Field Ambulances in Germany 1950-2015
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Introduction

After the end of WW2, the second BAOR (the first had existed from 1919 to 1929) gradually drew down the number of formations in Germany and this included their intrinsic Field Ambulances. Indeed by 1948, all had gone, and only a handful of Regular combat units remained. There was a cameo presence that year of the new 16 Independent Parachute Brigade, with its newly numbered 23 Parachute Field Ambulance, in Northern Germany before its return to Aldershot the following year. The medical structure was that of the usual UK peacetime model of Medical Companies RAMC that manned garrison medical centres and hospitals. However, the threat from the Warsaw Pact and the setting up of NATO, in 1949, then lead to an organisational about turn so that by 1952 the reformed I (BR) Corps consisted of three Armoured Divisions and an Infantry Division in place, a total of nine Brigades. As a consequence a field ambulance training school was set up at Iserlohn in 1949 and between 1950 and 1951, eight new Field Ambulances were established to exist in peace in support of these formations. A Field Dressing Station was also established. It remains intriguing as to why there was a Field Ambulance short on the order of battle and one cannot but presume that the training school was expected to produce the ninth from garrison medical centre personnel on mobilization ie a mirror image of how the RAMC had been organised in UK since its formation. This imbalance was not corrected until 1958 when two Brigades were broken up but only one Field Ambulance disbanded. By 1964, the Corps would be composed of three Divisions each of two Brigades and thus six Field Ambulances were present in Germany. In 1969 the Field Dressing Station was converted into a Field Ambulance. Later that year, Operation Banner ‘blew up’ in Northern Ireland, and the BAOR Field Ambulances would supply continually detachments of their manpower to the many battalions and regiments that undertook emergency tours in the Province over the following years. This lasted until the ceasefire in 1994 and the peace accord in 1998.

Through time, formations and units were moved about, mainly through the refurbishment and rebuild of barracks, sometimes through regrouping. The BAOR boundaries also contracted as its physical size diminished. There was much organisational and equipment change in medical units as I (BR) Corps evolved through the 1950s and 1960s. Of particular note was the introduction of armoured vehicles, firstly as ambulances and then as section load and personnel carrying vehicles. This was accompanied by a significant increase in radio scales. 1960 saw the introduction of the Land Rover Ambulance and 1963 saw the AFV 432 series of armoured vehicles issued to Field Ambulances. A feature of the Field Ambulances from their formation and deployment to Germany was the inclusion of contingents of displaced or refugee drivers, mainly Polish, of the Mixed Service Organisation. The last of these great chaps ‘aged out’ in 1981. Indeed manning of the Field Ambulances was always fraught due to their relatively small size and the fact that their peace establishments were not much above 50% of their war establishment; they were heavily reliant on the call up of Regular Reserves on mobilization to achieve sufficient manning.

Whilst the Field Ambulances were traditionally controlled by Division, they were scaled within the Division as one per Brigade. During the 1960s, most combat service support was devolved to Brigade control. This situation pertained until the effects of Defence Review in the mid 1970s resulted in the abolition of Brigades in the Army, cutting out a layer of command, and the introduction of smaller Armoured Divisions (four in BAOR) and Field Forces (one in BAOR, the rest in UK). This had the impact of the creation of new units, Armoured Division Field Ambulances and Field Force Field Ambulances, formed from the amalgamations of pairs of existing Field Ambulances in 1977. The resultant units had seven sections (five armoured and two wheeled) and two dressing stations. If nothing else, this change certainly improved the critical manning mass of the units that were then able to train more effectively. However, the command delayering experiment was deemed a failure by 1981. Brigades were reintroduced but this time slightly smaller than before with an additional two created. This resulted in three Armoured Divisions composed of nine Brigades (the ninth was located in UK). There was some medical enhancement in the wake of this and whilst the total of sections and dressing stations now available balanced the number of Battle Groups and Brigades, the command structures of the units, in Germany there were now five Armoured Field Ambulances, were out of kilter with the Divisions in place. Important equipment enhancements in the 1980s included the Porton Liners for NBC collective protection. There was also an experiment with a Brigade recast into the airmobile role with its appropriate medical support found from one of the Armoured Field Ambulances. By 1988, this task had passed to a Brigade in UK and the participants in the experiment returned to the armoured role.

After the Berlin Wall came down, there was the peace dividend to meet and this resulted in the significant draw down of troops in BAOR to a singleton, three Brigade sized, Armoured Division. The medical structure then returned to three smaller ‘brigade supporting’ Armoured Field Ambulances, with a traditional six sections (four armoured, two wheeled) and one dressing station construct, the rest redeployed to UK. Whilst these plans were being made, the old 1980s style units supported 1st (UK) Armoured Division on Operation Granby in Kuwait and then peacekeeping in Croatia. This later extended into Bosnia. In 1994, BAOR ceased to exist, and it was replaced by British Forces Germany (BFG) under HQ Land Command in UK. Other doctrinal work was evolving as the Army considered how to reshape itself from a threat-based structure to a capability-based one. Engineer, Medical, Logistic and Maintenance Support at the divisional level were seen as separating into Close Support (CS) and General Support (GS). By 1999, the three Armoured Field Ambulances were brought together at Munster as 1 CS Medical Regiment. GS for the Division would be found from a UK based unit. Similar change took place in UK but after Operations Herrick (Afghanistan) and Telic (Iraq) became Army main effort, all the Medical Regiments were converted into Brigade sized supporting units ie purely CS. The impact on BFG was for 1 CS Medical Regiment to split into 1 and 2 Medical Regiments. Both these units have since returned to UK, by 2015, and apart from a small medical team to support the few remaining troops in Germany (who are managing a stockpile of heavy support and engineer equipment at Sennelager), the BAOR/BFG story has finally closed. An eventful 65 years and for over 40 of these, the Army’s main effort and focus.

