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Timeline USAHS "Acadia"
|Captain Thomas B. Protzman (picture taken when serving with the 78th Infantry Division).|
Thursday, 3 June 1943 > Charleston, S. C., Port of Embarkation, Zone of Interior. One month ago, the USAHS “Acadia” was officially christened the FIRST US Army Hospital Ship. 125 tons of guns and armor have been removed from the top side, and the ship has been painted white all over with a broad green stripe around the middle, and numerous large red crosses in conspicuous places. The weapons have been replaced by a few automatic pistols, 5 shotguns, and 3 outmoded bolt-operated rifles. Major William V. Barney, the new Chaplain came aboard this morning. 10 more Nurses, 1 Dietitian, 2 Physiotherapists, 2 MAC Officers, 1 Sanitary Officer, 1 extra Medical Technician, and 2 American Red Cross workers, together with 33 Enlisted Men joined the already present personnel. 13 more men are expected soon. Preparations have to be finished this month, as the “Acadia” is supposed to leave for Oran, Algeria, next Saturday, 5 June. Everyone on board including the civilian crew (Merchant Marine –ed) has to be certified ‘neutral’ (for protection by the Hague Convention –ed) and carry a certificate to that effect with personal photo and fingerprints of each individual.
Friday, 4 June 1943 > Charleston, S. C., Port of Embarkation, Zone of Interior. The 33 Enlisted Men who came aboard yesterday all need to be photographed and issued ‘neutral’ documents. Just at the last minute, we finally received 30,000 linen sheets and pillow cases. Orders have been received to sail next Saturday at 0700, but there still is no food on board.
Saturday, 5 June 1943 > Charleston, S. C., Port of Embarkation, Zone of Interior – FIRST VOYAGE OF USAHS “ACADIA”. At 0130 the boat was finally loaded and the last bed linen delivered. The Lord only knows what I’m going to do with them. We were supposed to sail at 0700, but there was a large convoy going out so we had to wait until they had cleared the lightship. At 1330 we cleared the dock and started our maiden trip as a Hospital Ship. Two Army blimps followed us until dark to ensure our safe passage through the submarine area.
Sunday, 6 June 1943 > At Sea. Chaplain W. V. Barney held his first services. At 1100 we sighted a life raft several miles away and changed our course to inspect it. There was no one on board and no identifying marks to be found.
Monday, 7 June 1943 > At Sea. Everything is running smoothly. At noon everyone took his first dose of Atabrine in lieu of Quinine of which there isn’t any. From now on we will get two doses a week until the malaria season is over.
Tuesday, 8 June 1943 > At Sea. Several of our Nurses have acute gastro-intestinal upsets from the Atabrine, accompanied with severe nausea and vomiting. My Chief Nurse is 1st Lieutenant Muriel M. Westover; she is being assisted by 2d Lieutenant Margaret Thomson. We had the first Dietitian to serve on a Hospital Ship, 2d Lieutenant Edna Stephany. Several of us are dizzy or suffer headaches. The skipper, Captain “Jack” John W. Kirchner (Merchant Marine –ed), issued the new self-inflating life vests to my outfit and the entire crew. They are rubber reinforced with cloth and wrap around the waist (they are much smaller than the kapok issue). Mine inflated four times the first day until I found I was wearing it too tightly.
Wednesday, 9 June 1943 > At Sea. The “Acadia” is making good progress averaging almost 19 knots. The weather is fine and the trip uneventful.
Thursday, 10 June 1943 > At Sea. Uneventful day. I spent most of the time in the ship’s engine room trying to make a bracelet out of 50 French Centimes pieces (brought back from a previous voyage to North Africa).
Friday, 11 June 1943 > At Sea. I finished my bracelet. The weather is fine, no events to be noted.
|USAHS Acadia, US Army Hospital Ship (during one of its return trips to Charleston POE, South Carolina, Zone of Interior).|
Saturday, 12 June 1943 > At Sea. We started the day with a grand sunrise after several days of clouds and rain. So far, we haven’t sighted a single ship. Late yesterday afternoon (11 June), we ran into a great lot of lumber of the heavy type used to shore up trucks and locomotives and a heavy oil slick. I hope it’s none of the convoy that preceded us a week ago. Mrs Lawson and Miss Ryan (ARC workers –ed), have been devoting a great deal of their time in the preparation of a minstrel show for the amusement of the patients, and tonight will be the first dress rehearsal. 20 of the 33 new boys aboard are Jews from Brooklyn.
Sunday, 13 June 1943 > Straits of Gibraltar – The Rock. I got up at 0430 this morning so as not to miss the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar and shortly after I reached the bridge, a German submarine came up on the starboard bow and followed us for nearly a half hour but did not attempt to either hail or stop us. At about 0830 we entered the Straits and the mist was so heavy that we could scarcely see either shore, but this cleared by 0900 as we now came close to the Spanish coastline. After religious services, we all went on deck and had our first clear view of The Rock. As we passed the fortress and were heading into the Mediterranean, the British sent us a blinker message to head into the Bay and be identified. A pilot was sent aboard and we were safely guided through the minefields and anchored in Spanish waters just off the little town of La Linea, at the base of the Rock and right alongside the British Hospital Ship HMHS “Oxfordshire” (which I visited before at Mers-el-Kébir on my last voyage). I had time for a short trip into The Rock and visited the town near the airport. All the time that we were anchored Spaniards came out in small fishing boats and tried to sell some vile liquor to the sailors. The Master drove them off with the fire hose. At 1700 the “Acadia” was on her way and we hope to reach Oran, Algeria, by 0900 tomorrow.
Monday, 14 June 1943 > Algeria. Around 0700 we were in sight of the cliffs of Oran, Algeria, with the haze covered mountains in the background. 1000 hours and we have been ordered into Mers-el-Kébir and are to dock at the tip of the jetty about fourteen miles from Oran. HMHS “Oxfordshire” has also been ordered in to dock near us, so I’ll have the opportunity to renew old acquaintances. After arrival, I was told that we might have to go on to Algiers. As we came into Mers-el-Kébir a long line of assault landing barges was on its way out towards Algiers; something is getting very hot in the area as everything is being moved up into Tunisia. In spite of the fact that thousands of wounded have been shipped out of this area, there are still almost 11,000 patients in the Oran area alone, and a considerable number near the front. We saw H.M. King George VI in Oran today. Our orders are to move to Oran and load at once, for a quick return trip to Charleston POE, South Carolina, and right back again. This looks more than ever as though we will get back in time for the invasion. At 2200 the air raid alarm was sounded. I was invited to review the 250-bed 64th Station Hospital at Sidi-bel-Abbès, tomorrow afternoon.
other US Army Hospitals in the Oran area, Algeria, during the period
151st Station Hospital (250 beds, La Sénia, 25 November 1942 > 31 May 1944)
7th Station Hospital (750 beds, Oran, 1 December 1942 > 31 July 1944)
180th Station Hospital (250 beds, Ste. Barbe-du-Tlélat, 7 December 1942 > 30 September 1943)
64th Station Hospital (250 beds, Sidi-bel-Abbès, 28 December 1942 > 31 May 1944)
21st General Hospital (1000 beds, Sidi-bou-Hanifia, 29 December 1942 > 30 November 1943)
12th General Hospital (1000 beds, Ain-et-Turk, 14 January 1943 > 3 December 1943)
2d Convalescent Hospital (3000 beds, Bouisseville, 28 February 1943 > 31 May 1944)
40th Station Hospital (500 beds, Mostaganem, 4 March 1943 > 15 January 1944)
91st Evacuation Hospital (400 beds, Mostaganem, 2 May 1943 > 27 June 1943)
94th Evacuation Hospital (400 beds, Perrégaux, 22 May 1943 > 29 August 1943)
16th Evacuation Hospital (750 beds, Ste. Barbe-du-Tlélat, 23 May 1943 > 8 August 1943)
Tuesday, 15 June 1943 > Algeria. At 0200 several of us went down the dock about a mile to watch the unloading of several thousand German PWs; they were all under 25, a great percentage of them paratroops, in excellent physical condition, and the majority of them were singing and whistling. These boys will be marched to the PW enclosures for the night and paraded through the city in the morning. Afterwards, they will be transported to the Zone of Interior on a next convoy. Shortly after we started to load the wounded, a fire broke out in an ammunition dump of 75mm shells alongside the ship and we had considerable excitement for the time it took to control the blaze. All the ship’s fire lines were necessary to get the situation under control. Just a careless cigarette caused all the trouble and might have sunk our boat. At 1430 we took off in four passenger cars and one jeep for Sidi-bel-Abbès, the home of the French Foreign Legion, to inspect and review the 64th Station Hospital, they won the Army’s “E” award for having been the best Hospital in the area for the past month. After our visit we got invited to a GI banquet with French wine. The Nurses wore evening gowns fashioned from cloth they were able to buy from the natives. In all we had a splendid time and drove back early in the morning with blackout lights. When we reached the “Acadia”, nearly 500 patients had been loaded and the rest were expected later the next morning (Wednesday).
Wednesday, 16 June 1943 > Algeria. This will be the quickest turn around. We are to leave at 1700 today. Everyone is pleased as lots of us have seen enough of Oran. We passed the PW enclosure on the way to the base and saw several thousand German prisoners in a large wired-in field, totally bare of vegetation, well covered with rocks and hot as the hobs of hell. I felt sorry for the poor devils, but I guess our boys aren’t being treated any better! Chaplain W. V. Barney has been doing a great job with the wounded and the men seem to like him; the American Red Cross workers, Mrs Lawson and Miss Ryan, have been doing a splendid piece of work in making the boys feel comfortable, they have distributed small comfort bags to each patient, containing many little things that Uncle Sam doesn’t furnish. One of the most desirable articles and giving the most comfort is a pair of slippers. The girls placed small libraries in each ward, and provided a collection of newspapers from all the important towns and cities in the United States. They also brought a ‘coke’ for each patient. At 1700 sharp our boat left the pier and we started on our return trip. The sea is pretty rough and the wind is blowing so hard I can hardly hold my camera steady. We should pass The Rock of Gibraltar about 0600 in the morning and be well out in the Atlantic by the afternoon. We travel alone and our boat will be routed the shortest way home.
|Operation "Torch", the Allied Invasion of North Africa (8 November 1942).|
Thursday, 17 June 1943 > At Sea. The sea is pretty rough and most of the ambulatory cases are getting seasick. Some of the boys have started to gamble openly in rather large games so I issued a stop order on the playing and appointed one of my staff as Provost Marshal to carry out the job.
Friday, 18 June 1943 > At Sea. The last belligerent nation (Japan) has been notified of the new status of the “Acadia”, now a non-belligerent vessel protected by the 1907 Hague Convention. We have been doing approximately 19 knots all day even though the weather continues to be rather rough. The day was uneventful until the evening when during a jam session 3 of the NP cases began to fight and we had lots of trouble getting them under control and into restraining sheets. This was only possible after they had been given large doses of Sodium Amytol and Paraldehyde. One of the merchant mariners had sold them some liquor and that is what started the fight. We have 263 psycho cases on board and no adequate place to hold them (there are only two padded cells in the stern of the ship). One patient Officer admitted paying as much as $ 100.00 for a quart of rye whiskey, but couldn’t put the finger on the sailor when I had them all paraded for investigation.
Saturday, 19 June 1943 > At Sea. At 0445 I was called to the bridge as a distress flare had been seen several miles away. Only one was seen and we were unable to get a bearing. The Azores are only about 60 miles away, so maybe the boat will reach there. Everything is going fine on board; the ARC workers and the Physiotherapists made the boys more comfortable and kept them occupied. One poor guy in my surgical ward had both his eyes shot away and the Red Cross girls have been wonderful in their efforts to bring up his spirits and to give him some hope for the future. In another ward, I discovered a boy who had been an accordionist in a famous dance orchestra stateside. He has severe shrapnel wounds in both hands sustained at Bizerte, Tunisia. Only he and his Captain came out alive. He was sitting alone in a corner of the ward crying; the only thing he knew was music, his only means of support, and his fingers were all stiff and sore. One of the Physiotherapists has baked and massaged his fingers and hands and today, the patient was able to play a tune on the ship’s accordion. In the isolation ward, there’s a young colored boy dying of TB; he was almost moribund when they brought him on board, and now he just wants to see home before he dies, but I don’t think he will. Today, 2 young doughboys who had been classmates in school several years ago, found each other at our movie theater, and they really had a reunion!
Sunday, 20 June 1943 > At Sea. 0730 this morning the little colored boy lost his fight and the chance to see home again. Of the 800 patients we have on board, only 150 have service records. Our Chaplain did a good job this morning; his sermons are short and snappy but have a lot of meat in them.
Monday, 21 June 1943 > At Sea. The little merchant mariner (manic depressive) has just finished ripping his sixth bathrobe into shreds. None of the sedatives seem to help control him. The NP case who started the fight is still in restraining sheets and will probably remain so for the rest of the voyage. The whiskey certainly did a tremendous amount of damage to his mental system; he has been raving wild ever since and threatens to kill us all if he ever gets out. There are 2 men on guard at his bed all the time. At about 1730 we sighted a large iceberg, several times the size of this ship. The barometer has been dropping all evening, but at 2130 the Captain called me and said to secure all patients as we were running into a hurricane. It effectively hit us about 2200 and the ship really did some stunts. We just kept going headway into the storm at about 3 knots; none of us got much sleep, but we managed to get through all right without any serious damage. We will probably be a day late for arrival.
Tuesday, 22 June 1943 > At Sea. The sea is considerably calmer and we are making about 6 knots but the percentage of seasickness has risen to appalling proportions. As we depend on ambulatory patients to help with cleaning, dishwashing and guard duty, the ship will just have to get and stay dirty and go without guards. If nothing special happens we should be in by next Friday and I certainly hope we aren’t kept out in the harbor as last time.
Wednesday, 23 June 1943 > At Sea. We are pretty well out of the storm area and there is much less sickness, but we have lost a whole day because of it and won’t arrive until Friday morning.
Thursday, 24 June 1943 > At Sea. Clear calm day with a bright sun. A great many of our patients have been on deck long before daylight just in the excitement of being only a few hundred miles from home. Even our mental patients are better, yet the poor devils won’t get the freedom we give them here. We can afford to be more generous at sea as they have no place to escape to. The boy with the accordion is playing quite well now and his face just shines with hope. The little merchant mariner’s situation improved and we allowed him out of his dell for the first time yesterday.
Friday, 25 June 1943 > New York, N.Y., Port of Embarkation, Zone of Interior. We didn’t reach “Ambrose Light” (Ambrose Lightship WAL 533, navigational light beacon marking Ambrose Channel, one of the main shipping channels to New York Harbor –ed) until 1030 and will not dock until well in the afternoon. The skipper called the Port Authority and we are to dock at pier 15 for debarkation. There’s a band playing and what looks like a special delegation is on site to meet us. 1430, we have just got rid of the last General and the last Congressman and Senator. It amuses me a great deal as we have been doing the same kind of work for the past 7 months (the “Acadia” was an ‘Ambulance Transport’ then –ed) under much greater handicaps and now that we are the FIRST white-painted (Hospital) ship in the United States Army, we become suddenly important and the powers that be, must come to visit, inspect, and criticize. Major General Norman T. Kirk (The Surgeon General –ed), with his entire staff was there. He made a quick tour of the ship and seemed satisfied. Major General Charles P. Gross (Chief of Transportation, Army Service Forces –ed), was quite critical of my Nurses because I had them dressed in slacks. He also thought my EM were not dressed properly; but when I advised him that he was looking at my NP patients instead of at my soldiers he withdrew his statement. I also told him that we had just come through a two-day hurricane and were more concerned with the care of our patients than with the preparation of a parade. Nevertheless, we will have to put on a show for these people every time we arrive in port until the novelty of this all wears off. The ship’s Master and I had to greet the assembly with speeches and pose for photographs that will never be published, as we are still running in complete radio silence, and our mission seems to be a deep secret.
I later heard that we’re going to make a quick turn around and will leave again Sunday or Monday. Something very hot must be cooking and we must be badly needed. The USAHS “Seminole”, the SECOND Army Hospital Ship (first: “Acadia”, second: “Seminole”, third: “Shamrock” –ed) sailed for North Africa on Monday of this week (the “Seminole” would serve exclusively in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean –ed). When I inspected her the day we sailed, the whole ship had been gutted, and at the time I felt that she couldn’t possibly be finished for at least a couple of months. Yet, Colonel Holder (Office of The Surgeon General –ed) had produced another miracle and we will now have 2 Hospital Ships in the combat zone. If the new CO runs into the storm we just came through, he will get a baptism of a very unpleasant character. Its capacity is about 450 wounded.
While the Surgeon General was visiting, we clarified the life saving situation and will do as the British – carry our full capacity of absolute litter cases. This means of course that in the event of a torpedo or mine, or another disaster, the badly wounded cases will have to take that extra chance. They are given the protection of the Geneva Convention and that will have to suffice as it is imperative that those totally disabled with wounds and injuries be removed from the Theater of Operations as soon as possible.
|The "Ambrose" Lightship, navigation light beacon, marking one of the channels into New York harbor. Picture taken in WW2.|
Saturday, 26 June 1943 > New York, N.Y., Port of Embarkation, Zone of Interior. We were unloaded by about 2230 last night. Halloran General Hospital (Willowbrook, Staten Island, N.Y., designated General Hospital by WDGO # 53, dated 14 October 1942 –ed) held us up as they weren’t able to take the patients as fast as we could debark them. A less complicated system of receiving will have to be instituted. These are all clean cases so far as contagion is concerned. We are losing Mrs Lawson and Miss Ryan (ARC workers) who did such splendid work with our patients. Their replacements will be on the ship tonight. I have great confidence in my Officers and Enlisted Men and have very little trepidation as to how they will function when the ‘great’ moment arrives. We all wish to be with the invasion forces (Sicily Invasion, 10 July 1943 –ed), and I sincerely hope we can reach the area in time. Heavy bombing of the enemy is just a softening-up process to make the invasion less difficult and less costly. Our time is so limited and there are so many supplies that have to be placed on board, meaning very few of us will get much sleep before we sail. We are to carry an extra supply of medical and surgical equipment for ourselves and also for the “Seminole”. The day before we docked one of our Medical Officers gave me this poem which we mimeographed and distributed to our men. It’s his impression of “Acadia” as he saw her at anchor in the Bay of Oran…
A White Ship
She Lies at Anchor in the Bay
A Big White Ship looking Gay
Amidst her Sister Ships of Gray
A Big Red Cross upon her Sides
Marks her Mission as She Rides
Upon the Water and the Tides
Within her Decks are Those in White
Who Heal our Wounds Throughout the Night
And Give Those Strength Who Fought the Fight
(by Walter D. Higgens, Captain, MC, US Army, 6/24/43)
Sunday, 27 June 1943 > New York, N.Y., Port of Embarkation, Zone of Interior. The whole day was spent with the powers that be, of the Port and Washington. We now have definite orders to sail tomorrow night without fail. We are to take part in the attack by going in with the Allied invasion forces. Time and place are a deep secret. This next trip, I hope, will make favorable history for the Medical Corps, as a new policy has been instituted; indeed, this is the first time in the history of the United States, that an MC Officer has been given complete command of the ship and the Hospital. Before, a line Officer was given command of the ship, and a Medical Officer command of the Hospital unit, subservient to the line Officer. I pray the Gods that luck be with me, for on my actions depends the future policy of the War Department concerning the powers of the Medical Department in all future ventures of this magnitude. Though we have never been in actual battle, I feel and am confident that my outfit will come through as they have in previous emergencies. I had to keep all Officers, Nurses, and Enlisted personnel on the boat all day as we weren’t sure just when the sailing time would be. When I returned at 1800, I gave the men till midnight and the Officers and Nurses till 0800 the next morning. Practically all the Officers, the Captain and myself went to “Gloucester House” on 51st Street and had lobster for supper. We then returned to the boat and began to check on loading the extra supplies.
Monday, 28 June 1943 > At Sea – SECOND VOYAGE OF USAHS “ACADIA”. Most of the day was spent in last minute efforts to get the extra supplies we need so badly and a few repairs. We only have food enough for three months so there’s a possibility that we may return by then. I was back at the “Acadia” by 0300 and we were just about ready to pull out early when Major General Homer M. Groninger (Commanding Officer, New York Port of Embarkation –ed) ordered me back to Headquarters for a final conference. There were no cars so I commandeered a ¼-ton truck and made the trip. All the General wanted to know was whether I was sure that our mission could be carried out successfully. While I was in his office, Major General N. T. Kirk, called from Washington with some last minute instructions and also with the admonition to put our expensive laundry (bed sheets) to work. We finally left the pier at 0535, only 35 minutes late. We then spent several hours sailing around “Ambrose Light” adjusting our radio direction finder and didn’t leave the channel until 0930 hours.
|Major General Norman T. KIRK, US Army Surgeon General (1 June 1943 > 31 May 1947).|
Tuesday, 29 June 1943 > At Sea. It’s a great relief to get out into the ocean away from the heat of New York. The sea is extremely rough and one of the new Nurses is already in trouble. Our trip from now on will be jammed full of activity as we now have a definite objective and only a short time in which to renew our minds on the things that will have to be done on short notice. In the morning we held a meeting with the Officers and the Nurses during which we planned an instruction program for everyone on the ship. Operating teams were formed, of which there will be three; shock teams of Enlisted Men and Nurses for plasma and blood transfusions were established. The EM will handle the general nursing while the Nurses will be stepped up to do the immediate first aid work, thus permitting the doctors to act on the surgical or burn teams. Our Chaplain will take over supervision of loading of the wounded by means of metal “Stokes” litters. The latter task may be very difficult as the operation may have to be accomplished from the water or from lighters or landing craft and if there is any sea at all the job will be hazardous! The ARC workers, Physiotherapists and Dietitian will attend to the feeding of hot drinks and sandwiches to those cases able to take nourishment and to assist the shock teams. For 8 hours each day, everyone will be making and preparing surgical dressings and supplies. For the next 6 hours, classes will be given, a kind of general refresher course. Up to this time, discipline on board has been rather slack. The trip started with a rigid course for all and both our men and women are taking it with their chins up and without complaints.
Wednesday, 30 June 1943 > At Sea. We have been fighting a heavy sea ever since the voyage started and this morning the waves even rolled over ‘C’ deck and washed down one of the open companionways giving the whole boat a drenching inside. It almost took the whole morning to mop up the water. Instructions were given in gas mask use. Armament on board only consists of 5 shotguns and 3 bolt-action rifles. Officers received daily instruction in the use of .45 caliber automatic pistols. None of these are to be used against the enemy (as per Geneva Convention regulations –ed), but for internal security and self defense if necessary. The Nurses prepared several large packing boxes filled with new dressings to be sterilized.
