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US Medic of 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Drop Zone C, September 17, 1944, Market Garden

Captain Manus McGettigan of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment sits next to a hedgerow in Drop Zone C on September 17, 1944 during Operation Market Garden.

In order to facilitate the medical care for the wounded of the First Allied Airborne Army during Operation Market Garden, a cooperative medical force was assembled, taking surgeons from the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the XVIII Airborne Corps, and chief medical officers from the British XXX Corps and Second Army.[1] According to the medical plan, each of the three airborne divisions involved would care for their own wounded until evacuated by air or relieved by the ground troops of XXX Corps. As they advanced, XXX Corps would likewise move up military hospitals and installations. American preparation for "Market" as the airborne component of the operation was referred to as, had called for a reevaluation of combat and medical practices seen in previous jumps in Normandy. Supplies that had been shown to have little use in practice were discarded in favor of jeeps and trailers which had proved far more useful in the field.[1]

Setting Up

For American forces, the commencement of Operation Market Garden on September 17th began well, with the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions both securing their objectives in a reasonable amount of time. Though, the 82nd Airborne Division suffered a more costly capture following repeated German counterattacks for control of Nijmegen bridge. On this opening day, advance parties, aided by Dutch civilians began to search for potential locations for casualty clearing stations and attempted to treat wounded personnel already coming in. It wasn't until the next day that the majority of American medical personnel arrived in the area, most by glider. Once landed, medical companies immediately set to work on converting captured buildings such as abandoned schools or homes into fully-operational medical centers. For example, the 101st Airborne's 326th Airborne Medical Company used both a former tuberculosis sanitarium[2] and a military tent facility to treat its casualties. The majority of casualties found in these facilities were American, though it wasn't uncommon for XXX Corps to drop off its casualties to hasten its advance towards Arnhem.[1]

Hell's Highway

Between September 19 and September 20, both the 493rd and 384th Collecting (Ambulance) companies made contact with the two American airborne divisions and were successful in removing around 600 casualties. For the next week, the collecting companies would be occupied with passing through "Hell's Highway", a two-lane road that was the primary path through Market Garden's objectives. Frequently congested by British relief troops and attacked by German artillery, ambulances were often forced to drive through fields or on sidewalks to pass. In all, however, over 1,600 wounded were evacuated from 101st Airborne field hospitals. Most heading to the 24th Evacuation Hospital, a military installation fit with over 400 medical beds. From there, prisoners that could be moved were evacuated and sent to general hospitals in liberated Europe. Evacuation for wounded from the 82nd Airborne was troublesome due to the distances involved, until in late September began airlifts from Eindhoven and Nijmegen. The situation in Arnhem was generally quite bleak by this time, with no support coming in to the British forces, and their wounded largely being cared for by a mix of British, Dutch, and German medical personnel depending on how long ceasefires lasted.

Aftermath

By September 25, both American divisions had a combined 2,500 killed and wounded compared to nearly 6,000 casualties suffered by the British 1st Airborne Division still struggling to hold Arnhem. Contrary to previous experience in Normandy however, many American medical personnel noted that supplies for operating and caring for patients were generally always available, even when many deliveries could not make it through. The system of hospitals and casualty clearing centers set up throughout liberated Europe to deal with the casualties from Operation Market Garden and the advance towards Germany would remain for some time after Market Garden itself had ended. It proved instrumental in providing adequate care for the many wounded returning from the frontlines and provided vital experience for the many medical personnel involved.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Cosmas, Graham A. Cowdrey, Albert E. Medical Service in the European Theater of Operations. Center of Military History (1992), Page 306
  2. https://www.med-dept.com/unit-histories/326th-airborne-medical-company/
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