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Sanitation in the African campaign


jtcm
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Sanitation was like most other controllable conditions in any war, it depended upon the positive or negative control exerted by the officers of any given unit of any given country. Just like whether or not prisoners were treated according to the Geneva Convention. In many instances, Im sure, there was no way to control wheather or not someone took a dump in some certain location, and a house with a little cover would be better than out in the outhouse as most of the WW2 era European country homes or for that matter US country homes did not have indoor plumbing. Of course I have the advantage of being born on an Arkansas farm in 1938, so I remember that out houses are cold and isolated. poppys

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I would have thought the the disease could work both ways :

A: In the time frame of a battle, and with the adrenalin running, I imagine the troops would summon up the energy to fight.

B: More importantly - if you are feeling pretty ill death might not seem so bad. Do you fight to the death in your foxhole I think it could happen.It takes less energy than running away. Surrendering will not cure you - unless you believe you can surrender safely and then get good medical treatment ..... bit of a longshot.

I suppose from the Italian point of view that works : ) [Also I have been reminded that the Italians and Germans had been fighting each other 25 years ealier]

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Dandelion:

I don't know anything more than what I wrote; here's the URL to the article:

http://www.oxfordtoday.ox.ac.uk/features/05.shtml

I hope it works. The book is in fact out already. The "Italians must be unsanitary" of course reflects nothing more, I think, than British prejudice-- as does their surprise at what they perceived to be German neglect in the matter.

The article quotes only British sources-- an old tradition, starting with Siborne's history of waterloo, in which only British witnesses were interviewed-- no French, no Prussians, no Belgians.

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Originally posted by poppys:

Sanitation was like most other controllable conditions in any war, it depended upon the positive or negative control exerted by the officers of any given unit of any given country. Just like whether or not prisoners were treated according to the Geneva Convention. In many instances, Im sure, there was no way to control wheather or not someone took a dump in some certain location, and a house with a little cover would be better than out in the outhouse as most of the WW2 era European country homes or for that matter US country homes did not have indoor plumbing. Of course I have the advantage of being born on an Arkansas farm in 1938, so I remember that out houses are cold and isolated. poppys

Indeed. smile.gif

The officers are only part of the equation. The troops themselves have to have a basic knowledge of the matter. Ie, city dwellers will have less civilian experience in sanitation in field condition than people from the farms and logging camps.

If you have officers quoting manuals to a bunch of city people accustomed to pulling a cord to dispose of the waste you will have different results compared to if you have farmers and loggers being told by their officer they need to build a "facility" (a ****ter for the less squemish members of the community). smile.gif

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JTCM

Nice article there. I basically find him very interesting in the descriptive task, but strangely weak on analysis.

He writes that the British army was the only one to enter the war with a blood transfusion service. While true that this was a separate and distinct service in the British Army (which I have now discovered), the exact same functions existed in both the French and German armies, at least since 1937 in the latter case, though baked into normal medical units. There might be differences that I am not capable of noting, being no doctor myself, but the basic functions of collecting, storing and transportation of blood seem to all be there.

I’m not sure what he means by stating the British were the only ones to enter the war with a fully functioning blood transfusion service either. I know nothing about it, but he himself goes on to state that in Norway, France and Asia conditions did not permit the UK blood transfusion service to function. That was Britain’s entry.

So I still don't get that part. It would be really nice getting some details on UK/CW organisation here.

He makes very interesting observations about malfunctions in Axis medical care, which sound very credible to me. He notes the lack of medical supplies in the Axis army and the according state of the patients. He notes that the Axis was suffering severe problems with their channels of supply, which they certainly did. At Alamein, the long distances made the supply situation virtually untenable even with zero combat activity. Even in Tunisia, with very short supply lines, the Axis had one single road and one single sea-lane, impossible to defend effectively from concentrated allied attack. It all stands to reason that while having supply problems, the Axis would have reduced capacity of treating patients. Add to this the fact that the Axis was short on several critical medicaments even without Allied interdiction, such as sulpha and quinine – not to mention the wholly absent penicillin – and we get a credible picture of what conditions must have been like. This also lends credibility to his statement that medical problems were worse on the Axis side than on the Allied.