Major Allied Operations – Mediterranean Theater
Thursday, 1 July 1943 > At Sea. I forget to say that I have a new orderly, Pierre. This boy is a real find and has made my room so orderly that I’m almost afraid to use it. He was formerly a secretary/valet for a N.Y. Senator and just before joining the Army worked for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (ex-King Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson –ed). Early this afternoon a B-24 Liberator bomber flew around us for some time. Since our Chaplain is in charge of loading patients he and the Captain have rigged up 6 slings with block and tackle to lift patients out of the water or from small craft. This is something we may not need (as the inevitable gas mask drills), but could come in mighty handy if we can’t load through the ports.
Friday, 2 July 1943 > At Sea. The ship is in excellent shape and the men are attending classes all through the day. Tonight we will show our first movie. As I went on deck this morning, the Nurses that were off duty were there folding gauze in their bathing suits. My rifle and shotgun squad have reached perfection in drill with their weapons, and if the weather permits I will start them on target practice.
Saturday, 3 July 1943 > At Sea. Fog all night with the ship’s whistle blowing away and our boat plugging along at only 4 knots. We ran into a fairly large area of slush ice, though we selected this southern route to escape fog and icebergs. Our orders are to be in Gibraltar by 7 July, where we are to receive further instructions, so we’re doing 21 knots now to make up for the lost time.
Sunday, 4 July 1943 > At Sea. At noon we were only 800 miles from Gibraltar. We will now have to slow down as we’re ahead of our schedule in spite of the weather. Rifle and shotgun practice were given this afternoon. The ARC workers unpacked a couple of book cases and as the choice wasn’t really what we needed (mostly children’s books such as; King Arthur of the Round Table, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and the series The Modern Farmer, etc) we gave them all to Father Neptune. The Chaplain had a great turn out this morning.
Monday 5 July 1943 > At Sea. Uneventful day. Another B-24 four-engined Liberator bomber flew over our ship this morning and then returned in the direction of Gibraltar. We are about 600 miles from our RV point and have slowed our speed considerably.
Tuesday, 6 July 1943 > At Sea. We are now starting to make circles in order not to hit the Straits of Gibraltar before daylight. Someone of the crew forgot to shut off the water in one of the utility rooms, flooding one of the decks. The Master-at-arms is supposed to patrol the ship but has been sleeping, Captain “Jack” instituted a time clock that all men will have to punch at different locations all over the ship. The crew is mad and want to quit, but it won’t do them any good. Another British Liberator aircraft flew over. Nurses and Enlisted Men have been working like hell and now have a great supply of surgical dressings, ready and sterilized. My outfit is now ready for any emergency!
Wednesday, 7 July 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. 0600 hours, we are splitting a large empty convoy going back to the States. It’s quite foggy and we couldn’t see where we were, near or far from the other ships, until we were right on top of them and couldn’t get out. Fortunately no damage was done, and we hit the Straits around 0700. As we neared The Rock the haze cleared rapidly, and we saw several aircraft in the sky, and a harbor full of ships. We anchored at 1100 near the USAHS “Seminole” and three British Hospital Ships. It looks like the real thing now, and all preparations won’t be in vain. The Port Commander left us at noon after giving us instructions to move up to Algiers the day after tomorrow. On talking with some of the British Officers, I find that the plan is to sandwich us between two British ships so that we can have the benefit of their previous battle experience. From the looks of things I would say the invasion will start within the next few days. We had to arm our guards with shotguns and parade them around the decks of the “Acadia” as some of the locals kept coming too close with their small boats, trying to sell bad liquor to the boys; the guns aren’t loaded, but do the trick. We are in Spanish waters and these men have the perfect right to go where they please, only some of them have been planting time bombs and four ships were sunk last month (by Italian frogmen –ed), so everyone has got to be more careful. 2000 hours and we just finished taking supplies over to the “Seminole”. These poor devils are in a very bad situation. Their vessel was fitted out so rapidly (May-June 1943 –ed) that they have no sufficient supplies and a great deal of their equipment hasn’t been installed. When their boat first sailed from New York, they were to go to Oran, Algeria, and pick up a load of wounded and come right back. Now they have been ordered to an invasion point and they aren’t ready, through no fault of their own. They left us in the morning with two of the British ships and headed for Philippeville, another port in Algeria. I took my Officer over to their boat and we gave them all the help and advice we could in such a short time. Most of these lads are from Texas, and were only in New York two weeks before they sailed.
|Partial aerial view of "The Rock" - Gibraltar, showing airport runway, harbor, and bay. Picture taken in WW2.|
(during World War 2, Gibraltar played a vital role in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Theaters, as it controlled virtually all naval traffic in and out of the Mediterranean region. It was there that General Dwight D. Eisenhower coordinated “Operation Torch”. Following the successful completion of the campaign in North Africa culminating with the surrender of Italy in 1943, the “Rock” continued to serve as an Allied base operating dry docks and supply depots for the convoy routes running through the Mediterranean until VE-Day –ed).
Thursday, 8 July 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. 0200 in the morning, several depth charges went off and woke me up. At first I thought we were in convoy again but it was only the British patrol boat dropping charges in the bay to discourage any saboteurs or infiltrators. I went on deck and admired the other Hospital Ships with their lights on. Later in the morning, before daylight, the 3 British ships left, and the “Seminole” will leave about 1400 this afternoon. They are bound for Bône, Algeria, and not Philippeville. The Captain and I were trying to get more oil for our ship and we spent a lot of time trying to unroll British red tape; we finally got the oil after seeing the American Consul. We stopped to have dinner at the “Hotel Bristol” and paid $ 2.00 per person for some lousy food and warm beer. While we were on the way, the British Navy was putting on a ceremony for the body of Polish Prime Minister Wladyslaw E. Sikorski that was being repatriated to the United Kingdom (Polish Prime Minister, 20 May 1881 – 4 July 1943, killed in a plane crash -ed). The Liberator bomber was too heavy and failed to rise, crashing in the sea and killing everyone except the pilot. We sent Lt. Colonel C. W. Salley (CO > USAHS “Seminole” -ed) and Chief Nurse Catherine Ambry some more supplies today. He hasn’t been able to get his motor boat fixed. All his life boats are hand-operated and neither the merchant marine crew nor his medical complement know how to operate them. I certainly hope he won’t get into serious action. If we stop any length of time in Algiers, I’ll go and see General Smith and see if his orders cannot be changed. We leave Gibraltar at noon tomorrow and should be in Algiers by 1100 next Saturday.
|Picture of General Władysław E. Sikorski (1881-1943), killed in an airplane crash 4 July 1943 in Gibraltar.|
Friday, 9 July 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. A lot of depth charges were dropped last night but the bay looks serene this morning. We put on six extra guards to patrol the ship and watch out for divers or frogmen. The water is so clear one can easily see the bottom and we have the advantage over the other boats that our side lights are on and the visibility is excellent. We pulled up anchor at noon and are now well out in the Mediterranean Sea with excellent weather. In the morning we will hold several emergency drills to make sure everything will work smoothly and by tomorrow night we should know definitely where we are going.
Saturday, 10 July 1943 > Algeria. We started the day by listening to the news reports of the assault against Sicily and all hope our boys can hold their beachhead. Our emergency drills came off with only a few mistakes; and we will hold them daily from now on until we move up nearer the field of battle. 1030, we just passed a large convoy of Liberty ships going into the Mediterranean loaded with troops and supplies. During the drill this morning we pulled a surprise gas attack and only a few of the Nurses had forgotten their masks. I did this for a very definite reason – my outfit doesn’t know, but some of the ships at Gibraltar were carrying cargoes of poison gas to the front just in case Germany or Italy might start using it. We all are afraid that they will when the going gets tough. At 1500 hours we were anchored well in Algiers harbor away from the city, and the sea is too rough to attempt to go ashore by small boat. While at anchor a fully-loaded convoy left for the east, crossing the one we passed earlier in the day. There were thirty-seven ships in this one. The harbor is full of troop and cargo ships fully loaded and ready to move where needed. We heard there were 1,200 ships during the assault against Sicily. 1600 hours and another convoy comes in. Because of the ongoing sea traffic, we will remain offshore and out in the ocean till tomorrow. The harbor is still protected by barrage balloons. The last enemy air raid took place on 15 June and I believe the Krauts have too much other business to attend than to bother us tonight, though the moon is very bright.
other US Army Hospitals in the Algiers area, Algeria, during the period
29th Station Hospital (250 beds, Algiers, 30 January 1943 > 25 August 1944)
79th Station Hospital (500 beds, Algiers, 17 June 1943 > 30 June 1944)
Sunday, 11 July 1943 > Algeria. Early this morning we contacted USS “Vulcan”, AR-5, one of our Navy repair ships (1941-1991, served in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific –ed) and their CO, Captain Richard Tuggle, came over and took several of us back to his ship where we could contact our Headquarters by phone. He has also sent us repair men to fix our PA system and our motor lifeboat. I first called General Smith and found out he was still at the front; next I called Brigadier General Frederick A. Blesse, (Surgeon NATOUSA –ed), and learned he was also at the front. My next best bet was to try and contact Colonel Earle G. Standlee, (Deputy Surgeon NATOUSA –ed), who promised to come right over and inspect the ship. Colonel E. G. Standlee and Lt. Colonel B. Manly, both of the Surgeon’s Office, indeed gave us an inspection we will all long remember. I’m terribly proud of my outfit, the 204th Medical Hospital Ship Company, as they came through in splendid style from the lowest buck private on guard at the gangway to the highest Officer. While on the “Vulcan”, we talked to the first casualties of the Invasion (Operation “Husky“ -ed). They were on a freighter that had recently unloaded a cargo of mustard gas at Bizerte, Tunisia, and were returning to Oran, Algeria, when an enemy sub torpedoed them. The ship capsized and sank, and only a few crew members were saved. After my first inspection, I returned to shore to report to the British Admiralty to see whether they had any orders for the ship. At the time the British had overall control of all shipping in the Mediterranean and also of the port of Algiers. I no sooner finished there when I was blinked back onto the ship for another inspection. Brigadier General E. L. Ford, (Chief of Staff, NATOUSA, activated 4 February 1943 –ed) and some of his Officers gave us another going over and couldn’t find anything wrong except that we were not to use the port water for our laundry, as it was much too scarce. At 1700 I tried calling General Smith again and he answered the phone; he said he was greatly pleased with the results of the invasion and that we had lost only 10% of the men in the assault wave. I learned that the “Acadia” is slated to go into action with 11 British Hospital Ships and take on patients from the water off the shores of Sicily. We are now standing by with steam waiting for our orders. We are allowing the French citizens here in Algiers, 10 gallons of gas a week as a good neighbor policy.
Monday, 12 July 1943 > Algeria. I gave shore leave to all our personnel until the 2200 curfew and they all returned in fairly good condition. There will be no more leaves from now. We spent the morning getting the ship in order, just in case anybody else cared to inspect it, and sure enough just as we were sitting down to dinner, Major General Ernest M. Cowell, Director, British Medical Services, responsible for the administration of all medical activities in NATOUSA, popped in and asked to see me. I took him through a quick tour of the ship, but he was only interested in seeing the operating rooms, my surgical teams, and wanted to know if we were prepared to take wounded from the water. One of his first questions was; “how many Nurses have you got and do you want to take them off the boat before going into action?” I put the question to the girls themselves, and not one of them wanted to quit! He was pleased. I told him of the reprimand I had received from Major General C. P. Gross for putting my Nurses in slacks, and he laughed and said: “You know, the Queen did not approve of my putting British Nurses in trousers while in action, but I still keep on doing it as they are the only clothes they can work in properly.” He advised against the use of too many sulfonamides in the burn cases, and due to the shortage of water on Sicily the wounded would be brought in dehydrated and should be given great quantities of water to dilute the sulfonamides they had taken by mouth on the battlefield. A bad form of malaria is also cropping up and a great deal of diarrhea. All these will cause complications with battle wounds. This man is a great General! Late in the afternoon I went ashore to collect some new movie films from the USO and saw several thousand Italian PWs being unloaded from trains directly onto boats. They seemed in excellent condition and were all burned by the sun from the long desert warfare, but seemed to have but little clothing. We spoke to some of the French guards and they felt quite bitter that the prisoners were getting more to eat than the guards themselves.
Tuesday, 13 July 1943 > Algeria. Last night the British Hospital Ship HMHS “Talamba” was sunk with 800 wounded on board in retaliation for our sinking of one of the Italian Hospital Ships two days ago. The “Talamba” was fully lighted and was sunk by a dive bomber about three miles off the Sicilian coast. I talked to the British aviator who sank the enemy Hospital Ship and he explained that he was so high that it was impossible to distinguish any ‘special’ markings. His orders were to sink all ships in a certain sealane and that is what he precisely did, not knowing that it was a Hague-protected vessel. At 0800 we borrowed a motor launch and boarded the British Hospital Ship HMHS “Amarapoora” (400 beds) to see what tackle they were using to bring the patients over the side. They were very gracious and demonstrated the system, but their method was inferior to ours so there’s to be no adaptation. At noon, Colonel Edgar E. Hume (US Army) and Colonel D. Gordon Cheyne (Royal British Army) had dinner with me on our boat. These men are from AMGOT (Allied Military Government of Occupied Territory –ed) and will soon take over Civilian Government in Sicily. The fighting is going on so rapidly in Sicily and so few of our doughs are being wounded, that we probably won’t get up to the front at all. I hate to think of lying out in this harbor (Algiers) with nothing to do. My boys will go nuts, as none of us are allowed off the boat, just waiting several miles from shore. In the afternoon, my friend Major General Ernest M. Cowell of Her Majesty’s Forces sent his crack group of epidemiologists over to give a talk on malaria. One of the speakers, Colonel Schauff (malaria specialist), feels that 200 out of every 1,000 soldiers will probably contract malaria unless the program to use Atabrine is rigidly adhered to. Right now, we know that malaria and other diseases are killing more Japs in the marshes and jungles of Guadalcanal than our soldiers do. Around 2000 a large convoy of troop transports is coming into the bay escorted by battleships and destroyers. They drop anchor just outside the harbor and will probably supplement the invasion forces or relieve some of the assault troops on Sicily. I sincerely hope we go out with them. The “King George V” (14-in gun battleship, part of H Force in Operation “Husky” –ed) is right near us and must be the largest battleship in the world. We met some of her Officers and they told us that the invasion of Sicily was a complete surprise to the Axis forces as not a single enemy reconnaissance plane was permitted to return for 10 days before the attack. They were all shot down. I collected some more film for my camera and picked up a few German war souvenirs.
|Operation "Husky", the Allied Invasion of Sicily (10 July 1943).|
Wednesday, 14 July 1943 > Algeria. Bastille Day in Algiers. At 0700 this morning, a landing craft came to our gangway and we took on 8 wounded British soldiers on board (5 litter cases and 3 ambulatory patients). Some of them were paratroopers and glider riders who hit Syracuse, Sicily. They were pretty badly shot up but happy to get on a Hospital Ship. My girls peppered and spoiled them. 1800 and we have been ordered to stand out to sea and anchor. USAHS “Seminole” has already returned to Bône, Algeria. She came in yesterday with casual wounded men from Bizerte, Tunisia. Just as we anchored about five miles from the port area, a Navy boat drew alongside and signaled us to prepare to take on 600 wounded, either still tonight, or early in the morning. We learned that a fleet of thirty ships was returning from Sicily with casualties and that we are to take them to Oran. As we had to return to port for loading, everyone was disappointed since we all could have had a day on shore. Some of the frustration was eased by the gift of a four-inch telescopic lens for my Leica camera, recovered from a downed German plane. That will allow me to take some distance shots.
Thursday, 15 July 1943 > Algeria. It is 0530 and we are returning to dock to take on patients. We pulled in about 0600 to take on the wounded. Major W. V. Barney, our Chaplain did a splendid job. At one time, he and his men loaded 11 patients over the sides in three minutes with a single tackle he had devised himself. While we were in the midst of the loading (using “Stokes” litters), Brigadier General F. A. Blesse came aboard and got a kick out of the unusual sight of a Chaplain doing something entirely different from preaching. The General told me that during the original assault only 680 men were wounded and that not a single enemy plane was seen. The ones we are taking on now are some casualties of that attack. We are to take on the cases from ships here, fill up the boat, go to Oran, unload, and await orders there. Later, a great many wounded were brought from the docked ships by British and American ambulances and all were then carried on board by stretcher details composed entirely of Italian prisoners. These lads did a splendid job and were as happy as anyone could be in captivity. I have many Italian boys in my outfit so the PWs thought they were home on an Italian ship; they wanted to stay and go to America. Among the many patients, we have 18 Italians, several cases of malaria, and some with dengue fever. Most of the badly burned cases are from a boat that suffered a near miss that ignited gasoline in the hold, trapping them in the fire! At one time while we were loading, an order came for us to leave the dock and put to sea. As there were several landing barges of patients waiting, we started speeding up the loading process. As soon as the news reached the wounded implying that some of them might be left behind in Algiers, a number of litter cases got up under their own power and climbed the ladders onto the ship, in casts, with only one leg, and some badly wounded. They helped and encouraged each other… At 2030 we closed the ports and started for Oran.
|Brigadier General Frederick A. BLESSE, NATOUSA Theater Surgeon. Picture taken in 1943.|
Friday, 16 July 1943 > At Sea + Algeria. I have been in the OR all night picking shrapnel out of people, patching up others, and re-dressing the burn cases. In this short run we’re only able to handle the worst and emergency cases and the Hospitals at Oran will continue the work. The doctors and half of my unit worked all through the night as we have to turn complete medical records on the cases as well as take care of them physically. As soon as we reach Oran, we have to unload our patients, take on water, run the laundry for the first time, and wash all the dirty linen before we leave. As we left Algiers, 2 British Hospital Ships had been ordered to Sicily as the Italians and the Germans were beginning to fight back and our casualties were increasing. It is 1100 and we are in Oran at pier 14. Colonel Howard J. Hutter and Colonel Joseph G. Cocke (Headquarters, Mediterranean Base Section –ed) meet us at the dock. However, we don’t get fully docked until 1530 hours as the wind keeps blowing the ship away from the pier. The boat was finally stable and the patients were debarked in just four hours. 808 patients, half of them litter cases. I called the girls at the 40th Station Hospital (Arzew, 18 January 1943 > 4 March 1943; Mostaganem, 4 March 1943 > 15 January 1944 –ed) and told them to come down to the ship if they can get away. Major General A. R. Wilson has gotten tough on his Officers; he felt they were getting too much food and put them on a C-Ration diet for two weeks. He found an ice box in a Lieutenant’s quarters, and the man was fined $ 50.00. After having dinner with Colonel H. J. Hutter in his villa near Mers-el-Kébir, I returned to the ship to find it completely cleaned and ready to take on more patients. I hope we can stay here for a couple of days as there are a great many minor repairs needed and I want to get enough water to run the laundry efficiently. As it hasn’t rained here for three months, they may not give us enough.
Saturday, 17 July 1943 > Algeria. Busy all morning with the routine port affairs and paperwork. I arranged with Headquarters to take the girls and the Enlisted Men out to the beach at Ain-et-Turk in trucks at 1300 hours and while they were gone, Colonel Theodore L. Finley, Deputy to Brigadier General T. B. Larkin, came down to the boat for a short inspection and invited my Nurses to the opening ball of the SOS in Oran at 1930 tonight. He promised to come for us with the necessary trucks. The boys worked on the laundry almost the entire day and discovered that some of the parts were broken. Fortunately we found some local men who will weld them for us and we hope to get the job started this afternoon. 1400 hours and the first 100 sheets have gone through the wash and they really look good. If we stay here a couple of days we can have all clean linen for a next trip. The dance was quite an affair of mixed civilians and military and was held in the Marriage Room of the City Hall with a colored orchestra playing. There I met Brigadier General Thomas B. Larkin (CG > USASOS, NATOUSA –ed) and when I told him I was the CO of the “Acadia”, he said: “Yes, I know, you’re sailing for Sicily in the morning.” I told him, maybe, but neither I nor the Captain knows anything about this. When we returned to the boat, word was waiting at the gangplank that we were to sail at 0630 the next morning, but no destination was given. That finished the laundry until we reach another port where we can get water.
|Overall map of North Africa and the Mediterranean region.|
Sunday, 18 July 1943 > At Sea. Our boat left as scheduled and we follow the coastline to keep away from convoy lanes and as far from the Italian base at Sardinia as possible. Our orders are to proceed to Bizerte, Tunisia, and we should reach our destination about 1500 tomorrow afternoon. At 1600 we passed a large troop convoy going our way too. Just after that, two P-39 Airacobra fighters flew over us several times checking us and the lanes ahead for any submarines. It is now 1900 and we can see Algiers in the distance and the burning Army transport that was torpedoed near the harbor yesterday. It seems that we always come in or leave after something happens.
