Water Ambulance?

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Trux, Feb 15, 2014.

  1. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    I am slowly working through the Operational Instructions for medical units of 102 Beach Sub Area on Juno. I have come across three mentions of water ambulances working to hospital carriers. These are not the medical DUKWs used to carry casualties to LSTs. Anyone know anything about them?

  2. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    There is one shown at the start of the clip - http://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675066925_American-soldiers_Purple-Hearts_dead-German-soldier_water-ambulance

    http://www.boatregister.net/WW2_ArmyWorkBoats_files/AWB40ft_Ambulance_Mk1_RG.jpg - although the drawing is dated 1946


    Edited to add:

    Second World War Hospital Ships

    During the Second World War hospital ships continued to serve the British Army in evacuating the wounded and injured back to Britain. Their number were supplemented by Hospital Carriers which had a shallow draught and could go close inshore to facilitate swifter evacuation of casualties. They were assisted by water ambulances with flat bottoms that could go ashore and carry stretchers.
  3. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Thank you very much TD. The film clip must show the one I am interested in. I have watched it twice and will do so again.

    My assumption was that they were based on one of the smaller landing craft, LCA or LCP(L) and carried on the davits of hospital carriers. From the documents it seems they were able to beach but for preference used Courseulles harbour at high tide when they were level with the dockside.

    Another neglected by water to look into.

  4. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    With your film clip and a little help from my friends it seems that the Water Ambulance was a conversion of the LCP(S). 160 had the troop benches removed and replaced by fittings for six casualty litters. They could be carried on the davits of Hospital Carriers. More later on my Juno thread I hope.

  5. Noel Burgess

    Noel Burgess Senior Member

    Mike, According to Lenton & Colledge "Warships of World War II" they were referred to as LCH [same as LC Headquarters ??] and were numbered 221-300 -so that's 80 craft- the description in the book agrees that they were LCP(S) and could carry six stretcher cases AND 10 walking wounded; but I wonder if that should be OR 10 walking wounded.

  6. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Thanks Noel,

    I had not looked there. I have had a copy for many years. In fact my first one wore out and I replaced it. I have also been referred to 'Allied Landing Craft of WW2'. I have had this for many years but missed the entry for LCP(S). This has the same information and also a diagram. You are quite right. With six stretchers (or litters) there is no room for walking wounded.

    I am also told by a usually reliable source that were 159 conversions. Numbering of small craft seems to be somewhat erratic so perhaps there is another series of 80 hiding somewhere.

  7. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    This one.

    Water Amb.jpg

  8. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    An update.

    There is still much to learn about Water Ambulances but it does seem that orders were placed for a substantial number. Eight Hospital Carriers were to each have six which gives 48. There was to be 100% reserve so that makes 96. Twelve were ordered for 'other purposes', possibly for use in home ports. In addition it was decided that the hospital carriers could not leave their water ambulances behind at the beaches, since they were also to be the ships lifeboats, and a further quantity (50) were needed for work off the beaches.

    These were not numbered in the landing craft series but had their own numbers. The Lenton and Colledge list seems to refer to a number of existing LCP(S) which were converted to Water Ambulances. The remainder were new build.

    Still working on this (with help from my friends).

  9. Noel Burgess

    Noel Burgess Senior Member

    DannyM and Trux like this.
  10. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    A little more, Martha Gellhorn's dispatch can be found on line.

    The Hospital Carriers
    These smaller vessels were adapted to transport casualties; again, several were packets. Most were to discharge their patients at the Outer Dock at Southampton, the peacetime base for the Southern Railway packets to France and the Channel Islands. Outer Dock had the advantage that it had rail lines alongside the berths; it was also close to the Southampton Terminus Station. The dock is now Ocean Village.

    From Southampton casualties were dispersed all over the south of England, many to country houses that had been converted into hospitals. A least one of these hospitals was close to Weymouth, which also had a railway running along the dock. This does not seem to have been used for this purpose, unless the Americans landed their injured there. The writer remembers the slow moving hospital trains, which came from the Southampton direction.

