3RD PORTABLE SURGICAL HOSPITAL,
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2
The 3rd Portable Surgical Hospital, USASOS, left New Guinea and arrived in Brisbane, Queensland on 1 March 1943 on board the liberty ship "Henry Dearborn". They remained in the port area until troop trains were assembled to carry the troops of the 127th Infantry and the 3rd Portable Surgical Hospital. They travelled to northern New South Wales and arrived at Wommin's Bay on the Tweed River at 4am on 2 March 1943.
The following official documents from the National Archives and Records Administration, gives a good overview of part of the time that the 3rd Portable Surgical Hospital was located at Iron Range:-
THIRD PORTABLE SURGICAL HOSPITAL
20 August, 1943
SUBJECT: History of Activities of the 3rd Portable Surgical Hospital for the period of March 1 to June 30, 1943 (sic).
1. The 3rd Portable Surgical Hospital disembarked on March 1, 1943 in Brisbane, Qld. from the "Henry Dearborn", a liberty ship, returning from New Guinea. We were restricted to the Port area until trains were made up to carry all troops of the 127th Infantry and ourselves to Woman's Bay (Sic: Wommin's Bay) on the Tweedshead River (Sic: Tweed River), N.S.W. We arrived there about 4 A.M. of the 2nd of March.
2. The 127th Infantry with its three Portable Hospitals, (3rd, 4th, and 5th) part of the 107th Medical Battalion and other allied and attached outfits were quarantined in this camp for seventeen days. There were no duties other than those of running a camp. No one was allowed to leave. It was an ideal place for rest and recreation with the ocean on one side and a good sandy beach, and the Tweeds' river (Sic: Tweed River) on the other. During this period everyone was given the routine treatment for malaria of quinine, atabrine, and plasmochin.
3. As a hospital, we did not function. The only duties any officer had was to alternate with the regimental and battalion surgeons at sick call. All illnesses developing were either transferred to Southport or to Brisbane.
4. On March 19, 1943 we moved with the regiment to Camp Cable when we again failed to function as a hospital but spent our time rehabilitating ourselves and our equipment. Capt. Karns was placed on detached duty with the hospital the 107th Medical Battalion opened in the camp for Malaria patients. Capt. Long, just prior to moving to Camp Cable, had been sent to the 42nd General Hospital because of severe back pain. The remainder of us followed the Infantry training schedule as beat we could, teaching and attending classes.
5. About April 1st orders were received detaching the Portable Hospitals from the 6th Army control and the 127th Infantry, and the 3rd Portable Surgical Hospital was assigned to its parent organization the 42nd General Hospital. We left Camp Cable April 2, 1943 and proceeded to Brisbane by motor transportation reporting to the Commanding Officer of the 42nd General Hospital for duty and training.
6. The time spent at Stuartholme was occupied with hospital training for the enlisted personnel and ward duty for the officers. Capt. Muller was placed as Commanding Officer of the convalescent section of the 42nd General Hospital and remained there until our departure. We adopted a training schedule which is included with this history. It was carried out more or less loosely for, although we required thirteen replacements among the enlisted men, we did not get them until we had orders to move and then did not get an officer to replace Capt. Long who had remained in the hospital with a severe corneal ulcer.
7. A new T/B/A/ was issued. The entire equipment was collected, packed and stored in a Medical Supply Depot in Brisbane, with shipping list of cubic feet and weight prepared for quick movement.
8. About the middle of May, a little over two months after leaving New Guinea the entire outfit, except one officer and four enlisted men, developed Malaria, all of P vivax and were admitted to the hospital. None of the cases were severe. Treatment followed that, as above with routine recoveries.
9. About June 1st orders were received assigning the 3rd Portable Surgical Hospital to Base Section #2 and movement orders were received sending the outfit to Iron Range, Queensland. The orders specifically stated that no equipment would be carried but equipage would be obtained from the Base Section at Townsville and from the 18th Station Hospital which we were to replace at Iron Range.
10. The outfit consisting of 25 enlisted men and two officers left Brisbane for Cairns on June 3, 1943 by rail. The Commanding Officer, William L. Garlick, was at that time in the 42nd General Hospital with malaria and no fourth Officer had been assigned. We arrived in Cairns June 5, 1943 departed by boat, the "Mongana", a Tasmania barge under a Norwegian skipper on June 7th arriving at Portland Roads, Iron Range on June 9, 1943.
11. At the time of our arrival the 18th Station Hospital was preparing for its departure and left on or about June 15th with most of its equipment. A detail of one sergeant and three enlisted men was sent to Townsville with requisitions for equipment to fill our needs in running a fifty bed station hospital and returned by boat shortly after the 18th Station Hospital's departure.