So I now interpret the German and the US report stating that regionally specific medical issues hit both sides in like scale, by adding that both sides did not always have equal capability of dealing with the problem.

But having made the observations, the author himself chooses to seek reasons for shortcomings in other factors than those that seem obvious. He ventures into the personal interest of Rommel (who did not administer the logistic situation) and German and Italian national characters. The latter gives air to stereotype prejudice, not otherwise commonly found in UK scientific articles. These sections do little but erode the credibility of the whole article, which is a shame because it is actually quite interesting.

Also of great interest – I think – is the stating of how combat units regarded the medical consultants as bothersome. This seems to compute with the brief comment in my source that the prohibition on camping in wadis and oasis (how do you say oasis in plural, in English?) was often ignored. To a combat commander, anybody bothering him with any other priority than tactical consideration would probably appear to be “in the way”. It also reminds me of experiences with safety officers operating in ordinary, peacetime industries…

But still I am not buying the High-and-Mighty bit. Simply because I have not seen this in any other context, and it sounds unlike the armed forces in question.

There are other statements equally strange but more understandable. He states that the forces were balanced at Alamein, specifically mentioning the 15th (which was not an elite division btw), if it had not been for Axis sick rates. This is bordering the slightly amusing, since the forces were anything but balanced quite regardless of disease. But the author also expresses that his agenda is to shed light on the importance of combat medicine, and exaggerations of the significance of ones own service is commonplace both in personal accounts and post-war studies.

It is a bit of a promotion text, and my speculation is that the presentation of the content of the book has been subject to displaying Amazing new facts to attract mainstream buyers (mainstream as compared to combat medicine grogs that is). So my guess is this book is actually a lot more interesting than this text would suggest.

All in all then, perhaps it is after all motivated to have heavier casualty reduction (due to disease) in Axis units than in Allied.

Cheerio

Dandelion

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Hi Dandelion,

Glad you liked the article. To be more charitable than you: the author of the book has done a lot of primary research, and come up with specific findings in his field of expertise-- medical history. Being a good historian, he tries to give an interpretation and explanation for the whole thing-- reads up on military history, etc. But you can of course disagree with this; seems like it has so,e weaknesses; calling the 15th Panzer elite because its a Panzer unit would be a typical slip made by a non-military historian.

Now you have a good source problem: conflict between official sources (German regulation) versus enemy sources (british intelligence reports, post battle debriefs). None of these two is more "real". But the Brits were surprised by german sloppiness in sanitary ,atters AGAINST their prejudices, which rather tells in favour of it giving good evidence.

Re. combat officers being too high and mighty to care where they crapped-- we'll have to read the book... If the author presents specific evidence, rather than speculation, then we'll have to accept it-- though of course I doubt there's an interview with a wounded tank commander saying "yeah we're too hoity toity to care about hygiene"--it's more a question of perception by other services.

`Very interesting problems of perception, reporting and reality-- best book I can recommend is jean Norton Cru, Du temoignage, re WWI accounts.

Excellent, we seem to have driven everyone away from this thread by our blather

Regards

jtcm

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Originally posted by junk2drive:

Nope, we're still here smile.gif

Indeed.

I was disappointed no one could see any correlation between my post about Stan Scislowski's experiences about German latrines in Italy. Wondering if anyone else had read anything similar? I have a hard time believing that turning entire houses into open latrines was standard practice....??

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Oh they are not scared off so easily around here smile.gif I've seen them endure ballistic periphernalia that makes this debate seem like a discussion you'd have with a cab driver in Paris, picking your teeth.

The conflicting sources theme is a common one in this line of work. Were regulations enforced or ignored? Did assigned personnel fulfil their duty or wouldn't or couldn't they? We'll never know. But I do think we found an acceptable middleroad there, absorbing most information from both sources. I'd accept a suggestion to reduce manpower to 60-70% at Alamein if playing Axis, which I would have hesitated to do before our debate.

