WWII Medical Kits
(by Alain Batens)
This page was last updated on September 14th 2002
Every militaria collector is aware of the availability of WWII general paraphernalia, and usually deals with the more martial aspect of WWII i.e. which either involves collecting field gear and equipment (including helmets, jackets, trousers, boots & shoes, haversacks & rucksacks, web equipment, bayonets, knives, handguns & weapons, explosives, ammunition, etc.) or the more prosaic class A uniforms, with all the trimmings & accessories (badges, insignia, ribbons, decorations, fourrageres, and the lot) . The above represent some of the frequent occupations of the average (and serious) WWII collector , and believe you me, there are very many of these around !
Once in a while, people go to more extremes (and collect personal documents, or field rations) or simply pick up one particular item of interest (shoulder insignia, D.I.s) or they become attracted by a particular Theater of Operations, a specific Campaign, but very few indeed seem to be interested in the medical aspect of WWII … Maybe the subject does not appeal to many, it certainly looks less glorious, and there is also less information about it ! Nevertheless, I personally discovered, throughout my 45 years of collecting US Army WWII goodies, that there is indeed much more to find – although it does not look that obvious to most collectors – of course, everyone is familiar with the individual first aid packet worn by every G.I. – but it doesn’t stop here ! There’s much more to learn and to find – although most people do not immediately recognize the medical pouches (worn by medical personnel, because they usually lack the recognizable Red Cross emblem) . Since trying to save a soldier’s life (manpower was important, and it still is) was a matter of life or death, the Army tried very hard to equip medical personnel with the necessary items to perform their job with diligence; and being quite organized and rather wealthy (as compared to other Allied nations at this time) the Army developed specific medical items for special applications, terrain, and or conditions (there were Army kits, Navy kits, individual kits, motor vehicle kits, aeronautical kits, gas casualty kits, jungle kits, arctic kits, parachutist kits, etc.) . So quite a lot of different Medical Kits were available during WWII – and to prove our point, we will try in the following web pages to show you some of the kits that were around, their contents, and their use !
For the potential medical collector, there are other sources to consult e.g. period-magazines, documents, catalogs, illustrations, and military Field/Technical Manuals, T/0 & Es, (I’d like to underline the value of a serious documentation, I do know it’s costly, but isn’t it better to spend a few bucks on some good basic documentation, than just spend a lot of bucks on something you think is right and you think belongs to WWII, and to find out later, this is not true !) I, personally do believe in good documentation, and it really helped me a lot all those years !
I sincerely applaud the efforts of people, like Dave Steinert (Webmaster) and organizations like AMMI who dedicate themselves by acknowledging the unknown but crucial aspects of a Medic’s life and … death in wartime – this can not and should not be overlooked or forgotten, these men played an important part in the war trying to save many a doughboy’s life – sometimes at the cost of their own ! And this is the message we want to spread ! I hope the information contained in these web pages will help serious collectors and re-enactors discover another (less known) aspect of WWII – if there are people around who are familiar with the subject, or who can help with data, information, item numbers, descriptions, they can always contact the Webmaster who will transfer same to the author – many heartfelt thanks – and do enjoy this site !
(Litter Bearers (members of Litter Bearer Platoon) Collecting Company, 329th Medical Battalion, 104th Infantry Division "Timberwolves", ETOUSA, October 1944, Re-enactment – via Alain Batens)
from L to R: look at the different helmet markings, no.1 has a large circle, no.2 & no.4 display almost identical markings, while no.3 has a wider red cross emblem on a slightly larger circular field, and no.5 has the rectangular shaped markings; also note that most of the litter bearers wear the litter carrying straps attached to the suspender (see front ring); no.1, no.2 & no.3 also have the axe and carrier on their left hip, all wear a single Geneva Convention brassard on the left sleeve, the Platoon Sergeant, no.5 i.e. a S/Sgt is provided with a whistle, and carries a M38 canvas despatch case on the right shoulder, all men carry a double set of canteens (w/water); clothing consists of standard herringbone twill 2nd pattern fatigues while nos.1, 2, 3 & 5 wear a M41 field jacket; all men further wear canvas leggings; the rest of the individual gear is standard, i.e. pistol belt, individual first-aid packet and canteens; there are 2 litters on the ground (partially visible); an official plate w/unit markings in front of no.3 and another small sign w/Battalion (329) First Aid Post, behind no.5 … NOTE: no.5, far right, is the author, Alain S. Batens
Litter Bearer Platoon = consists of 1 x 2nd Lieutenant (Platoon Leader), 1 X S/Sgt (Platoon Sergeant), 1 X Sgt (Section Leader), 1 X Corporal (Asst. Section Leader), 31 x Litter Bearers, 9 X Surgical Technicians, i.e. 1 Officer + 43 Enlisted Men (source: T/O & E 8-17, September 3, 1943)
GENERAL REMARKS on WWII MEDICAL KITS
(by Alain Batens)
Development in brief: Since its very inception in 1920 the "Medical Department Field Equipment Research Lab" was tasked with the study of possible improvements to existing Medical Equipment, still dating from World War 1. Although the War Department was aware of the fact that many existing medical items are totally obsolete or inappropriate for field use, the standard rule still applied, first use current stocks, and then, provided budgeting is available (it is not!), launch improvements or new developments ! In 1922, one of the listed elements was the individual equipment used in the field by medical personnel. The Lab’s intent is to explore the feasibility in achieving a single basic individual medical kit, that would fulfill the various needs of ALL medical personnel, mounted and/or dismounted. Furthermore, its manufacturing concept was to remain simple (no sophisticated tooling) and the cost should remain within certain budget limitations . Quite a task, was it not ?
