WW II Carlisle Dressing

Medics treat an arm wound with Carlisle bandage, Normandy, France, 1944
Medics treat an arm wound with Carlisle bandage, Normandy, France, 1944.

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World War II Carlisle Dressing

First Aid Packet, Carlisle Model, opened.  From FM 21-13, Soldiers Guide
First Aid Packet, Carlisle Model, opened. From FM 21-13, Soldiers Guide.

The First-Aid Packet, Carlisle Model was developed by the U.S. Army Medical Department Equipment Laboratory at Carlisle Barracks, PA in the 1920s, originally called "First-aid Packet, U.S. Government Carlisle Model". Every soldier carried one in a web pouch on his equipment belt. It was one of the most common items of military use and supply. The M1924 web pouch sized for the Carlisle bandage had a single LTD snap fastener, khaki webbing, and an M1910 hook. The pouch changed color and design as standards for uniforms changed. Samples of the web First Aid Pouch are on the Olive-Drab.com Soldier's Web Gear: World War II page.

The dressing carried inside the pouch was intended as an immediate compress to stop bleeding from a wide variety of wounds and establish a sterile covering. It consisted of a white linen gauze pad with long gauze tails so it could be tied around an arm or even the chest. Brief instructions were stenciled on the bandage in red ink. There were two sizes and multiple Carlisle bandages were used for large wounds.

Originally the Carlisle bandage was encased in a brass "sardine can", used to protect the dressing from gas. As discussed in the next section, there were a series of substitutions to cope with wartime material shortages.

Carlisle Dressing Procurement History During WW II

First Aid Packet, Carlisle Model.  Package in this photo is plastic container adopted in 1943
First Aid Packet, Carlisle Model. Package in this photo is plastic container adopted in 1943.

Considerable difficulty was encountered in the procurement of the first aid packet. During the Army expansion of 1940, approximately eight million were required for initial equipment, and the replacement rate was 60 per thousand men per month in the Zone of Interior and 220 per thousand in the overseas theaters.

A contract was signed with two suppliers in 1940 calling for the production of 2 million first aid packets, but it was estimated that delivery would not be completed until March 1942. Brass sheeting, needed to manufacture the metal case which enclosed the dressing, could not be obtained in sufficient quantities. Copper was substituted for brass in contracts negotiated after March 1941, but, by the end of 1941, copper was no more available than brass. Steel was then substituted and two additional suppliers were obtained. Shortly after contracts had been made with these two firms, however, the War Production Board refused to allocate any more steel for the first aid packet.

First Aid Packet, Carlisle Model.  Package in this photo is the late war, field brown model with waxed box
First Aid Packet, Carlisle Model. Package in this photo is the late war, field brown model with waxed box.

During the early part of 1943, with production steadily falling behind requirements, a plastic container was developed and put into production (photo above), but under field conditions the package warped and broke open. The Medical Department then worked out new specifications calling for a laminated paper and lead foil bag. The new container passed every test applied by the medical equipment laboratory at Carlisle Barracks proving in use to be more satisfactory than even the original brass container. Not only that, it was less expensive to manufacture.

After 1943, a new outer wrapper was introduced made of waxed cardboard with the bandage enclosed in a foil and paper wrapper. A further change in the last year of the war was to camouflage the bandage by making the outer side in field brown color. The outer box became a two piece box and sleeve of waxed cardboard.

In addition to the Carlisle bandages intended for the First Aid pouch of the individual soldier, many were packed in plain cardboard boxes as stock and replacements for General Purpose First Aid Kits.

After WW II, the Carlisle dressing was superseded by the similar Dressing, First Aid, Field or Battle Dressing.

Use of Sulfanilamide with Carlisle Dressings

In 1941 the sulfa drug sulfanilamide was introduced to prevent wound infections, a huge leap forward in battlefield medicine. A packet of sulfanilamide was then enclosed with each Carlisle bandage (to be sprinkled on the wound), indicated by a stamping on the bottom of the metal box. Existing stocks of boxes were painted red to indicate that sulfanilamide had been packed. Later packaging had "with sulfanilamide" printed on the outer wrapper.

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