Monday, 19 July 1943 > At Sea + Tunisia. We are still at sea. We are about three hours from Bizerte. Early this morning we sighted a convoy that covered the entire horizon, quite an amazing and awe inspiring sight. Shortly after daylight, 4 groups of fifty bombers passed over our ship going in the direction of Italy. At 1530 we are anchored off the shore of Bizerte, Tunisia. Two British Hospital Ships, HMHS #24 and HMHS #33, are near us. We also see USAHS “Seminole” alongside a wharf in the harbor. The town seems like having been badly shot up and many sunken vessels can been seen in the harbor. Several Allied submarines have come near us and gone into Bizerte harbor. The sky is full of planes. It’s so incredibly hot that we are sitting around in our shorts only. Imagine, it must be terribly hot in the desert. I learn that the “Seminole” brought in 200 wounded from Sicily and left them here. Dr. Jack Harowitz of Englewood, came over to visit, he commands the 53d Station Hospital. We had a little reunion and if we remain here another night, I will be able to take my crowd along to his place for a little party. The 3d General Hospital and some other units such as the 56th Evacuation Hospital, the 78th Station Hospital and the 81st Station Hospital are not far away. I stopped at the AGO Office for orders and they didn’t know we had arrived. There are no orders as yet, but we think we will probably go back to Algiers and take a load of patients back to the States. Anyway, we saw what was left of Bizerte. Everything in the harbor is blacked out completely including the 4 Hospital Ships! The “Seminole” is lying alongside my ship now.
|USAHS Seminole, US Army Hospital Ship (while in New York POE, 1943).|
other US Army Hospitals in the Bizerte-Tunis area, Tunisia, during the period
38th Evacuation Hospital (750 beds, Tunis, 20 June 1943 > 24 August 1943)
56th Evacuation (750 beds, Bizerte, 20 June 1943 > 17 September 1943)
53d Station Hospital (250 beds, Bizerte, 27 June 1943 > 12 January 1944)
54th Station Hospital (250 beds, Tunis, 28 June 1943 > 30 August 1944)
78th Station Hospital (500 beds, Bizerte, 1 July 1943 > 15 March 1944)
114th Station Hospital (500 beds, Ferryville, 2 July 1943 > 10 May 1944)
58th Station Hospital (250 beds, Tunis, 5 July 1943 > 29 December 1943)
9th Evacuation Hospital (750 beds, Ferryville, 9 July 1943 > 6 September 1943)
81st Station Hospital (500 beds, Bizerte, 12 July 1943 > 4 April 1944)
3d General Hospital (1000 beds, Mateur, 13 July 1943 > 22 April 1944)
43d Station Hospital (250 beds, Bizerte, 19 July 1943 > 12 January 1944)
Tuesday, 20 July 1943 > Tunisia. Early this morning I went ashore with some of my Officers to try and get some information out of the British in charge, when I picked up a buzzer message ordering all ships into Lake Bizerte for safety as an attack of some sort was expected. It certainly pays to learn the international morse code. I called my men and we returned to the boat and were on our way into the Lake. The French pilot was already on board and I had to do the talking. The Lake, several miles back in the hills, can only be reached through a narrow channel filled with sunken ships. During the trip we hit something with our starboard side, the boat was so close to shore that everyone had a good look at the ruins of the city. The heat is appalling, 102° F in my cabin, and 130° F on deck. It’s like walking out into a furnace, the deck is so hot that we even had to shut off the ventilators as they were only blowing hot air into the ship. The Lake is of considerable size, with salt water, and there must be several thousand ships at anchor here, yet it seems empty. Small Arab villages dot the shores, they appear so white and spotless in the sun, yet, death and misery lurks in every house and tent. We had an incident several days ago; some men broke into the alcohol and narcotics locker and drank the alcohol. While ashore at Oran, Captain Hoffman, one of the Medical Officers who used to work for the State Police, found and developed the fingerprints and compared them with the ones on the GC identification cards. We found the two culprits who broke into the locker and the three guys who drank the alcohol. They got a pretty stiff sentence.
Wednesday, 21 July 1943 > Tunisia. Still at Lake Bizerte. Although it cooled a little during the night, we are in the middle of a blistering day. I called in one of the Navy boats and sent all the EM ashore with light equipment for an ‘official’ hike, and have advised the NCO in charge to take them only to some scenic and interesting places. This way my boys can see the place and we won’t be interfering with British regulations. The afternoon we will take the Officers and the Nurses on a similar trip to one of the beaches. Meanwhile divers came over from the Navy repair ship and found out that we have badly bent three blades of the starboard propeller. I don’t know whether that may interfere with our further plans as the nearest dry dock is either at Algiers or Oran. We can still run with a damaged propeller but it will cause some considerable vibration. The temperature dropped to 110° F today and there is now a small breeze blowing, but there isn’t any shade. Restful sleep aboard is impossible, you wake up in the morning with a heat hangover and a bad disposition. If we remain here any length of time, it is going to be difficult to keep up morale.
Thursday, 22 July 1943 > Tunisia. We started out at 0830 and went to Karouba, a small native village about three miles from our anchorage where our Navy has a small boat base and from where we get our water transportation. Lieutenant Buckley, USN, is in charge here, he is one of the boys we brought over last year. He also loaned us a light truck. We passed an airplane dump where hundreds of German and Italian aircraft were piled in heaps; they had all been either shot down or abandoned and what wasn’t demolished had been finished by the soldiers as they passed by and tore off war souvenirs. From Karouba, we went to Mateur and crossed the battlefields just vacated a few weeks before. The only things that had been removed were the dead, but the place was still littered with broken guns and equipment of a defeated army. It was too dangerous to wander over the fields as very few mines had been removed. The road was rough and bumpy and I lost one of my cameras. About three miles out of Mateur, one of the brakes overheated and froze, and we pulled in at the 188th Ordnance Depot to have it fixed. The detachment was housed in tents on a perfectly barren field with a temperature of 140° F. While they were repairing our vehicle, we had dinner with them on K-rations, with some synthetic lemonade with real ice in it. I called Ed Bick on the radio and he came over driving an ambulance. His place was about ten miles away with the 3d General Hospital (at Mateur) and we were certainly happy to see each other again. The Hospital was first held by the French, then it was taken over by the Germans, and after they were driven out, the Americans took over the place for their own use. The 3d General Hospital was now filling up rapidly as wounded were being flown directly there from Sicily, with about 200 hundred patients arriving by air evacuation every evening, around 2300 hours. Just outside Mateur, we passed an enormous airfield filled with twin-engined P-38 Lightning fighter-bombers ready to go into action, and just outside of Karouba was a similar field with lots of British Spitfires. A common sight is to see several hundred Allied planes in the air, going or coming. We visited famous Hill 609 where so many of our boys from the 34th Infantry Division were lost.
Friday, 23 July 1943 > Tunisia. We all remained on deck late last night as the heat was impossible to bear. Later in the day, HMHS “Oxfordshire” pulled in and dropped anchor near us. This makes a total of 5 Hospital Ships in Lake Bizerte and more cargo ships are still coming in too. The place is a forest of masts, I wonder what is happening, and why we’re all here, doing nothing. It was about 1400, and while I was trying to cool myself under the awning on the top deck in my shorts, the Officers of HMHS “Oxfordshire, accompanied by their Superintendent Nurses, Colonel H. J. Hutter (Head Medical Section, Headquarters, Mediterranean Base Section –ed) from MBS Oran, Colonel Henry S. Blesse (brother of Brigadier General Frederick A. Blesse, later Deputy Commander > Anzio Beachhead, CO > 56th Evacuation Hospital, and Surgeon Fifth United States Army –ed), and Captain Charlie Roberts (9th Evacuation Hospital Staff –ed) dropped in on me for a courtesy visit and to get some whiskey and soda. The temperature outside was 140° F in the sun and 130° F under the awning. The temperature in my cabin was only 96° F. Unfortunately no liquor can legally be served on a US vessel unless by prescription, so we all had to retire to my quarters and sweat it out there. I didn’t drink, as I need to keep my head clear and this socializing is a good way to obtain information. General F. A. Blesse was in Bizerte yesterday and when he saw 5 inactive Hospital Ships he got quite angry as many wounded are being brought from Sicily in landing craft. He hopes to get us out of here by tomorrow. By talking to some of our patients, we try plotting their positions on our map so we can tell where the Americans and the British are in Sicily and by this time the island is practically in our hands. Now that the enemy bombing is over, Bizerte has installed an air raid siren. It started to blow while we were in port and when we made a break for one the cellars we were told that it was only a test. The heat and the closed confinement on the boat without any work and little recreation are beginning to present problems that are difficult to handle. Nurses started mingling with Enlisted personnel, and better discipline will have to be enforced. Right this minute, I would give a great deal for a Hospital full of patients! The ARC girls are trying to arrange a party for the Nurses on the top deck this late afternoon and Officers from the surrounding ships and shore bases will be invited, so maybe this will help relieve some of the tension with the women, but it doesn’t solve the frustrations of the EM. I’m trying to obtain transportation to Ferryville for them this afternoon so they can browse around for a couple of hours. We need work, this ship is so clean that a self-respecting fly wouldn’t come aboard.
Saturday, 24 July 1943 > Tunisia. The place is still under terrific tension and I have a feeling something will happen soon. Besides the thousands of vessels in Lake Bizerte, there are 90 assault landing craft loaded with troops in the outer harbor now and think that in just one evening run we could be in Italy proper. I hope this is the time for us, and that we will go in with the assault troops. Lt. Colonel Gerding, S-4 (Supply & Evacuation Staff Section –ed) of the 8th Port, spent the afternoon on the boat with part of his staff and told me that the “Acadia” was going to Italy. It seems that several of the Navy ships have been ordered to stand by and be ready to sail by 28 July. The girls got their party and dance from 1830 to 2130 and had a real nice time. A couple of Nurses from the 168th Evacuation Hospital came over for a while, they had been following the frontlines ever since November and lost all their clothes; they were in their OD fatigues and had been wearing sneakers for the past nine months as regular Army shoes are too large for them. A couple of our girls gave them their leather shoes.
|Part of 1943 military map showing Lake Bizerte, Tunisia (including major towns in the area, such as Bizerte, Ferryville, Mateur).|
Sunday, 25 July 1943 > Tunisia. Still at Lake Bizerte and without work. At 0830 we left by boat for Karouba and I called on Lt. Colonel Gerding who took 5 of my Officers and 8 of my Nurses to visit the 53d Station Hospital on “Hospital row” outside of Bizerte. It was terribly dusty and I understand now why dust masks were issued. From the Hospital we drove to the top of the hills where the 56th Evacuation Hospital is located in some permanent ex-French Army barracks; Colonel H. S. Blesse is in command. While he was showing us around, there was an air raid alert and an Italian fighter passed high over the hills going towards Algeria. Several of our Nurses and some of my Officers took the evening meal on one of the LSTs (Landing Ship Tank –ed) near here and while they were enjoying it, the vessel received orders to move. They needed to load a Quartermaster unit that is going to Sicily next morning. This may or may not mean something… I had a late cup of tea with Captain Maxwell of the “Oxfordshire”. After returning on the ship, it still is 94° F in my cabin with absolutely no signs of any cooling, and it’s too dangerous to remain on deck on account of the numerous mosquitoes.
Monday, 26 July 1943 > Tunisia. Lake Bizerte. Another hot day has started with dust storms sweeping across the Lake; you just can’t stay on deck very long. We have heard all sorts of rumors about Italy, Benito Mussolini, but we can’t believe much of it. The sailors and some of my boys have collected a lot of German and Italian booty; mainly guns, but we can’t keep them on the boat, as it would be against our neutrality. Tomorrow they will have to go. 4 of our Nurses and 4 Officers attended a dance at HMHS “Oxfordshire” this evening. While on the ship, everyone was drinking hard liquor except me. They served me what looked and tasted like orangeade; it even had orange pulp in it with an occasional seed. Captain Maxwell, the skipper, told me it was made of citric acid, sugar, and carrots, and that they hadn’t seen an orange in England for the last four years. We took them some oranges and apples. If the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to take a quick unofficial trip to Tunis and visit the ruins of Carthage.
Tuesday, 27 July 1943 > Tunisia. I got away early this morning with the intention of visiting a few Hospitals, the city of Tunis, and the ruins of Carthage. The latter is just a jumble of crumbled rocks and stone where one can still purchase ancient Roman coins (reputed to be original). Tunis was more interesting and there was not the destruction as in Bizerte and in Mateur. I understand a sound Persian rug can be bought for a few pounds of tea, or a pack of cigarettes, but I had neither. During the whole trip we were in the midst of a sirocco (hot southern wind with dust and sand). Tunisia is no country to be in during the summer months; the ground is parched, the surface cracked wide open for lack of moisture, and the only shade to find is a few stubby olive trees, an occasional palm, and a few trees that look like sycamores. I returned early in the afternoon to a ship that seemed hotter than the desert. While resting, we watched a flight of Spitfires over the Lake, and suddenly one of them exploded in midair and crashed. No reaction, not even a murmur, we have seen so many deaths and destruction that the loss of one life and the destruction of dollars worth of Government property doesn’t stir us. Lake Bizerte is now filling with LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry –ed) and it looks like something is cooking… We’re all praying that the “Acadia” will go in with the next invasion.
Wednesday, 28 July 1943 > Tunisia + At Sea. Early this morning we received word that we were to prepare to leave Lake Bizerte at 1000. Captain “Jack” received the necessary instructions, and we then sent a cable to have a new propeller ready for when we return. Our sailing time has now been changed to 1530. Upon instructions from one of the local Army Colonels of the Port Authority (who doesn’t know anything about naval matters), we underwent a new investigation and another diver came up with a total different report indicating that the damage caused to the bent starboard propeller wasn’t that bad. One of the Navy Officers of the USS “Delta”, AR-9, another of our Navy’s repair ships (in service 1943-1947, served in the Mediterranean –ed), said that a good many destroyers at sea were operating with worse blades than ours, so to go ahead and do the best we could. The Captain is yelling at the French pilot; he is getting so irritable and touchy that no one wants to go near him. The nearer we approach action, the more he becomes mentally upset and stressed as the safety of the ship is his responsibility. The pilot had heard that Palermo, Sicily, was full of dysentery and malaria and the locals were starving. As we passed through the channel, the outer harbor was filled with assault landing craft of all descriptions filled with troops and equipment. Maybe we will see some action after all.
Thursday, 29 July 1943 > At Sea + Sicily. It is 0600 in the morning and we are off the coast of Sicily. It looks just as mountainous and foggy as the coast of North Africa. One of our small destroyers picked us up and we followed her through the minefields in the swept channel, as the course that had been plotted for us at Bizerte seemed incorrect or had been changed. Ahead of us are several minesweepers, working in groups of four with their little red flags trailing far behind them at the end of the magnetic cables used to trap and explode the mines. These boys really lead a tough life as they never know when they will get blown up and get no glory from battle. From a distance, the city seems much larger than any we have entered. To the right and extending out into the bay is a large hill very similar to The Rock of Gibraltar and on tops stands a beautiful hotel that I understand is occupied by General G.S. Patton, Jr. (CG > Seventh United States Army –ed), and I hope he remembers the two turkeys we sent him last Christmas. The whole situation looks ghastly, much the appearance of Carthage; Palermo is a dead city. The Port Officer ordered us to drop anchor 1400 yards from shore and to beat it in case the harbor was attacked. As soon as we dropped anchor, another destroyer pulled alongside with wounded that had been involved in shore attacks the previous evening. Another destroyer had suffered a near miss and was put out of action. The ship had been towed into Palermo for partial repairs and will be out of commission for at least six months as its whole side had caved in. I had one of my Officers with me and two of the girls (I find it much easier to get by any guards into a restricted or forbidden area if we take a couple of the best looking Nurses with us). Second Lieutenant Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. (US Navy Ensign 1941-1946, served in North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific –ed) was the XO on this boat and has been here for two years. He seems a likeable chap and his men speak highly of him; he looks very much like his old man (son of FDR, 32d President of the US –ed). Several of us went ashore on a PTB that brought some wounded Officers back, and as we left a whole fleet of small destroyers and PT boats sped out to sea on some sort of mission. We reported in at the Port Director’s Office, a Captain Doughty, USN, who directed us to Seventh US Army Headquarters in the Post Office building in the city. The Headquarters is located in a beautiful marble structure in Palermo’s center and is practically intact. Marble busts and portraits of the “Duce” and the King (Victor Emmanuel III, 1869-1947 –ed) are still present in prominent places. The harbor itself is blocked with sunken ships and from the shoreline to the city for about ten blocks there is nothing but complete destruction. It’s amazing how quickly we have been able to take over the entire city. MPs are everywhere, directing traffic and Italian Carabinieri in their gorgeous uniforms have been given armbands in English and patrol the streets. Italian soldiers are still coming in and surrender faster than we can take care of them. Colonel Daniel Franklin (Surgeon, Seventh United States Army –ed), told me he had been cabling for the past three days in an attempt to get the “Acadia” over here and clear the wounded out of the Field Hospitals so they would be able to care for those that would be wounded in the coming battles.
Patients are now being evacuated from the front, and we will begin loading sometime this afternoon from landing barges, as the Port Director doesn’t feel it is safe enough in the harbor for a ship of our type and size. I saw a couple of stray dogs looking for food; they were walking skeletons and made my heart ache. When the very few people and kids saw us on the streets with our GC brassards, they thought we were from the American Red Cross and kept crying “Please give us food.”They had been informed by their Government that the ARC would feed them. They are a poor starved lot and haven’t had much to eat for months. The Allies have taken over the Government and are issuing Allied currency which the locals want in preference to their cash. While we were going through the docks with some of my Nurses, a company of doughs marched and kept staring at the strange sight of American women so damn near the front. The girls are a great morale booster. Colonel D. Franklin just flashed us that there would be no patients until tomorrow.
US Army Hospital in Palermo, Sicily, during the period
91st Evacuation Hospital (400 beds, Palermo, 27 July 1943 > 31 October 1943)
Friday, 30 July 1943 > Sicily. 0800 hours and still no patient in sight! I’m going to catch the next boat that passes. We have to hitch hike here and so by blinking to any passing vessel, no matter what size, and ask for a ride. I finally caught a boat and took a few of my men to the harbor. Halfway, a landing craft passed us filled with litter cases, so Major W. V. Barney (my Chaplain) will have his hands full in a few minutes. We pulled alongside the barge and let Major William G. Ford (my Chief of Medical Service) get on the landing craft. We have all reached a stage by now that it means nothing for us to jump from ship to ship in motion, to climb up rope ladders, and to do many things we thought were impossible. The local people are now returning in all sorts of vehicles loading with bedding and furniture; little tiny burros pull gaily decorated carts, but what few people we see are very clean though meagre in appearance. We then returned to the ship and while waiting on the dock we talked to the Italian PWs. They all pretend they have relatives in Brooklyn in order to get sympathy. I exchanged a pack of cigarettes for a large watermelon. The loading was in full swing as we reached the boat, with the Chaplain taking on the litter cases at less than a minute for each one. While I was ashore an incident happened; Captain “Jack” lost his temper and tried to take the loading away from my men and in the process struck one of them. If Major W. G. Ford hadn’t intervened there would have been big trouble as he had no business giving orders to my men. He has been cracking up fast and his crew are in a bad state of nerves. He won’t even let his men do the smallest thing unless he can supervise it all or does it himself. I’m afraid he will become a mental case before this trip is over. We’ve had as many as three landing craft alongside at the time filled with patients brought in directly from the front. The medical staff in the Battalion Aid Stations and the men and women in the Field Hospitals are doing a wonderful job, as the men who are coming in have all had excellent care. When the landing craft pulled alongside my shock teams went on them and distributed coffee and drinks to the men that didn’t have belly or chest wounds, and sent the more badly wounded on board first since they needed immediate surgical attention and care. One of the barges had a lot of French Moroccan Goums, in their native burnous. Most of them spoke a little French, and one of them had a collection of human ears. I tried my best to obtain one for a souvenir, but he wouldn’t part with any of them. When I asked him why they didn’t wear Army shoes instead of crude homemade sandals, he said it was impossible to creep up on a man and cut his throat without him being warned if they wore the heavy shoes. Their main weapon is a heavy knife with a razor edge that they can shave with or chop off an enemy’s head. Over half of these boys have malaria, and if a cure can’t be found, they are shipped back to the African mainland. By dusk we had loaded nearly 500 patients and we have all aboard that are available at this very moment.
(the islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa had already surrendered to the Allies, prior to the assault on Sicily, on 11 and 12 June 1943, respectively –ed).
Saturday, 31 July 1943 > Sicily + At Sea. A Hospital Train is expected from the front if our boys have been able to repair the tracks. I sent as many of my outfit ashore as I could on official business. Palermo is heavily armed, and no one is permitted ashore without a gun. Shortly after noon, the landing craft began to arrive and by dusk we had loaded nearly a thousand patients in total. We all worked through the night doing dressings or operating. It was so hot in the OR that my shoes filled with sweat at the end of each operation. We finally discarded the white operating gowns and stripped to the waist dressed only in sterile gloves and trousers. Most of the cases were badly infected so it didn’t really make any difference what we wore. We lost one man during the night with a bad shrapnel wound in the leg and thigh, because he had gas gangrene. On our way out of Palermo, we had to drop anchor to allow several troop transports to pass us on the way in. 25,000 extra boys for the fight which is expected to begin by next Tuesday. The Krauts still have Catania on the east coast and the region around Mt. Etna is filled with guns. The enemy is getting reinforcements across the Strait of Messina, and each night a number of PTBs take off for the Strait. Our boys say it is very good hunting and each night they bag something. Last night they got a large German transport loaded with reinforcements; they hit it with three torpedoes.
The “Acadia” is out in the Mediterranean and our lights are on again. We have a great part of the work cleaned up and will probably be in bed by 0100 or 0200 next morning. The Nurses have done a fantastic job. All of the wounded have been bathed and cleaned; their dressings changed or made ready for the Operating Room. We now return to Bizerte, Tunisia, to fill Jack Harowitz’ 53d Station Hospital to overflowing!
|Landing operations in Sicily (10 July 1943).|
Mediterranean Base Section with Headquarters at Oran, Algeria, was established 8 December 1942 under Colonel Howard J. Hutter
Atlantic Base Section with Headquarters at Casablanca, French Morocco, was established 30 December 1942 under Colonel Guy B. Denit
Eastern Base Section with Headquarters at Constantine, Algeria (close to Tunisia), was established 13 February 1943 under Lt. Colonel William L. Spaulding.
(as of 6 October 1943, the boundaries of the respective Sections were shifted to conform to territorial borders. Later on, the Eastern Base Section became the largest and most important Section (closer to Sicily and Italy) and its Headquarters subsequently moved to Mateur, Tunisia, where Colonel Myron P. Rudolph took over command in July 1943 –ed).
Sunday, 1 August 1943 > Tunisia. Our boat docked at 1900 at the pier in Bizerte and we unloaded in two and a half hours. 551 of the patients were litter cases and the rest ambulatory. Over one third of the boys had malaria. Some of the “Acadia’s” laundry machinery has broken down and we can only turn out 48 tons a day instead of 75. Fortunately we are able to fill the water tanks here and the local QM Laundry Company will wash our sheets so that we will be able to leave for Sicily again tomorrow. We need more Quinine and I sent some men to the 7th Medical Supply Depot (Mateur, 8 June 1943 > 12 May 1944, CO > Major Clark B. Williams –ed). We use it more often as Atabrine is not that good for treatment since it causes diarrhea and increases suffering. Over 300 of the boys have sand flea fever, and quite many of them have severe burns from tank battles.
Monday, 2 August 1943 > Tunisia. The news just came through that two hours after we left Palermo, the port area was bombed. One munitions ship was blown to smithereens and eight transports were hit. I hardly think they had time to unload as they were just coming into the port as we were leaving, and I hope that not too many of our boys were killed. We were just lucky! We meanwhile were provided with 300 tons of fresh water, we weren’t supposed to get more than 100 tons, but I do think a few bottles of wine helped with the transaction. An interesting incident came up during the feeding of our last load of wounded; one of the French Goums called me to his cot and made me swear that the food he was about to be served contained no pork! Poor devils, they had been eating spam in Sicily for the past ten days, and didn’t know what it was. They are a tough lot and I sincerely hope they will always be on our side. It is 1000 hours and the “Seminole” and the “Lancashire” have pulled out for Sicily. It looks like we might get stuck here again for a while. HMHS “Oxfordshire” and “St. Andrews” are still with us. Maybe we will not return to Sicily, but to Sardinia or even Italy, though I can’t see how as the local resistance is increasing and if we don’t succeed before the rains set in early September, the heavy mud will stop our advance and we will be stymied with Italy just within our grasp. This will allow Germany to gain another respite and more time to retrench.
