Report written by Sabersky about "The Sanitary Company 3 in the Summer Offensive in Russia in 1915 and in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 - a description of the activity of its military section" ["Die Sanitätskompagnie 3 in der Sommeroffensive in Russland 1915 und in der Sommeschlacht 1916 - eine Schilderung der Tätigkeit ihres militarische Teils"]
Document in German
Sabersky describes the activities of the Sanitary Company 3 [Sanitäts Kompagnie 3, Garde-Reserve-Korps], who worked it seems primarily with the 4. Garde Infanterie Division in Poland and Russia in the Summer Offensive of 1915 and in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
The Sanitary Company 3 in the Summer Offensive in Russia in 1915 and in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 - a description of the activity of its military section
The main job of the Sanitary Company is first aid for the wounded during and after combat.
Its stretcher-bearers have to locate the wounded on the combat field and deliver medical help - 121 subsections 1 and 2 of the K.S.O. [Kriegssanitätsordnung - Field Medical Regulations].
The Sanitary Company's sphere of activity is the Division.
To complete its job the Sanitary Company has 192 stretcher-bearers and 8 2-horse ambulances at its disposal. The other 6 vehicles of the Company are used at the main dressing station [Hauptverbandplatz], in addition 6 sanitary dogs with trainers.
Three tactical moments determine the success of the Sanitary Company's mission, two locational, the position of the main dressing station and the position of the wagon parking. For the location of the main dressing station 123 defines, it should be "not too far away" from the location of the causalities, it must be removed from rifle fire, when possible also from gun fire; the selection of its general position is determined by the Division - 122 of the K.S.O. [Kriegssanitätsordnung - Field Medical Regulations] - The wagon parking place, or, in case of need, multiple parking places, should be placed at the site of the causalities or the shortest possible distance from there. The decision about this is made by the commander of the Sanitary Company -129-. The K.S.O. -122- [Kriegssanitätsordnung - Field Medical Regulations] provides the Division's ordered time for set up, basically need to wait until the combat location ensures enduring and effective deployment of the Company.
The regulations are, as is visible in their content and even in their wording - "location of combat" ["Ort der Verluste"] - intended for pure mobile warfare and for short single battles. We will see, that the regulation's few words were enough to usefully organize the transport of the injured to the 26 dressing stations during the Summer Offensive in Russia in 1915 and the Division's periods of battle north and south of the River Somme in summer of 1916.
I. Summer Offensive in Russia 1915
At the beginning of the Summer Offensive in Russia, on July 13th, the Company's personnel and material was all accounted for and in the best condition; the three days, that the Company already stayed in Ulatawo Slabogore, the location of its future main dressing station, were used to build bunkers for the wounded [Verwundetenunterstände] with the help of the Landwehr pioneers, which were princely in comparison to future accommodation possibilities. The fleet of wagons was enlarged with 6 two-horse local-standard vehicles, the ambulances became three-horse through the addition of Polish horses. The main dressing station was 5 km behind the front, separated from it by swamp and forest, where no accommodation for the wounded was possible. Wagon parking places were by every one of the three Regiments at the level of the battalion's battle headquarters [Battailonsgefechtsstände]. Evacuation promised to take place easily, because the tired horses could be relieved through fresh ones in the pack and sanitary wagons relived with the support of farm wagons. Then something totally unexpected happened. The Division advanced stormily. The larger part of the Company received the order to follow at 6 in the afternoon and erected the main dressing station Jednorocek that same evening. All the wagons were occupied with the transport of materials, so that only the 8 ambulances remained for the evacuation of 400 wounded who were unable to walk. An approximately 500-meter-long log causeway and the deepest sand paths in the forest made the work more difficult. Considering that every wagon can accommodate on average 6,8 wagons [sic] so around 50 wounded, that means 8 times back and forth for the horses over 10 kilometers, that means [they cover] 80 kilometers from which 40 kilometers is with a full vehicle.
