220th General Hospital Unit History
Introduction & Activation:
The 1,000-bed 220th General Hospital was activated at Fort Lewis, Tacoma, Washington (Army Ground Forces Training Camp, total acreage 90,870, troop capacity 3,542 Officers & 63,727 Enlisted Men –ed), as of 0001 hours, 28 September 1944. The unit’s CO was Colonel Charles L. Maxwell, MC, O-6217. Authority and references for the new organization’s activation were: Section I, General Order # 200, Headquarters Ninth Service Command, dated 14 September 1944 – General Order # 20, Headquarters Medical Training Section, ASFTC, Fort Lewis, Washington, dated 21 September 1944 – General Order # 1, Headquarters 220th General Hospital, dated 28 September 1944.
Six barracks, two mess halls, supply and administration buildings were allotted to the unit four days prior to activation, and the process of cleaning up started immediately. The first eleven days of activation were spent in personnel evaluation and assignment, procurement of initial equipment and issuance of clothing.
Initial training under MTP 8-2 started on 9 October 1944. Detailed preparations were made for a unit field exercise and on 16 October the entire organization marched to a bivouac area. Four motor convoys were necessary to transport the Hospital training and housekeeping equipment. For a duration of 9 days the unit simulated actual function of a General Hospital in the field under canvas. On 25 October 1944 a night move was accomplished to a camouflaged area, where the Hospital was to set up under total blackout conditions. Officers and Enlisted Men slept in pyramid and pup tents, well dispersed and camouflaged. Slit trenches and foxholes were dug throughout the area. Practice air raids were held with personnel dispersing to shelters and foxholes. This first phase of training was completed on 28 October and on 30 October 1944, the bulk of the Enlisted Men began parallel training at Madigan General Hospital, Fort Lewis, Washington (designated US Army General Hospital by War Department General Order # 76, dated 22 September 1944, type A brick cantonment, ready for patients 22 August 1944, bed capacity 4,300, specialties general medicine, general & orthopedic surgery –ed).
Further Training & Preparation for Overseas Movement:
The majority of the Officers of the unit were granted leaves of absence on 1 November 1944 in preparation for the overseas movement. On 4 December 1944, Lieutenant Colonel P. I. McShane, IGD, inspected the unit and a complete clothing showdown was held. All unit records, supply and transportation departments were equally thoroughly checked. The Inspector personally interviewed all the Enlisted Technicians, questioning them on basic military subjects in addition to a detailed examination with respect to their medical technical training.
Eighty-three (83) Enlisted Medical and Surgical Technicians were assigned and joined the unit 11 December 1944, in lieu of 83 ANC Officers.
The 220th General Hospital received the “Call to the Port” and the usual procedures were put into operation to prepare the unit for movement at time specified. The year 1944 ended with the organization continuing training and making all necessary preparations for a forthcoming movement.
In January 1945, the organization was running a full time eight (8) hour per day training schedule with all Officers and EM taking part in the program. On 5 January the Inspector General at Fort Lewis conducted a complete inspection with showdown of every item of clothing and equipment. An accurate checklist had been prepared and teams went through each barrack listing shortages and non-combat serviceable items. All shortages were requisitioned for immediate replacement and a special trip was made to Seattle to secure this equipment. Meanwhile the unit was preparing plans for movement by rail. A complete SOP was drawn up covering all phases and aspects of this coming movement. Many detailed reports were required by the Post, and the Staging Area. The advance supply representative indicated that all supplies were in excellent condition and were filling rapidly. Final reports were being prepared for all administrative channels in preparation for departure of the unit.
Complete physical inventory of the entire unit property was taken and no discrepancies were found.
The 220th was to travel in two troop trains of approximately 10 cars each, with a separate Train Commander and complete Staff for each train. The unit XO was designated as the first Train Commander and the unit transportation Officer designated as the other Train’s CO. The Hospital’s CO was to travel in Train # 1 so as to arrive at destination together with the first contingent of troops. Uniforms for departure were to be ODs, service shoes, leggings, and complete field pack plus individual equipment. Complete and accurate roll calls were taken and men told exactly which car of which train they would travel in (Train # 1 and/or Train # 2). An escort detail was provided by the Post Military Police and the entire unit was marched to the railhead area, where entraining was accomplished rapidly and on schedule. The Post Band was present and played some tunes for the men prior to departure. Major General Joseph D. Patch, Commanding General, ASFTC, Fort Lewis, Washington, with Colonel Frank Royse, Chief of Staff, were both present at entrainment.
Train # 1 departed exactly on schedule at 152100Z January and Train # 2 followed at 152115Z January.
On Saturday, 20 January 1945, the unit arrived at Camp Myles Standish, Boston, Massachusetts (Staging Area for Boston Port of Embarkation; total acreage 1,485; troop capacity 1,298 Officers & 23,100 Enlisted Men –ed). Arrival took place during zero weather but there was little discomfort. The men were quickly and efficiently moved into the Staging Area quarters and the processing of records and equipment was started at once. Processing progressed so quickly that passes could be made available to Officers and Enlisted Men alike on the evening of 21 January 1945. No serious discrepancies in records or equipment were found and there were no staging problems either. On 24 January 5 Officers were sent ahead to the port to act as loading Officers on the ship. The organization was alerted on 25 January and moved to Boston POE on 26 January 1945.
US Army Transport (USAT) “George W. Goethals” was boarded at 1400 hours and cleared the dock at 1535 hours, 26 January 1945 (during World War Two the “George W. Goethals” operated as an Army transport out of New York and Boston, to various destinations in North Africa, the United Kingdom, and France –ed).
United Kingdom / France:
The journey across the Atlantic was uneventful, except for a collision with another ship which did not do sufficient damage to prevent the vessel from continuing her voyage. Some time was devoted each day to calisthenics and French and German language classes. Journeys were filled with drills, abandon-ship exercises, and the like.
The “George W. Goethals” arrived 6 February 1945 at Southampton, England, but there was NO debarkation and the ship with men and equipment still on board moved on to the port of Le Havre, France. The unit remained on board ship the evening of 7 February and debarked at 2230 hours on 8 February 1945. A two-mile march brought the group to the rail center, where the personnel and baggage were loaded into the already famous French “40 & 8” cars. K-rations were distributed enroute and arrival was at St. Valéry-en-Caux, France, at 1900 hours the following day.
The 220th then entrucked for “Camp Lucky Strike” (one of the many Cigarette Camps in Le Havre area –ed) where the advance detachment had established a tent area and were prepared to house and mess the unit. The detachment had arrived in the Staging Area during freezing temperature and bad weather and found that Camp Lucky Strike had just been activated as a Staging Area. However, under the most trying conditions they managed to secure tentage and minimal housekeeping equipment. Pit latrines were dug, though the mud was a terrific obstacle and slowed up all processes greatly. Fuel was scarce and the amount of food provided was for only two (2) meals a day! Following vehicles were available for the unit at that time: 1 2 ½-ton cargo truck – 1 ¾-ton weapons carrier – and 1 ¼-ton truck, not much, really. The bulk of the TAT equipment was only secured by 10 February. The only loss was that of a box containing all the unit’s flashlights and batteries, all other equipment fortunately being accounted for.
During the works, the Commanding Officer proceeded to Paris to report to the Chief Surgeon, ETOUSA. The necessary certification of readiness to perform primary mission in the Theater was submitted to the Army authorities on 10 February 1945.
All American currency was now exchanged for regular and French “Invasion currency”. It was necessary to obtain two (2) additional blankets per man, the regular sleeping bag proving inadequate in itself (it was simply too cold). The Executive Officer and the Chief of Surgical Service went to Paris to observe the surgical setup of the various General Hospitals there and study their organization and operation.
The first mail from home was received by the unit on 14 and 15 February 1945 respectively. Approximately 5500 letters were received by members of the Hospital in only two days. The first PX ration was made available the same day, consisting of 7 packages of cigarettes, 4 candy bars, 2 packages of gum, and 1 cigar. Coca-cola was available at the PX and on sale. On 17 February 1945, ten (10) additional vehicles were provided which greatly alleviated the transportation needs. Meanwhile the medical component of the unit’s supplies had arrived and was stored in warehouses about ten miles from Rouen, France.
Change of Station:
An advance party of 3 Officers assisted by 30 Enlisted Men proceeded to Suippes, France, on 1 March 1945, in order to prepare for the arrival of the main body upon call. The personnel of the American Red Cross assigned to the 220th were in the meantime sent to Paris for a short orientation course on overseas policies.
One member of the organization’s Detachment of Patients, died of pneumonia while hospitalized at the 62 Field Hospital.
On 13 March 1945 the main body entrained, utilizing “40 & 8” boxcars, departing from St. Valéry-en-Caux to Suippes, France, reaching their destination the following day, 16 March 1945.
On 15 March 1945, the unit had lost one Medical Officer, transferred to Ninth United States Army.
As of 15 March 1945 when the Hospital moved to Camp Suippes, France (slightly SE of Reims –ed) there were daily runs to Suippes for a period of almost two weeks by trucks to bring in and store the unit’s equipment. Upon arrival a guard detail was posted at all times. The unit supply section which organized the transfer of equipment occupied 3 tents on a temporary basis at the new site.
Immediate reports were required of the unit upon arrival at the new hospital site, and these required first priority from the administration. The site was situated within a former French Cavalry Post, which had been occupied by the German Wehrmacht after the invasion of France in May 1940. Most of the buildings were of brick and stone construction, with the large buildings intended to be utilized for wards, being two (2) stories in height. A provisional Prisoner of War Company was established and it was therefore necessary to furnish 1 Officer and 7 Enlisted Men as a cadre to set up and operate that unit. Eventually, 250 German PWs were received, to be used as work details in the Hospital area. On 20 March 1945, a mere few days after arrival of the main body of personnel, 50 patients were received (of which 43 surgical cases) by transfer from the 226th General Hospital and 35 Nurses reported for duty on DS from the 227th General Hospital. The Hospital assembly was quickly broken down and a first 1200 beds were set up at once. Lyster bags were placed in the wards, as there was no running water available in the buildings. Stoves and lights were installed immediately. Since no latrines were available within the ward buildings, there was no way but to utilize the French latrines installed in small buildings next to the wards and which were of the gutter stall type with constant flow. Lack of running water in the ward buildings made washing a big problem, and it was therefore necessary to use basins and buckets for that purpose, with heating the water on the coal stoves set up in each ward room. The patients’ mess was installed in the building earmarked for the ARC recreation room. Army gasoline field ranges were used and sufficient mess tables procured to accommodate all patients. Hot food was carried up to bed patients in food containers.
On 31 March 1945 a mass admission of 196 patients took place. It must be noted that one of the greatest difficulties, administratively, was the reception/admission of patients prior to receipt of the various directives governing such admissions in the European Theater.
The important reconversion work of the permanent portion of Camp Suippes into a suitable hospital area to accommodate two (2) US Army General Hospitals was assigned to the 1343d Engineer Combat Battalion (activated 11 July 1944, embarked for England 14 October 1944, arrived in England 25 October 1944, landed in France 9 January 1945 –ed) on or about 1 March 1945. The camp area was broken down into Area # 1 to be occupied by the 251st General Hospital and Area # 2 to be occupied by the 220th General Hospital. The works in Area # 1 were given to B Company and Area # 2 went to C Company, of the 1343d Engineers.
The first part of March was spent on quartering above Companies, setting up operational offices, laying out work, receiving additional PWs to be used during the construction, hiring French civilian personnel, and obtaining sufficient material to start the job. The first works consisted in knocking out partitions and widening doors in the buildings to be used as wards and clinics. At the same time work was begun on sewer and water systems, electrical wiring and plastering. By the end of March 1945 the overall job was only approximately 20% complete. The only difficulties were some shortages in materials for electricity and plumbing.
More vehicles as authorized by T/E were received during March and immediately put to good use (they operated on a twenty-four hour basis). They now included a total of 3 2½-ton cargo trucks – 4 1½-ton cargo & personnel trucks – 1 ¾-ton weapons carrier – 6 ¼-ton jeeps – 6 ¾-ton ambulances – 2 250-gallon water trailers, 2 1-ton cargo trailers – and 4 ¼-ton jeep trailers. More drivers were found and the men put on an average shift of 15 to 18 hours per day. In addition the motor pool was required to furnish 4 ambulances + drivers full time for the 813th Hospital Center.
The month of March 1945 closed without serious mishaps or unusual incidents, the chief handicap being some unfinished rooms, and piles of rubbish and dust that accompanied a building in the process of construction and or renovation. Four (4) Enlisted Men were taken away from the Surgical Service, including the Officers in charge of the Orthopedic Service, all now assigned to DS, under authority of the 813th Hospital Center.
Camp Suippes, France:
This service commenced receiving its equipment and supplies 26 March 1945. Due to the fact that it was to function in a temporary clinic in one of the ward buildings, it was decided to improvise laboratory benches, office tables, and filing boxes, all constructed from scrap lumber. Buckets from captured enemy supplies were used as cuspidors. Since no running water was available in the clinic room, a system of two buckets, one for clean hot water, the other for waste water, and a sponge basin for washing the hands of the operator was inaugurated. A four-chair clinic was established, with one chair for prosthetic dentistry, and three chairs for operative dentistry. A set of trays from MD Chest No. 60 was also set up. The dental clinic opened for patients on 29 March 1945, receiving both patients from the Hospital and outpatients from units stationed in the surrounding area.