Tuesday, 3 August 1943 > Tunisia. It sure looks as tough we’re going to be stuck here again for some time and I will have to figure out something for the Nurses and the EM in the form of diversion or recreation as it has been some time since any of them have been ashore. Transportation is difficult to get as all the landing craft we used on the last trip here are at the front and it may just be impossible to send the boys and girls ashore. I’ve called in the ARC ladies and asked them to stage another dance on the top deck and maybe among the group of Officers they invite I might find one with an LCT or LCVP to take my Enlisted Men to visit Ferryville. I know a good many men will probably get drunk, but it will help release a lot of steam. I’m learning Italian so that, if necessary, I can do my own talking when and if we land and stay in Italy any length of time. It was so terribly hot in my cabin last night that I remained on deck until well after midnight. We’re all on Atabrine, except those that react too violently, they get Quinine.
other US Army Hospital in the Bizerte-Tunis area, Tunisia, during the period
103d Station Hospital (500 beds, Mateur, 2 August 1943 > 9 December 1943)
Wednesday, 4 August 1943 > Tunisia. I had a haircut this morning and took a bath, the first one in ten days! Colonel H. S. Blesse and his Deputy, Colonel Mallery, joined me for dinner and remained for the dance. The Officers from one of the two British Hospital Ships came over too. Yesterday we had the entire ship’s company of HMHS “St. Andrews” aboard to watch a movie. They enjoyed it a great deal as they hadn’t seen one for the last eight months, while we have one almost every other night. The dance was a success and the girls will be happy for a few more days.
Thursday, 5 August 1943 > Tunisia. This morning I visited the 53d Station Hospital, they have some teams from the 2d Auxiliary Surgical Group assisting them. On the way back, I stopped at the Port Headquarters and found out that the “Acadia” had been called to the pier to be loaded at once. We will go to Oran, Algeria, as the Hospitals in this area are overcrowded, and this is bad for safety. There is a possibility that they will put us in dry dock there and straighten our propeller blades so that we can make better time. Back on the boat, I was told that the Hospitals would be unable to get any patients to us until early next morning. I organized another quick trip to Tunis and Carthage for the Officers. My boys had meanwhile gone to Ferryville and when they found out the boat had left anchorage, they commandeered 4 trucks from the local MPs and drove back to Bizerte. The same night we had a fight on the boat; there was commotion after some of the colored boys of the crew came back from shore leave with a little too much alcohol in their systems and attacked the Master-at-Arms in the gangway. The Captain called in the MPs, one of the men pulled a knife, and the MPs started shooting. Several of the crew were wounded and we operated on them immediately. An investigation followed, one crew member will probably die, and five were wounded because one individual was unable to hold his temper; the MPs should never have been called in, the skipper reacted too vigorously, We finished operating at about 0300 in the morning with the rest of the night filled with investigation teams and Military Policemen. We are to start loading at 0600 and have to leave the pier by 0900.
Friday, 6 August 1943 > Tunisia. I was up all night. At 0630 we received the first batch of wounded from the 56th Evacuation Hospital. The investigation of the shooting incident was not over yet, and after a meeting with the Port Commander, Colonel Arnold, the latter decided to hold our boat until all evidence had been secured. This took until about 1300 hours, when the investigation commission left the “Acadia” with the colored prisoners. The one who had been badly shot was unable to be moved. Our last patients came from the 3d General Hospital and we loaded them in exactly one hour. The other 786 patients had taken us a little over two hours to embark.
During the loading, Colonel Myron P. Rudolph (Surgeon, Eastern Base Section –ed), who had replaced Colonel W. L. Spaulding, former EBS Surgeon, came aboard and we had a nice chat. I was able to put in a word for Miss Buckins, one of our Chief Nurses now working with the 114th Station Hospital (organized a School for Psychiatric Nursing, that ran 6-week courses destined for ANC personnel –ed), who was having a little trouble with her CO. All afternoon a continuous stream of LSTs has been passing down the outlet going out to sea for Sicily, or Italy. Our cases are so interesting and a great many are British. One little Limey boy lies in bed with his body in a plaster cast from the waist down; he proudly shows me the piece of shrapnel that put him out of action (about 3 inches in diameter). The shell fragment went through his right hip, came out through his bladder, and lodged in his left leg, from where it was removed. He has also six MG bullets in his back and may well be crippled for life. He is a brave kid and rarely complains. One of our other patients is a mental case; he thinks he is General Patton, and is having a real time for himself shouting orders. The burned patients are still our greatest problem as they go bad so quickly and need constant attention and dressing. Last night, a pack of thirty enemy subs attacked one of our convoys going to Sicily, these wounded haven’t been brought in yet. A great many of the men we took on board for Oran, are the ones we brought back from Sicily, and I’m sorry to say, that some haven’t had their dressings changed since we put them on several days ago. My guess is, the local Hospitals are too busy taking care of the severely wounded. The wounded colored boy (crew member named Sawyer) died at 0420 this morning and an autopsy revealed that a bullet had pierced his spine and damaged the spinal cord; he leaves a wife and a 17-months old baby. Two delegates from the crew have asked me for permission to hold a memorial service for the dead boy and want to defray the expenses of a public funeral in Oran. If we are here long enough, and Captain “Jack” gives his permission, I will certainly accede to their wishes.
|Aerial view of Axis Prisoner of War enclosure near Mateur, Tunisia. Picture taken in May 1943.|
Saturday, 7 August 1943 > At Sea. This is the first time we’ve been out in the Mediterranean, that it has been so quiet and peaceful. The whole day has been uneventful.
Sunday, 8 August 1943 > Algeria. The church service was a record one today and the deck was crowded with the patients able to reach the area. It’s pitiful how these young homesick wounded kids come to the service for mental and spiritual aid. They are all reaching out to that intangible ‘something’ we call God, and it’s amazing what comfort they get from a few songs and a prayer. At 1030 Chaplain W. V. Barney held a memorial service for Sawyer, from which the skipper was noticeably absent! We docked at Oran, Algeria, at 1100. Later in the day I took a party and left for the American Military Cemetery and attended the burial of merchant mariner Sawyer. He was buried in his Merchant Marine uniform with full military honors. The service was simple, six of his buddies carried the flag-draped pine coffin, a prayer was read, and taps played. The coffin was lowered alongside many other similar ones in a long trench that will be filled at the end of the day when burials stop for want of light. It was so peaceful in the dusk, and so quiet in the evening, and hard to believe there was a war on. The Nurses and some of the Officers went to the new Officers’ Club in Oran, where you can buy whiskey (if they have any) and eat hot dogs and hamburgers. They have a brand new seventy-foot bar and a large dance floor. Apparently all the Hospitals are being moved over here from Casablanca (French Morocco) and Oran will become the medical center of the American Forces in the area.
Monday, 9 August 1943 > Algeria. We moved over to Mers-el-Kébir early this morning to make room for another boat. All morning I had the men spit and shine the Hospital as I was advised that a group of Senators and Congressmen that met our boat back in New York at the end of our first trip, were now in Oran to visit the battlefields, and might possibly come aboard again. I kept everyone on the ship until 1800 but the ‘dignitaries’ never showed up. Our orders came in at 1900 to set sail for Bizerte at daylight, so I won’t have to worry about official visitors tomorrow!
Tuesday, 10 August 1943 > At Sea. We have been at sea all day and following the North African shoreline. We notice one difference; the entire coast is being patroled by small craft. Something must have happened to keep the Navy on the alert. The general opinion is that Germany and Italy will be folded up during the coming winter and that by the first day of the New Year (1944) the entire Allied war machine can be turned to the Far East to give Japan a well deserved beating. A German observation plane flew over our ship this morning. This is the first one we have seen in some time. The skipper continues to keep to himself and the only contact I have with him is when I report to him at boat drill. The poor devil has always felt that he was powerful, but after the shooting calamity he has become even less easy to get along with, and any minute I expect to hear some sort of disruption.
Wednesday, 11 August 1943 > At Sea. Another peaceful day at sea. We are still working at collecting sworn statements on the shooting in Bizerte. This pertains to the cases of the wounded men who had been accidentally shot; they all have a legitimate claim against the Government if they suffer permanent disability. We went to get all the records straight before the cases are brought to court. For the past hour (between 2000 and 2100 hours), green, red, and white flares have been sent up along the shores and there has been considerable activity of the destroyers. We are now anchored offshore. One of the Port Officers came aboard to warn us that they hoped to load us by Friday and then send us back to Oran. I hope so as both my watches are there for repairs, and also the motor for one of the laundry dryers. Last week, Bizerte suffered one of the heaviest bombardments in its history shortly after we left port, and two British destroyers were hit. The outer harbor is full of LSTs jammed with PWs and just before darkness set in, a long line of boats started on a convoy bound for Sicily.
Thursday, 12 August 1943 > Tunisia. We passed an uneventful night and at noon started down the narrow channel to Lake Bizerte. Just as we passed the pier Headquarters the red alert flag went up and the siren started wailing. No one paid any attention (we remembered the first time it did, when in Bizerte, and nothing happened) until the anti-aircraft artillery started shooting, and all the Arabs on the shore started running to the shelters, and the soldiers went for their guns. Then a British battleship opened up with her guns, which set our ears to humming. I had a hard time ordering everyone to put on their helmets as they were so obsessed with watching the fight. Most of the injuries sustained in an air attack, outside of direct bomb hits, are from the falling pieces of shell fragments. Several bombs fell on Ferryville, on the shore near us, but very little damage was done, and one of our fighters shot down an enemy bomber. Tonight, as the moon is bright, we will probably get another visit from the Luftwaffe. 2000 hours; two of my Officers have gone ashore with the Captain to sit in on the court martial of the colored boys from our ship. I have asked them to let them off as lightly as possible. The penalty could be death, as we’re in an active Theater of Operations. 2200; HMHS “Oxfordshire” has just reported in from Sicily, but they were ordered back to sea and to keep moving as we’re expecting another air attack. We have just received orders to prepare to dock at 1100 next morning, as soon as the “Oxfordshire” has been able to debark her wounded. The medical section of the port isn’t managed too well, so we will all be surprised if the embarkation goes according to schedule.
Friday, 13 August 1943 > Tunisia + At Sea. Our luck still holds good as the German planes were turned back seventy five miles at sea by our P-38 fighters during the night. As usual, the harbor got things gummed up. The Lake was full of ships now. At 1530 a pilot appeared and we transferred to a loading dock in Bizerte, unfortunately the wind and the current were so bad that it was almost 1800 before we were safely anchored alongside and taking on patients. The poor devils had been waiting in the heat for over four hours and had had no food. Of the 800, 250 were NP patients; they marched onto the boat staring straight ahead, with little or no expression on their faces, yet the slightest disturbance throws them into a panic that is sometimes difficult to control. After we left the harbor, the ship was anchored for two hours awaiting further orders, and just this waiting and the change in movement of the vessel set most of them on edge. What they feared most was an air attack, and the last one yesterday didn’t really help their condition.
Last night, an Italian Officer and 18 men, loaded with explosives, were landed on the coast from a submarine, but were captured by the guards. They will probably be shot as spies, as they were in civilian clothes. Since our journey to Oran, a great many more AA gun emplacements have been added along the course of the channel into Lake Bizerte. The whole shore looks like it is lined with them. One ship sunk in the right place would close the Lake and lock up thousands of Allied ships for weeks. We hear that the German Army is being evacuated out of Sicily across the narrow channel into Italy. As soon as they are gone, the Italians will give up quickly as the decent treatment of the locals in the captured towns has made them more than ready for surrender. The colored boys were tried tonight and were given 4 months of hard labor and a $ 50.00 fine.
Saturday, 14 August 1943 > At Sea. The sea has been behaving beautifully during this trip, and with a following wind we expect to be in Oran shortly after midday. Our radio picked up the position of the “Seminole” and from her location she is also on the way from Bizerte to Oran. This means that all our Hospitals in the advance are overflowing. We can tell, judging from the poor care the wounded are receiving, that the men in the other Hospitals are being taxed to the limit and only have time to treat real emergencies. We operated on one boy last night with several leg wounds. He had lain on the battlefield for four days before he was discovered, and then a plaster cast was put on him so that he could be evacuated by plane to a Hospital; there he went unnoticed for 24 hours, due to the crowded condition of the medical facility and because his plaster looked clean. Now, he will lose a foot and most probably his leg, not because of neglect, but because there were so many more badly wounded than he requiring the services of the doctors. It’s one of the terrible things about war. Our mental cases, or neuro-psychiatric patients are the worst problem; these men come directly from the firing line undiagnosed, untreated, and all are potential dynamite. You should see the scenes in our wards; they hold magnificent physical specimen, with distorted minds, pacing back and forth as do wild animals in the zoo, and they are just as fierce. Some of them can rip you to pieces if given the least opportunity. Another Chaplain we have with us, while not violent, is a complete mental wreck, because he was unable to stand up under the strain of work. His last assignment was to bury 24 soldiers. He loaded them onto a truck and took them to where he thought they should go; on arrival he was told the men from a certain unit were being buried at this place and that the bodies should be taken several miles further to the correct area and be kept there with the men of their own unit. When he reached the burial area the ground was full and he started for a different place; this kept him indefinitely until he was finally discovered several days later, with the four bodies in a bad state of decomposition and his own mind in the same state.
|Typical view of crew quarters (Merchant Marine personnel) on board a US Army Hospital Ship, the men slept in bunks three high.|
Sunday, 15 August 1943 > Algeria. We reached the dock at Mers-el-Kébir at 1530 and will unload our wounded at 1800 hours. Colonel H. J. Hutter sent me an invitation for myself, two of my Officers, and two of my Nurses to attend a function at his villa at 1700. He will send a staff car to pick us up. We had a grand time there. There’s no chance to get our boat to dry dock here, but some possibility of getting the propeller fixed in Algiers. This Colonel Hutter should be a General; he is one of the smartest diplomats I have seen in a long time. At his villa were the American Consul and wife, two British Generals, General Gaulthier; Surgeon General, French Forces in North Africa with his Aide, Major General Larkin, Brigadier General Lang, Dr. Grosser; the Mayor of Oran and former assistant to Dr. Louis Pasteur, and Dr. Lavarin, the discoverer of the malarial parasite. Along with the other dignitaries were the Kaid of the Arab section of Oran, and wealthy French Mr and Mrs Durand, the owners of the villa where Colonel Hutter lives. I’ve tried a couple of times to secure a few hundred tons of fresh water, but the authorities refused; there isn’t enough water for the city here! I hope our chief engineer can squeeze a few more tons out of the evaporator as it is tough to care for so many patients with a scant water supply.
Monday, 16 August 1943 > Algeria. All our patients were unloaded in good order yesterday and we were all relieved to get our NP patients into better hands, where they should receive proper treatment. All day long a constant flow of German PWs has been passing the “Acadia”. They are being crammed onto Liberty ships for return to the Zone of Interior; almost 1,000 to a ship, packed like sardines. They all seem well fed and in excellent physical condition, and certainly don’t look like defeated soldiers. Their retreat from Sicily has been very orderly, and it makes me worry how will be our casualties when they begin fighting the defensive battles for their own country.
The “Seminole” came in this afternoon and will be loaded as fully as possible for a return trip to the United States to relieve the overcrowded situation in North Africa and to be fitted out properly so she can do winter service. The area here has a total bed capacity of 4,000 but at this moment there are over 9,000 patients in the area. Bizerte is full and Casablanca is being moved to here. I talked to Colonel C. W. Salley, Commanding Officer of the USAHS “Seminole” and they were bombed four hours after leaving Bizerte (I mean the port was). Our luck is still holding.
Tuesday, 17 August 1943 > Algeria. Two of the merchant mariners are being held by the French authorities for breaking and entering and the attempted rape of a thirteen-year old girl. Four of them were apprehended but two managed to escape, and will probably not give themselves up, as the penalty is death by hanging. They were all drunk and were caught breaking into houses and searching for women. They were all white males. The French police who trapped them said that if they had been French or Arabs, they would have shot them on the spot; but as they were American citizens they were turned over to our Provost Marshal for execution. Two gallows were erected several weeks ago at the Army disciplinary barracks for the execution of some other soldiers convicted of rape.
We just received word that the “Seminole” has started her trip to the States with 537 patients on board. The time is 1300 hours and we are moving out to sea on the way to Bizerte to relieve the congestion in that area. We had hoped to return to Sicily, but will have to go where the pressure is the greatest. Where will we go from here I don’t know, as all Hospitals in the region are full. Possibly Algiers, and there we may be able to get our propeller repaired. This dragging along at maximum 14 knots is tiresome, but then there are so few dry docks, and combat ships come first. There are plenty of them that need urgent repair. When we passed the repair ship, USS Vulcan, there were eight LCIs tied alongside her for refurbishing and reconditioning.
Wednesday, 18 August 1943 > At Sea. All morning we have been receiving SOS signals but we can’t determine the direction from which they come. It must be somewhere in the direction of Sardinia, but we haven’t been able to raise anything. It is probably an automatic signaling device, and as there are plenty of destroyers in that area any survivors will undoubtedly be picked up. Bizerte was bombed once more last night and 9 enemy aircraft were shot down. There’s not much to do except just lie around and rest, as nothing has happened. We expect to reach Bizerte in the morning, load and get right out…
Thursday, 19 August 1943 > Tunisia. We dropped anchor outside Bizerte harbor at about 1100 and waited for the tide to go in. We were instructed to remain in Lake Bizerte for the night and load at Ferryville the next morning. The port has had three terrible air raids, one each night for the past three days, and we were warned to prepare for another one tonight. Several ships were sunk, and some fellow MC and MAC Officers killed by the numerous explosions.
Friday, 20 August 1943 > Tunisia. Our phenomenal luck still holds! The area was alerted at 0530 this morning but our fighter squadrons turned the enemy back. The inspecting JAG Officer came aboard to gather more information about the last shooting incident. The case has not been tried yet, and will remain open until we have several days in this port, so that all witnesses may be present. After considerable difficulty and much maneuvering in a harbor filled with wrecks of sunken ships, we docked alongside a temporary pier constructed by Army Engineers and immediately began taking on patients. They are mostly ambulatory cases and some psychos; no battle casualties, and a very sorry lot of soldiers. People with hemorrhoids, ingrown toenails, flat feet, skin infections, obesity; why they waste a good Hospital Ship on such cases I can’t understand as they could just as well travel back to Oran on a regular cargo ship. On of our ships sunk was crowded with Italian PWs and no one was saved. At 1730 we started moving away from the pier but got stuck in the mud between two Liberty ships loaded with live ammo. I can hear Captain “Jack” yelling like mad here in my cabin, and as usual the French pilot doesn’t understand him or pays no attention to him. The “Acadia” now gives a shudder and a jolt, and we have hit our good propeller on a sunken wreck. As one my NCOs has aptly put it; “We have now become a Station Hospital!” Wrong! Several French tugs have pried us loose and we are now heading out to the channel and probably to sea, as there is no time to examine the propeller and determine the damage. 1830, three quarters of the way down the channel, and we receive orders to stop at once and anchor in midstream till 2100. The channel is lined with destroyers and some larger ships, and from what I can see the outer harbor is full of ships too. I learn that there are eighty ships there and that they will leave in a convoy at about 0200 in the morning for Sicily. If our luck holds, we will leave the channel tonight or will remain here. It turns out differently. At 1900 we have been turned around and are heading back to Lake Bizerte to anchor near the “Oxfordshire” for the night. I realize that many of our patients are NP cases, for when the news reached them that our ship was to remain in the Lake they began to mill around and threaten to swim ashore. To make matters more difficult, at the moment we dropped anchor, there were two heavy explosions on the nearby shore, and several AA batteries began to fire. The result was near panic, and it required the combined efforts of all our Company to quiet them. The patients were given sedatives in preparation for a real air raid, should it come. This really is one night we don’t want an attack, we are in the very hottest spot in the world and hell may break loose at any moment. Although it is quiet in total darkness, all our nerves are on the qui-vive, as a consequence of the human cargo we are carrying.
Saturday, 21 August 1943 > At Sea. No enemy planes flew over Bizerte last night and we’re almost ready to believe our luck holds. We left Lake Bizerte at 0930 and are on a peaceful journey to Oran, Algeria. The day has been uneventful, except that we have persistent rumors that the “Seminole” hit a mine just outside of the Straits of Gibraltar. I hope nothing has happened as they are greatly overloaded and their lifeboats aren’t seaworthy. Out of the 7 Hospital Ships now operating in the Mediterranean, 1 has been deliberately sunk, and 2 have been hit by shells. Hope the rumor about the USAHS “Seminole” is not true. 2130 and there’s a tremendous fire in the direction of Philippeville, but we have no means to determine the reason. The British Hospital Ship “Amarapoora”, passed us about an hour ago sailing toward Sicily. From the looks of things around Bizerte we feel that the attack on Italy is only a few days away, and we don’t want to miss it. 2200 hours; a terrific explosion has started another fire around Philippeville. It’s difficult to determine at night, for the fire may be at Bône. From what we can conclude, the area we see on fire must have taken the plastering we missed at Bizerte!
Sunday, 22 August 1943 > At Sea. Nothing of interest happened until we were offshore from Algiers, watching a large convoy on its way to either Bizerte or Sicily, when one of the ships was torpedoed or hit a mine. We were too far away and couldn’t do anything. All we could see was a tremendous spout of water and the gradual sinking of the boat. Friendly aircraft flew over and a destroyer escort rushed to its aid. No depth charges were dropped, so it must have been a mine. As a Hospital Ship we only have our Convention of the Hague Certificate for defense. After our stay at Lake Bizerte, the heavy salt content and sediment of the water has clogged our evaporator, and we are therefore unable to make sufficient drinking water for the ship. For the first time since we sailed, we will have to ration it. This time we will have to get water at Oran.
|View of US Army Hospital Ship "Acadia". Picture taken in the Mediterranean, probably off the North African coast.
Courtesy Joe Cristini (son of Vet Joseph Cristini).
Monday, 23 August 1943 > Algeria. It is 1130 and we are tied at the pier near an antiaircraft gun in the port of Mers-el-Kébir. At every port air defenses are being beefed up, even at this remote point. We all have the feeling that Germany has been holding back and a real defense was not made on Sicily. After all, Italy has served her usefulness but is now becoming a liability to Germany, so why sacrifice her own soldiers to defend a country that hasn’t sufficient resources to maintain its own Army? Imagine, Germany might sweep through Spain, a country favorable to the Axis, capture Gibraltar, close the Straits, and bottle us in the Mediterranean. With our supply lines severed, we would soon be prey to any surrendering conditions. A bit later we receive word that Bizerte suffered its heaviest air attack of the year the day we left, and 6 Medical Officers were killed. During the night we had 240 cases of diarrhea amongst the patients. We traced it to chicken-à-la-king they had for dinner last night.
Wednesday, 25 August 1943 > Algeria + At Sea. Another uneventful day. We left the pier at 1600 and are on our way.
Thursday, 26 August 1943 > At Sea. We all woke up with severe diarrhea and can’t find the cause. It may be the Oran water. We stick to the coastline and by now we recognize every mountain top and village. 1800, we have just passed a large British convoy going into the opposite direction, very heavily guarded by escorts. When we came close to them, we watched two destroyers drop depth charges over a suspected sub. 1930 hours; the fire we saw Saturdady night is still blazing, and the sky is filled with thick smoke over the cape that juts out from Bône. We can’t really see whether it is Bône or Philippeville. Bizerte was bombed again last night. They will be happy to see us and we hope for our usual respite.
Friday, 27 August 1943 > At Sea + Tunisia. It is 0300 and the guard has just awakened me to see a blazing wreck some distance away off our starboard side. I watched with my field glasses, and recognized a freighter of fairly good size, totally enveloped and surrounded with flames, but we couldn’t make out whether there were any survivors. Our boat headed towards the wreck, but quickly headed away following an explosion in the forward portion of the ship. We could have gone closer, and could easily have done so without danger to ourselves, but as I have no control over the ship’s navigation, I had to stand by. I slept very little the rest of the night, thinking that someone might have survived, and that we left him in the water helpless, when our mission in this war is to relieve those in need of help. I brought this to the attention of our Captain, and he replied that he saw rescue vessels around the burning ship. We have no reasons of proving the truth of this statement, as a Captain’s word at sea is law, but none of us, even with powerful binoculars could see any rescue vessels.
At 0900 we were at anchor off Bizerte, surrounded by boats of all classes. Big preparations are certainly in the making. All the way down from Oran, Algeria, the Mediterranean Sea was filled with various convoys, going in many directions. Warships, troop ships, supply ships, were in evidence all along the coast of North Africa. There were many dry runs or practice assaults.
At 1400 the entire court martial group, including the MPs who must be tried for shooting, have come aboard the “Acadia” and the court has reconvened in the forward lounge. Two of the colored boys received three months of hard labor and a $ 40.00 fine; another one got thirty days and the same fine. At 1600 hours we had to take cover inside the ship as several enemy reconnaissance planes came over and flak fragments came down around the ship. All the bad news about heavy raids on Bizerte were nothing but rumors. The trial is now over, the MPs have been acquitted of murder, and the colored boy named Sawyer was shot, but not in the line of duty!
|Copy of short article written by Lt. Colonel Thomas B. Protzman for the "Englewood Press" dated August 23, 1943. At this date the USAHS "Acadia" was docked at Mers-el-Kébir, Algeria. The Officers in the photograph belong to the medical staff of the 204th Medical Hospital Ship Company. Courtesy Terrie Birk.|
Saturday, 28 August 1943 > Tunisia. This morning we came into a pier in the channel and tied up near some docks and close to several structures resembling grain elevators. There’s a large munitions dump nearby, and I sincerely hope they move the stuff if we have to remain here long. We had to be pushed sideways by a tug as the dock is full of old wrecks. I went out to the stockade and was able to get the sentence remanded for one of the colored boys. We brought him back to our ship. I talked to the crew and am sure they feel better knowing someone is trying to do something for them. If possible, we may be able to get the sentences of the other boys revised, the next trip. Another flight of enemy planes came over this morning but the only danger we incurred was from the falling flak. About a hundred yards away from the “Acadia” is a battery of eight British rocket guns. Each gun shoots 9 rockets over a period of one second. During last night’s raid, they fired a total of 750 rockets in one hour and brought down 9 enemy aircraft. A Major Edlin, RAC, was in command and he kindly explained the working of the entire setup to me. As it is controlled by radar, its accuracy is very high. As I sit here typing my journal, we can hear the beating of drums and the chanting of the Senegalese troops quartered in the barracks near the dock. It all seems so unreal. While visiting Colonel Gerding, the local Quartermaster, a rather nice looking fellow, came into the room enquiring about whether he could have some clothes for himself and a few of his men. He said he was the Captain of the S/S “John Belle”, an American Liberty ship recently torpedoed with 2 other vessels eighty miles further down the coast. The other ships had blown up almost immediately and all aboard were lost, but his ship burned for several hours before it sank, and he and the entire crew escaped in lifeboats and were later picked up by a Norwegian minesweeper at 1630. He mentioned that a Hospital Ship had gone by them – but did not stop. I was ashamed to tell him it was our ship, and that our Captain didn’t have the guts to go near enough to find out whether there were any survivors.
Sunday, 29 August 1943 > Tunisia. Bizerte; we loaded all morning and left the pier at 1100 sailing into a fairly rough sea. It is late in the evening, and over 90% of our patients are seasick, with a fair sprinkling of my own outfit.
other US Army Hospitals in the Bizerte-Tunis area, Tunisia, during the period
35th Station Hospital (500 beds, Morhrane, 28 August 1943 > 22 December 1943)
Monday, 30 August 1943 > At Sea. We had an uneventful and quiet night as the patients are too sick to complain and the NP cases seldom give us any trouble when the sea is rough. At about 0900 this morning there was heavy firing off the coast of Algiers, but it was so hazy we couldn’t tell whether this was practice firing or the real thing. During the day we had to watch several compound fractures which caused some trouble.
|Typical view of ward below deck, on board a US Army Hospital Ship.|
Tuesday, 31 August 1943 > Algeria. It is now 0930 and we are lying in the outer harbor waiting for the French pilot to bring us in. The loading Officer arrived from shore and we are to dock at 1400 hours this afternoon. As we landed we could already see the long line of waiting ambulances. We unloaded the patients in one and a half hours. I found out that the Port Veterinary Officer, Colonel Phil Fulstow, is one of my old Public School chums whom I grew up with in Norwalk, Ohio. I never knew he was stationed here. The harbor of Mers-el-Kébir is almost entirely filled with troop transports, cruisers and destroyers, all ready to go. During our visit we can hear the heavy explosions caused by the depth charges that are dropped regularly to discourage enemy subs.
Wednesday, 1 September 1943 > Algeria. This morning I visited Mr Durand’s winery (owner of Colonel Hutter’s villa) and tasted many of his products. This French couple is very wealthy but are unable to buy the more common luxuries of life. The “Acadia” was supposed to go into dry dock today, but a destroyer received precedence, and we will have to wait. We were only able to receive 150 tons of water, so there will be no showers on our next trip! At sunset, a twenty-one gun salute was fired from hills, and we all thought that some “Big Shot” was coming into the port area, but it was only the beginning of the Arab fasting period (Ramadan). Today we watched the largest concentration of troop and supply ships that ever congregated in the harbors of Oran and Mers-el-Kébir. Our ship has now been moved in the outer harbor, next to a torpedoed freighter to make room at the pier. Another large convoy has just come in to anchor for the night. With the numerous ships everywhere, a blind man could drop a bomb and hit something important, he couldn’t miss. Late afternoon, I received orders to come to the villa, as Brigadier Generals F. A. Blesse and J. S. Simmons were there and they wanted to discuss future operations with me. Brigadier General James S. Simmons has just flown in from Washington on an inspection tour in North Africa. He is the Chief Epidemiologist of the US Army. Brigadier General F. A. Blesse assured me that we would be part of the Invasion Fleet and wanted to make certain that we would be fully prepared to take care of a large number of wounded. He hopes to get us in dry dock by 9 September so that we will be ready for the coming invasion (Salerno Landing, 9 September 1943 –ed), and be able to increase our speed a few knots (after repairs). We convinced the General that it would be better for the “Acadia” to make another trip to Bizerte, take up supplies and bring back another load of wounded, instead of remaining idle in the harbor till the dry dock was available. We expect to sail in the morning.
Thursday, 2 September 1943 > Algeria. I had dinner on the S/S “James Parker” troopship. The ship arrived with on board the 100th Infantry Battalion, Nisei (of Japanese-American descent -ed) to fight in Italy. At noon, I was advised that we would take approximately 100 Nurses to Bizerte, and they indeed came aboard from an LST in fatigues and with field packs. They belonged to the 95th Evacuation and 16th Evacuation Hospitals, with another 2 girls from the 2d Auxiliary Surgical Group. They told us they had lived in the field for the past four months, housed in pup tents, eating in mess lines, and trying to stay in condition. Theirs was the first decent meal served at a table. They all had a nice tan and were ready for any emergency. They were an excellent object lesson for my own girls and made them feel that a Hospital Ship wasn’t such a bad place after all, even though shore leaves are few and far between.
other US Army Hospitals in the Oran area, Algeria during the period
95th Evacuation Hospital (400 beds, Ain-et-Turk, 6 July 1943 > 16 August 1943)
Friday, 3 September 1943 > At Sea. Uneventful day. We sailed for Oran, Algeria.
Saturday, 4 September 1943 > At Sea. The weather is fair and the girls from the Evacuation Hospitals are having the time of their lives. This is the first time they have slept in beds since landing in North Africa. My boys put on a show for them in the evening.
Sunday, 5 September 1943 > Tunisia. We anchored off shore till 1600 hours and the pilot started to take us into the channel, when Skipper “Jack” had some sort of a row with the French pilot and we anchored near some British destroyers, the pilot got off and refused to take us any further. There are several of our crew who speak French, but the Captain won’t make use of them. He wants to decide everything! We docked at the silo pier and the Nurses marched off with their packs, entrucked and were whisked away. Several ships of our old convoy are here in the harbor and we are anchored near the S/S “Slooterdijk”, another troopship that gave us so much trouble in the convoy. Three General Hospitals were landed here last night and will be set up as rapidly as possible. Tremendous preparations are under way for this attack against the mainland (Italy). While we are at the pier, a steady flow of loaded LSTs is passing into the harbor for a trip to “where”? The pier alongside the dock is stacked with high explosives and artillery shells; the last time it was mustard gas. If anything should drop on them during the coming night, we will cease to function! That’s for sure. The British Major of the rocket guns artillery came aboard with his Officers and we had a pleasant evening. We gave them a couple of bags with apples which they hadn’t seen for nearly four years. Colonel Harrison met us at the dock and told us we are to load at 0600.
Monday, 6 September 1943 > Tunisia + At Sea. Patients didn’t arrive till 0830, but there was no problem as our complete outfit already got up at 0530. In the dark we could see the fires blazing at the big gasoline dump, and feel and hear the ammo blowing up. The German saboteurs had got a good night’s work. As soon as it was light enough, we went to Port Headquarters and obtained the release of the other two colored men at the guard house. They were to be put under my custody, but the stockade was so far in-country, that we were unable to get them out before we sailed. If we return to Bizerte we will surely get them. We have only 50 neuro-psychiatric patients and one real bad one. He’s a huge black man, strongly built, and as he strode up the gangplank with guards, he recited President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address; he believes he is the great Emancipator. A new pilot came aboard as Captain “Jack” fights with them all. While going down the channel, we hit something, and the boat tipped way over on the side. We need to go into dry dock and find how much damage has been done this time. At 1500 we witnessed an awesome parade; the British aircraft carrier HMS “Formidable”, with two other aircraft carriers, six destroyer escorts, and two cruisers passed us going the other way. I can tell you that no chances are being taken that an enemy sub or dive bomber may get near these valuable ships. The new show that is coming up (read, the Invasion of the Italian mainland –ed) is surely going to be something to remember! Captain Hoffman called me to witness a case of anthrax, the second I have seen since joining the Army.
Tuesday, 7 September 1943 > At Sea. Another uneventful day. In the afternoon another large fleet of warships passed us going up the line. They consist of two battleships, six destroyers, and a large number of minesweepers under the command of our friend Commander Mertz. He has set the stage for three invasions and has received several citations.
Wednesday, 8 September 1943 > Algeria. We are at sea outside the breakwater waiting for a large convoy to pull in before us. There are several rumors circulating that Italy is going to capitulate before we even attack. In fact, before leaving Bizerte I was informed by good authority that our boat might not be needed as the Italians were going to quit! I called General F. A. Blesse to see if I could get some information as when we could go to dry dock. I got him on the line quickly, much to my surprise, and he thought repairs were going on. He wants to make the next trip to Italy with us, that is, if we get out in time. Along with our wounded, we had a great many prisoners of war, all Italians. There were 11 Generals, 27 Colonels, 19 Lieutenant Colonels, and 1,400 Enlisted Men. While we were on board, a few of the Generals complained that the shower water wasn’t warm enough. After 2000 we received confirmation that Italy had surrendered (Italy surrendered to the Allies, 3 September 1943 –ed) and that all Italian PWs are being unloaded to be held here, and then sent back to their country. As there are still a great many German divisions in Italy, the going may be pretty tough before the place is completely secured and occupied by the Allied Forces.
Thursday, 9 September 1943 > Algeria. We are still out in the bay with very little to do. The two colored boys were finally released in Bizerte and sent to us on a freighter, but the skipper refuses to take them with us. Unfortunately for him they will return to the Zone of Interior immediately and reach there a very long time before we return. We are however very short of help in the merchant marine, and these boys could have aided us a lot.
|Operation "Avalanche", the Allied landing operations at Salerno, Italy (9 September 1943).|
Friday, 10 September 1943 > Algeria. A large fleet of LSTs is anchored around off shore of Oran. They are really packed and loaded to the extreme, and will sail for Persia in the morning. Colonel Shaw just blinked in from shore advising that he is there with supplies and wants to come aboard.
Saturday, 11 September 1943 > Algeria. The Colonel spent the night here and we had a grand time talking “pictures”. He brought me some more film for my camera. I just learned that our Forces have unloaded three million tons of freight here at Oran in the past six months, and all this with unskilled soldier labor. Colonel H. J. Hutter has been faced with the problem of building separate hospital facilities for the numerous German and Italian patient prisoners. They are now fighting among themselves, with the Germans accusing the Italians of knifing them in the back by their surrender. All night we have been kept awake by the depth charges going off in the harbor area. The waiting for repairs, and this inactivity burns me up, as we are needed at the front. After many calls, we should be in dry dock by Monday or Tuesday.
Sunday, 12 September 1943 > Algeria. Colonel Karl Schleede (my other Chaplain), called and I took some of the Nurses and my Officers to La Sénia Airport and Headquarters for dinner. This is where the 151st Station Hospital is located. We all had some wonderful ice cream. We had our first real hard rain while we were there, but the ground was so immensely dry that it didn’t even make an impression on the dust. From there we went to Colonel Hutter’s villa and we saw the Mers-el-Kébir harbor completely empty for the first time. It looked so strange.
Monday, 13 September 1943 > Algeria. The last of the Fifth United States Army troops pulled out for Italy in Liberty ships this morning. Things aren’t going so well for us in that region as the Krauts are putting up a well organized resistance. Our losses are heavy. Lieutenant Frank McGracken, one of our former “Acadia” gunnery Officers came on board and paid his respects. We had heard he had been killed. For some reason, work on the other ship in the dry dock has been suspended for two days; every once in a while, the French quit working right in the middle of a job, war or no war, and everyone just has to wait. It will set us back once more. Colonel Reeder just called from Algiers and said that he and General F. A. Blesse would take the next trip with us to the Salerno Beachhead (Operation “Avalanche”, 9 September 1943 –ed) to survey the area for General Hospitals to follow.
Tuesday, 14 September 1943 > Algeria. Uneventful day at Oran.
Wednesday, 15 September 1943 > Algeria. It rained continuously all day and I wish we had some means of catching the water, as it is so precious over here. I haven’t had a shower in over three weeks, and it seems a shame to see all that water go to waste. We’ll go into dry dock next morning.
Thursday, 16 September 1943 > Algeria. We finally went into the floating dry dock at 1000 and by late afternoon our ship was high and dry. The port propeller had only a few pieces chipped from it when we hit a wreck at Ferryville, but the starboard one has one blade folded like an accordion, and two others badly bent. Only one blade is intact. After a long talk with the French master mechanic, he is confident that the blades can be straightened, but repairs will take several days. We further have a large dent on the starboard side of our ship where we hit that wreck at Bizerte and smashed into an eighty-foot long keel. The “Acadia” has taken a terrific beating and some day we will probably have to return home for definitive repairs. It rained all day today.
other US Army Hospitals in the Bizerte-Tunis area, Tunisia, during the period
33d General Hospital (1000 beds, Bizerte, 15 September 1943 > 10 May 1944)
Friday, 17 September 1943 > Algeria. The French worked for an hour last night and then quit as they refuse to work at night. This is going to slow us up considerably. Perhaps we can find some means to stimulate them; as a matter of fact there are still quite a few pro-Vichy elements here, not in favor of the presence of Allied Forces in North Africa. I tried explaining that ours was a Hospital Ship, needed badly at the front, and with the aid of a good pair of army shoes, some soap, and some tobacco, he agreed to work with his men till midnight each night to finish repairing the propellers. The man in charge is French, but most of the mechanics are Spaniards. While talking to the French Commandant, he complained to me, mentioning quite bitterly, that we Americans were treating the German and Italian PWs much too kindly. This man has not heard from his family since 1940, the Germans destroyed everything he ever owned! He continued: “You people give the prisoners cigarettes and candy and treat them with kindness and respect which they do not deserve!” We give them the bayonet.”
Saturday, 18 September 1943 > Algeria. The THIRD American Hospital Ship to be built came into Mers-el-Kébir this morning; it was the USAHS “Shamrock”, with a 655-bed capacity and a top speed of 14 knots. She sailed the very same day for Palermo in Sicily. Sadly I didn’t have the opportunity to visit her as I was unable to leave the ship in dry dock. HMHS “Newfoundland” was hit and sunk off the coast of Italy four days ago, but luckily all on board were saved. The Nurses we brought to Bizerte were on that boat but none of them were hurt. Another British Hospital Ship, HMHS “Lenster” that laid in Lake Bizerte with us for so long was also hit and had to be abandoned. There are over a hundred Arabs scraping the barnacles from our ship’s bottom so that it can be painted before we sail. Many of them fall asleep during work; as it is the Holy month of Ramadan, no food is allowed during day, and the men feel weak and are not very much motivated to work hard. We hire as many locals as possible to boost the morale of the country, but I don’t understand the mentality, and can’t see it work at all.
|USAHS Shamrock, US Army Hospital Ship. Picture taken in 1944.|
Sunday, 19 September 1943 > Algeria. Progress is very slow with the work on the hull, and there’s some talk of letting our Navy finish the job. The propeller is now about straight and this should allow us to add several knots when at sea.
Monday, 20 September 1943 > Algeria. General F. A. Blesse came aboard this afternoon. Colonel Reeder has been with us for several days now. One Nurse and 2 Dietitians joined us and must be dropped in Italy to catch up with their respective units. The US Navy has now been put on the job and will work through the night so we will be able to get out of this place sometime tomorrow. We are now receiving desiccated potatoes and onions with our stores and haven’t had any fresh vegetables in several weeks.
Tuesday, 21 September 1943 > Algeria. We finally made it, and left dry dock at 1945 with all repairs done and a new coat of paint on the “Acadia’s” bottom. From here we went to the oil dock in the Oran harbor and it will take us quite some time to fill with oil and water, as Captain “Jack” neglected to do it while were lying anchored and idle in the harbor. It means another day lost. I wish the Merchant Marine would be federalized and inducted into the service like the rest of us Americans and be made to do the right thing, so we can get this damn war over and return home! During the last three days (in dry dock) we had no water to wash and none to drink. During evening meals, water was shut off and there wasn’t any to drink on the table either. We were about halfway through supper when a lot of yelling occurred in one of the crew’s alleys. I sent a man down to check and it was just a bunch of merchant mariners taking fresh water showers. General F. A. Blesse didn’t like it at all. I’m so glad he is making the trip with us, as he is a man of importance and action and may be able to do something about this kind of situation. These sailors are just American boys like the rest of us, but the unions have given them so much power that they have an exalted opinion of themselves and demand and receive compensation far beyond their ability to earn it.
Wednesday, 22 September 1943 > Algeria + At Sea. We pulled out of Oran at 1330 and are all happy to be on the move again and away from the African flies. The cases of dysentery we have on board are undoubtedly from that source. My boys published the FIRST Company newspaper – “Fore ‘n Aft” – today and got a great thrill out of an interview with General F. A. Blesse. He is a wonderful person and has already made many a friend on board our ship. He is the man I met earlier in Algiers and who cut the red tape to permit our boat to function as a true Hospital. 2200 hours; we just passed 2 British Hospital Ships going the other way, but I don’t know them.
Thursday, 23 September 1943 > At Sea. The General reviewed the 204th Medical Hospital Ship Company this afternoon and presented 8 Army Good Conduct Medals to some of my men. This is usually my job, but General F. A. Blesse was kind enough to do this and give these boys something special to remember all their lives. In the evening we organized a little reception on the topside so the Nurses and the Officers could meet him. Captain “Jack” however, did not appear.
