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WW II Litters
World War II Litters and Litter Bearers
The common stretcher for carrying casualties, called a "litter" in Army nomenclature, was one of the essential tools for World War II medical personnel.
The backbone of the Echelon I evacuation system during WW II was the litter bearer, assigned to the medical detachments manning first echelon facilities such as the battalion aid station. Litter bearers often worked 72-hour shifts, with trips over wooded and rugged country from 1000 yards to four miles. For example, in Sicily, evacuation over mountainous terrain was accomplished by relay teams of litter bearers which ran continuously for 12 to 15 hours just to cover a few miles. Many litter bearers were injured or killed by enemy mines and fire or suffered emotional breakdowns from stress and exhaustion. When needed, units employed cooks, musicians, and company clerks as replacement litter bearers.
Evacuation to the rear, from the aid station, used the same litter (or stretcher). If possible, an ambulance would receive the litter-borne patient who would be inserted into a rack in the rear of the vehicle designed to hold six or eight litters. Often ambulances were not available and the litter bearers had to hand carry the casualty to the next link in the evacuation chain.
When aeromedical evacuation was employed, the patients were retained in their litters which were carried in racks on the plane designed to receive the litter and hold it securely.
The litter itself not only provided a means to carry the casualty to the aid station, but often the litters on which the patients were brought in served as operating tables.
Types of Litters Used in World War II
During World War II many different types of litters were supplied to the field, a few examples listed here:
This table, which is not exhaustive, is compiled from Army Service Forces Catalog MED 3, 1 March 1944. Earlier in the war, Medical Department Item Numbers did not have the final "00", i.e. "99380" instead of "9938000".
Material on this page adapted from Chapter 3 of "Military Medicine during the Twentieth Century" an anonymous publication of the USAF Air University, 2002, and other military references.
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