The service was formally set up and prepared to do hemotology, urinalysis, and bacteriological smears on 23 March 1945. Chemical procedures for chlorides, sugars, non-protein nitrogen, and icteric index were available as from 29 March 1945. Some captured German equipment was obtained from the 412th Medical Supply Depot to supplement some critical items; and personnel also improvised staining sinks from recovered large enameled pans. The Laboratory EM built their own tables, stools, and cabinets, designing and constructing a number of smaller useful items.
The service was temporarily divided into 4 sections: General Medicine – Neuro-Psychiatry – Officers’ Ward – Communicable Diseases. General Medicine included such specialties as a gastro-intestinal section, dermatology, and VD, the latter two functioning under the Communicable Disease section. The Medical Service was temporarily allotted 128 beds in one of the buildings. Heat and lighting were adequate and cold running water was available on the lower floor. There was however no bathing facility and water had to be heated on the small stoves in the wards (hot showers were eventually offered to ambulatory patients in another building). Outside latrines had to be used until plumbing could be completed. VD control was well coordinated with the other units in the area, with no cases being reported among the command.
As far as diagnostics were concerned, most patients fell into a somewhat limited group of which most half were infectious hepatitis. The remaining half were made up of cases with primary atypical pneumonia, chronic gastro-intestinal disturbance, psycho-neurosis, and peptic ulcer. An occasional case of naso-pharyngitis was admitted from the command.
A contingent of mess personnel, consisting of 1 Mess Sergeant, 8 cooks, and 1 baker, accompanied the advance party to the present location on 1 March, in order to prepare everything for arrival of the main group on or about 16 March 1945. A visit to the 189th General hospital was made by the Mess Officer and 2 Mess Sergeants in order to obtain some constructive ideas from a hospital mess in operation for some time, and proved very interesting. Lieutenant Walker, one of the Dietitians, traveled to Reims in hopes of securing additional mess equipment from the Salvage Depot there. Extra pots, bins, and odd-sized containers were obtained, which were to allow for better and more efficient operation of the diet kitchen. Constant work was being done by both Mess and Utilities personnel to improve the kitchens. Pot racks, potato bins, bread and pastry racks, shelves, garbage bins, etc. were constructed for all mess installations.
In anticipation of receiving first patients, three mess halls were made ready for operation: Patients – Enlisted Men – Officers and Nurses. In order to feed ALL personnel under cover of buildings, it was necessary to combine both the 220th’s Enlisted personnel and the men of the 1343d Engineer Combat Battalion for messing in a single central room. This was accomplished on 19 March 1945. The Officers’ mess began operation three days after the main body arrived. Approximately 950 EM were fed in the Enlisted Men’s mess in addition to 26 personnel of the Engineers. After the first patients arrived (20 March 1945 –ed), the mess personnel were feeding approximately 400 patients (including 150 bed patients) by the end of March.
German PWs were assigned to the 220th, with 25 of them being immediately assigned to the Mess department. Their primary duties were KP and table waiters during meal hours; they also served the Officer patients and the cripples, and were responsible for clearing and cleaning the tables after meals.
A system of color tickets was introduced, enabling Mess personnel to differentiate ambulatory patients, diet patients, and the occupants of the 5 different buildings. Meal hours range was as follows: breakfast 0630 > 0730; dinner 1130 > 1230; supper 1700 > 1800.
Food for bed patients was prepared in the diet kitchen, packed in food containers and brought by cart to the various ward kitchens. Trays were served under supervision of the Nurses. Nourishments of the patients on special diet took place at 1000, 1400, and 2000 hours. Additionally, all ambulatory patients could come to the mess hall from 2030 to 2130 for extra nourishment (bread sandwiches with jam or peanut butter, and beverages like milk, chocolate, malted milk, fruit juice, and coffee were available).
The service became available for roentgenoscopic and roentgenographic examination of patients on 26 March 1945. It was established in one of the ward buildings and housed in two rooms. Blackout was achieved with tar paper covering windows and entrance from the corridor. Equipment comprised one x-ray field table unit and two mobile base units. The second room held sufficient space for office and reading.
