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December 2018
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US Army

77th Evacuation Hospital in the Bulge

 77th Evacuation Hospital in the Bulge
 
On December 16th the Battle of the Bulge began.  During the day the robot bombs came over in increasing numbers until late in the afternoon there were actually ten within sight at the same time.  That evening during the show there was an air raid alert and bombs were dropped on the town.  Early the following morning two patients were brought in and through them news of the offensive was learned.  The first patient stated he had been fighting a German paratrooper.  A few minutes later a lieutenant was admitted and said he had been shot by a German paratrooper… 
 
Germany’s general staff had realized that the war of attrition at the Siegfried Line had no future for them but Field Marshal von Rundstedt had a plan and two panzer armies to carry it out.  his was to break through the lightly held southern part of the First Army front and push to Liege and then on to Brussels and Antwerp on the north and toward Namur on the south breaking through between Monschau and Trier.  The first phase of the offensive ended December 22, 1944. 
 
From left to right: 1st Lt Marion Cross, 1st Lt Enid Wherley, 1st Lt Mary Ewing, 1st Lt Dorothy Gillette, Capt Bessie Walker, 1st Lt Esther Sipple. (Source: Bulge Bugle cover, November 2012)
 
During the Battle of the Bulge, the personnel of the hospital worked harder at any time. In addition to the large number of patients admitted the hospital was harassed continually by the bombing strafing shelling and the V-weapons which landed all about.  During the afternoon of December 17 the fog and clouds cleared for a while and dog-fights were seen over the hospital.  The robot bombs came over at 5 minutes intervals with scarcely a pause during day or night.  In the afternoon the patients began coming in and their stories were repeatedly that of retreat, positions overrun, confusions, huge losses of men and material, temporary stand and then further withdrawal.  There was no “strategic withdrawal”.  As far as these men were concerned, the powerful German forces were more than they could cope with and they had been forced to pull out. 
 
Some of the operating personnel began working eighteen hours daily and by this means the backlog was overcome.  Being in almost the exact center of the northern flank of the Bulge, the 77th Evacuation Hospital was receiving nearly all the casualties from the northern flank.  Once again there was a constant stream of patients to the operating room as the eight operating tables and two fracture tables were kept occupied night and day. 
 
December 18 was a repetition of the previous day and night. 
 
 
View of the “Ecole Normale de l’Etat” housing the 77th Evacuation Hospital, Verviers, Belgium.  (Source:  www.med-dept.com)
 
Verviers had become an important road junction, a bottleneck through which thousands of American and British troops were being funneled into the northern flank.  The Germans were quick to appreciate this fact.  From the maps it was obvious that there must be a large volume of traffic through Verviers if the central part of the northern shoulder of the Bulge was to be reinforced rapidly.  Such a target was too valuable to miss and the enemy wasted little time in carrying out the expected attacks.  On the night of December 19 the enemy planes came over and dropped flares which lit up the entire town as though it were day.  This was perhaps the heaviest raid which the towns experienced during the entire Battle of Bulge. 
 
During this particular night one of the patients was being questioned concerning the manner in which he was injured and the story which he told later appeared in the papers under the heading “The Malmedy Massacre.”  He had been captured early that day along with about 140 American soldiers.  They had been herded into an open field and when it was night several enemy tanks lined up along the road bordering the field.  The men were forced into a tightly packed group and suddenly the machine guns from all the tanks began firing on them.  The night was soon filled with moans of the dying but still the intermittent chatter of the machine guns continued.  Finally these stopped and the officers and men of the German troops walked among the group of fallen men.  If one of the prisoners moved or groaned he was summarily shot through the head.  The patient had been only slightly wounded and although desperately frightened he lay quietly and made no sound.  One of the men came close to him but passed on after a quick inspection. 
 
The patient dared not move and scarcely breathed for fear he would be discovered.  After an interminable time the tanks finally turned off their lights and went on down the road.  Only a few men were left to guard the mass of bodies.  As it was now completely dark the patient finally moved slowly to the edge of the group and then into the woods where he at last stood up.  He was soon joined by two others who could walk and they set out for their own lines through the darkness.  After what seemed like hours they came upon of the American troops and were soon back to the relative safety of the hospital.  Later on it was possible to identify the German unit which had carried out this horrible affair. 
 
December 20 brought more patients, more buzz-bombs and more work.  December 21, 22 and 23 were more of the same.  A continuous stream of patients during the afternoon and night, gradually lessening early in the morning and regaining momentum again during the afternoon was sufficient to keep all of the hospital personnel fully occupied. 
 
 77th Evacuation Hospital: Patients awaiting evacuation to Liege
 
On December 24 the sun was out bright and clear for the first time since the start of the Battle of the Ardennes.  The Allied air forces were ready for such a break in the weather and that day there were hundreds of planes in the air.  Dog fights took place over Verviers and a great number of German planes were shot down. 
 
It was at this time that the hospital received a number of enemy patients who were dressed in GI clothing.  They had been dropped by parachute behind the Allied lines and only after several days were the military police successful in capturing them. 
 
Christmas Day 1944 will probably be forever the most unpleasant Christmas in the lifetime of thousands of soldiers. The personnel and patients of the 77th Evacuation Hospital were no exception.
 
On December 30 the first good news began to trickle through.  The Allied troops had gained the initiative and Bulge was beginning to shrink.  Even with such good news, the work of caring for the wounded went on day and night. 
 
Then the final order came through stating that the 77th Evacuation Hospital was to move out.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle February 2013
By 2nd Lt Andre JAMAR

 

Interpreter

at the 77th Evacuation Hospital.

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium