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"Army Medical Conditions in North Africa" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A report on medical conditions in North Africa during WWII, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 33, September 9, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


a. General

A very recent article by a British medical observer in North Africa has come to hand, from which the following article has been taken. It is of interest to the non-medical as well as Medical Corps personnel.

Among the miscellaneous observations noted was that while lice were well controlled in British and American troops, 20 to 25 percent of the captured German troops and practically all the natives were lousy. As lice carry the dangerous typhus fever, the freedom of Allied troops from the vermin is commendable. Venereal disease rates in both British and American forces were unexpectedly low. Dysentery, which might have been expected in Africa, was likewise not severe. Malaria infection has not yet become a serious problem, but more is expected as the rainy season advances. Among British and American troops, no tetanus was observed, a remarkable tribute to the antitetanus vaccination, but captured German personnel suffered from it. Gas gangrene, which haunted the hospitals in France during the First World War, has been cut to 51 cases and 13 deaths in from 10,000 to 12,000 wounded. Here it will be noted that North Africa is a country where gas gangrene is to be looked for, at least in the cultivated areas.

The incidence of psychoneurotic cases among the American forces was high, especially where connected with extreme fatigue and nervous exhaustion. Some appeared to be caused by blast injuries (shell shock). Most of these were treated in the forward areas and returned to duty.

b. German Field Evacuation of Casualties

Forward field evacuation of the German forces seems to be handled similarly to that in the American Army, there being company first aid men and stretcher bearers. A German division consists of three regiments and contains one or two medical companies (Sanitatskompanie) which are similar to the British field ambulance organization. Each of these two organizations consists of eight doctors, who in the German Army are not given military rank, and 180* medical department soldiers. Each company was broken down into a headquarters and two other sections. Each section was prepared to perform surgical operations and had a surgeon attached to it. One X-ray unit per divison was furnished. An ophthalmologist was also occasionally attached to a company. The use of the personnel of this organization does not seem to have been stereotyped but was subject to variation as the situation demanded.

There was a regimental aid post near the front lines and evacuation to the rear was direct by ambulance. The next step in the chain of evacuation was Feldlazarett (field hospital) with a normal capacity of 200 beds. This hospital was staffed by eight doctors, of whom three were surgeons; 200* enlisted men were attached. Further to the rear was found a Kreigslazarett (probably evacuation hospital) with a bed capacity of 400 and capable of expanision to 700. During the North African campaign no hospitals of larger capacities were to be found behind the German lines. Evacuation of casualties from the Kreigslazarett was by air to the Mediterranean Islands or to Italy. Following air supremacy by the Allies evacuation of patients by air became difficult and the German hospitals were greatly crowded.

On the whole in the last phases of the North African campaign the wounds seen in captured German soldiers were more severe than those experienced by our own men. Mortar fire seemed to produce particularly severe types of wounds. The severer German casualties were attributed to superiority in artillery fire and air attack by the Allies.

*These figures do not correspond to other reports on the organizational strength of these units.


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