    All but one of the ships carried six landing craft adapted as ‘water ambulances’. The Medical Staff were provided by the Royal Army Medical Corps or the United States Army; depending on which task force they served. In addition to transporting casualties, the ships were effectively floating Accident and Emergency centres. All but the Dutch flagged Batavier II were Red Ensign ships. They were painted white, with a broad green band broken at three points to allow red crosses to be inserted. An identifying number was painted on bow and quarter. Like all approved hospital vessels they were supposedly exempt from attack, but, as the Allies had found during the Mediterranean landings, the Luftwaffe failed to respect their status and some were sunk. Also, sea mines failed to differentiate between them and other targets.

    Batavier II had been converted in London to be Hospital Carrier No 50; with accommodation for 215 patients. After training in the Thames Estuary she sailed for Southampton on 6 June. From there she was due to sail to Gold on the 7 June, but was inexplicably prevented from doing so because of ‘shortage of coal’. This delayed the sailing until the 11th, when she was unable to find her convoy. She was returning to the Solent when she met the outbound convoy. On the far shore she embarked 198 casualties, just over half being stretcher cases. When the northbound convoy was attacked, she escaped damage.

    On 11 June, the Batavier II was instructed to sail just as the ‘Great Storm’ was starting. Because of the high seas, her water ambulances could not be launched and she again ran low on coal and returned empty. At Southampton a severe leak had to be repaired; later she was in collision with three American vessels while anchored off Cherbourg. Not a lucky ship!

    The Southern Railway’s Dinard No 28 was no more fortunate to begin with. She sailed for Juno on the 7 June, but did not keep to the swept channel and struck a mine that evening. There were doubts as to whether the casualty would founder and the order was given to abandon ship. Two naval trawlers got her back to the Isle of Wight, from where, with extra pumps, she made Southampton. The ship was under repair until the 17 June, when she embarked her first 236 off Juno. After that poor start she made frequent successful crossings.

    The London Midland and Scottish Railway’s Duke of Lancaster was fitted out as Hospital Carrier No 56. Her first sailing was on the 8 June. She returned with 245 casualties, including 42 POWs. On her return she was diverted to Portsmouth, as all the Southampton berths were occupied. This ship was also twice delayed by bunker and water shortages. It should be said that these vessels were designed to make short passages and probably had small bunker spaces.

    Another LMS ship, the Duke of Rothesay, became Hospital Carrier 62. Her first sailing for Juno was on 8 June. She loaded off several beaches, returning with 315 wounded and two dead servicemen. In fair weather it was found that the water ambulances were successful in transporting casualties over comparatively short distances. Their record was ferrying 115 cases, in two hours, while the ship was anchored three miles off. On 30 June this ship embarked five hundred casualties, including 334 stretcher cases, 111 more than her rated capacity.

    The Coast Line ship Lady Connaught, Hospital Carrier No 55, was allocated to the US Utah Beach. Her Medics were therefore provided by the Americans. Her capacities were 95 stretcher patients and 246 walking wounded; but on her first sailing on 9 June, she carried a total of 450 injured. She maintained an uninterrupted service throughout the month of June and beyond.

    The Naushon and the New Bedford were two ferries that had been built by the Bethlehem Ship Building Corporation of Quincy, Mass. The New Bedford was only two hundred feet long; getting her across the Atlantic was an achievement in itself. Both were put under the Red Ensign and allocated the US Western Task Force, arriving at Omaha Beach on 8 June.

    The London North Eastern Railway ship Prague was the fourth ship for the two Western Task Force beaches. She was designated Hospital Carrier No 51. She made her first crossing on 7 June and maintained a regular service to the beaches, followed by Cherbourg and Dieppe. The Prague was equipped to treat and transport 194 stretcher cases and 228 walking wounded.

