Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Short History of USAAC in World War I

The United States Army Ambulance Corps was a service born at the beginning of the First World War in 1914. In September of 1914 the concept of the United States Army Ambulance Service came about via a Professor of Classics, Richard Norton. Norton, having visited an American Hospital overseas, realized that delay in the transportation of battle casualties from the front to hospitals often resulted in higher mortality, and intensified suffering.
 My grandfather's arm band that he wore during his time in Section 625. Note the French "Minister of War" stamp.


Norton arranged for a dozen Ford Model T automobiles, donated by Americans, to be converted into ambulances marking the beginning of the United States Army Ambulance Service. Including United States Army Ambulance Service (USAAS) the service took on other names: American Field Service and the commonly known USAAC or United States Army Ambulance Corps. The new ambulance service, manned primarily by college age volunteers from the Unites States, replaced the French Transport Corps. The French Transport Corps utilized horse drawn wagons to transport the wounded Poilus (soldiers) to aid stations behind the front lines. The French wagon trips were brutal: Few of the wagons had springs, and the arduous trip compounded the agony of the already wounded men.  USAAC ambulances were able to shorten the trip to twenty or thirty minutes compared to an hour long plus journey in a French horse drawn wagon.

Volunteer members of USAAC were each assigned to a section. Each section consisted of twenty to thirty men and each group was assigned a Sanitation group to serve only one section. The Sanitation groups consisted of men who were trained in First Aid and had some medical training. Later in the war the section numbers grew to around 40 men each, and some groups were combined later in the war. For example, Forsyth was originally a member of section 88 which was later combined making Section 625. By October of 1915 the service was associated with the American Red Cross. It had 60 ambulance cars and had carried over 28,000 wounded. By 1917, after America entered the war, USAAC had over 100 “ambulance cars” in service.

Each section had detailed duties they performed. Some of the tasks included taking apart and putting together vehicles. When a group of men first arrived from American they had to take apart ambulances and load them up on a carrier which would transport them closer to the front. After both the men and the vehicles reached a destination the drivers were required to unload the parts and put together the ambulances. The ambulance crews were also in charge of loading the proper supplies on to each ambulance and making sure each first aid station was supplied with enough materials.
Church edifices were often used for locating field hospitals. The photo, above, shows the preparation of one such church in 1918.

Other support functions provided by USAAC included  mobile hospitals. These hospitals had a capacity averaging around 140 wounded. Each Section had the ability to pack up the hospital completely, transport to a new location, and then reset in less than three hours, a precursor of the MASH units of later years.

It is not possible to accurately state the number of wounded men whose lives were saved because quick transport to field hospitals was available. However suffering was reduced, and those on the home fronts, both in Europe and in the States, appreciated knowing that the men of USAAC were there in the middle of it, ready and willing to provide aid.

3 comments:

alan said...

Thanks for link. See Kep's diary at http://blip.tv/file/3654734

Fred Platt said...

Thank you for these articles. My grandfather was an ambulance driver in WWI, and I can find very little information due to the fire in St. Louis archives. He enlisted in June 1918, and was on the front somewhere in France. That is all I know.

bn1961 said...

Hey Fred, do a search for Camp Crane. It was in Allentown Pa. I had 2 Great Uncles that also served in the USAAC. You can also check this site- http://www.ourstory.info/library/2-ww1/Smucker/usaac11.html.