But it would be wrong not to mention the Territorial Army (TA) in this story and this should provide a suitable epilogue to the history of the Field Ambulances in Germany. The TA was reformed after the war in 1947 as a strategic reserve for general war. By 1956, two of its ten divisions were committed to reinforcement of BAOR. There was some allocation of TA hospitals at mobilization and earmarked units occasionally had the opportunity to train at camp in BAOR. By 1967, following withdrawal from the Far East and Empire, the TA was significantly reduced in size, its divisional structures broken up and virtually solely committed to reinforcing BAOR on mobilization. TA Field Ambulances were given operational roles of supporting divisional troops. A matrix of them was designated to the Corps Rear Area, and the Rear Combat and Communication Zones. Increasingly, for those Field Ambulances, they found their three-year training cycle would culminate with a camp in BAOR and participation in a formation exercise. This arrangement held good, but with reducing numbers, almost right up until 1st (UK) Armoured Division was withdrawn from Germany in 2015. Another TA feature was the way the earmarked reinforcing hospitals were periodically exercised at their camps in BAOR and increasingly so after 1967. The task of administering them and providing the field exercise component to their camps, including casualty simulation and control, etc, on the Exercise Mini Mash or Pack Saddle series, fell to the Regular Field Ambulances of I (BR) Corps.

The following Table lists the formation dates and places of the BAOR Field Ambulances plus their grouping and reorganisation through the period. The TA Field Ambulance grouping follows. I have also included a couple of deployment and grouping diagrams of Field Ambulances to support the operational plans of BAOR between the 1970s and the 1980s.

This small tribute is to the people who manned the Field Ambulances whether, initially, as National Servicemen or Regulars, and hope it informs their nostalgia. Whilst it is mainly RAMC personnel involved, there were many RASC/RCT/RLC drivers and a myriad of other cap badges included in the units. It is amazing the number of queries that feature on social media about serving in those units and reminiscences over the barracks and towns where they lived. I haven’t managed to capture the names of all the barracks occupied by Field Ambulances in this document but my separate summary of all the Regular Field Ambulances since 1905, elsewhere on this website, picks much of this up. There will be errors and omissions in this paper so I would appreciate any corrections at ironfist@glenacardoch.com . It is easy enough to amend this document.

Alistair Macmillan
July 2021


Unit Table

Reinforcements

Note: 1. In the TA to TAVR reorganisation of 1967; 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225 and 307 were originally FDSs but changed to Fd Ambs in 1969.

BAOR Operational Medical Cover 1977

Note:
1. The four armoured divisions were each composed of five battle groups, often grouped within temporary Task Forces (TF). The FEBA position was occupied by three armoured divisions (1 Armd Div (TFs A & B) 2 Armd Div (TFs C & D), 3 Armd Div (TFs E & F). 7 Fd Force from UK would hold a vital urban area behind the FEBA. 5 Fd Force held the Corps Rear Area. Each field force had five infantry battalions.
2. 4 Armd Div (TFs G & H) provided the Covering Force (CF) and on withdrawal, refurbished to form the reserve for future operations; its DS split initially into four light variants to cover the Corps width in front of the FEBA.
3. Regular 1, 2, 3, 4 Armd Div Fd Ambs and 5, 7 Fd Force Fd Ambs shown by their dressing stations (DS).

BAOR Operational Medical Cover 1980s

Note:
1. Left FEBA Division: 1 Armd Div (7, 12, 22 Armd Bde); Right FEBA Division: 4 Armd Div (11, 20 Armd Bde, 19 Inf Bde); Reserve Division: 3 Armd Div (4, 6, 33 Armd Bde); 2 Inf Div (24 Airmob Bde, 15, 49 Inf Bde). Seven armoured brigades had three battle groups, and were either armour or infantry heavy, whilst the eighth was all square with four battle groups. The two forward divisions provided their own Covering Force in front of the FEBA.
2. As the armoured field ambulance was composed of five armoured and two wheeled sections, 1 & 4 Armd Fd Ambs were reinforced by two armoured sections each from 2 & 3 Armd Fd Amb respectively so that support for armoured brigades could be balanced ie each squadron had three armoured sections except the one supporting the square brigade which had four.
3. In the early 1980s, 6 Armd Bde was made 6 Airmob Bde for trials in the concept. It later reverted to armoured status and the airmobile role passed to 24 Mech Bde (Catterick) in 1988 as it became 24 Airmob Bde.
4. Each armoured field ambulance provided two dressing stations (DS); infantry brigade field ambulances and TA field ambulances each had one dressing station. Net result is each armoured division has five DS.
5. 392 MRS(V) for HQ AFCENT.

The RAMC Association

William Boog LeishmanIn 1925, the RAMC Association was formed to further the camaraderie of WW1 Corps veterans with Sir William Leishman being the first President. There are now some 28 branches around UK with a predominantly veteran membership although most serving Corps members also are members centrally. The Association has traditionally been supported by Corps Funds and especially for the expenses of the branch standards and standard bearers.