Friday, 24 September 1943 > Italy. I had a final inspection this morning before arrival, and my men had the boat in a marvelous condition; almost too clean and neat to use. It certainly pays to have a General as a guest once in a while. 1330 and we are off to the Isle of Capri. We can hear and even feel heavy detonations coming from the direction of Naples, Italy, where the Germans are destroying the docks and the water front. There is heavy smoke all along the coast and the sea is filled with debris. The coastline in front of us is dotted with destroyers, and one of them just passed us towing a wrecked LST. Allied bombers and fighters are overhead. There seems to be continuous firing from the hills and it looks as though we might spend an interesting evening. USAHS “Shamrock” is anchored in the neighborhood and taking on patients bound for Bizerte, Tunisia. She will leave the next morning. It is 1900 and we have been ordered to sea (opposite the little town of Agropoli) till morning as it isn’t safe for us to remain here during the night. We will come back Saturday morning and begin loading wounded and then start back for Oran, Algeria. As we left, ground forces were putting on some smoke screens over the shore and the fleet for night protection. Because General F. A. Blesse and Colonel Reeder were unable to contact the shore and ask for a boat, they remain with us another night.
|Brigadier General Frederick A. BLESSE with Colonel Henry S. BLESSE, who had just been awarded the Silver Star for his heroic conduct at the Anzio Beachhead.|
Saturday, 25 September 1943 > Italy. We circled around the outside of the harbor of Paestum, Italy, all night. This was near Red Beach # 2, watching the shooting from a safe distance. During the night there was little activity, but between 0500 and 0530, there was a vicious attack that lasted almost till daylight. Because of the smoke screen it was near to impossible to see what damage had been done. We pulled in closer to the beachhead around 0800 but the haze still hung over the area. I went ashore, accompanied by General F. A. Blesse and Colonel Reeder and took some of my Officers with us to see about further embarkation plans. Our short trip was made in an assault landing craft, and while beaching, we watched the awesome operation of unloading heavy equipment from the many LSTs onto temporary pontoons. We managed to make a quick run to the frontlines only a few miles away in a borrowed jeep. We couldn’t see much of the hills and fortunately escaped some of the enemy heavy shells that were bouncing around. This is the first actual beachhead that we visited, as the places on Sicily were always in or near some city. The area is still heavily mined and we were to walk only within designated paths and roads, and only there, with caution. The afternoon, I took 60 EM and 18 of our Nurses ashore to assist with embarkation of the wounded in the LCTs that would bring them to our boat. When we returned to the “Acadia”, the survivors of the minesweeper USS “Skill”, AM-115, torpedoed by U-593, just eight miles from our boat, were coming alongside in their sister ship, USS “Speed”, AM-116. They blinked for help, and we despatched three shock teams of Enlisted Men and Nurses by small boat to them with medical supplies and plasma. We worked all through the night to help the survivors, 33 of them, all burned and terribly torn by the explosion and concussion. Our ship remained in the beach area all night and we had a much closer view of the artillery and counter battery fire going on in the hills. It was midnight and up on deck again after a slight rest to watch British battleships and cruisers throwing heavy shells into Naples and surroundings.
Sunday, 26 September 1943 > Italy. We finished operating the last man at 0430 this morning. We received a Commendation from the Admiral of the Fleet for saving the majority of the minesweeper’s survivors. At noon a landing barge with 112 wounded from the shore pulled alongside and we took them aboard in about fifty minutes with help from Chaplain W. V. Barney’s loading teams, and that with a heavy sea running. Fire and smoke drift over Naples. On our way over here, there were rumors that Naples had fallen, and we were certain that our boat would pull directly into that area, but now that we have been in the area for a few days it looks like there’s a heavy and long hard fight going on there. All day long patients have been trickling into the ship, in all sorts of conveyances, and in all sorts of condition. We really are doing the area some big service as there are only two Clearing Stations in twenty-five miles of beach, they are operated by the 162d Medical Battalion, part of the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment (this is not entirely true: the 93d Evac Hosp opened at Paestum 16 September; the 8th Evac Hosp, the 38th Evac Hosp, and the 52d Med Bn landed on 21 September; with the 56th Evac Hosp disembarking on 27 September. Many units however were slow in becoming operational as equipment was either lost or delayed –ed).
Monday, 27 September 1943 > Italy. It is 0910 and we are moving to Blue Beach now to pick up more wounded. Several were brought in with small craft and the waves were so high, they bounced ten to fifteen feet in the air. Loading was extremely difficult, but it was done efficiently by my men and all the patients were brought safely aboard. The skipper, Captain “Jack” has issued verbal orders to the members of his crew not to assist us in any way, can you understand this? He is making it very difficult, but we are managing. 1010 orders have been received from the shore that it will be impossible to load patients on the beach today, and as that seems to be the only available place, we will get a little rest until tomorrow. A British battleship is sending us a patient for an emergency operation (appendicitis). At 1515 we have moved to the North Attack Beach, just outside of Salerno harbor. As we drop anchor, two German planes are shot down overhead. There’s so much action here and everything happens so fast that it is difficult to follow. 2100; we just finished amputating a leg at the hip. Shrapnel wounds tear up the blood vessels to pieces, gangrene sets in, and the limb has to be removed well above the injury, to save the patient’s life. The North Beach Invasion Fleet is anchored a mile from us and a heavy shore battery is sending shells into the nearby hills. Somewhere across the mountains, a German counter battery has been trying to locate our ships and our shore battery. Many of their shells have landed disconcertingly close to the “Acadia”, rocking the boat and scaring the hell out of our patients and us. Two British Hospitals are also in the area. It’s understandable to see why we landed here and captured the coast, there are at least four airfields that we can see from the ship and planes of all types are constantly in the air. One of the latest blast injury cases died on us today.
Tuesday, 28 September 1943 > Italy. We finished work around 0130 this morning and with the exception of one shell that landed pretty close at 0330, slept undisturbed. Captain” Jack” had all the benches along the railing of ‘B’ deck removed where the ambulatory patients usually sit. I can’t do anything about this, but it’s a shame that his hatred for the soldiers fetches so far as to remove any comfort from the wounded, and he is further making it difficult to load and unload patients. A second blast injury died today. These patients were literally blown to pieces inside, yet there isn’t any mark on the outside of their bodies. It is 1250 and the skipper has pulled his crowning act of meanness that may also be his downfall. A British LCT pulled alongside with wounded and when I asked the Master-at-Arms to rig a gangway, he refused saying that the Captain had issued orders that none of the merchant mariners were to assist us in any manner. My men then prepared a makeshift gangway and we started to carry the wounded onto the ship. While in the midst of loading, several crew members who were off duty came down and began to help us; the Captain appeared in a rage and ordered them away. We finished bringing the wounded in without mishap even though the sea was rough. I have written the Captain a letter through channels asking for an immediate explanation and answer and shall turn him in to the proper authorities at the first port we land. I don’t care what he calls me or my men, but he has endangered the lives of my patients, and that’s something I cannot accept. All the patients we took on today came from the British Forces that are carrying on the attack in the hills, and they’re doing a splendid job. Colonel Sir Terence Edmond Patrick Falkiner of the Coldstream Guards is one of our patients. He told us of an amusing incident while staying on the Island of Pantelleria with American troops. While mostly subsisting on American food and field rations, he came upon a plug of chewing tobacco with a wrapper describing it as delicious and dipped in honey. The Officer told his staff; “The Americans are our Allies, and it is only right that we learn to eat their food.” They did sample the tobacco, and later vomited the whole meal as a consequence. At 1400 a British minesweeper ordered us to move at once as we were drifting over a German radio-controlled mine. At present we only have 250 patients on board as the rough weather has made it impossible to get the wounded onto the landing craft. Another delay was caused by the moving of some British armored elements over the narrow mountain roads blocking all return of the ambulances evacuating the wounded. Naples will be bypassed as the enemy seems to have destroyed the city and sunk all vessels in the harbor. At 2200 we finished operating for the day. A high gale developed, necessitating the dropping of another anchor, as we were drifting away with the high winds.
other US Army Hospitals in the Bizerte-Tunis area, Tunisia, during the period
24th General Hospital (1000 beds, Bizerte, 28 September 1943 > 31 May 1944)
Wednesday, 29 September 1943 > Italy. This morning we moved back from North Attack Beach to Red Beach # 2, though none of us can understand why, as the seas are so high as to make it impossible for any wounded to be loaded on the shore. The storm was far greater than we imagined as a great deal of the lighter vessels have been washed ashore, and it will be some time before they will be serviceable again. Our ship is so close to shore that the mountains interfere with our radio communications and we haven’t had any news until this morning. Two more enemy aircraft have been shot down. The ocean around us is filled with small landing craft loaded with troops and cargo that will land as soon as the weather subsides. We had to take off a boy’s arm this afternoon; it depresses me every time this becomes necessary, but this isn’t nearly so bad as the young lad with both eyes gone.
Captain “Jack” answered my letter, with two full pages of closely typewritten texts and arguments to defend himself. It’s a shame that a man with such excellent navigation skills can have such a vicious nature.
|September 1943, Salerno Beachhead operations. Loading wounded from landing craft onto the deck of a Hospital Ship (the patient hoisted on board is a German PW).|
Thursday, 30 September 1943 > Italy. We are still at Red Beach # 2 bordering Green Beach. USAHS “Shamrock” is back in this area from her trip to Bizerte and Colonel Davis came aboard accompanied by his Supply Officer and his ARC worker. He brought us some extra plasma, as we have gotten pretty low due to the large number of shock and hemorrhage cases we have treated the last days. The rough sea has subsided a little and at noon General F. A. Blesse and Colonel Reeder returned to the “Acadia”. Smaller craft are bringing in wounded now. Naples is still in enemy hands, it seems that the hotels and large buildings have been destroyed by the Germans and our own fire, the water viaducts have been blown up, and the city is becoming disease ridden. Today we loaded several Nisei infantrymen patients; the ones we saw debarking at Oran several weeks ago. They were put to good use and did a creditable job (attached to the 34th Infantry Division –ed). General F. A. Blesse told us how difficult it was to cover much ground as the enemy had destroyed all the good roads and the bridges. He was at the 16th Evacuation Hospital when a violent storm hit the site, completely leveling the tents and ripping them to pieces. The wounded had to be moved to sheds of a tobacco factory in the vicinity and only one was lost; a German wounded prisoner. Our greatest diversion today consisted in watching the antiaircraft batteries from the warships try bring down the high-flying German observation planes that keep crossing over our area. So far no planes have been hit, nevertheless we as innocent bystanders have to watch out for falling flak fragments. 1630 and we have taken on 204 more wounded.
other US Army Hospitals in the Oran area, Algeria, during the period
69th Station Hospital (500 beds, Assi-Bou-Nif, 30 September 1943 > 16 September 1944)
Friday, 1 October 1943 > Italy. Still standing by off Red Beach # 2, waiting for the Navy to give us the green light to return. We radioed Algiers for permission to stop there en route to Oran to debark our British patients and received their agreement, but can’t get our Navy to release us. Colonel Reeder and I went ashore in an Army “dukw” and contacted Fifth Army once more. It’s quite a sensation to run through the surf in one of the amphibious trucks roll up on the land and keep right on going. It’s even more thrilling to come from land and drop into the sea without stopping. From Fifth United States Army Headquarters we went directly to the Admiral’s destroyer, and find out that our boat had been re-routed to Bizerte to fill up the rest of our ship and then sail for Algiers. I certainly hope we’ll get in and out of this place without damages, as the least little bump on the propellers now, will break them, and we’ll get stuck here. We have a bad case of dog bite aboard and we have no anti-rabies vaccine, and there may be none in Algiers. I cannot help but mention the great performance of my outfit; in this last trip my men have saved a great many lives and besides doing the actual work, most of them gave their own blood for transfusions in their efforts to save lives.
Saturday, 2 October 1943 > Italy. We have to return to Bizerte, Tunisia, in spite of the General’s orders not to go back to that port, due to the many times we have suffered damages there. All probably due to a poor liaison between the Navy and the Army. There are plenty of other ports to go to and fill our extra beds. General F. A. Blesse is burned up, as it is some little Junior Grade Navy Lieutenant who is overriding his order, and there’s nothing he can do about it until we reach Algiers, as the US Navy has refused us a routing to any other place in North Africa, and it would be risky to take another one without a naval order. More shooting at planes today, but none is brought down. We left Red Beach # 2 in the evening for Bizerte.
other US Army Hospitals in the Bizerte-Tunis area, Tunisia, during the period
37th General Hospital (1000 beds, Mateur, 1 October 1943 > 12 April 1944)
Sunday, 3 October 1943 > Tunisia. We anchored off the port of Bizerte and went ashore to meet with Commander Jalbert, the new Navy person in command of the place. I brought him over here about eight months ago, so we had quite a reunion. We tried to have the shore to load us at sea but there were no landing craft available, so in the afternoon we pulled into the silo pier and began to take on patients from the Hospitals there. The docks have been cleaned and there have been no air raids since 6 September.
Monday, 4 October 1943 > Tunisia + At Sea. We moved out of the harbor safely this morning and all breathed a sigh of relief, no incidents. We have been busy most of the day trying to remedy the damage done to the poor application of plaster casts put on patients in the frontlines. Many of them are put on so bad or so tight that blood circulation is stopped, and we sometimes have to amputate arms or legs which could otherwise be saved. No one is to blame for this as it is a mater of education; most of the doctors are not acquainted with war surgery, and General F. A. Blesse tried sending out men to do this, but it is difficult to be everywhere at once.
Tuesday, 5 October 1943 > Algeria. We docked in Algiers and debarked the British wounded and find there are no American patients to fill our empty beds, so we will probably leave tonight.
Wednesday, 6 October 1943 > Algeria. We docked at pier 15. At Oran, Colonel H. J. Hutter was waiting for us and he took me to a site where he is building a Hospital Groupment at Assi-Bou-Nif, that will consist of 3 General Hospitals (43d Gen Hosp – 46th Gen Hosp – 70th Gen Hosp –ed), and 3 Station Hospitals (23d Sta Hosp – 51st Sta Hosp – 54th Sta Hosp –ed), representing a bed capacity of 5,000. Most of the buildings are made of local stone material, and each ward holds 100 beds, and a fireplace to keep the patients warm on chilly evenings. We also visited the new Quartermaster Laundry near Oran which takes care of the laundry of 20,000 people. The Convalescent Hospital located at Ain-et-Turk was our next stop, as well as some more Hospitals operating in the Oran area. We came to our shop and found orders to move back to Bizerte at once. It is now 1930 and we are at sea again, planning to arrive in Bizerte sometime by Friday morning. I really hope to go home this trip so as to get the necessary repairs done before the cold weather sets in.
other US Army Hospitals in the Oran area, Algeria, during the period
23d Station Hospital (500 beds, Assi-Bou-Nif, 4 October 1943 > 28 August 1944)
Thursday, 7 October 1943 > At Sea. Four ships out of a convoy were sunk only 120 miles up the coast by enemy torpedo bombers. I wonder how they escaped our own patrols. Our ship is clean and all ready for the next load of patients and my boys are planning a cockroach race for this evening. Everything is quiet on board.
Friday, 8 October 1943 > Tunisia. 0830 and were are waiting off shore of our favorite “hoodoo” port. I hope we make it this time too. Headquarters issued orders that we weren’t to go to this place because of the shipping hazards of the channel, so here we are for the second time, wishing to be loaded so that we can get out of this place on the double! Commander Jalbert came out in a crash boat and took me ashore. I immediately visited EBS Headquarters to find out that they didn’t expect us for at least four days and that we will have to come in as far as the silo pier and tie up for the night as no plans have been made to load any wounded. I called my friend, General F. A. Blesse on the phone at Algiers, and found out that he had left orders at this port when we were here a week ago and things screwed up again. Someone Navy guys in this port need an injection of vitamins or something. We traded ten new movie films with the crew of the “Shamrock”. There were only 4 ships in Lake Bizerte, I wonder where all the other ships have gone to? The “Acadia” is to be loaded at 0900 Saturday and we will also try and take on water and oil.
Saturday, 9 October 1943 > Tunisia. The patients started to come in into the dock around 0715 but there’s no one from the Port authorities to check them onto our boat. We have already taken on the worst cases anyway, and will have to wait for the remainder. Yom Kippur; the Jewish New Year is the reason, and all business has stopped, even in a combat zone. The boys will have to handle everything. One of the girls, a Physiotherapist, insisted that she should be permitted to attend the services ashore, but when I told her if she wasn’t back here when the boat was loaded, we would sail without her, she changed her mind. We took some time to visit the British AA batteries and one of the French Senegalese regiments. We only have 135 NP cases on board, but they are in such a stage of excitement that we may have a pretty tough night. I have ordered heavy doses of Amytol for all of them. Someone at the Hospital told them that were all going home to the States on this boat, so we may have some trouble when unloading at Oran. With the Amytol doing its work, we may perhaps be able to sleep too tonight.
Sunday, 10 October 1943 > At Sea. Our mental cases slept well last night with the exception of 9 men who had to be confined, for even heroic doses of sedatives couldn’t keep them quiet.
|Typical view of Nurses' quarters, on board a US Army Hospital Ship.|
Monday, 11 October 1943 > Algeria. Two of my boys have contracted diphtheria from the patients we carried from Italy. We are unloading at Mers-el-Kébir at 0100 early morning and will go up the line again at 0600 or just as soon as we haven taken on enough water. I called Colonel Reeder and told him of the mess up at Bizerte, and he informed me that we will be going to Italy for the next trip. I’m certainly happy to learn we aren’t going to Bizerte, Tunisia, as we can do better work in a combat area. In talking to Colonel Girdwood, ATS Superintendent, I hear the troops are all being landed at Casablanca (French Morocco), and that there’s a large convoy there including the “Queen Mary” and the “Queen Elizabeth”. I wonder where all these troops are going to, the European Theater? It’s much too large a concentration of ships to be casual…
Tuesday, 12 October 1943 > At Sea. Columbus Day today and we are celebrating it by sailing into the opposite direction he took. We’re going back to Salerno and Naples at a speed of only 13 knots, as USAHS “Shamrock” is at the southern beaches now, near Agripoli, and there is no need for us there until next Thursday.
Wednesday, 13 October 1943 > At Sea. Uneventful day at sea.
Thursday, 14 October 1943 > Italy. We are offshore Paestum but it’s raining so hard that the coast is barely visible and we’re merely cruising around in circles with a large convoy of troops and supplies. Occasionally a destroyer comes close to take a look and make sure we are friendly. What a contrast to the same place just a while ago; the landing craft are all gone, no battleships, no cruisers. The shore batteries have all moved further inland, and all looks quiet and serene. The beaches which were littered with boats from the hurricane have all been cleared, and the Greek ruins of Paestum which a few days ago housed American GIs, are empty now. We will undoubtedly move up the coast in the morning.
Friday, 15 October 1943 > Italy. Early this morning we arrived at our destination and dropped anchor just off the breakwater opposite the city of Salerno. There never has been a harbor at this place; just a shallow place for fishing trawlers or small excursion boats. The wounded are being brought out on British LCIs and as their capacity is limited we will not be completely loaded today. This morning 60 men from a seagoing tug were brought on board for some medical attention. None of them has been ashore for the past six months and have only received medical care from a Pharmacists’s Mate. We kept six of them in the ward and patched up the rest of them. These are the guys that hauled the stranded boats of the beaches that had been swept ashore by the gales or which had become grounded during the beach landings. Captain Alexander S. Forster (my Chief of Dental Service) and I went ashore with the first empty boat, borrowed a Command Car for the day, and hopped over the mountains into Avellino, scouted the outskirts of Naples, and even went as far as the Volturno River. Salerno is an old city of poor buildings, which have been badly damaged by shell fire. As we passed through the city, one of the buildings collapsed, killing eight civilians. Entire families are now gradually returning from the hills to the city carrying all their possessions. The only interesting place in Salerno is the old cathedral which has been rebuilt several times through the ages; it contains some old tombs as well as remnants wrested from the ruins in Paestum. There’s a monastery high up in the hills and almost inaccessible. Avellino was in the path of the advancing troops and suffered a great deal from artillery fire. We spent several hours at the 56th Evacuation Hospital where Colonel Henry S. Blesse (later of Anzio Beachhead fame –ed) has entrenched himself with his staff in a former Military School for Officers at Avellino. The place is pretty badly shot up, and the organization is packed like sardines with 1,500 wounded to care for. The CO doesn’t think high of the locals as they’re demanding food and rations, and charge high prices for their commodities and exorbitant rents for the quarters occupied by our soldiers. Not bad for a country which has recently surrendered unconditionally! From Avellino to Naples, and further to the Volturno River the going was tougher, as the roads were jammed with convoys of all descriptions. We passed miles of heavy artillery with 155mm “Long Toms” constantly moving toward the front. The Engineers did a splendid job, reconditioning roads, rebuilding bridges and providing pontoons. The Salerno bridgehead was won at a great human cost as evidenced by the long lines of moving ambulances returning to the rear. We were back on board for the last load of patients and also to argue with the Navy who insisted that we return to Oran with only a partial load. In the end this was settled in our favor, as I found it difficult to go back with a partial load only after seeing all the wounded men at the front in need of transportation and evacuation. We will finish loading in the morning.
Saturday, 16 October 1943 > Italy. We now have the “Acadia” overloaded, as it should be, with all the extra cots set up, and filled. There will be plenty to do in the OR. Over 450 cases of epidemic jaundice, many of them complicated with malaria and gunshot wounds. We do have less mental cases now, so there will be fewer problems and shock cases.
Sunday, 17 October 1943 > Italy. Most of the difficult work had been done and we are now coasting along nicely with just routine dressings to do. One of the malignant tertian malaria cases died during the night; I hope there will never be an epidemic.
Monday, 18 October 1943 > At Sea + Algeria. We had a real tough night as the seas got rough for the first time in many weeks and quite a number of Nurses became seasick, though they didn’t quit work. Ships are great places for red hot rumors, and for betting possibilities. Hundreds of dollars have been bet that we’re finally going home this trip! Most people think I know, but won’t tell, and I received all sorts of offers to divulge my secret. If only I knew, but then we’re supposed to reach Oran in a few hours and all of us will probably know. 1630; we’re back in Oran, Algeria, ready to unload our wounded and even before the boat touches the pier, Colonel Shelton shouts that we are to make one more trip up the line! We have definitely earned the nickname of “one MORE trip Acadia.” And also continued our bad reputation of hitting at least one submerged obstacle every time we sail. This time, it wasn’t our fault, but we did wreck a French tug that disputed our passage. Colonel Koenig, the Port Surgeon, will return to the Zone of Interior by plane as his chronic migraine headaches have been almost unbearable; he will be accompanied by two cases of brain tumor. This Officer has done a wonderful job at the port and I hope he will get the proper recognition for his service. We are to leave for Bizerte, Tunisia, next morning.
Tuesday, 19 October 1943 > Algeria. We were about to sail when the orders were changed till noon, in order to allow us taking on oil and food supplies. At midday, the orders were changed again and we will now depart for Bizerte the next morning as this will give us plenty of time to arrive in daylight. I hope they are ready for us this time and give us a full load. In the evening I entertained Colonel H. J. Hutter and his staff with a movie and a light meal.
|Typical view of lifeboats, on board a US Army Hospital Ship.|
Wednesday, 20 October 1943 > At Sea. One year ago, our outfit, the 204th Medical Hospital Ship Company was activated in the Zone of Interior (20 October 1942, Fort Dix, Wrightstown, New Jersey, Training and Pre-Staging Center –ed). Since that time we have been fulfilling our mission to the utmost, and I hope in a creditable manner. The anniversary party will have to wait until a more suitable place presents itself for the occasion.
