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The most chivalrous act of the Battle of Arnhem was the way both sides treated the wounded regardless if they were friend or foe. Thousands of men from both the Allied and German sides became casualties during this battle and extraordinary feats were achieved by medical personnel located in hospitals, buildings, cellars and even on the front line to save their lives. It was due to their effort that hundreds of soldiers were saved and able to return home at the end of the war.

On the 17th September 1944, the first elements of the British 1st Airborne Division landed west of Arnhem and with them were the integral medical units. A total of three field ambulances and 14 Regimental Aid Posts were dropped north of the Rhine and were utilised to treat both German and Allied wounded throughout the battle.

Like their Allied counterparts, the German medical system went into overdrive as the battle started on the 17th September 1944. As a general rule, when a German soldier was wounded at the front they would be moved by Stretcher bearers (Krankenträger), auxiliary stretcher bearers (Hilfskrankenträger) to a Verwundetennest which was located less than 100m behind the front line. The wounded soldiers would receive immediate first aid. This could involve applying bandages (if not done at the front), removal of clothing and equipment as well as making the patient ready for transport to Truppenverbandplatz.

Located in a Truppenverbandplatz was normally the Battalion Doctor (Bataillonsarzt) who was assisted by medical orderlies and staff. This was located further behind the front and normally out of range of small-arms fire. Here the medical staff would conduct pain and shock treatment, pressure and compression bandaging (life saving bandaging), infection prevention and ready the patient for transport. The Battalion Doctor would also determine the seriousness of the casualty and where the patient should be moved to next.

One option was the Hauptverbandplatz which was normally located 6-10 kilometers behind the front. Those emergency surgery cases such as amputation, chest wounds, blood-transfusions, tracheotomies and surgical treatment of not transportable patients were conducted here. Normally it was made up of two surgical teams which each had a surgeon, a couple of physicians, an instrument assistant, an anesthetist, a sterilizer (medical NCO), and some medical soldiers for patient care. The other option for wounded personnel was the Feldlazarett (Field Hospital).

An armband worn by German Soldiers to designate they were an auxiliary stretcher bearer.

This option was for operation of serious patients that had been stabilised at other treatment centres closer to the front. Gun shot and shrapnel wounds are two examples of operations performed at these locations. These were located up to 20-25 kilometers behind the front and could house up 200 wounded. Wounded soldiers would be operated on at Feldlazarett before being moved into Germany (or occupied territories) where Kriegslazaratt (War Hospitals) were located. These hospitals were permanent medical facilities that could house up to 1500 wounded. They had specialist surgical teams who who operate on brain, eye and jaw wounds to name a few. The composition of these hospitals varied from location to location however all had the same prerequisites of sufficient water-supply, illumination and heating in a building protected from the elements.

Dutch Nurses carrying bed sheets and bandages on a trolley to the St. Elizabeth Hospital during the battle.

However these normal protocols for the evacuation of wounded where not necessarily followed during the Battle of Arnhem. This is due to the fact that the 1st Airborne Division dropped 60 miles behind enemy lines which is where the Field and War hospitals were located. Some of the fighting also occurred outside hospitals and it was quicker to evacuate the wounded to these hospitals rather than go through the normal evacuation procedure. However where possible it was followed. A list of known medical stations that serviced german wounded from the Battle of Arnhem are listed below:

Truppenverbandplatz
  • De Leeren Doedel Hotel
  • Wolfheze Hotel
Hauptverbandplatz
  • Velp
  • Ellekom
  • Duiven (late Sept 1944)
Feldlazarett
  • Borkelo (SS-Lazaratt 102)
Kriegslazarett
  • Apeldoorn (Kriegslazaratt 4/686)
  • Arnhem (Kriegslazaratt 1/686)
  • Utrecht
   

As the fighting continued the wounded inside the Oosterbeek pocket started to increase. Lacking medical supplies (95% of air drops going to the Germans) and under constant barrage, the British wounded were in a precarious position. Concerned for the status of the wounded in the pocket, the chief medical officer of the 9th SS-Panzer Division 'Hohenstaufen', Dr. Egon Skalka decided to approach his British counterpart in the Pocket. On the 23rd of September 1944, after seeking endorsement from his superiors, Dr. Skalka drove under a white flag towards the pocket. He arrived at a dressing station and asked for the senior medical officer. Within minutes Colonel Warrack arrived where Dr. Skalka proposed an evacuation of all wounded within the perimeter. Dr. Warrick asked for Dr. Skalka to stay where he is and he disappeared to speak to his commander: Major-General Urqhuart. He returned and thanked Dr. Skalka for his proposal and asked how was it to proceed.

Dr. Warrack accompanied Dr. Skalka back to the Hohenstaufen's headquarters where he met Harzer and Bittrich. The arrangements where put in place and the cease fire was organised. Dr. Warrick went back to the pocket to inform his Headquarters of the cease fire arrangements whilst Dr. Skalka organised every possible vehicle to evacuate the wounded. The evacuation took place over 2 days with cease fires organised at different times.

The majority of the wounded were taken to the Apeldoorn or Arnhem hospitals where they received treatment from German, Dutch and captured British medical staff. Once receovered they were moved off to Prisioner of War camps in Germany. Dr. Skalka continued to ensure the best medical care was provided to all wounded, regardless if they were German or not, with the resources he had at his disposal.

It was estimated that Skalka was responsible for organisating the removal of over 1200 wounded from the pocket of Oosterbeek during the Battle of Arnhem. This act of humanity was never forgotten by the British Paratroopers that fought during this battle. When Dr. Skalka was imprisioned after the war, many a officer from the 1st Airborne Division wrote letters in his defence. Skalka also received a letter from Colonel Warrick just after the battle, thanking him for his humanity and treatment of wounded under his care throughout the battle.

It is unknown how many wounded in total were treated as a result of the Battle of Arnhem. What is known is that wounded soldiers from the battle, regardless if German or not, were treated well under German care allowing many a paratrooper to survive the war (albeit in a POW camp).

Dr. Egon Skalka - Chief Medical Officer 9th SS Panzer Division ' Hohenstaufen'

     

A german medical orderly supervises 2 British POWs burying one of their comrades.


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