Excerpts from Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II by Mae Mills Link and Hubert A. Coleman. Office of the Surgeon General, USAF, Washington, D.C., 1955.

Air Evacuation Mission – AAF School of Air Evacuation

At Randolph Field, November 1944, two C-47 aircraft, one L-5B, and one C-54 type aircraft were assigned to the School of Aviation Medicine for air evacuation training. (pp. 380-381)

The School of Aviation Medicine, Randolph Field, Texas.

Medical Support of the Pacific Air Combat Mission – Hospitalization

In one instance an entire portable surgical hospital was moved in small L-5 planes: 37 men and 1,000 pounds of equipment were moved in 1 day by 6 planes making 6 flights each. (p. 741)

Medical Support of the Pacific Air Combat Mission – Air Evacuation

In emergencies almost all types of planes were used to evacuate personnel, although the C-47 and L-5 were the principal types used in organized air evacuation. (p. 780)

While helicopters were not yet used to any great extent in the evacuation of patients, in June 1945 two infantry companies were isolated in an advanced area in the mountains of lower Luzon where ambulances or small planes could not reach them. The Surgeon, V Air Service Area Command (ASAC), suggested the use of RD-3 helicopters, which had recently been assigned to the command. The isolated troops cleared an area 25 feet by 35 feet, and in a period of 8 days over 50 seriously wounded patients were evacuated without loss. These patients were delivered at the door of the receiving office of the hospital 30 minutes after they were picked up. The outstanding effectiveness of this procedure resulted in the authorization of eight RD-4 helicopters for each liaison L-5 squadron.

L-5 planes and other similar light planes were used occasionally to evacuate patients from airfields to hospitals and for other intra-island evacuation, although it was not until the inception of the Luzon Campaign that this type of aircraft was used in large-scale evacuation of patients. The L-5B, which was designed to carry one litter patient, proved to be extremely satisfactory for this purpose, but it was not until the arrival of the 3d Air Commando Group in December 1944 that this type of plane was made available to air evacuation personnel. Prior to the arrival of the L-5B, light planes used for this purpose had to be modified in the theater to accommodate litter cases.

The use of small aircraft to evacuate personnel from areas inaccessible to larger aircraft or motor vehicles was first advocated by the Surgeon, Thirteenth Air Force, in April 1943. At this time a few of these planes were in operation at one of the island bases in the Pacific. However, extensive employment of these planes resulted from this recommendation. Subsequently, the Surgeon, FEAF [Far East Air Forces], realizing the possibility of using the L-5’s for evacuation work, recommended that such a system of evacuation be developed. The squadron of L-5’s was offered to the Sixth Army for the purpose of air evacuation, supply-dropping missions, resupplying as a part of the Army medical service, and observation. The offer was accepted and the detached squadron was enlarged to three squadrons and reconstituted as the 5th Air Liaison Group, with air evacuation as its primary function. Many of the aircraft were the gift of Detroit, Michigan, school children and carried the names of the donor schools on the cowling.

Early air evacuation planes. [JN-4 “Jenny”]

An extremely efficient system of communications based on two-way radio, telephone, and teletype was put into operation by the 135th Medical Group. Artillery units were accustomed to construct small airfields close to the front lines for the use of planes employed in artillery observation. With the commencement of this evacuation system, these fields were made available for L-5 operations by enlarging them to 1,000 by 75 feet. Clearing and collecting company commanders were directed to establish their stations adjacent to these strips if the tactical situation permitted. Strips for debarkation of patients were located wherever possible adjacent to each hospital and division clearing station and near to division collecting stations when indicated.