The first dressing station of the Summer Offensive of 1915 immediately exposed the shortages, the fight against which became one of the main tasks of the Company, the shortage of horses and vehicles. The design of ambulance 95 intensified the emergency. With an empty weight of 22 hundredweights [22 x 50 kilograms] its wide track, low speed in sand and its circumference made it almost unusable for Russian paths. Also the relatively small difficulty of enlarging the fleet, through commandeered country carts [Landesfahrzeuge], did not rectify the emergency, because there was not horse feed for an excessive number of horses - the Company already had double the number of its allocation, and though the Panje horses are frugal when they do light work, when they work hard work they also demand food.
The next 13 days with their casualty stations in Bobiny-Wielkie, Czeglin, Salenske-Ponikiewka - did not allow a shortage of horses and wagons to obtrude. At the two former locations, the distance from the main dressing station to the front was also 5 kilometers, however the number of wounded that needed to be transported was only 80 and 100, in Salenske - Ponikiewka in contrast 300 wounded were incurred from the Battle of Miluny, here the main dressing station was only 3 kilometers from the parking place for the wagons, this could be pushed up to Miluny by evening. But above all the country carts [Landesfahrzeuge] and the draft teams of the help wagons could be put fully in the service of transporting the wounded; these three could be seen as normal dressing stations in the sense of the K.S.O. [Kriegssanitätsordnung - Field Medical Regulations].
The most difficult circumstances of the whole combat operation resulted from the main dressing station at Zalenshi-Wielki reached on July 25th. The Division stood on the Narew River, right flank in Dyschobaba, left flank Szjeljun, main dressing station scarcely three kilometers behind the front, the parking places for the wagons in Dyschobaba and Szeljun; the Division forced the crossing of the Narew River, built a bridge over the river overnight in Szeljun and were heavily attacked by the Russians in the forests on the other side. The parking for the wagons on the right flank followed to Dombrowka, on the left the parking had to remain on this shore of the river, because only a steep track led over the Narew River. The relocation of the main dressing station to Dyscholbaba would not work, as it would have been completely unreachable by the left flank; the right solution would have been to split the Company and locate a second main dressing station in Dyschobaba or on the far shore, however it was not possible because too few doctors were available. Therefore the old station had to remain where it was, which was easily 9 kilometers away from the location of the casualties in Dombrowka. A 9-kilometer drive at nighttime on the worst mountain forest roads, over the Narew River, whose bridge was constantly being shot at, in torrential rain, that means that the wagon that departed loaded full with 4 lying wounded could be back in four hours at the earliest. For reinforcement the Company's Division made available the "wire crew" ("Drahtkolonne"), ten two-horse provision wagons manned with drivers of all weapons, that helped considerably and from that day on were a valuable support in difficult situations. Furthermore, it was possible to intercept about 20 foodstuff wagons from the regiments, which wanted to go to reception for the next days; in addition to that the Company's country carts [Landesfahrzeuge], whose number in the mean time had grown to 12, a fleet of wagons which succeeded to drive the 400 wounded to medical care at the main dressing station into the first morning hours. Four of the Company's draft teams drove 120 kilometers in this combat. The new solution forward, by using other troops to drive wagons, proved itself at the main dressing station in Jewory, which the Company held from July 28th to August 5th, while the Division occupied Goworow, the Osh-Bach and the train tracks east of there. As long as the distance of the main dressing station from the front was 3 kilometers, the strength of the Company with its country carts was enough to manage even the largest influx of 200 wounded on July 28th. On July 29th [the Company?] borrowed the tethered balloon, on July 30th and the following day it borrowed the wire crew and the Division bridge-train four-horse harnesses, so that the collection of the wounded took place without obstruction even with the growing distance that finally reached 8 kilometers to the wagon parking at Gut Bshesno. However, the good paths in the area around Goworow made the work easier. The following engagements, in