During the early afternoon a fairly large passenger ship came into Oran harbor; it was entirely black, with in large letters the word “FREIGELEIT” painted on each side of the ship in white lettering, and a Nazi flag represented at either end of this name, and a large German national flag flying from the aftermast. It looked like a mystery ship with no one visible on deck. Its name was “Djenne”, certainly not a German name, yet certainly in German possession (ex-French vessel, sailed from Marseille, France –ed), and coming into the harbor unescorted. Toward the evening, another such ship, named “Sinaia” entered the harbor (another ex-French vessel, sailed from Marseille –ed), followed by the German Lazarettschiffe “Gradisca” (former Italian Hospital Ship –ed). These ships were here to carry back exchange Axis prisoners from Oran to Germany. No one is permitted on or near the docks at which all three are berthed. There are guards everywhere, with orders to shoot any unauthorized persons. After dark, the boats are loaded in strict secrecy and later move on.
As we sail out of the harbor in the dim early morning light, we pass another German Hospital Ship coming in. This must truly be a large exchange of sick and wounded prisoners, but I can’t imagine why all the secrecy. The men have been carefully picked by a commission as this is a good method of introducing spies into a belligerent country in place of the real person.
Thursday, 21 October 1943 > Tunisia. Back at Bizerte. We couldn’t get into the outer harbor at 0330 as there was a huge convoy with numerous LSTs and LCIs passing through on the way to Italy, loaded with troops and equipment. Then we entered this damn channel in the dark with only our side lights and a search light to guide us past the many wrecks. No pilot, no tug, to help us but we docked at the silo pier without mishap.
other US Army Hospitals in the Bizerte-Tunis area, Tunisia, during the period
105th Station Hospital (500 beds, Ferryville, 21 October 1943 > 29 May 1944)
64th General Hospital (1000 beds, Ferryville, 23 October 1943 > 29 February 1944)
Friday, 22 October 1943 > Tunisia. We were held in Oran on account of the PW exchange and one day late getting here. This port did not receive word in time and they had 800 patients at a nearby dock early in the morning ready to board the “Acadia”, while we didn’t arrive until late in the evening. They were all sent back, and we are now loading them. The Hospitals in the Bizerte-Tunis area are all full, although there was a constant flow of patients going westward to Algeria and even French Morocco, so it looks as though we are going to make several more trips to Bizerte before returning stateside. After arrival, we received another large bag of mail waiting for us and most of my outfit stayed up all night reading the many letters from home, no one asked for shore leave. I tried to get the Port authorities to give me an extra 80 patients to relieve the local congestion, but to no avail. One of the mental cases who was brought down yesterday (before our arrival), returned to his Hospital, stole an ambulance and started out looking for the “Acadia” on his own. Not so crazy after all, so it seems. 1330 and on the way out of the channel we smacked into another wreck on starboard. I don’t know what damage was done, but we sure didn’t hurt the propellers this time. These patients as the others we carried earlier have been told they will return to States on this boat. I hope it’s true this time!
Saturday, 23 October 1943 > At Sea. My NP patients have been raising hell all night, and we had to restrain six of them; poor devils. Maybe the weather will get rough enough to quiet them down. Several hundred dollars have been bet on the question whether the “Acadia” is going home this trip. I get all the official orders and absolutely nothing has been said as to a possible return trip. We will be back in Oran tomorrow and all bets can then be paid.
Sunday, 24 October 1943 > Algeria. All rumors are confirmed – we will leave for our hub in Charleston, South Carolina at 1500 hours tomorrow! I certainly hope that we can go to New York for repairs, if not, a lot of hearts will be broken, South Carolina (Charleston POE) is 750 miles from where most of us want to be. Black out restrictions have been made more severe in this area, as several ships were sunk two days ago down the coast by aerial torpedoes. Some of the medical statistics concerning the Sicily invasion have been reported and there were over 10,000 malaria cases, because a certain General on the line didn’t think that the men should take Atabrine, use mosquito nets, and insect repellent, all issued items. Up to date, with a much larger contingent on the Italian mainland, there have been only 6,000 cases, because the Commanding General in the region asked for and insisted on all the medical aid possible. They all learn some time that it takes more than just guns to win a war.
Monday, 25 October 1943 > Algeria + At Sea. The ship was fully loaded by 1100 hours and we are raring to go. I had lunch with the Port Commander, Colonel Higgins, and we had roast gazelle with some wine, it was delicious and tasted somehow like veal. We left the pier at 1530 sharp. Colonel H. J. Hutter and his Headquarters staff all came down to see us off and wish us godspeed. We have carried over 10,000 patients in this Theater since the Invasion of Sicily and I feel that we’re all entitled to a trip home. The lower foreward holds house Officers with rank as high as Lieutenant Colonel. I couldn’t spare any staterooms as we are carrying so many Nurses, and the private rooms were used for the ladies.
other US Army Hospitals in the Oran area, Algeria, during the period
51st Station Hospital (250 beds, Assi-Bou-Nif, 28 October 1943 > 15 April 1944)
43d General Hospital (1000 beds, Assi-Bou-Nif, 31 October 1943 > 15 June 1944)
Tuesday, 26 October 1943 > At Sea. About one hour after daylight we passed The Rock of Gibraltar and were flashed permission to proceed ahead and good luck by our British Allies. Our boat has been around so much that everyone knows our silhouette, even the Brits on Gibraltar. Before noon we received a radiogram from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, congratulating us and thanking us for the work we did in the North African Theater. We all got a big thrill out of this. Down in the lobby, there’s a black patient singing classical music in a beautiful baritone voice. The work on board should be relatively easy on this trip as most of our patients have been in General Hospitals for several months. Three of our cases have multiple bullet wounds that have severed the spinal cord high up in the back; they can only move their arms and heads and that is all. What a terrible life awaits them.
|Typical view of a surgical ward, on board a US Army Hospital Ship.|
Wednesday, 27 October 1943 > At Sea. The weather in the Atlantic has been fine and there’s a slight roll to the ship. We will run a movie in one end of the ship and the ARC workers do something in the other end to amuse the patients for the evening.
Thursday, 28 October 1943 > At Sea. The sea is a little rougher and there’s more seasickness now, but nothing unusual has happened.
Friday, 29 October 1943 > At Sea. The old Atlantic Ocean really cooked up a storm during last night and most of our patients are in bed. The weather is at least a good sedative for the mental cases as they are all in bed and very quiet now. I had Lt. Colonel Joseph B. McShane of General Walker’s staff in my cabin most of the day as we had picked him up after the invasion of Italy, and then again in Oran for the trip back home. He told me a grand story of his landing at the Paestum beachhead two hours after the initial assault, and how narrow was their escape from an attack by eleven German tanks. Quite some story indeed.
Saturday, 30 October 1943 > At Sea. Around midnight tonight we will be half way home. This voyage seems endless. Our patients have all been in Hospitals for weeks, and some for months and all they need are check ups and general care. We will be happy to get this trip over and be back to the ones we love, and to those we can talk to, and let off a little of the steam that has been building up in all the action and human suffering we have seen.
Sunday, 31 October 1943 > At Sea. The weather in the Atlantic is fairly calm. Nothing unusual has happened. We’re preparing a show for the patients, and have found some excellent talent among them.
Monday, 1 November 1943 > At Sea. Our boat is rolling and pitching considerably today, but the patients don’t seem to mind it. We have a young Lieutenant with us. I’ve know him since the Sicily operation and he is now aboard as a patient going back for duty in the Zone of Interior with the Army Transport Service (ATS). Lieutenant Best has had three ships blown out from under him, while unloading them at the beaches. He got a well-deserved Purple Heart and several OLCs as well as a Distinguished Service Medal.
This afternoon we received the following cable:
WUXI DE NSS
O P E R A T I O N A L P R I OR I T Y
FOR USAHS ACADIA FROM COMTENTH FLEET
IT IS DESIRED THAT YOU ARRIVE HARBOR ENTRANCE ELEVEN HUNDRED
ZEBRA ON FIFTH NOVEMBER REGULATE YOUR SPEED TO INSURE ARRIVAL
AT HOUR AND DATE SPECIFIED PASS FOLLOWING TO COMMANDING OFFICER
TWO ZERO FOURTH HOSPITAL SHIP COMPANY X BE PREPARED FOR BOARDING
BY HIGH WAR DEPARTMENT OFFICIALS ON ARRIVAL SIGNED STYER 011503Z
TOR 011758Z / AL
This sounds like more Generals and more Senators as compared to last time, only we are fortunate to have received the radiogram and at least will have several days to prepare for the ceremony. I don’t know why they picked our boat, but a forewarned message is an excellent incentive for the Enlisted Men and Officers. It gives them a mark to soot at, and they usually come through in a commendable manner. We ran into a pretty stiff storm during the night and had to slow to a speed of 6 knots. It isn’t too easy going now, but we have increased our speed up to 10 knots and should just be below Bermuda in the morning.
Tuesday, 2 November 1943 > At Sea. One of our mental patients tore the door from the ward he was in and almost escaped over the side of the ship. The man on watch caught him in the act but was almost carried overboard with the patient. The weather has been so rough, that it has been impossible to make any time. Late in the afternoon the Captain was able to reach 14 knots. We have now just found out that we are due in Charleston, South Carolina, at 0700 GMT in the morning of 5 November (GMT - Greenwich Mean Time –ed). So we speeded the ship to over 18 knots trying to make up for the lost time.
Wednesday, 3 November 1943 > At Sea. We passed sixty miles below Bermuda this morning; the time was 0900, but not near enough to see the Island. If the weather doesn’t get any worse, we will make it sometime Friday morning.
Thursday, 4 November 1943 > At Sea. Still going strong, and near enough the coast to feel pretty sure of getting there on time.
other US ARMY Hospitals in the Oran area, Algeria, during the period
70th General Hospital (1000 beds, Assi-Bou-Nif, 31 October 1943 > 27 October 1944)
46th General Hospital (1000 beds, Assi-Bou-Nif, 4 November 1943 > 31 July 1944)
Friday, 5 November 1943 > HOME (Fifth United States Army meanwhile continued its advance on the Italian mainland during the Volturno Campaign, and after resting and reorganizing end November 1943, launched its direct assault against the fortified positions of the German Winter Line, gradually moving further to the heavily fortified Gustav Line and Monte Cassino –ed).
|Typical view of night illumination, of a US Army Hospital Ship.|
We assume that the “Acadia” was away for repairs and that she didn’t sail before the next trip to the Mediterranean region. It should also be noted that the Journal has no entries for that particular period in time.
Saturday, 20 November 1943 > Charleston, S. C., Port of Embarkation, Zone of Interior – THIRD VOYAGE OF USAHS “ACADIA”. We will soon be on our next trip to a combat zone. As we’re preparing our next trip to the Mediterranean Theater, I realize we’re a little shorthanded. 8 of the boys cracked up mentally from the hard work and experiences of the last voyage, so we had to leave them in the hospital for treatment. I feel sure that they are only mild psychoneurotics due to the extreme pressure we were under in Sicily and Italy. Three of my chronic drunks are in jail in New York, and I was able to transfer them out of the Company. Eight more are still AWOL, and I just received a telegram that 2d Lieutenant Sybil Plum, our ANC night supervisor, has missed her plane. General N. T. Kirk, The Surgeon General, felt that there was more need for PT personnel in the General Hospitals than at sea, consequently we are short that many women!
Due to a shortage of merchant mariners, some people in Washington are getting the bright idea that part of their work can be done by the military, and want to mix the personnel, so that regular soldiers will do the work, together with merchant mariners who receive the same pay per week, whereas the soldiers only make such an allowance per month, moreover, the merchant crews do not normally work on Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays, unless they get premiums, and even get double time for overtime. I’m afraid I’m not very popular in Washington as I expressed my opinion rather freely and advised them to put the man who is trying to introduce those cockeyed rules on a Hospital Ship first learn some of the difficulties we undergo. After over a year, Washington finally decided that Army Hospital Ships should be more publicised, and we have been ordered to have the “Acadia” back in Charleston, South Carolina, by 16 December 1943, at which time we will be boarded in the outer harbor by representatives of all the news agencies and our story put in the papers! There’s only one hitch in the program; there’s a war in progress, and much can happen to a ship in such times. Our last trip was planned for six weeks and we remained for the invasion of Italy, returning in five months. Nevertheless, I hope we do get back for the Christmas holidays, but I will be greatly surprised if we return on the required day…
It is now 1000 and our ports are still open. A Navy blimp has fallen in the river, having become lost in the fog, and as it contained several depth charges, we won’t be permitted to leave until they are found. At 1400, we now are in the bay getting our compass adjusted. It seems that the repair crews in Charleston POE did more damage than good. Besides stealing all the alarm clocks and small movable personnel property, they did a miserable job of fixing our ship. Some of the new cabinets that were manufactured on shore for the wards are beginning to fall apart before we had a chance to use them. 1600 hours; we are on our way with an inauspicious start. Early this morning, we took on board several Hospital Ship Platoons, 149 Officers, EM, and Nurses in all. Not very many, but they may break the monotony of an empty ship. As we weren’t able to secure any motor launches this time, we obtained 2 large “Evinrude” outboard motors to fix to two of our lifeboats. Captain John W. Kirchner says that they cannot possibly be adapted to the boats. The skipper, by the way, has completely reversed his attitude, and is all honey now. Someone in authority must have had some serious talk with him. In fact Washington sent a Lt. Colonel down to investigate why 90% of the merchant mariners quit after we landed. A new crew had to be made up from the Merchant Marine School here in Charleston, but the great majority of them have never been to sea. Fortunately the First Mate is an old sea Captain, the Second seems fair, but the Third Mate is an old man with palsy and won’t be of any use to us at all.
Sunday, 21 November 1943 > At Sea. Our preacher had a good turn-out this morning. The sea is quite rough and a great many of our passengers are becoming sick. Nothing else of importance has taken place.
USAHS “Acadia” – Merchant Marine Crew (incomplete list)
Master of the Ship – Captain John W. Kirchner
Chief Engineer – James L. Kane
Chief Officer – John C. Phillips
Second Officer – Frederick D. Graves
Senior Third Officer – Eugene P. Cross
Senior Chief Officer – John L. Horton
Junior Third Officer – John L. Allen
Junior Third Officer – William E. Burcham
Junior Third Officer – Clarence A. Bradford
Transportation Officer – Townsend B. Minier
(new crew, as published in “Fore ‘n Aft”, Volume I, No. 7, Week of November 21-27, 1943, At Sea)
Monday, 22 November 1943 > At Sea. We’re still in the Atlantic; there’s more rough weather and more seasickness. The new crowd are going to have some tough time. Colonel Fitzpatrick told me in Washington, when we were there this last time, that the Pacific Theater had a great need for Hospital Ships. I tried to get our boat switched to that Theater, but the Colonel felt that our ship’s construction was not strong enough to withstand the rough weather conditions in the Pacific.
|Typical view of dressing station, on board a US Army Hospital Ship|
Tuesday, 23 November 1943 > At Sea. The weather is getting rougher and practically all of the passengers are on their backs now. Just before we sailed, a couple of fine radios were installed and we’re now able to get broadcasts from home and put them over the ship on the loudspeakers.
Wednesday, 24 November 1943 > At Sea. The weather is still rough but nothing unusual happened until this afternoon when the ship’s engines suddenly stopped. The Captain was in my cabin, boasting about the wonderful speed we were making and how we had made up for all the lost time in leaving Charleston, when Mullins came in and asked why the boat had stopped. Captain “Jack” jumped up and said: “We haven’t stopped! The boat is making over 20 knots”. Then he listened for the engines and rushed to the wheelhouse. I went to the engine room and found that one of the new engineers had let the vacuum get too low, hence the reason for the fright.
Thursday, 25 November 1943 > At Sea. Uneventful day with the exception of another stop in the engines. This time the problem was due to a ruptured oil line. The weather is still quite rough and it gives one a peculiar sensation to be suddenly without any power while the ocean is pulling you around “willy-nilly”.
Friday, 26 November 1943 > At Sea. The weather is improving. Another uneventful day.
Saturday, 27 November 1943 > At Sea. We are ahead of schedule and although our ship is vibrating more than usual, everything seems to be under control. The Hospital Ship Platoons that we are carrying are the dirtiest bunch of medical troops I have ever carried! There’s very little discipline. My guess is doctors don’t make good soldiers. My cabin is over the engine room in the middle of the ship and the steady vibration lulls me to sleep. At 0100 this morning I awoke suddenly, and couldn’t figure out what had happened until I noticed the engines had stopped again. When they didn’t start within a half hour, I went down to check and found the port engine had burnt out a bearing. The Chief feels that it will take at least 48 hours to repair. The starboard engine was started and we’re now running at half speed. I’m very much afraid Colonel Fitzpatrick won’t see us on the date fixed for our return. This accident will throw us off at least several days.
Sunday, 28 November 1943 > At Sea. The ship is running approximately 12 knots and the engine is in the process of repair.
Monday, 29 November 1943 > At Sea. The new bearing has finally been installed, but when the engine was speeded up, it began to throw sparks all over the engine room and had to be shut down again. It can be allowed to idle and our speed has been increased by another knot. The Chief Engineer feels that some of the turbine blades must either be damaged or thrown out of line. The problem may have been caused by the propeller damage of last summer. We can’t possibly reach Gibraltar until 1 December, and as the Captain wants to go in for repairs there, we cannot be back in the States by 16 December.
Tuesday, 30 November 1943 > At Sea. We should reach the Straits early in the morning and The Rock itself about noon.
Wednesday, 1 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. The “Acadia” came to anchor just outside the harbor in the bay about midday, and Captain “Jack” and I went ashore to contact the Royal Navy and report the damage, request repairs, and to the Royal Signals office to wire the bad news to Algiers, and have Headquarters there notify Washington that our return would be indefinite. We received orders to pull into the inner harbor in the morning and tie up alongside the detached mole. It had been raining very hard all day and the authorities were all quite happy as water was low and being rationed. No rain for the past two months and the longest drought in seventy-five years. All the crops in Spain have been affected and this will certainly cause starvation for the poorer classes.
Thursday, 2 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. This afternoon the “Monarch of Bermuda” (ex-cruise ship, brought medical personnel and detachments to the UK in October 1943 –ed), with 4,900 troops on board, came into the harbor with her side damaged by a collision at sea. She will remain at Gibraltar for repairs. I allowed 20 of the men ashore this afternoon, and they hadn’t been there for more than a few hours, when Colonel Forster, the American Military Liaison Officer, called me up and said that my men were disrupting the town, and what was I going to do about it. Many had gotten drunk and were skipping rope in the public square. I sent someone over and got all the offenders, 6 in all, and gave them extra night duty for a week. At the same time, 4 of the Hospital Ship Platoon passengers went AWOL, and I had them put in the brig to cool off.
Friday, 3 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. The port mechanics made a survey of our engine and told us we will be here until about 16 of December! Just the date that we’re expected to be in the States. Poor Colonel Fitzpatrick will be in a stew, with his well laid plans disrupted. The rest of the outfit went ashore without mishap (I took the precaution to send one MP with every ten men).
Saturday, 4 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. There are 20,000 soldiers stationed on this “Rock” and only 150 WRENs. The British Officers have discovered that we have 67 Nurses on board, and the phone ran hot with calls inviting the girls to the Saturday night dance at the “Rock Hotel”. The skipper has had the telephone removed from his office and put in mine, as there are too many calls for the Nurses, and none for him. Though it pleased his vanity to have the only phone on the boat, he couldn’t stand the incoming traffic. We all attended the dance and the girls had a wonderful time. The band was excellent and everyone got a little tight as the scotch was plentiful, cheap, and the British seemed to think it’s a social error to leave a guest’s glass empty! Glasses are apparently very scarce, so the trick is to come early, get your first drink, and then hang on to your glass for the rest of the evening. I don’t like scotch or hard liquor, but I drank the wonderful Spanish sherry that is also plentiful and cheap to buy. The music here stops at 2230 with “God Save The King”, as everyone has to be back in quarters by 2300 hours. Commander O’Brien took us back to the “Acadia” in his car.
Sunday, 5 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. I went to the Church of England this morning. I have been invited to lunch on the HMS “Warspite” tomorrow.
Monday, 6 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. I just finished dinner with Commander Rudd on the “Warspite” (Royal Navy battleship, launched 1913, commissioned 1915, modernized 1937, armed with 8 14-in guns, speed 24 knots –ed), Admiral Cunningham’s old flagship. I find that this is one of the Royal Navy ships we watched off Salerno pasting the enemy towns and German installations along the shore. On 16 September she was hit by an FX-1400 radio-controlled German gliding bomb and had her propellers shot off by a magnetic torpedo. In five minutes she had taken on so much water (5,000 tons) that the crew all felt that she was lost as even a near miss would have sunk her. A destroyer pulled the battleship off in the haze and for a few minutes the enemy bombers lost track of her. She was moved to shore in the mists and HMS “Valiant”, her sister ship, which the Germans had neither seen nor recognized quickly came into the field. The enemy mistook her for the crippled “Warspite” and dove en masse for the final coup-de-grâce and were surprised when the supposedly helpless ship began to maneuver at 25 knots and blast them out of the sky. The ship was later towed into Malta by the USS Navy tug “Hopi” under protection of the cruiser HMS “Delhi” and is now patched up and at Gibraltar since 12 November for some additional repairs to allow her to proceed under her own power to the United States for definitive repairs. They’re all hoping to go to New York. So are we, but I’m afraid it’s going to be South Carolina again.
Tuesday, 7 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. Today we penetrated the secrets of the famous “Rock”. We have come to know the British Officers in command and they really are putting themselves to a great deal of trouble in showing us around. We not only explored the 2 underground hospitals tunneled deep in the rock sixty feet below the surface. We further visited the many caves and tunnels as well as the original defenses, and we all wonder why Hitler didn’t capture Gibraltar at the beginning of the war, as it was then almost unprotected, and he could have taken it in a few weeks’ time. Now it is a fortress, impregnable!
I remarked such a distinctive difference between British Enlisted personnel and ours. I wonder if the English boys will put up with so much class distinction after the war and whether they will demand universal education as we give our kids in the States. There is such a difference between British soldiers and Officers, in their way of speaking, their bearing, and their education.
Wednesday, 8 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. Nothing of importance happened today. I spent most of the time taking some photographs to use in a passport to try and visit Spain but the red tape is terrible. There’s nothing to see, but it is a way to break the monotony of this place. We sent several cartons of cigarettes to the Spanish Consul so we may expect a little more rapid reaction. It’s only a few steps to La Linea across the border and only a few miles to Algeciras. Speaking of Axis spies, the day we pulled into the dock, the same evening we heard the German radio announce that the “Acadia”, an American Hospital Ship was in Gibraltar filled with wounded. We were here all right, but very empty. Pure Nazi propaganda.
