U.S. casualties start to mount in Tunisia

B-17 bombers, of the U.S. Army's Twelfth Air force, dropped fragmentation bombs on the important El Aouina airdrome at Tunis, Tunisia, and covered the airdrome and field completely. On the field below enemy planes can be seen burning, on February 14, 1943.

B-17 bombers, of the U.S. Army’s Twelfth Air force, dropped fragmentation bombs on the important El Aouina airdrome at Tunis, Tunisia, and covered the airdrome and field completely. On the field below enemy planes can be seen burning, on February 14, 1943.

In North Africa United States forces which had been pushing east following the Torch landings now started to come up against increasingly stiff German opposition. After the largely unopposed landings they had been able to consolidate but now some significant fighting started. Tunisia was not going to be an easy business to for many of the inexperienced U.S. troops.

On the German side more and more troops began to arrive as Hitler decided that he wanted to maintain his foothold in Africa. Some of his Generals might have argued this was a futile gesture given the weight of men and arms that the Allies could now begin to deploy – but any form of retreat or withdrawal, anywhere, went against Hitler’s instincts.

Edward D. Churchill, graduate of Harvard, had been a distinguished chest surgeon before the war, now he was a Colonel in the US Army Medical Corps. Close to the front line in Tunisia, he did not get a gentle introduction to what his new role really meant:

Beginning at 4:00 p.m. on the 31st, casualties began pouring in. We started operating at once and kept at it through the night, not stopping till 10:30 next am. Just now, 8:00 pm, two more ambulance loads have come in.

Frosty reports that casualties are on litters all over the floor of the dispensary. Surely we are taking an awful lacing between here and Maknessey. From one company of over two hundred men, thirty-two are now living.

I certainly have a real operating crew. They are all willing to work until they drop and with never a word of complaint. We have had all types of surgery; sucking chest wounds, abdominal wounds, compound fractures, and amputations of arms, legs, feet, and thighs. Some have had an arm or leg either partially or entirely blown off, so we have no choice.

To date we have lost only one case here, a lower one-third thigh amputation with multiple wounds of the left leg and thigh. He was in profound shock in spite of 1,500 cc of plasma, 500 cc of blood and lots of glucose. The operation did not increase his shock, but neither did he improve.

More blood might have helped. Blood is so precious! So urgently needed! What we do give is being obtained from our own personnel who are most willing, but they really need it themselves after putting in long hours without rest or sleep.

We could not find a donor for a splendid chap from Maine last night. He was in severe shock and needed something in addition to plasma and glucose, so Frosty gave his blood, took a short rest and went back to operating again. We had to amputate his right lower thigh, do a débridement and open reduction on a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula and then remove a shell fragment from the left temporal region. He was evacuated back in good condition this evening.

They are strafing the road between here and Tebessa every day killing and wounding our men, burning our supply and ration trucks. Rommel is reported in Gabes, eighty-five miles from here. Our rations are only C and even those are very skimpy, We are often hungry.

Edward D. Churchill had pioneered new techniques in chest surgery before the war. He would now develop new surgical procedures for the treatment of battle wounds. See Edward D. Churchill: Surgeon to Soldiers, currently only available in the U.S.

A United States soldier advances cautiously at left with a sub-machine gun to cover any attempt of the German tank crew from escaping their fiery prison inside their tank following a duel with U.S. and British anti-tank units in Medjez al Bab area, Tunisia, on January 12, 1943.

A United States soldier advances cautiously at left with a sub-machine gun to cover any attempt of the German tank crew from escaping their fiery prison inside their tank following a duel with U.S. and British anti-tank units in Medjez al Bab area, Tunisia, on January 12, 1943.

Rare colour film about the war in North Africa after the American landings in 1942. It describes the campaign to capture Tunisia by the Americans under General Clark approaching from the West and the British 8th Army commanded by Montgomery, pushing forward from the East. 41 minutes and a bit murky but produced by the Army with help from Warner Brothers.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

P.Malmi February 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Looks like they were attacking throug minefields, for mentioning blown off limbs. Arms blown off suggest some of them were crawling.

Tough guys, cant say more. Or just ordinary guys with job to do.

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