Though not if the opponent suggested it with the motivation that the men were too high and mighty for hygiene smile.gif

As to fighting with disease in ones body - I think it's a fair illustration to start exhausted. The ruse of combat would perhaps mobilise reserves once it all began?

Violating homes with various bodily fluids, yes Michael I have heard quite a few such stories. I grew up with them. Primarily about the Soviets but also about the US occupational forces perpetrating such and similar acts in Germany.

Don't seem to remmeber such stories about Canadians though smile.gif Maybe they were busy running around on their endless prairies, feeling free smile.gif

It lies in the nature of these stories that they cannot be challenged, since only the storyteller was there and the perpetrator is always anonymous. And there is no way of generally claiming nobody ever do such things - far fouler deeds are done. One has simply to nod and listen.

Personally I consider them much like the stories of the pregnant women that keep getting gutted with their babies ripped out - another story that accompany every conflict I know except perhaps the Falklands war - as primarily an expression of intense dislike of the the enemy, rather than attempts at relating actual events.

So I'm not saying it never happened. I'm just nodding and listeing. smile.gif

I share you hesitance about accepting that it was ever standard procedure to collective defecate in the living room of some nice old Italian lady. But of course, in an army of three million men, I'm sure you'd find a couple of guys not understanding why this is not a great idea.

Cheerio

Dandelion

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Originally posted by Dandelion:

Violating homes with various bodily fluids, yes Michael I have heard quite a few such stories. I grew up with them. Primarily about the Soviets but also about the US occupational forces perpetrating such and similar acts in Germany.

In a similar vein, no less a personage than Winston S. Churchill has been alleged to have urinated into the Rhine River, inviting the party of officers accompanying him to do likewise. There is a rather famous photograph of General George S. Patton performing the same function at a different part of the Rhine.

Michael

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Originally posted by Tero:

Intense dislike ? How much more PC can you get ? :D [/QB]

Pressing discomfort at the thought of the enemy?

Teuton profiling?

smile.gif

Understatements, that fine British art of humo(u)r, is the one quality of which less actually is more.

Mr Churchill probably was not aware that the French dipped their Tricolors in the Rhine as they reached it. Then again, maybe he was. Or maybe he just never found any of those reputedly superb British hygienic arrangements.

smile.gif

Sergei, keep sharpening that pen, you're getting closer.

Cheerio

Dandelion

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Originally posted by Michael Emrys:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by Dandelion:

Violating homes with various bodily fluids, yes Michael I have heard quite a few such stories. I grew up with them. Primarily about the Soviets but also about the US occupational forces perpetrating such and similar acts in Germany.

In a similar vein, no less a personage than Winston S. Churchill has been alleged to have urinated into the Rhine River, inviting the party of officers accompanying him to do likewise. There is a rather famous photograph of General George S. Patton performing the same function at a different part of the Rhine.

Michael </font>

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Originally posted by Dandelion:

Or maybe he [Churchill] just never found any of those reputedly superb British hygienic arrangements.

;)

As Toland gives the account in The Last 100 Days, before the party set out for the Rhine, Churchill was asked if he wanted to visit said superb hygienic arrangements, to which he replied that he would wait. By that, I take it that Toland means to imply that Churchill's action was accompanied by malice aforethought.

Michael

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Certain types of predators in the animal kingdom mark their hunting territory by urinating in various locations.

Human beings, being animals themselves, though supposedly above all others in the chain, would probably exhibit similar behavior in primal situations such as war. Although the motivations for such behavior would be a little different.

I would think that sanitary conditions in the field would be far more stringent in static areas. I.E. positions that were occupied for some time, by large groups of forces. The longer units were confined to one area, the greater the need to maintain controlled sanitary conditions.

The NA Campaign was marked by sweeping movements and clashes in the open desert. This would mean that some forces were constantly moving, and therefore it was a situation of overnight laagers and then on the move again, or moving at night and laying low in the daytime to avoid observation.

