang, Colombo, the Suez Canal, Naples, Genoa, Marseilles, and Boston-a voyage of 105 days from New York to New York. From 1931 to 1937 she ran between New York and Manila, before resuming her circumnavigation. Dollar folded in 1939 and many of her ships were taken over by the American President Lines. Renamed President Buchanan when a new President Monroe was commissioned in 1940, she entered general service. During World War II, she served as a troopship until 1943. On 24 May 1944, a hospital ship (President Buchanan) was named The Emily H. M. Weder in honor of Major Weder, who entered the Army Nurse Corps in 1918 and died at Walter Reed General Hospital in 1943. Major Weder had been chief operating room nurse at Letterman General Hospital and Walter Reed General Hospital. Sailing again as President Buchanan after World War II, she remained in service until 1957, when she was scrapped at San Francisco.

The U.S. Army Hospital Ship Dogwood (of 7933 gross tons), built in Richmond, California, entered mercantile service upon completion in May 1943 as the Liberty ship George Washington Carver. Delivered to the Army in November 1943, she was converted to a Hague Convention hospital ship in 1943-44 and renamed for a flower. Between July 1944 and the spring of 1945, Dogwood made seven trips between the U.S. East Coast and England.

On 29 May 1944, a hospital ship was named The Blanche F. Sigman in honor of Lieutenant Sigman and her colleagues, 1st Lt. Carrie Sheetz and 2d Lt. Marjorie G. Morrow, who were killed when the 95th Evacuation Hospital at Anzio was bombed during World War II.

On 11 December 1944 , the U.S. Army's twenty-first hospital ship was named The Ernestine A. Koranda in honor of Lieutenant Koranda, ANC, who died in an airplane crash on 19 December 1943 in the Southwest Pacific.

On 13 February 1945, the U.S. Army's hospital ship with the largest patient capacity (1,628 patients) was named The Frances Y. Slanger in honor of Lieutenant Slanger who was killed 21 October 1944 when struck by a German shell in her tented hospital area. LT Frances Slanger was an Army Nurse assigned to the 45th Field Hospital during WWII. Their mission was to aid casualties of the allied invasion of France on D-Day. She and other nurses waded ashore on the Normandy beachhead four days after D-Day. It was four more days before the nurses barracks bags arrived. During that time, the nurses slept on the ground to catch a nap when they had time. LT Frances Slanger is often remembered for the letter she wrote while in her tent one night in Belgium in Oct 1944 during a storm. She wrote from her heart praising the American Soldiers. The letter was printed in the "Stars and Stripes." Unknown to the readers at that time, LT Slanger had been killed by German artillery that hit her tent later that same day.

On 13 February 1945 a U.S. Army hospital ship was named The Aleda E. Lutz in honor of Lieutenant Lutz, ANC, who was killed on a flying mission to evacuate wounded personnel from forward areas. Lieutenant Lutz had flown more than 190 evacuation missions and had been awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters. The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded posthumously.

The Allied invasion of southern France in the late summer of 1944, an operation first code-named ANVIL and later DRAGOON, marked the beginning of one of the most successful but controversial campaigns of World War II. During the first day of the invasion of southern France on 15 August 1944, casualties were evacuated from the beach clearing stations by small craft. Three hospital ships arrived off the landing beaches on D plus 1 as planned, although they were not there as early in the day as had been expected. The relatively small number of casualties, however, made it possible to hold in the clearing stations those patients whose condition required the better accommodations of the hospital ships. The automatic schedule continued through 21 August-3 ships on D plus 2, one on D plus 3, 2 each on D plus 4 and D plus 5, and one on D plus 6.

Vessels used during the first 3 days carried surgical teams drawn from personnel of the 3d, 36th, and 43d General Hospitals, and the 59th Evacuation Hospital, all on the DRAGOON troop list. The USAHS John Clem, smallest of the hospital ships, carried only one surgical team, while the Acadia, with a capacity of 788 patients, carried 3. The Shamrock, Thistle, Algonquin, Chateau Thierry, and Emily Weder carried 2 surgical teams each.

After D plus 6, hospital ships were sent into the area on a one-a-day basis until 28 August, and thereafter at the request of the Seventh Army surgeon. One ship was held in continuous readiness at Ajaccio. Until D plus 5 hospital ships called at all three landing beaches, but beginning on D plus 6 all evacuees were taken by ambulance to the clearing station of the 58th Medical Battalion at Ste. Maxime, where the ships were loaded. Through 21 August all hospital ships discharged at Naples with no segregation of casualties by nationality. From 22 August through 29 August vessels loaded to 60 percent or more with French casualties or prisoners of war were sent to Oran.

With the fall of Marseille and Toulon, enough fixed hospital beds became available to the French forces to make evacuation out of France unnecessary. This factor, combined with the beginning of air evacuation on D plus 7, greatly reduced the need for hospital ships and none were requested by Seventh Army after 30 August.

On 4 August 1949 a hospital ship, the USAHS Comfort, began servicing the European Command for the first time since December 1947. part of 1948 the 319th Station Hospital had encountered difficulties in transport. During the earlier evacuating certain classes of patients via Army transport. continued to be used for the evacuation of ambulatory patients.

Mobile Riverine Force

The Mobile Riverine Force, created in 1967, was composed of the 2d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, and two Navy river assault squadrons of 50 boats each. The force, designed to deny the extensive river and canal complex of the Mekong Delta to the enemy, was wholly independent of fixed support bases and operated entirely afloat. Company D, 9th Medical Battalion, supported the Mobile Riverine Force in a highly unorthodox manner. Shortly after Company D arrived at the Dong Tam base in early 1968, it established a medical, facility in a converted armored troop carrier to provide more effective medical support for riverine operations. Later this facility, the only Army medical facility in Vietnam based in a Navy ship, was moved to a barracks ship, the USS Colleton.

Colleton (APB-36) saw no active service after being completed in September 1946. She was in reserve, berthed at Boston, Mass., through 1960. By early 1968 Dust Off pilots supporting riverine operations no longer had to land on a postage stamp in the middle of the river. Because of the long evacuation route and scarcity of hospitals deep in the Delta, the 9th Division received permission to make a hospital ship out of a self-propelled barracks ship, the USS Colleton. In December 1967 the Colleton sailed to Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippine Islands, where her sick bay was enlarged. One month later she rejoined the forces in South Vietnam. Topside the ship had a helipad with enough space for one helicopter to land with another parked to the side. Navy radio-telephone operators controlled all approaches to this pad. Down a wide ramp was the triage area with six litter stations. On a lower level was the air-conditioned, two table surgical suite. The Colleton proved so successful as a hospital ship that the division got permission to convert a second vessel. In August 1968 the USS Nueces (APB-40) was outfitted as a 37-bed hospital ship, leaving the Colleton with the surgical mission. When the USS Mercer replaced the Colleton a few months later, the medical and surgical units were united aboard the Nueces. The rear section of the aid station of Company D 9th Medical Battalion was maintained in these ships at the base anchorage.



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