All current source, with the exception of overhead lighting, was obtained from a 30 KW generator. Improvisations consisted of wooden tables, work benches, home-built cassette holders, filing cabinets, frames with leaded aprons, benches in the waiting room, and a four-wheeled framework to support and render mobile a gasoline-electric generator of 2500 watt capacity. A plywood surface coupled to an old German bedframe was adapted for use as the top for the x-ray field table in lieu of a litter. A portable, three-case French x-ray machine was obtained, repaired, and an American hand timer adapted to it. Some changes in the overall setup were introduced later.
The supply department was headed by a Director assisted by 2 junior Officers and a group of 17 Enlisted Men. It coordinated the functions of medical and unit supply. The Hospital Center (this was the 813th Hospital Center –ed) under which jurisdiction the 220th operated, was invaluable as a source of supply for office furniture, officers’ furniture, and miscellaneous furnishings, as well as hospital furniture.
The personnel took over another function which was Patients’ Supply. This operation, limited exclusively to the issue of clothing and individual equipment needed by the patients, was housed in the building containing the administrative offices of the Supply department.
The greater part of medical supplies was picked up and accompanied the unit while in convoy to Camp Suippes. It was initially stored at Rouen and trucked by the 11th Port to St. Albin. From the time it came into the possession and control of the organization a careful and constant watch and guard was maintained upon it.
German Prisoners of War were very useful in the labor connected with the moving of the vast array of supply items from place to place. Captured German war supplies served to supplement the unit’s stocks of goods with items such as ether, gauze, pottery, brooms, and mops.
This service was initially set up on a temporary basis in one of the ward buildings on 20 March 1945. Shelving for the boxed supplies was not available and much time and labor was consumed in the process of opening boxes to obtain a minimum of equipment to start functioning. Shelves were later improvised.
The Operating Rooms were the first project and were installed in one of the ward rooms (20 x 24 foot) of the existing buildings. Adjacent to it was a temporary x-ray setup and opposite were a surgical utility and work room as well as a surgical supply store. The OR held two surgical tables including the necessary anesthesia equipment and surgical instruments. Two field sterilizers, shelves, and tables were arranged and the preparation of sterile supplies, catheterization trays, transfusion sets, surgical gloves, and dressings was started at once. It should be noted that the buildings had no toilet facilities inside, no hot water system, and only a single tap for cold water in a wash room on the first floor.
During March 1945 this section had more requests, headaches, and difficulties than any other department. This was a necessity as the 220th General Hospital was moved in at practically the same time as the construction was begun. Consequently, the problems of providing the necessary furnishings to operate temporarily until construction and reconversion could be completed were of major proportions. The organization own utilities section had to obtain tools, materials, and labor, and was constantly looking for time to install lighting, provide water, requisition or manufacture furniture, prepare signs, requiring long and hard labor and a lot of ingenuity and improvisation from the men. Water was obtained from three wells on the Post and was supplied to two 750,000-gallon reservoirs fitted with electrical pumps. An emergency diesel pump was also ready for use should power fail.
Official Increase of Units to 1,000-bed capacity General Hospital
23 April 1945 – 220th General Hospital – Site # 2, Camp Suippes, France
24 April 1945 – 251st General Hospital – Site # 1, Camp Suippes, France
On 18 June 1945, five (5) ANC Officers were relieved from the 279th Station Hospital and assigned to the 220th General Hospital, per Letter Order AG L 3-2150, Subject: Orders, Headquarters, United Kingdom Base. They were: First Lieutenants Shirley E. French and Audrey G. Jones, and Second Lieutenants Melba U. Penn, Claire U. Ritchie, and Margaret B. Sheehan.
Closing for Operations and Receipt of Patients – Camp Suippes
23 June 1945 – 251st General Hospital – Site # 1, Camp Suippes, France
(24 June 1945 – replaced by 83d General Hospital – Site # 1)
30 June 1945 – 220th General Hospital – Site # 2, Camp Suippes, France
(1 July 1945 – replaced by 81st General Hospital – Site # 2)
Last Change of Station:
Opened in Southern France, course of July 1945, replacing the 48th General Hospital at Site # 1 in Marseille, France.
Closed for operations at Marseille, France, Site # 2, 19 November 1945
Returned to the Zone of Interior for inactivation 21 November 1945
Commanding Officers – 220th General Hospital
Colonel Charles L. Maxwell, MC
Lieutenant Colonel R. B. Chrisman, Jr., MC
The MRC Staff are still looking for any additional data relating to subject Hospital. A complete personnel roster of the 220th General Hospital would also be most welcome. Thank you.