which the main bandage stations in Gut Bshesno and Gut Trinosey were only set back 3 and 4 kilometers from the front, August 6-8, were without obstructing difficulties. A peculiar case led to the fast forward movement of the Division in the following days north of Ostrow. The Division pushed the enemy back through the forest, followed them in two columns, each column was given a section/platoon of the Company, which as a transport company, without setting up a dressing station, transported the 200 wounded immediately to quickly-established field hospitals. This operation had the great advantage, that the Company on August 11th could already set up the main dressing station 2 kilometers from the front of the Division fighting at Brokbach in a development of Jablonowo and in the shortest time provide care to 200 wounded. The situation repeated itself on August 19th, in the first days of the Battle of Bielsk, after 4 previous dressing stations in Pjenice Wjelkje, Wyluny Rus, Swiridy, Lubin Koscielne ran normally. The following days of the Battle of the Bielsk - the main dressing station at Studziewody - placed the greatest demands on the rolling stock [vehicles, das rollende Material]. On August 22nd after the occupation of Parcewo and the rejection of strong Russian counterattacks it was possible to recover 350 wounded without foreign support on swampy roads. But the war situation was such, and in increasing mass in the following battles, that the main dressing stations - Leuki, Ciecierowke, Bialawisce, Pieski, Olescewisce - were not further than 3-4 kilometers from the front. Additionally the expanded possibility came henceforth to furnish ourselves with country carts. The area, that the Division was crossing, was only a little taken by the war. The Russians had furnished it with first-class streets for withdrawal, of which they now made the foreseen use; they had held the area, without inflicting damage, so that along with other country stock also plentiful vehicles and horses stood at our disposal. The experience had taught the company to recognize the value of these help vehicles, so that on September 25th they moved with 40 country carts from the last dressing station in Oljapawo to the wagon parking in Janusche and Lostaje. Only in that way were they able to transport the 500 wounded from the battle of Beresina.
For the transportation section of the Sanitary Company the Summer Offensive in Russia provided the lesson: an increase of vehicles and carts in any possible way.
2. Stretcher-bearers [Krankenträger]
What was true for the transportation section, did not apply to the stretcher-bearers. Their number sufficed for the Russian campaign. Their deployment generally happened such that they carried out the transportation from the troop dressing stations to the wagon parking place, as well as carried the wounded out of the trenches in cases of need as support for the troop stretcher-bearers. The rule for the K.S.O. -128- [Kriegssanitätsordnung - Field Medical Regulations] and K.T.O. 160, 168 and 180 [Krankenträger-Ordnung - Stretcher Bearer Regulations], the deployment of platoons of stretcher-bearers and the scanning of the combat field under the leadership of the platoon leader, happened only in covered terrain, forest, grain fields. Such cases existed in the combat from Shechowo-Gatss on July 17th - Kornfeld - Milany on July 22nd in the forest, Gut Trinosay on August 8th.
3. Stretchers [Krankentragen]
In regards to the material it can be added that the normal stretchers sufficed in number and construction in all cases.
4. Sanitary dogs
Use of the sanity dogs was made only with the deployed platoons. The conclusion that the Company reached about their achievements in the East, reads shortly summarized: they made finding the wounded easier under the given conditions, but they did not find any wounded that the stretcher-bearers would not also have found.
2. Battle of the Somme.
The activity of the Sanitary Company in the Battle of the Somme proved to be fundamentally and in all details different from the experiences of the Summer Offensive in Russia. If in mobile wars it was about the transportation of a small number of wounded to the main dressing station and in connection with that the further forward march with the troops, so here it prevailed to exhaust the incessantly gushing source of the wounded through the continuous transportation to the main dressing station. If one could let the whole company of stretcher-bearers work for hours in Russia, until all the wounded from the combat were secured und then grant them several days of rest or march, here one had to use the stretcher-bearers divided into relief groups, so that the operation would be seamless.