Reasonably healthy men, with a decent diet can usually function with minor aggravations such as dysentary or malaria. More dibilitating conditions would mean evacuation to an aid station or hospital of course. Based on the amount of fighting that took place in NA it would seem that both sides had enough men available to kill each other.

[ December 07, 2004, 04:12 AM: Message edited by: Nidan1 ]

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I have a feeling that the 'using people's living room as toilet' practice is actually quite widespread. I seem to remember so,ething like that in the documentary on Chechnya ("the Shamanov column"); various stories of schools; etc, used as latrines by troops in WWII; and my grandmother's memory of the passage of Soviet troops in her village, in Manchuria, in 1945, when they drove the Japanese out (they set up a field kitchen in the village; billetted troops in houses; afterwards, **** everywhere in the houses)

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Originally posted by Nidan1:

Human beings, being animals themselves, though supposedly above all others in the chain, would probably exhibit similar behavior in primal situations such as war. Although the motivations for such behavior would be a little different.

I'm reminded of a short little book by a Para at Oosterbeek. He related that as the seige wore on and conditions worsened, the men around him perversly became more civilised. Not in the sense of using the right fork to eat their rations, but in the sense of being considerate to each other.

The NA Campaign was marked by sweeping movements and clashes in the open desert. This would mean that some forces were constantly moving, and therefore it was a situation of overnight laagers and then on the move again, or moving at night and laying low in the daytime to avoid observation.
A common misconception. The NA campaign was marked by extended duration occupations of semi-fixed positions with very little fighting, interspersed with short fighting campaigns after which one side or the other retreated hundreds of miles. In possibly the most obvious - but far from the only - example the Alamein line was occupied virtually unchanged from June till November. It was preceeded by a Broitish retreat of ~500 miles, and followed by an Axis retreat of ~1500 miles.

Jon

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Hi all,

I read this a while ago, then went off and did some cogitating and research. I found a few things which some may find of interest.

First off - Doroshs' example of the 'whole house as an open latrine' in Italy isn't really relevant to North Africa since there weren't a great number of houses there to begin with ;) Though, having said that, I seem to recall that Moorehead (African Trilogy) had some uncomplimentary things to say about the Italians or Germans regarding the state of houses he occupied in some of the settlements (Derna, Benghasi, and the like) in Lybia at various times. I could be mis-remembering that though ... it's a while since I read it.

Secondly, I found this after a quick seach:

Fly Control

It was proved that camps with properly supervised refuse, waste-water and latrine disposal could be kept as free from flies as any area controlled by a civil local authority with full sanitary services. Therefore in the campaign to eliminate the fly, emphasis was placed on these essentials, with fair success in all New Zealand camps. The main problem in connection with flies, and one which threatened the fitness of the Eighth Army, arose with the holding of the Alamein Line in the period July to September 1942. Hygiene supervision of camps and lines of communication generally had been disrupted, and there were crowded together into the area between El Alamein and Amiriya vast numbers of small units as well as hordes of bedouin and native refugees. Literally appalling conditions of fly infestation developed. A concentrated drive had to be made, refugees were cleared back from the camping areas, and a special Fly Control Unit was organised to clear the whole area in and about the Alamein Line of fly-breeding materials such as dead bodies, litter, refuse, etc. Additional fly traps and insecticide were sent forward from Base. The special measures were successful and by the end of September the problem had abated considerably. The enemy experienced the same conditions in his lines, but his neglect of sanitary measures led to a high incidence of dysentery and diarrhoea which materially sapped the manpower and vigour of his forces. New Zealanders occupying ground captured from the enemy suffered an epidemic of infective hepatitis.

It is taken from page 722 of the NZ Medical OH, available here: War Surgery and Medicine, and there may well be other similar observations. The last sentence quoted regarding the epidemic seems especially telling, though it could I suppose be disregarded as a special case, rather than indicative of the norm.

There may also be similar comments in these ones:

Battle for Egypt and Alam Halfa and Alamein, which are the campaign OHs for the different phases of the time at Alamein. Battalion and regimental histories (The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-1945) may also shed some light at a lower level. I haven't had the time to look through them yet.