Introduction: October 1931, a "New Medical Department Individual Equipment" is introduced, based on 5 basic elements: Suspender – Cantle Ring Strap – Litter Carrying Strap – Canvas Pouch – three types of Inserts (I-II-III) .
Basic Kits: the above development lead to different possible combinations of the 5 basic items, linked with a wide range of medical items and instruments, thus resulting into the WWII Medical Kits discussed in this Website . As such, following basic Medical Kits were used throughout WWII – they are:
Kit, Medical, Officer's (item #97115)
Kit, Medical, Non-Commissioned Officer’s (item #97110)
Kit, Medical, Private’s (item #97120)
Case, Medical, Dressings & Instruments (item # unknown)
Production: the manufacturing process was started, but with certain restraints; this encouraged the immediate production of a limited number of individual medical equipment items to enable MEDICAL PERSONNEL in the field (e.g. members of the Medical Detachments attached to every Infantry Regiment + actual tactical Medical Units operating the relevant Collecting and Clearing Companies) to carry out their job by caring for the wounded . The plan was based upon the fact that an exclusive number of salvaged matériel would be used in this process . Indeed, there were a lot of obsolete items (still to be recuperated) even new old stock items, and also surplus parts of canvas, duck, webbing, twill including the necessary hardware like hooks, eyelets, buckles and all sorts of straps . This explains the wide use of different materials, resulting in different shades, colors, and sometimes shapes of the individual medical kits . It is important to note that subject medical kits are never marked (with the usual abbreviations for the relevant manufacturer, as specified in the Army Regulations) this seems to originate from the fact that all items were, at first manufactured by the Medical Research Laboratory, and later by a sole Government entity ! According to some sources this would have been done by the "United States Penitentiary of Atlanta", Georgia . Since the US Government established a "Federal Prison Industries, Inc." in 1934, this organization was responsible for providing work to Federal Prisoners, while the orders were mostly forthcoming from Government agencies, including of course the United States Army . WWII production is estimated at approximately 70,000 Suspenders and around 150,000 Canvas Pouches . The individual medical kit was to remain in use throughout the whole war period, and only the pouches lacing system will later be modified by end 1943 (lace replaced by 3 press studs) – as usual, field distribution is withheld pending depletion of existing stocks .
Individual Medical Kit & Field Equipment: the medical soldier’s typical individual medical kit includes not only 1 Suspender, 2 Canvas Pouches + contents, 2 Cantle Ring Straps, 2 Litter Carrying Straps, 2 Litter securing Straps (for Litter Bearers), but also following individual field equipment items e.g. 1 Pistol Belt M-1936, 1 Canteen M-1910 + Cup M-1910 + Cover, Canteen, Dismounted M-1910 (+ 1 extra set for tending casualties), 1 First Aid-Packet (Carlisle Model) M-1942 + Pouch, First-Aid Packet M-1942 (for personal use), 1 Axe, Entrenching M-1910 + 1 Carrier, Axe, Entrenching M-1910 (sometimes replaced by T-Handle Entrenching Tool M-1910 + Carrier, or Folding-type E-Tool M-1943 + Carrier), 1 Haversack M-1928 + Carrier Pack M-1928 & Meatcan Pouch, 1 Helmet, Steel M-1 + Liner, with Red Cross markings (wide variety of different markings, since no rules), 1 Geneva Convention Brassard M-1924 on left arm (later 2 Brassards, and introduction of Red Cross Tabard, following German use), 1 Geneva Convention I.D. Card for Military and Civilian Protected Personnel . (Med Det personnel of course received the complete Infantry outfit – except weapons – including, Raincoat, Shelter Half + accessories, Blanket, Gasmask, Clothing, Underwear, Toiletries, Mess Kit, Field Rations, etc.)
Geneva Convention & Arms: medical personnel were forbidden by the Geneva Convention to carry arms – but they did sometimes carry a Trench Knife M-3 + Scabbard M-8 (to help cut up clothing to reach wounds) . Other cases were also reported ! though this was not permitted … it is however funny to note that Army Regulations governing "Wear of pistol in field: pistol (or revolver) with holster and clips including 21 rounds of ammunition, will be worn by Officers and Warrant Officers in the field . It will NOT be worn by Chaplains ! It WILL be worn by Officers of the Medical Department ONLY when necessary for their personal protection …" so how about this, now ? (there is indeed proof of armed medical personnel, and of medics with captured enemy sidearms)
Nice to know: the US Military Forces Supply Catalog, revised edition of 15 January 1945 indicates the (period) cost of some of the following medical items i.e. Kit, Medical, Officer’s cost = $ 26.20 Kit, Medical, NCO’s cost = $ 23.10 Kit, Medical, Pvte’s cost = $ 9.31 Pouch, Canvas w/ Lace cost = $ .72 Suspender cost = $ .53 Brassard, Geneva Convention cost = $ .10
Sources: American Militaria No. 15 1990 by P. Meunier, + miscellaneous data from WWII period Magazines and Documents, Army Regulations AR 600-35, March 1944 (all documents belong to the author's private collection)
Other Miscellaneous WWII First Aid Kits:
WWII Motor Vehicle First Aid Kits
(Kit, First Aid, Motor Vehicle, 24-Unit, Item #97771 + Kit, First Aid, Motor Vehicle, 12-Unit, Iitem #97773 - period 1942-1944 – from the collection of Alain Batens)
from L to R: closed view of a 24-Unit Medical Kit, and closed view of a 12-Unit Medical Kit
Please email me with any comments mailto:email@example.com David Steinert © Copyright 2001