Medical services in the Warsaw Uprising


          Organization structure of the Home Army medical services was adjusted to general underground organization network. It followed local division and local units.
The head of medical services in the Main Headquarters of the Home Army was colonel doctor Leon Strehl under a pseudonym "Feliks".

colonel doctor Leon Strehl "Feliks"

          Colonel Henryk Lenk under a pseudonym "Bakcyl", Ph.D. of medical science was appointed the head of medical services of Warsaw District.
          Appropriate medical leaderships were established at district and area levels. Doctors were present in battalions as well as in some troops at company level.
          Warsaw District of the Home Army was divided into 8 districts:
          - 1st District Downtown consisted of:
             -- Sub-district Northern Downtown ,
             -- Sub-district Southern Downtown ,
             -- The "North" Group - the Old Town ,
          - 2nd District Zoliborz,
          - 3rd District Wola,
          - 4th District Ochota,
          - 5th District Mokotow,
          - 6th District Praga,
          - 7th District Warsaw District,
          - 8th District Okecie.
          At the leadership of the 1st District there were organized a medical company and a central pharmacy - Storehouse of Sanitary Materials where, among others, personal dressings and bandages were made.
          At the moment of the Uprising outbreak, apart from military structures, they took into account using the civil network of medical service, municipal hospitals and German military hospitals in Warsaw.
          As a result, in a way typical for the underground they tried to provide municipal hospitals with appliances and equipment necessary to carry out operations and surgeries, appropriate reserves of medicines, X-ray machines, etc.
          The heads of district medical service had the following in the warehouse records:
          - 14 sets of surgical instruments for field hospitals;
          - a few field pharmacies;
          - 6 to 7 large surgical sets;
          - about 60 600 personal dressings.
          It was already at the end of 1939 when underground medical teams began to come into existence. They were composed of experienced nurses from Warsaw hospitals, doctor and students of medical science, and the girls from the Warsaw Regiment of girl guides emergency service. During the occupation training for girl and women were carried out as a part of various medical courses both for qualified Red Cross nurses and for company and battalion orderlies. Training were based on regularly working hospitals and on the so-called 'school of doctor Jan Zaorski - Private Vocational School for Auxiliary Medical Staff, which was a secret research hospital for future medics. It is estimated that about 300 professors and assistants as well as over 2 000 university students participated in the secret medical teaching.
          Medical trainings usually took place in groups of 5 people in private flats for 1-2 hours once a week. Apart from medical training, for additional 10 hours girls acquired basic military knowledge including the use of weapon. The courses included field exercises as well.
          Every orderly who was a part of medical patrol was equipped with a bag of bandages, dressing gauze and surgical cotton wool. She also had a first-aid kit with: iodine, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, syringe, needles injections, camphor, tanalbin, aspirin and veganin.
          In order to prepare the equipment for sanitary patrols, they used supplies of hospitals and civil health service objects as well as anti-aircraft defense teams which worked on the basis of German authorities directive. Medical stretcher and bags, for instance, were perfectly suitable for the equipment of factory anti-aircraft defense teams or even voluntary company fire brigades.
          Medical patrols were assigned to each Home Army platoon. The patrol was supposed to move behind a fighting platoon in the distance of a dozen or so steps, provide first medical assistance and then move the injured to the nearest rescue and medical point. Patrol duties were fulfilled by qualified nurses or orderlies who had undergone special training.
          At the moment of the Uprising outbreak 36 hospitals in Warsaw had over 12 thousand beds. They also expected to use 4 German military hospitals. Doctors had a dozen or so sanitary cars at their disposal , 1-3 for each District. One sanitary column came under the aegis of the Medical Head of the District. Ambulances with drivers and equipped with stretchers, medicines, sanitary bags and propellants were ready to be handed over to authorized persons on the "W" hour.
          The operation order for the battle of Warsaw determined hospitals for particular districts where the injured were to be evacuated. Additionally, during the combats a certain number of improvised field hospitals and several dozen sanitary points were organized.
          The approximate number of medical service staff of battle troops was 3 000 people. Additionally there were doctors, nurses and orderlies called up in medical units of various levels and civil personnel who remained on their position during the fights doing this out of the sense of professional and patriotic duty. In total a few thousand people were active in the medical services during the Warsaw Uprising.
          The plan of preparing the uprising medical service was drawn up very thoroughly and appropriately. It included the nature of building development, routes of communication lines and distances.
          Unfortunately, the real course of fights thwarted the original assumptions.
          The Uprising, which had been assumed to last 3-6 day from the materials point of view, lasted in fact 63 days. During the first days of fights, Warsaw was divided into a few isolated from each other centres of combats. The barricades raised by the insurgents made the streets impassable for cars, which were the basic means of the injured evacuation. In such circumstances, the burden of transporting the injured fell upon the orderlies who used stretches in order to do that.
          The fate of the injured and medical staff in a way varied in particular quarters. Nevertheless, it was almost an iron rule that the Germans did not abide by the agreements of the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross, they bombed marked hospitals, murdered the injured and medical personnel in hospitals occupied by them.

Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

translation: Dorota Rapacz

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