Movements from hospitals or clearing stations were coordinated so that patients would arrive at the strip a few minutes in advance of the planes. At the receiving station, planes were loaded with patients who were flown to hospitals for further evacuation or to air strips where transport planes awaited. The L-5’s continued to shuttle between the two terminals until all patients were evacuated. Changes in the number of patients, the need for additional planes, or changes in routing were given to the chief pilots at the stations concerned. Emergency needs were called for by radio. Medical officers stationed at these air strips decided on the suitability of the patient for air evacuation. However, all types of patients were evacuated by L-5’s except psychotics. Patients who might have been adversely affected by altitude were flown at levels not to exceed 800 feet. Property exchanges were maintained on an item exchange of litter and blankets.

Another extremely important function of this system was the carrying forward of vitally needed medical supplies and personnel. In one instance a qualified neurosurgeon was flown into a division clearing station for consultation on a seriously wounded soldier. On another occasion a portable surgical hospital consisting of 37 men and 1,000 pounds of equipment was flown to a collection company station which had been isolated by the enemy.

L-5 air evacuation began on 9 February 1945 and throughout the course the designated times. Movements from hospitals or clearing stations were of the Luzon Campaign demonstrated the versatility and efficiency of this system of operation. A record was set when 89 patients were transported from one division clearing station to an Army hospital in one day by four planes. The routed trip was 32 miles by air and one pilot made 4 such round trips in a day. This type of evacuation permitted seriously wounded patients to be moved rapidly and safely to hospitals for definitive treatment by highly qualified medical personnel. (pp. 782-785)

Medical Support of the Pacific Air Combat Mission – Health and Fighting Effectiveness

In November 1944, L-5 planes were again used in a detailed experiment in the vicinity of Hollandia, New Guinea. It was reported that of the various type planes used in experiments up to this time the larger type was more effective in treating large areas and areas remote from the base of operations, whereas the smaller planes were more effective in controlling small areas. Throughout the tests, the oil dosages were only 0.5 to 0.6 gallons per acre, while the amount of DDT ranged from 0.17 to 0.45 pounds per acre. The most satisfactory solution was found to be 10 percent DDT dissolved by weight in a mixture composed by volume of 60 percent diesel oil, 30 percent lube oil, and 10 percent gasoline. Excellent coverage and penetration and almost perfect results were obtained when the DDT solution was properly applied.

While other instances of the use of various type planes were frequently reported by organizations interested in malaria control during the rest of the war, after the invasion of the Philippines in October 1944, the attention of most personnel was gradually shifted to the possibility of employing this procedure in the elimination of flies. The problem of the control of fly-borne diseases now became even more pressing than the control of malaria. In February 1945, L-5 planes were used to spray the fly infested fortress of Corregidor [Island] following its recapture from the Japanese. The report on this mission submitted by the Assistant Surgeon, XI Corps, emphasized the remarkably effective results obtained. (pp. 808-809)

Medical Support of Air Combat in China-Burma-India

As Colonel Cochran’s “Flying Sergeants” in their L-1’s and L-5’s evacuated casualties from the face of the enemy during the next days they were to gain fame throughout the land for their exploits. Because they could jump from one jungle airstrip to another as the pattern of warfare with the Chindits behind the Japanese lines in Burma fluctuated, they were able to evacuate more than four hundred casualties from fluid Mayu Range front. One local newspaper described their activities in the following graphic terms:

In a jungle clearing in the Arakan, 40 wounded men lay waiting within sound of the Japs who surrounded the clearing on three sides. Over the ridge to the West came tree top hopping, the planes they were waiting for. Fox Moths of the British Service and L-1’s and L-5’s of the First Air Commando Force. Each turned, gliding swiftly into the clearing. (p. 890)

Table 91 – Killed in Action (p. 895)

  • Light Plane          2             L-5 collision near Tamu, India.
  • Light Plane          1             L-5 crash near Broadway strip, Burma.
  • Light Plane          1             Bullet wound in back due to enemy action.
  • Light Plane          1             L-5 crash near Taro, Burma.

Air evacuation from remote areas became more feasible when L-5 liaison planes and helicopters were introduced into the [China] theater. (p. 906)

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