12. From June 15th to 31st we have run a 50 bed station hospital in this area where there is no other hospitalization between Port Moresby to Cairns. Our patients have been chiefly, Australians, the ratio to Americans is about 3 to 1. The majority of the cases have been minor surgical diseases, although there have been the occasional acute appendix or generalized peritonitis and occasional infectious or systemic Medical cases.
13. We have had a recurrence of malaria in five of the Enlisted Men and or one Officer. These attacks have been mild and with quick recovery.
14. The hospital has been running an average of 25 to 27 patients in beds. The morning sick call runs from 15 to 20 patients a day.
15. The Base Section has assigned two medical officers and a dentist to fill the needs of this area. One officer is placed on temporary duty at the Port Detachment “A”. Another is Registrar and takes sick call each morning. A third officers besides his hospital duties, is Sanitary Inspector for all Australian and American Camps of the area. The fourth medical officer, beyond his hospital duties is the meat and ration inspector for the area, a job which requires six afternoons a week.
16. We have spent much of our time trying to improve the building and area. The building is being painted, shrubs are being planted on the hillside to try to keep the red dirt from washing against the building. Underbrush has been cleaned out, Electrical improvement have been added.
17. We are at this time one officer and eight enlisted men under T/O strength according to the latest T/O strength according to the latest T/O of Headquarters, USASOS, APO 501, dated 20 June, 1943.
THIRD PORTABLE SURGICAL HOSPITAL
9 January, 1944
SUBJECT: Quarterly Report of History of Medical Activities of the 3rd Portable Surgical Hospital. October 1, 1943 to December 31, 1943.
TO : The Chief Surgeon, USASOS, APO 501 (Thru Channels)
1. The 3rd Portable Surgical Hospital has continued in its previously reported location at Iron Range on the Cape York Peninsula near Portland Rhodes (Sic: Roads) located seventeen miles from the Port in one direction and five miles from the Gordon Air Strip in the other direction. All of the troops receiving medical attention at the hospital were located on this road which runs roughly North and South. Just above the hospital location is the only other usable road in the area running West to Winlock and Cohen (Sic: Coen). To the east, over a range of hills, swamp and jungle, the Pacific Ocean lies about five miles distant.
2. The hospital was placed on the side of a rather steep hill, chiefly to get it above the water level in the rainy season when all of the level ground is either under water or a sea of mud. The road had been cut out of the side of the hills when ever practical for this same reason. The hospital consisted of one large T shaped building of corrugated roof and sides, completely screened, end with a concrete floor, and containing one large ward holding fifty beds, from the center of which a hallway ran at right angles opening front which were partitioned off rooms set up as surgery, surgical supply room, dentistry, laboratory and first aid room. Opening off the opposite side of the ward was a passage way loading to the enlisted men's and patients' mess, kitchen and officers' mess hall. About fifty feet beyond the ward was the patients latrine. At the opposite end at about the same distance were showers, enlisted men's latrine, laundry and carpenter shop. The enlisted men lived in pyramidal tents placed above the building on the top of the hill. The officers lived in small wall tents in a circle about 200 yards from the enlisted men's quarters. The entire area was open to the constant eastern breeze and consequently relatively cool. The reserve medical and quartermaster supplies were stored in a ward tent. All tents were placed. on floor boards, raised well above the ground.
3. For the duration of our station at Iron Range the season was dry with only occasional showers and usually absolutely clear skies with high temperature and humidity which made work in the middle of the day impractical and, fortunately usually wasn't required.4. The troops which were in the area were:-
All of the troops were performing service or patrol duties.
5. There was one Australian medical officer in the area, a major, of about sixty years of age, who had served in the last war but who had raised sheep since and was brought back into the Army in his previous capacity. No other medical officers or units were along the coast from Cairns to Thursday Islands.
6. The Portable Surgical Hospital functioned as a 50 bed station hospital with sufficient equipment to expand to 150 beds if necessary. The Commanding officer was in charge of the surgical ward and its duties, performed all major and minor surgery. Capt. S.E. Muller, besides his duties as asst. Commanding Officer and supply officer, had charge of the medical service and ward, and also supervised the laboratory work. Capt. J. R. Karns, beyond his duties as personnel officer, finance officer, commander of det. of patients worked as medical ward officer, and pharmacist. Capt. Muller and Capt. Karns alternated in taking morning sick call which was the heaviest medical duties in the area.
7. Beyond the hospital duties, we functioned as sanitary inspector for all camps in the area and as veterinary inspector, for fresh beef was driven to the area and butchered. Capt. Muller filled the first office and Capt. Karns the second.
8. A dental officer, Capt. E. M. Rosenblum, was assigned from Base Sec 2 and besides his duties as a dentist he was mess officer for the organization.
9. The enlisted men were organized exactly according to T/O. Two men were promoted to the rank of sergeant and seven promoted to PFC while in the area. The group as a whole were well qualified to perform the duties required of them.