    The US war correspondent Martha Gellhorn was probably on the Prague. Whichever of the four ships she sailed on we are indebted to her for a description of, among other things, the merchant crews. It is difficult to believe that she boarded without active help from members of the crew. She said that she only came out of the lavatory that she had been hiding in, when she heard the ships engines start. If so she could still have been disembarked, fortunately she wasn’t.

    Her stepson, Sandy Matthews, handles her Estate, he lives near Torquay. He has not responded to a message I sent, so I cannot quote extensively from her dispatch without infringing copyright. I will therefore paraphrase some of her report. An online search will find at least an abridged version of the article.

    She confirms that there were 422 beds on the ship, which ties in with the Prague. There were six nurses, who had been training in the USA up to three weeks before. They had been allocated to a railway train ambulance, but found themselves on a ship – something that they didn’t seem to have complained about. The ‘beautifully white’ hospital carrier sailed alone, with ‘not so much as a pistol on board.’ She says that they crossed in daylight and it seemed a long morning and the captain never left the bridge as they made their way through the mine-swept channel.

    She confirms that they had six water ambulances: ‘light motor launches that swung down from the ship’s side and could be raised the same way when full of wounded.’ She describes the orders being given to the civilian boats crews, as they set off with their American stretcher-bearers. Upon return: ‘the ship’s crew became volunteer stretcher bearers instantly.’ The four doctors, six nurses, and about 14 medical orderlies had to be great people to care for 400 wounded men. She describes the sterling work of these Americans in detail.

    Somehow or other she managed to get ashore on one of the water ambulances. Once there they were stuck for some time on a falling tide. It was long dark before they assembled the injured on a British LCT. ‘The night too; went on longer than other nights. Our water ambulances found us and there was a lot of incomprehensible cockney talk among the boatmen.’ The stretcher-bearers had realised on the LCT that most of their casualties were German; but all did their duty, as always. With more cockney chat, they set off. ‘So, full of conversation, we zigzagged back to the ship and were at last swung aboard.’

    Everyone was waiting for daylight, everyone longing for England. They had faith in their ship and ‘counted on one another’. All, ‘from the British captain to the London messboy, did his job tirelessly well.’ Similarly ‘the doctors, nurses and orderlies were there for the wounded and the wounded alone, and would not fail them.’ Then the coast came in sight and English air flowed through the wards and the wounded seemed to feel it. The captain shouted down from the bridge, “Look at it! Just look at it!” ‘He had spoken for all of us.’

    US sources give the medical complement as five officers, five nurses, and 49 enlisted men. British manning was similar with the Officers, NCOs and other ranks coming from the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Matron, and five nursing sisters from the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (as it was until 1949).

    All of the ship and boats crews were merchant seamen. What is not clear is where the extra civilian boatmen were recruited. They may have been from the ships’ home ports; London in the case of the Prague – hence all the cockney chat.

    Like the Merchant Infantry Landing ships, these ships have been largely forgotten; any occasional reference being incorrectly prefixed HMHS.
  11. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    There’s a file at the National Archives (ADM 1/13477) about the ‘Requirement for water ambulances to transport wounded from the beaches on Operation Overlord’
  12. DannyM

    DannyM Member

    This file mainly cover the number and costs of the WA ordered in 1942/43.

    No details of the actual operation or ships that they were carried on.


  13. Noel Burgess

    Noel Burgess Senior Member

    Reviving this thread to post an excellent photo of a Water Ambulance which I recently noticed in the IWM collection [A24088, at Courseulles]
    Water Ambulance IWM A24088.jpg
    Trux likes this.
  14. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    Described in the comprehensive US Navy guide to Allied Landing Craft and Ships (ONI 226) as converted from British Landing Craft Personnel (small) thus
    For raids or second-echelon troop landings.
    Debarkation is by portable bow ladders shown
    secured on deck in photos. Some units have been
    equipped as water ambulances (drawing), carry 6
    litters instead of benches. In all other craft 4 litters
    can be carried.

    My italics

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