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"Observations -- German Medical Services" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following observations on German medical services during WWII were originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 45, April 1, 1944.

[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.]


An Allied army medical officer who observed the functioning of the German army medical services on the island of Leros and aboard a German hospital ship has concluded that the German medical staff had inadequate personnel, lacked professional skill and did not have the necessary medical supplies in this particular operation. The following specific observations were made by the Allied medical officer referred to above.

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The Germans appeared to make no use of sulphonamide powder in the first aid treatment of wounds, nor of sulphonamides by mouth in prevention of wound sepsis. On board the hospital ship, the only two drugs of this type observed in the dispensary were "Prontosil Puder" and "Sulfapyridin". The maker's name was Schering and there appeared to be only a small quantity of these available.

A German nurse dressed one of the wounded on board ship with the paper pulp dressing they employ. The technique was as follows: -- a large piece of this material, quite unsterile, was smeared with vaseline from a tube and applied, in this case, to a below-the-knee amputation stump. When the limb was redressed two days later the dressing was like rock, as a result of hardening of the discharge on this material. The stump was also raw red and suppurating freely, although it had been previously healthy. This paper pulp dressing was used quite freely and the sterile swabs used in the operating theater consisted of a core of this material surrounded by a single layer of gauze.

After the battle on Leros, a German battalion medical officer asked if he could be supplied with first aid field dressings as he had none for his men and they were leaving the island the following day.

In one case a German medical officer developed a septic hand -- a simple enough condition that could have been cured in two or three days by incision and the use of sulfa drugs -- and the Italian medical officer in charge merely splinted and bandaged it. Three days later the condition had become much worse and the German medical officer was evacuated by plane.

In one German installation a single, rather elderly, German private appeared to be the sole medical person in charge. He had not seen the German medical officer since he had arrived. There appeared to be little discipline or organization in the running of the establishment, at least from the medical point of view.

On board the hospital ship one man who had a cranial injury was treated by the German surgeon. The patient had been unconscious for several hours and his pupils were progressively dilating, indicating increasing intracranial tension, probably due to haemorrhage. This German surgeon proceeded to inject intravenously 50 cc of hypertonic saline pointing out that his senior physician had advised him to do so. This is, however, quite contrary to accepted teaching and the patient died two hours later. The same surgeon had never heard of a Thomas splint and asked what it was when he saw it being used. He also talked of pinning compound fractures of the femur, even in the presence of sepsis, and said that at a recent meeting of surgeons in Berlin this proceeding had been praised.

In one ward of a German hospital on Leros, fourteen German wounded were deposited one night. They had already been treated by the Italian surgeons, but on inspection several wounds were found that had been overlooked, in particular a compound fracture of the humerus. No German medical personnel appeared to take any further interest in these men until they were removed 36 hours later. They lay on mattresses on the floor in a filthy condition and depended for attention on Allied medical officers and some Sisters of Mercy.

NOTE. A specimen sample of the pulp dressing mentioned above has been examined. The pulp dressing consists of about half a dozen sheets of thin, 4 x 4 inch wood pulp paper similar to facial tissues. The dressing pads were similar with the exception of a single sheet of gauze on the top of the dressing.


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