10. Few medical publications and current literature on developments in medicine and surgery were available. What could be obtained was requisitioned from the medical supply depot. Members of the 42nd Gen Hosp were kind enough to pass on current monthly publications received from the United States occasionally.
11. Technical training was continued for all enlisted personnel. A team of three surgical technicians were given “dry runs” daily in preparation of the supplies, the patient and themselves for major surgery, going through the routine of setting up the operating room, preparing the patient, scrubbing and getting into gown and gloves. They became so proficient it, this until they could be ready for the surgeon to make the incision within 20 minutes. Instructions were also given in the various operations such as appendectomies, hernias, amputations, and control of hemorrhage and artificial respiration, application of bandages, after care of wounds.
12. The technicians on medicine were given instructions in nursing, bed patient care, tropical diseases and the care of the patient. Individual instruction was given to the sergeant in charge of laboratory work in the routine work of urinalysis and blood and in the recognition of malaria parasites and ova.
13. There was little or no difficulty in obtaining the necessary medical equipment and medical supplies. The difficulty was one of irregular transportation facilities. Most supplies came into the area by boat and although a regular schedule was set up, many variable circumstances contributed to the run taking from three weeks to two months. Occasionally, urgently required equipment was flown into the area. One piece of medical equipment which we had constant need of and could not obtain was a portable X-ray unit. There was very frequently the questionable case of a fracture which clinical judgment could not accurately determine. These cases were treated conservatively and usually evacuated for X-ray confirmation. It would have been a very helpful piece of equipment in such a remote area.
14. One item of issue seemed to deteriorate after a long period in that climate -- the cat-gut sutures. The supply we were first issued with had been held by the 18th Station hospital in the area for about 8 months. When the tubes were broken for use they were very brittle and had lost much of their strength. Buried in subcutaneous tissue, they tended to be delayed in absorption and accumulate serum about them. The lot was returned to the medical supply depot. At that time, they had been in the area a year.
15. Water supply was excellent and adequate. We were equipped with a pump and well which put out about 5000 gallons of clear water a day and which was stored in 600 gallon tanks on top of a hill to give good plumbing pressure. The amount of water used required the pump to be run only one hour a day. Water was piped to ward, kitchen, showers and laundry. It did not require chlorination, although that used in the ward for patients was purified.
16. There were showers for the enlisted men, patients, and officers. The laundry consisted of two washing machines which were adequate for our need. Messing facilities were adequate even though we fed from 105 to 120 every meal. Food was excellent except for the lack of sufficient fresh vegetables and eggs. Beef was butchered in that area. By hunting with dogs, we were able to kill more than enough wild pork for the table. Bread was baked in the area, and though weevilly, was good. For sewage and garbage disposal, a concrete incinerator was built which functioned very well. And lastly, the area was very free of vermin and disease bearing insect.
17. Fifty hospital beds were kept open at all times. The average number of patients daily was about twenty, the majority of which were infected wounds with lymphangitis and lymphadenitis, infected tinea, with the occasional acute appendix or fracture. The most frequent fractures in the area were of the skull, one occurring nearly every Sunday in a cricket match. There were occasionally cases off the ships, which passed along the coast, of diarrhea, malaria and minor accidents. On the whole both surgery and medicine was very light and we turned to a training program to fill the time.
18. Three burned cases were the most interesting that we had. All were 2nd and 3rd degree burns, one of the entire leg, the other two of the arm, face and chest, all from gasoline in lighting the field range. Each was treated very conservatively in debriding the burned areas. The wounds were then dressed with cod liver oil containing sulfadiazine and covered with pressure bandages. No infection resulted. Within three weeks the burned areas were covered with new epithelium except for small isolated spots. None required skin grafting in our judgment. In six weeks epithelization was complete and the patients ready for sick leave and light duty.
19. There were no cases of any venereal disease in that area either old or new.
20. We developed our recreation facilities to the fullest possible extent setting up a gymnasium with parallel bars, punching bag, basketball court and every week an inter unit baseball game was played. We called on the special service for libraries, radios and victrolas.
21. On November 19, 1943 movement orders were received to proceed to A.P.O. 923. The hospital was closed on that day and the 3rd. Portable Surgical Hospital boarded the SS Wandana, an Australian tramp steamer, and proceeded uneventfully to disembark at Brisbane on November 29, 1943. All equipment was returned south with the Organization.
22. The organization was attached to the 42nd Gen Hosp on arriving in Brisbane. We began immediately to reequip the organization. Physical examinations were done on all personnel. A training program was set up and followed. Leaves were granted for all personnel and the T/O has been brought up to nearly full strength with the assignment of one officer and six enlisted men. At this time we are prepared and awaiting further combat duty.
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© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 6 September 2004
This page last updated 01 September 2018