As goes without saying in static warfare, the company took over the erected main dressing stations south of the Somme in Pargny, north it resulted on its own through the dividing of the Division section Bapaume at the same height with the earlier Thilloy. The moment of the construction was before the insertion of the division, at the latest at the same time. The Company discovered the wagon parking place south of the Somme [there appears to be an error here where several lines are repeated] Genermont and Misery. Misery was favorably placed, indeed not for those troops located in the front lines, but great for the support and the artillery. Because of that the wagon parking there had secondary significance and required at most two wagons. Genermont was located favorably for the regiments located forwards of Berny of the right flank and the middle. But because only the earliest morning hours were available for the collection of the wounded from the troop dressing station, Denicourt also had to be set up as a wagon parking place for the Regiment on the left flank. The experiment was successful. On the occasion of a strong French attack on the Garde Grenadier Regiment No. 5, that had caused over 80 wounded, the troop dressing station was cleaned out in three hours by bringing forward all kinds of ambulances. Even more striking was the success of pushing forward the wagon parking place in the Thiepval position. There the Company discovered Pys as the wagon parking place. Already on the day after their arrival the Company relocated the parking place to the end of the artillery valley located closest to the enemy and could henceforth transport double the number of wounded.
1. Vehicles [Fahrzeuge]
There were no difficulties in relation to the vehicles and horses in the Battle of the Somme. Indeed the route to the main dressing station was long, but the streets were good and allowed for an overloading of the wagons, which the need for help for the wounded must excuse. The Company raised the capacity of their ambulances through the installation of deck seats. But above all the wagon transportation was eased by the ambulances, whose organization and distance traveled was exemplary. As regards their use, the taking of the heaviest wounded to the parking place - assuming there are drivable paths - and the reloading traffic for the rest of the lying wounded proved to be functional.
2. Stretcher-bearers [Krankenträger]
The ability of the stretcher-bearers was demanded to the extreme in the Battle of the Somme. In the worst, rain-soaked trenches, overburdened by traffic, the wounded had to be carried up to two hours. A relief of about 30 hours gave half of the stretcher-bearers the needed rest; despite this the company had in the first days, besides 20 bloody wounded, a shortfall of 50 stretcher-bearers due to chaffed shoulders, sprains, and similar "occupational injuries" ["Berufsschäden]. The company moved the placement north of the Somme with approximately 150 stretcher-bearers, after a few days only 90 were left, so 45 were deployed. If one calculates the maximum efficiency of these stretcher-bearers, from which 4 are designated and needed for the movement of one stretcher, with 12 hours spent bringing one and a return trip of about two hours, so the maximum number of recovered wounded per day is 45, that is too small for a division in heavy combat. The Division, which identified the shortage immediately, attempted to help out through the allocation of 40 reinforcement soldiers [Armierungssoldaten], who proved themselves not up to the service for the entire carrying distance as a result of physical infirmity. Relief brought, after 10 days, the allocation of a second full company, Reserve Sanitary Company 20, 6 Reserve Corps [Reserve-Sanitätskompagnie 20, 6. Reservekorps]; it caused a stoppage in the transportation of the wounded to be avoided, but only because, the detached troops took back a portion of their wounded themselves.
3. Stretchers [Krankentragen]
The transportation of the wounded was made considerably more difficult through the fact, that the normal stretcher is unfit for use in the trenches. In the Vimy position the Company itself had built all sorts of stretchers, that fully satisfied the local needs; but in the Somme trenches they were fully unusable. It is an urgent requirement, that in every post suitable stretchers will be found. The transport of the wounded in a tent square hung on a stick, as it was really invariable made, it a remedy, that means a large difficulty for the stretcher-bearers through the strain of one shoulder and a cruelness toward the wounded.
4. Sanitary dogs
The use of sanitary dogs in the static warfare in the West cannot be seriously considered. Even if the terrain would allow it at certain times, it is ineffective, because the dogs cannot be managed in an area with artillery fire.
The considerable difficulties created by the small number of vehicles during the Summer Offensive in Russia 1915 would have been exacerbated if the main dressing station had not always been located so close to the Front, which the combat position allowed. Correctly choosing it [a location for the main dressing station] is therefore the deciding factor for the effectiveness of the company in mobile warfare. The moment to set up the main dressing station was always correctly chosen during the 1915 Summer Offensive. Here the mistake of setting up too early stands to reason, which, in the case of advancing combat, brought with it decampment and relocation. Maybe in the first days of battle one would consider it available. A field hospital in Slabogora could have been established and the Company could have kept it free for use after successful advancement. This arrangement would have had the fault, that vehicles and stretcher-bearers for transportation of the wounded to this hospital would not have ben available, so that the course of action would have been the wrong one. The constant preparedness of the Company resulted from wise moderation as regards the moment of setting up the main dressing station. The described cases, in which the vehicles transported the wounded to the hospitals, without the main dressing station being set up, are relevant examples for this.