We have Spanish and British engineers repairing the engine, and while they do excellent work, they are terribly slow, and we will be fortunate if our ship sails out of here in another week. In the evening we all went back to the “Rock Hotel” and attended a dinner dance given for the girls on our boat. With the extra Hospital Platoon Nurses, our girls are more than welcome, and to the British this is the largest number of military females that have been in Gibraltar since war was declared, so everyone had a grand time. The food was scant and terrible, but the music excellent. The amount of drinking that goes on at such parties is astounding. It seems to be the only form of amusement. I was surprised at the poor quality and condition of the Officers’ uniforms in the British Army. These poor devils get very little pay and then have to pay back 50% to the Government as income tax. We certainly are more fortunate!
Thursday, 9 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. I spent the whole morning with Colonel Nicholson, the British Chief Surgeon of Gibraltar, and made the surgical rounds with him in several of the Hospitals. The buildings are frightfully old and in shocking condition (put in the British way), but the type of work turned out is excellent. It just proves it is the individual and not the tools that do the job. What impressed me most was the impersonal way in which the Medical Officers treated the British EM. They all stood at ease by their beds and when we stood opposite each man, he immediately came to attention and recited his case to us. If the men hadn’t talked, it would almost have seemed as though we were making rounds in a Veterinary Hospital. Discipline is a wonderful tool, but in an institution set up for the care of the sick and the wounded, I feel that a kind word, now and then, goes a long way toward the cure. Several times I have had some of the British lads approach me and ask if they could be allowed to talk to my Nurses. “You know, we aren’t permitted to talk to the British Sisters, and I haven’t talked to an English-speaking woman for two years”.
I have opened up our own Hospital for general inspection, and it keeps 2 Officers and 2 Nurses busy showing the many visitors around. We have a fine ship as this is the FIRST US Army Hospital Ship to be permitted to dock inside the mole. I want them all to see it.
Friday, 10 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. I haven’t been off the ship, but spent the day taking visitors around the “Acadia”. In the evening we are showing a movie to the sailors of one of the Royal Navy destroyers. Dates with our Nurses have increased to such an extent that I had to put two extra runners at the gangway to run back and forth with the appointments. Several of the girls have been invited aboard a large submarine in the harbor, and another group are visiting the battleship HMS “Warspite” that lies just down the dock from us.
Saturday, 11 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. Caught up with my work today. Our ship moved down the mole alongside an American oil tanker, to make room for the battleship “King George V” (Royal Navy battleship, launched 1939, commissioned 1940, with 10 14-in guns, speed 28 knots –ed). In the evening I was the guest of the American Consul, Commander O’Brien, and the British Attorney General, the Right Honorable Lockhart-Smith. I have never seen a man drink so much and stay sober and congenial. He invited me to visit his villa in Spain before we leave. Our passports came in this afternoon, and we’re all ready to go visit Spain. I borrowed a civilian suit from Frank Cerimelli (member of the crew). We all travel in civvies, although our passports state that we are American military and give our rank and status, we must put on civilian clothes or we are liable to internment.
Sunday, 12 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. The work on the engine is progressing slowly and we may get out of here by the middle of next week or the last day of the week. According to the chief mechanic, the engine will have to be taken apart in the States, as the shop here is unable to straighten the turbine shaft.
In the afternoon we went to the “Rock Hotel”, changed into civilian clothes and crossed over into Spain with Colonel Forster, the US Military Liaison Officer on The Rock. The first town, La Linea, is just across the border on flat grounds. On either side of the border the place bristles with MGs in concrete pillboxes, and one of us has to drive carefully over a road, almost completely obstructed by barriers and flanked by barbed wire entanglements. When we approach the British side, our US passports are taken from us and we each sign a large register. We could take nothing as luggage with us, and our cash was limited to ten shillings (approximately US$ 2.00) and two packages of cigarettes. Upon arrival on the Spanish side, we were checked for contraband, changed our British currency into Spanish pesetas and had the time of arrival and place stamped on the passport. Food is extremely expensive, though some items as perfumes are rather cheap. It really is impossible to get anything through the gate. I saw no men in civilian clothes the short time we spent in the place. Both young and old were in uniform, and the town of La Linea looked like an armed camp. We drove to the town of San Roque where we drank some fine Spanish sherry and visited an old Catholic church. It rained continuously and we were happy to get back to Gibraltar in time for tea. This tea business to the British is a rite that can take from one to two hours.
Two Nurses of the 204th Medical Hospital Ship Company in North Africa. Picture taken in 1943. Courtesy Carlie McMahan.
Monday, 13 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. Today we took another trip to Spain, and drove directly to Algeciras, where we had some excellent food at a road café. The wine is cheap but the food is expensive. In Algeciras we visited the gardens then went to the “Hotel Cristina” for a round of tea. It was a gorgeous place formerly owned by an English Lord, but now under control of the Germans. The hotel stands on high grounds overlooking the bay of Gibraltar. I looked across it and saw a large Allied convoy crossing into the Mediterranean. One of the girls called my attention to the hotel roof and there was a man on the top with powerful glasses, making no pretense at any secrecy, taking down full information of the ships in the convoy, to be sent to Germany.
Tuesday, 14 December 1943 > Gibraltar, The Rock. We expect to have the engine repaired by noon today and if the trial run is successful we will continue our journey and be in Oran, Algeria, in the morning, if nothing else goes wrong. We have had a grand time here, but this isn’t helping the war effort. At noon we moved to the detached mole, a kind of small cement island in the middle of the harbor, and we froze the boat (so, I won’t have to worry about shore leave and drunks before we hit Africa again). It is 1500 hours and the engine will not be finished before tomorrow. We had another group of British in to see another movie. Our boys have so much more than our British Allies and still aren’t satisfied!
Wednesday, 15 December 1943 > Gibraltar + At Sea. The port engine was run for two hours this afternoon and it isn’t any better than when we came in. The most important repair cannot be done here and we will probably have to return to the Zone of Interior with a crippled engine as I don’t believe it can be repaired in Africa. Oran wants to give us an overload of mental cases, and none of us relish the idea of taking a shipload of crazy people on a long trip with the possibility of getting stranded in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Besides, we are about 30 understaffed, due to sickness and loss of the ones we left in the States. 1600 and we are at sea again with a speed of about 12 knots and vibrating like the devil. 2200 and the ship is vibrating so badly that a heavy fire extinguisher nearly fell from the wall before the engine was stopped. The Captain came back and told me that we had lost the use of the port engine completely and would have to sail with one only. We’ll have to pay a terrible price for the two weeks in Gibraltar and all the time lost. It looks as though our good ‘luck’ is beginning to run out. I wonder what will happen to us now. We can go back on a single engine but I would hate to be loaded with patients in such a situation.
Thursday, 16 December 1943 > Algeria. We move to Oran with signals telling all the other boats to “stand clear – out of control” and the port sent out tugs to help bring us into the harbor. We certainly have messed up with the Medical Department’s schedule by coming in almost three weeks late. The Port Surgeon met us and I find out that Colonel H. J. Hutter has gone back to the Zone of Interior on the rotation plan (he was able to fly back with his son, a pilot, who had just completed 60 missions over enemy territory). At 1500, we were coming back from Headquarters and watched a large convoy come into Oran, when suddenly a large column of smoke appeared over one of the ships and shortly afterwards several destroyers steamed rapidly out of the harbor. It wasn’t till late this afternoon that we heard the final report. After we talked to several German PWs in the Hospital Center, we found out that they had been taken from the sinking sub that had just torpedoed two ships in that convoy, right under our very noses. Imagine, we had come in over that very U-boat just before she fired her torpedoes at the convoy. It does show that they give us some consideration (Geneva Convention-protected vessel). The USS “Vulcan”, AR-5, the Navy repair ship (remember July 1943) is in the harbor and their expert just advised me that we will be here for at least a week. I therefore called Brigadier General F. A. Blesse and have been ordered to Algiers for a conference. We are to take back with us 150 locked mental cases, and we only have 42 locked cages on board. This next trip will be ‘special’, but we have to get these poor devils back some way, and the “Acadia” seems to be the best bet! We all hope the engine won’t break down again, as that many insane boys could tear the boat to pieces if they start to panic.
Friday, 17 December 1943 > Algeria. The engineers from the “Vulcan” are going to short circuit the steam from the high pressure turbine that broke down and send it through the expansion chamber of the same engine, thus giving us an engine and one half to go back in. This should allow us to reach 15 knots and take about two weeks for the journey. We received seventeen bags of mail today, but they were all parcel post, with only a few old letters. I find after inquiring that all first class mail will be held up until after the coming Christmas holidays, so I guess I will not hear from home until we return.
Saturday, 18 December 1943 > Algeria. Captain Alexander S. Forster (my Chief of Dental Service) and I took the 0800 plane for Algiers and arrived around 1030 to find General Smith’s car waiting for us. At La Sénia airport I met Captain Edgar Marston, in command of the USAAF complement in Algeria. Al Forster went with Colonel Reeder, while I had dinner with General Smith. He is going to be absent for some time until after Xmas, but he promised he will try to get us on the next invasion. I had a long conference with General F. A. Blesse and General Stewart, responsible for transportation at the latter’s villa. I learned that among the seventeen ships that were sunk at Bari (German air raid, 2 December 1943 –ed), equipment for five complete Hospital units was lost. All that is going to be very difficult to replace.
Sunday, 19 December 1943 > Algeria. Brigadier General Frederick A. Blesse feels that the Army should have many more Hospital Ships, smaller than ours, but equipped with small ambulance boats, that can go ashore during an attack to pick up the wounded. He says it’s almost impossible to land an Evacuation or a Field Hospital for at least 5 to 10 days after an amphibious assault. In spite of what they think in Washington, he is asking for that particular type of boat. I spend most of my time to make the ‘desk people’ see our viewpoint, or at least take some with me to observe what really happens on a Hospital Ship. But every trip finds a new lot of rules and regulations that are not applicable to our work. The Lord only knows what awaits us.
The fighting Generals are complaining about the high rate of mental cases returning from the front, but they won’t listen to recommendations from the Medical Corps, that these soldiers in Italy are being kept too long in one position, and that most men can’t take such a mental and physical beating without a deserved rest, be it only for a few days. The longer men remain in the combat zone, the greater the number of NP cases.
Algiers is filled with French troops, all dressed in American uniforms. Some wear distinguishing emblems, but if a soldier removes his headdress, the only means of identification is the language he speaks. Some American GIs take advantage of this situation. When one of our boys in the area wants a few extra hours at night and can get by the base sentry or barracks guard at his Post, he just walks by with his hat off, and when accosted by one of the MPs, he looks blankly at him and says; “Pas compris”. The Military Policeman usually says: “another damn Frenchie”, and leaves him unmolested. However, if the MP speaks and understands French, which is seldom the case, the soldier is completely out of luck!
Monday, 20 December 1943 > Algeria. After returning from Algiers, and back in Oran, I talked with the repair crew. I find the engine has been patched up enough to allow us to sail about next Wednesday under reduced speed and with an indefinite time of arrival. We went for a visit in the area and passed hundreds of trucks, armored cars, half-tracks, and ambulances going towards Algiers, driven by French troops dressed and armed by the Americans. Something big must be prepared, as we observed all along the quays at Oran, large numbers of French soldiers being loaded into transports. It must be that we’re going to invade France early in the New Year or next spring. The toll will be terrible, but it must be started some time while the enemy divisions are held in the Balkans, in Italy, and in the East. Germany is well spread out now and will be kept that way until General Eisenhower is ready to strike again.
Tuesday, 21 December 1943 > Algeria. The engine has now been partially repaired and the dock trial successful, so we will begin loading at 0800 in the morning and have a sailing time around 1630 tomorrow afternoon.
|Map of the North African Theater and the Mediterranean area, illustrating major military operations in the region (1942-1944).|
Wednesday, 22 December 1943 > Algeria + At Sea. Just before daylight we took on our 150 NP cases; they were brought to the “Acadia” heavily guarded. Two men came with each patient, and after boarding, they were taken to our security cages where we will only have 7 guards for the batch of them. If they really want, one real wild guy can tear the place apart. I hope Acadia’s luck will hold this trip. I meanwhile moved places with Al Forster, so that I can be nearer to our Chaplain. There’s a heavy gale blowing at this moment and I guess we will probably be late in leaving as the opening of the harbor protective nets is very narrow and difficult to maneuver for a ship our size. 1800 hours; we are at sea in rough weather, with a sick lot of passengers.
Thursday, 23 December 1943 > At Sea. We have had a rough night. At 1540, we passed The Rock of Gibraltar and by 1800 we were well into the Atlantic, with the seas running high and everything lashed tightly. At 2030 the engines suddenly stopped, along with my heart… I quickly ran to the bridge and found it was only to permit a convoy to pass us in the dark. You can’t tell how relieved I felt.
Friday, 24 December 1943 > At Sea. Early this morning one of our colored mental cases rushed the guard and vaulted over a railing, he thought was the ship’s side, and landed on the steel floor of ‘E’ deck. It must have been quite a surprise not to land in water and death. Fortunately, he didn’t break anything, not even sprained his ankle and only succeeded in frightening the guard. While listening to the radio, we missed President Roosevelt’s speech, but got a good reception of Goebbels’ propaganda oration to the German soldiers in the field. It’s the first time I hear him speak, what a master of language, I can well understand why Adolf Hitler has kept him in this position.
I talked to a wounded Medical Officer we are taking back from Naples, Italy. He tells me that the VD rate in Italy is much worse than in Africa.
|Typical view of Officers' lounge and recreation room, on board a US Army Hospital Ship.|
Saturday, 25 December 1943 > At Sea. Christmas Day at sea. We’re thousands of miles from home, with a world at war, and a ship filled with wounded from the African and the Mediterranean battlefields. All this doesn’t really harbor a thought of joy or happiness. There is only ONE place I wish to be, and only my thoughts can carry me there. I wonder where we will be a year from now? Beside the heavily load of mental cases to be closely watched, nearly all of the boys are so seriously wounded that they probably have seen their last battlefield, in the Mediterranean Theater. Their greatest struggle lies ahead when they join the forgotten legions of war cripples that have years of suffering and hardship ahead of them. In one of my wards we have 19 young boys who have been shot through the spine. Totally paralysed from the waist down, completely incontinent, they will become a care and hindrance to their loved ones until the good Lord takes them.
Sunday, 26 December 1943 > At Sea. The ocean has quieted down considerably and we have been able to get our speed up to 13 knots. If we are fortunate enough, we may reach Charleston, S.C., by 5 January. We all pray to be sent north (read New York –ed) for repairs so that home will be nearer and we can be certain of serious and decent work being done on the “Acadia”. With another invasion coming up, I will feel a lot better with two good engines to run with if we have to. During the night another of our psychos got past the guard and it was several hours before we found him hiding elsewhere. Jumping over the side seems to be the solution to their troubles. Another one made a club out of tightly rolled paper and a small towel and nearly got one of the guards. Constant vigilance is our only safeguard. We however take a few of them at a time on ‘B’ deck for some air and exercise, but it remains a precarious job, as anything can happen. Some of my men are becoming disturbed and show signs of cracking. As we’re going to be in the States several weeks for repairs, I’m going to put every one of them in a General Hospital in South Carolina, without leaves. The last trip home they all got suddenly well just a few days prior to debarkation, and I gave them all furloughs. This time, I’m afraid it won’t work, now that the boat is only 5-6 days from the States, this same bunch of Goldbrickers are hounding my office for leaves.
Monday, 27 December 1943 > At Sea. Just about noon today, Captain “Jack” set the fire alarm. A small fire had broken out in the forecastle from a short circuit and he went completely to pieces, shrieking and yelling incoherently over the loudspeaker and shaking like an aspen leaf. I went down to check my wards, after I had first gone to the bridge and determined it couldn’t be such a disaster, and found that our regular boat and fire drills were working beautifully. A hundred of the mental cases were locked in the dining room for lunch, with the guards keeping everything under perfect order, and none of them knew of the incident.
Tuesday, 28 December 1943 > At Sea. We have been showing movies. Another uneventful day.
Wednesday, 29 December 1943 > At Sea. Still in the Atlantic. We are carrying back a good number of Officer patients this trip and some of them of fairly high rank. Some of their physical diagnoses look very obscure. After transporting so many patients, we find that an obscure diagnosis usually is the means of the men in other units, of getting rid of Officers who are of no use in combat, or are hindering the work of others. We have one pompous old devil who wanted the Nurses put out the private rooms so that he and his fellow Officers could have them. I reminded him that he was no longer an Officer but a patient, and that no matter what his rank was before admission to the Hospital, all patients were equal, and that he should be happy to be on a Hospital Ship and not on a regular transport. He then wanted to make his complaint to the ship’s Surgeon, and when I told him that I was also the Surgeon on board, he quit and went back to his area. I’m sure he’ll write a letter to Congress.
Thursday, 30 December 1943 > At Sea. Another uneventful day at sea.
Friday, 31 December 1943 > At Sea. The day is uneventful, but in the late afternoon we had a riot in ‘E4’ where most of the mental cases are kept, and it was only with great difficulty that we succeeded in finally quieting them. A few so-called Southern gentlemen began a fight with some black patients and got the worst of the bargain. We are so heavily loaded with bad cases that we cannot separate them. At 2100 we organized a New Year’s party in one of the Officer’s cabins, and drank a bottle of French Champagne that we had saved for the occasion. I spent the rest of the night patroling the ship watching our NP cases with the other Officers. The only method is to watch each patient closely and the minute he gets into the excitement stage, and before he has a chance to become violent, grab him and give him sufficient sedation to keep him quiet for ten or twelve hours. Sometimes when they awaken after a good long heavy sleep, they remain quiet for several days.
|Partial view of "Fore 'n Aft" Newsletter published at sea by the 204th Medical Hospital Ship Company (USAHS "Acadia"). This particular issue is Vol I, No. 7, covering the week of November 21-27, 1943 (the first newsletter was published 22 September 1943).|
Saturday, 1 January 1944 > At Sea. A NEW YEAR has begun. Everything is quiet, except some of our mental cases, and each day they get a little worse. Among the mental patients, we have 19 suffering from epilepsy. When one has convulsions, another is having a fight, or tries to escape. 112 crazy men in an open ward (we have not enough cages) is really something dangerous to cope with. I wish some of the men who designed the locking cages and security wards would make a trip with us. The last time I was visiting Washington, I suggested the return of the old cages, the simple reply I received wasn’t “Will it be better for the patients?” but, What would Congressmen think if they saw it?”
Sunday, 2 January 1944 > At Sea. The sea has been exceptionally calm and with our present speed of 13 knots we should make Charleston POE by Wednesday if nothing else happens.
Monday, 3 January 1944 > At Sea. More trouble in the mental locking cages, otherwise everything is quiet. The boys are a little jittery as they know we are sitting on top of a powder keg with these nuts and anything can happen. Just after dark, and after rounds, someone saw some black smoke coming from one of the ventilators. The Captain was immediately notified and we began a careful search of the ship, with the smoke getting more noticeable. Just as we were to turn on a general alarm, the cause was found in the pathological laboratory where some of the boys had improvised a makeshift oven to roast chestnuts they had gotten in Italy before we left.
Tuesday, 4 January 1944 > At Sea. We are only about 420 miles from the coast and should reach port sometime tomorrow afternoon, 5 January 1944…
|3 members of the 204th Medical Hospital Ship Platoon while on leave in Oran, Algeria. Picture taken 30 December 1944. From L to R: Robert C. Buck, John P. Feltenberger, and Joseph Cristini.
Courtesy Joe Cristini (son of Vet Joseph Cristini).
Wednesday, 5 January 1944 > Charleston, S.C., Port of Embarkation, Zone of Interior. Steaming into the east coast port of Charleston, South Carolina, the US Army Hospital Ship “Acadia” brought a batch of wounded, but happy Yanks, back home. A fleet of ambulances and buses, accompanied by scores of medical personnel were lined up to receive the patients, while two military bands ashore struck up a medley of popular tunes and swing music. The vessel carried 776 American war casualties, including 291 litter cases and 150 mental patients. In little more than five hours, they were taken to Stark General Hospital. From there they will be moved to other General Hospitals as near as possible to their hometown areas. Doctors said that the majority of those aboard, the mental cases, those who suffered blindness or were deafened, or had lost arms or legs, would be transferred to other ‘specialized’ Hospitals or discharged in a short time. Many of the patients, after extensive treatment or long convalescence, will be returned to duty –ed.
The USAHS “Acadia” further participated in Operation “Shingle”, the landing at Anzio, Italy (22 January 1944), and in Operation “Dragoon”, the amphibious assault on Southern France (15 August 1944). In order to help meet requirements for more Hospital Ships in the Pacific Theater, it was decided to send the “Acadia” to operate there. After some minor repairs and modifications in New York, she sailed to Los Angeles, California, from where she departed for Manila, the Philippines. In January 1946 another trip was scheduled across the Pacific, but while en route to Manila, orders were received from Washington ordering the “Acadia” to be decommissioned as a Hospital Ship (WDGO # 17 dated 11 February 1946). After arrival in the Philippines, all Geneva Convention identification was painted out, and after receiving a layer of Navy gray, she began carrying troops once more to and from the Zone of Interior. While now based in San Francisco, the ship continued to service US Armed Forces in the Pacific between 22 March and 2 May 1946 –ed.
|Copy of official Commendation for Meritorious Service to the 204th Hospital Ship Company - USAHS "Acadia" from General D. D. Eisenhower.|
Commendation for Meritorious Service: Colonel H. V. Roberts, Adjutant General, Headquarters NATOUSA
Radiogram No. 1: General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander-in-Chief, 25 September 1943
Commendation: Brigadier General Frederick A. Blesse, Theater Surgeon, NATOUSA, 13 October 1943
Commendation: Lieutenant Colonel Horace W. Shreck, 8th Port of Embarkation Surgeon, Charleston POE, South Carolina, 16 December 1944
Commendation: Brigadier General James T. Duke, Headquarters, Charleston POE, South Carolina, 13 June 1945
|“Bon Voyage” party for the 204th Medical Hospital Ship Company and merchant crew in New York, 15 October 1945. Courtesy Joe Cristini.|
The MRC Staff would like to dedicate this Timeline of the US Army Hospital Ship “Acadia” especially to Pharmacist Martin Lipschultz who served on the Acadia in World War 2. “Marty” just recently lost his last battle and sadly passed away 28 August 2010. We developed respect and admiration for this Veteran who notwithstanding the odds always kept fighting back with a touch of optimism. We very much appreciated the fact that he generously and spontaneously shared his WW2 reminiscences with us. It is a real pity Marty will never read the above, for I’m sure he would have enjoyed browsing through it all … nevertheless, in my mind, he IS part of this project! Thank you Marty, and all those members of the Greatest Generation who served aboard USAHS “Acadia”. We owe YOU (Alain/MRC).