Some observations on points that other posters have made about the Oxford Today article on Medicine and Victory:

The acticle talks about "Great Britain was the only combatant nation to enter the war with a fully functioning Blood Transfusion Service", to which Dandelion took exception because the German Army had a BTS at the ?regimental? level. It should be obvious that Nation >> Army. Also, the greater the span of such a service (in particular national vice ?regimental?) the more practical it will be given the requirements for different blood types, and the need to maintain a bank as a buffer against localised peaks in demand. For example, if Regiment X goes into action and suffers 25% cas in a short space of time, it is likely that a unit blood bank will quickly be exhausted, while a national blood bank would scarcely notice the extra demand from just another regiment suffering high cas.

Someone (Dandelion again?) took exception to 15th Pz being described as 'elite' which in a strict sense may well be true, compared to selected Fallshirm units or the Brandeburgers. However in the context of North Africa it makes sense. 21st and 15th Pz were the 'elite tip of the spear' as far as DAK operations were concerned, and if one looks at their performance compared with equivalent British formations the epithet is all the more deserved.

Regards

JonS

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Jon,

Blood transfusion was available at the HVP (Hauptverbandplatz - Main Dressing Station) at the earliest possible point for German casualites (a patient would by then have passed the VN and TVP). This was administred to patients unable to transfer to Feldlazaretten (Field Hospitals) only, those who could would be moved to the latter instead as the FL had more extensive blood transfusion capabilities. The HVP was located 6 to 10 kilometres rear of a frontline, which was also the typical distance of regimental headquarters. However, the HVP was not a regimental unit. It was set up by the divisional medical companies. Each such company could set up two HVP. Each company had a blood bank and like all other supplies of the division down to cartridges (and including the morphine, scopalamine, Ether, Eucodal, Evipan, Novocain, Chlorophorm, Clorethyl et cetera), it was measured to last 24 hours of full scale divisional battle. Needs beyond this had to be supplied from Armee (not Korps) level. The Armee level was basically a Wehrkreis (Homeland) supply source.

The Fledlazarette was an Armee level unit, which included motorised surgical teams that could, if need be, reinforce a HVP, and bring along blood transfusion services (unlike the HVP personnel, the nurses adminstering transfusion at Armee level would be women, Red Cross personnel).

This blood transfusion service organsiation was in effect as of 1937 (October 1st to be precise) and the preceding organisation was highly similar. It was changed in 1944 but not in a way affecting the blood transfusion service as such.

Let me know if you need any further data on the German transfusion service.

And of course, If somebody - anybody - would provide some type of at least vague description on what is meant with "fully functioning blood transfusion service" of a type unseen in other nations (or the armies of the same), this debate will be greatly aided. Alas, so far zip on UK organisation and assets, making this whole comparative study somewhat... complicated.

By your definition the entire DAK was elite smile.gif since it consisted only of the 15th and 21st, plus the extras gathered in the 90th, and a handful of paras, as far as Germans go. This might be. My opinion however is that they (15th and 21st) were line units of no discernable outstanding qualities of any kind. We see battallions surrendering en masse and several quite amateurish mistakes from these units, as we see from all ordinary line units. None of the units were hand-picked or in any other manner select, nor specially trained or equipped, and both were converted to Panzerdivisions only upon arrival in Africa. Basically just regular guys and run of the mill conscripts.

The key issue on conceptions of the DAK is - again IMHO - that the UK/CW could not handle any German line unit of any type in a 1:1 situation until early 42 or so. At least judging from odds and outcome of the tactical confrontations of those campaigns (i.e. Norway, France, Greece and early Libya). So the UK/CW tend to feel everyone they oppose are elite smile.gif I doubt that the DAK would have been noticed at all if deployed in the East. But of course, there is no way of knowing so it's a pointless doubt to feel.

You're right - there might and might not be further information in the many texts you suggest we read but have not read yourself smile.gif I guess We'll never know if you do not read them and tell us.

Cheerio

Dandelion

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