Richard Rycoft, MO – Medical Report
Brought by hand by F/Lt Rycroft at his visit on 1st November 1944
From: The Medical Officer i/c No. 21 BD Sector
To: The Senior Medical Officer, No. 85 (Base) Group, Uxbridge, England
Date: 9th July 1944
Ref: S E C R E T
Operation “OVERLORD” Medical Report
PRELIMINARY. F/Lt. Rycroft arrived at No. 21 BD Sector May 23rd 1944. Apart from “21” equipment, the Unit had not previously had Medical Supplies. These were organised during the following week. It was arranged that the Medical Officer would accompany the Unit, landing on D + 5.
On Friday June 2nd 1944, I was informed that the First Echelon (15082) were anxious about their Medical arrangements, and that it had been decided that I should accompany them. I was given an hour in which to make arrangements and clear up my personal kit. The accommodation in the car I was to travel in was limited, so equipment had to be small in amount. The following items were taken:-
Regimental Medical Pannier.
No. 1 Reserve Medical Pannier.
Blood Transfusion Box.
The LCT was reached on the evening of June 2nd and until disembarking in Normandy no further communication with the rest of the Unit was possible.
TUESDAY JUNE 6TH. After waiting off shore since 0900 hrs approximately, the LCTs were sent in at 1700.hrs. I was in the centre of the landing craft and our vehicles were able to reach the shore without difficulty. We came under shellfire five minutes after reaching the beach. The LCTs on either wing were less fortunate and a large percentage of the vehicles were drowned. The wings were not subjected to shellfire, however, until about an hour had elapsed.
2. We had been given to understand that, when we reached the beach, we should be told immediately where our transit area was, and should be sent there without delay. In point of fact, the beach was without any visible organisation and, since there was no exit, the vehicles remained strung out for about three hours. The German Artillery took full advantage of this and shelled us with great accuracy for several hours. The men took refuge under vehicles and in hastily-dug fox-holes in the line of shingle at the upper limit of the beach area. The majority of wounds were compound fractures of the limbs, although the men were all lying down when injured. During the treatment of these freshly-wounded personnel, it was discovered that there was about twenty American Soldiers, who had been wounded in the early morning assault, lying in holes in the shingle. They had only received elementary first aid and after twelve hours in the open were in some cases severely shocked. Their dressings were checked and measures taken to keep them warm. (The American wounded could give us no idea where we could contact American Medical Units.) The first American Medical Officer seen by me was seen at 2200 hrs. I saw no more until 1200 hrs June 7th.
3. At 2130 hrs, all the wounded had been attended to and had been carried to the shingle away from the advancing tide. The shelling had ceased except for spasmodic bursts. The vehicles remaining were slowly moved through a gap in the wire and put in a small lane leading to a cluster of houses ¾ mile inland. The problem of disposing of the wounded was next tackled. A radio van was cleared and used to transport some of the wounded to the small village, where they were put beside the road and in the gardens of the houses. There were no houses fit to accommodate them. In all, thirty wounded were thus moved. It was considered likely that the Enemy would shell the village during the night or early the next morning, so another thirty wounded were accommodated in a large gun emplacement about four feet deep. This afforded protection from anything except a direct hit. This emplacement was a hundred yards inland from the beach. The night was fortunately mild and, except for one bomb dropped fifty yards away from the emplacement, was quiet. The hours of darkness were spent in moving around the wounded, adjusting dressings and applying dressings to wounds that had not been discovered in the early hours of the landing. (Since the wounded were so numerous, it was not found practicable to attach labels to each patient since the time was fully spent doing first aid.) Considering the severe nature of many of the injuries and the elementary anti-shock measures taken, it was expected that many patients would die during the night. Actually three patients died out of about sixty wounded, and these were severely wounded and would probably have died in hospital had one been available.
4. The expected attack did not materialise when dawn came, but there was much sniping from close range and half a dozen people were hit, none seriously however. When searching above the village for hot water at 0700 hrs, I came across three US Medical Orderlies in a trench. They had apparently left their first aid post in the village during the previous evening, discretion being the better part of valour. After some minutes, they were persuaded to leave their security and during the rest of the morning did very valuable work in the village giving plasma transfusions to about a dozen selected cases while I was attending sixteen US Soldiers who had evacuated themselves from the beach on the previous evening and were under the shelter of a wall halfway up the village. They were discovered accidentally by one of our party at about 0800 hrs. Except for one head injury and two abdominal wounds, the patients were not seriously injured. The first abdominal wound case died soon after I had reached the group, while the second case had his rectum involved and was passing blood frequently. He was given a plasma transfusion on the spot and recovered sufficiently to be taken to the village by stretcher. At about 1200 hrs. several US Medical Officers appeared in the village from a casualty Clearing Hospital about a mile and a half away. They took over from the Medical Orderlies and were able to look after the wounded in the village generally. They apparently had not been aware of the position on this smaller beach, and were surprised to see the number of casualties. The wounded were moved off in available vehicles during the afternoon to the Casualty Clearing Hospital at Omaha Beach. The operation was slow because of traffic blocking the narrow lanes, but the last patient was removed from the vicinity of the beach by 1700 hrs – 24 hrs after we had landed.
I. The expected Medical organisation on the beach was not present because of heavy US casualties (assault forces and Medical Officers) earlier in the day. No information was obtainable about casualty clearing posts.
II. Our own casualties were much higher than expected (25% approximately, and added to those were the American soldiers left on the beach from the early morning assault)
III. Available Medical supplies were soon used (25 Tubonic ampoules were followed by Morphine Tartrate tablets used sublingually). Shortage of stretchers and bearers was felt acutely.
IV. First Aid was carried out remarkably well by individuals. The Unit Padre did a Medical Officer’s work under very difficult conditions. Without the aid of these people, the casualties would have been considerably higher.
V. The absence of an ambulance was probably the most severe set back. The type of vehicle in a Unit of this kind is not readily converted into a stretcher carrier.
VI. The transfusion outfit carried was unable to be used owing to pressure of work and lack of assistance.
VII. The most remarkable clinical fact was the number of patients surviving after severe wounds. Long periods in the open under very noisy and terrifying conditions, and with only elementary first aid and anti-shock measures. This, I think, is strong evidence that the human organisation benefits from rest rather than too energetic “resuscitation” methods.
VIII. The American personal first aid pack was very useful and much superior to the English counterpart. Local sulphonamide and general therapy were possible in each wounded American.
IX. Haemorrhage in the majority of cases was adequately controlled by a tight dressing. Tourniquets were duly used in a few cases and then under supervision. One Officer with a severe foot injury (complete destruction of the tarsus) seemed to get reassurance from doing his own tourniquet adjustment until he was transferred to hospital.
I should like, in conclusion, to refer to the work done by the sole Medical Orderly LAC Reid J (15082 GCI Unit). His assistance given throughout the twenty-four hours cannot be rated too highly.
Signed: R Rycroft F/Lt
No. 21 BD Sector