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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Planning transport into France of soldiers and wounded from front lines to home

Photo Copyright, Jo-Ann Power.
Fort Sam Houston Medical Museum,
San Antonio, Texas.
Transporting all Americans, both military personnel and medical staff, into France to the front lines was a huge logistical problem.
This is one reason why arrival of American fighting force levels took nearly a full year from the date of declaration of war.
The flow of personnel in presented one challenge. However removing wounded American soldiers from the A.E.F. front lines back through French countryside to base hospitals, rehabilitation sites, onward to the French Atlantic coast and home to the United States was an immensely more complex logistical challenge.
Planning routes was the first task, but in fact, the simplest. Drawing lines on a map seems easy, yet the best routes were not the ones which could be used. The front lines of British and French troops meant a southwest exit from American lines northeast and east of Paris was necessary. But huge problems existed.

Most American soldiers did not speak French. Secondly, they served in a terrain new to them.  Still more confounding was the fact that French rail lines were badly in need of repair and without synchronized gauges to lock one train route/system to another. (French trains transporting nurses from their embarkation point in St. Nazaire often stopped at the end of a line for hours awaiting the next train east. Nurses recount stories of waiting, tired, hungry and often bitterly cold.)
Here are a few pictures of the types of transport and machinery needed to ensure adequate transport home for wounded American soldiers.
Horse-drawn ambulance
Photo, Copyright Jo-Ann Power.
Exhibit: Fort Sam Houston Medical Museum,
San Antonio, Texas

Interior of motorized ambulance, U.S. Army Ambulance Service

Transport by boat and barge was also necessary. These, like ambulance trains, had nursing staff to aid wounded during their journey across country and on the Atlantic Ocean.
Hospital barge, stretcher bearers and nurse on board.
Interior of hospital train ward car, shown from attendant's compartment.
Nurses served as attendants on these transports because the nature of many soldiers' conditions were precarious. Doctors were needed at the front, as were male stretcher bearers. Nurses on board responded to the immediate needs of wounded men whose physical needs could change in an instant.
Here is the photograph of the interior of an operating room on board a hospital train.

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