Of little influence in mobile warfare is the parking place for the wagons, which can follow the movements of the troops as a result of its own mobility. Drivers who were well incorporated with the stretcher-bearers pointed out themselves the need to drive up as close as possible to the location of the losses.
In contrast, in the static warfare on the Somme the selection and the moment of setting up the main dressing station played a subordinate role, because it was, as a rule, transferred from the relieved troops while still in operation. All the more meaningful the location of the parking place for the wagons becomes here. Moving it forward when possible means increasing the output of the stretcher-bearers by multiple times and in most cases is a prerequisite for their effective operation. Depending on the type of enemy fire it is also possible to keep it mobile. The parking place for the wagons is also here characterized in the words of the K.S.O. [Kriegssanitätsordnung -Field Medical Regulations] as the location, to which, in the most extreme situations, the ambulances could be brought forward and at the same time the departure point for the stretcher-bearers. Therefore a medium must definitely be found to safely shelter the deployed stretcher-bearers at the parking place also during hours of rest. Getting them to a location further back costs much dead time [viel toten Weg] and hinders their readiness. The Company would have prevented many losses, if it had found shelters for the stretcher-bearers in Genermont and the artillery valley already there, instead of needing to build some, from which it could no longer benefit.
The representation of the tactical viewpoints during the use of the Sanitary Company, the difficulties, with which it had to fight in the mobile war in the East and the static warfare in the West. Shortage of horses, of suitable vehicles, the situation with the strength of the stretcher-bearers and the production of suitable stretchers fails to mention the self-evident duty of the military leadership to lead the stretcher-bearers in the sense, that the moment and the route of their deployment will be dictated under full responsibility of the officers after an assessment of the combat situation. It may provide input to the question, that since the beginning of the campaign, and lately at the instigation of the Chief of the Medical Service of the Field Army, is actively debated, if an alternative organization of the Sanitary Company in some way appears to be necessary, so that the leadership of the military section is also put under the control of the chief doctor. Such an arrangement appears fully impossible. The tasks of the military section in the mobile war and the static war are so weighty, that they must demand the full attention of the available military leader. On the other hand, a chief doctor, who realizes his responsibilities, is indispensable in a main dressing station currently in operation. A unification of these tasks in one person is not possible. The question, raised from the same places, remains untouched, if a new arrangement could be made in such a way, that the associated doctors with the section of the personnel only available to them for the main dressing station could be made independent next to the stretcher-bearer company as a flying military hospital or in a similar form. That the sanitary personnel and the military nurses, as well as the reserves, are intrinsically under the control of the commander of things related to the main dressing station the chief doctor, brings, like every twofold chain-of-command, unwholesomeness with it, that can cause easily objective difficulties. The suggested route of a split of the commanding roles while maintaining the connection between the military and medical sections appears not inexpedient.
[Translation note: The word "Landesfahrzeug" has been translated throughout as "country cart" per the 1918 Vocabulary of German Military Terms and Abbreviations, but what is exactly intended by this term is unclear. It either refers to vehicles belonging to the government or (I think more likely) commandeered wagons and horses from the areas surrounding the combat zone.]
From the service of German officer Fritz Sabersky who served as leader of the Sanitary Company 3 (Sanitätskompagnie 3 Garde-Reserve-Korps) from 1915 to 1916 and after March 1917 as an instructor at the Royal Prussian Army Gas School in Berlin (Königlich Preußische Heeres-Gasschule).
|Year Range from||1916|
|Year Range to||1918|
World War I
Medical aspects of war
Dogs of war
Wounds & injuries
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