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In addition to the hospital establishment in the continental United States, the Navy Medical Department set up an extensive organization of “war hospitals” abroad during World War I to support the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe.
On November 19, 1917, Navy Base Hospital Unit was assigned to the “Petit Lycee” in Brest, France and immediately began preparing it for occupation. After cleaning the facility, installing plumbing, electric wiring, lighting and making additional alterations the hospital was opened becoming the first Navy base hospital fully equipped for the American Expeditionary Forces. With the addition of supplemental tents, the hospital could accommodate 500 beds (and 750 in case of emergency). Patients treated at the hospital included Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and even French civilians. This was one of two Navy hospitals established in Brest during the war. Base Hospital No. 1 was decommissioned in 1919.
Strathpeffer was selected as being in direct rail communication with the ports where ships operating in the North Sea could most conveniently land sick and wounded. The four large buildings selected for hospital use had originally been hotels or hydrotherapeutic establishments. They provided satisfactory accommodations for the needed surgical and medical wards, operating room, laboratory, X-ray room, nursing force, a commissary department, and such other facilities as were made necessary by the hospital’s remoteness from a large city. During calendar year 1918, the hospital admitted 2,182 patients. This included 777 admissions from the U.S. Navy, 1,002 from the British Navy, and 402 British Army personnel. The hospital was turned over to British authorities in 1919.
Base Hospital Leith was located in buildings belonging to the Parish Poorhouse at Seafield as well as at Dunsmore House, a private residence loaned and equipped by the Scottish Red Cross. Throughout its existence medical personnel at the hospital treated 1,978 cases, of which 526 underwent surgical operations.
The Navy Base Hospital Queenstown consisted of entirely portable buildings shipped from the United States. Buildings were unloaded in the beginning of May 1918 and the hospital was open and ready to receive patients on October 11, 1918. Within a few days after opening its wards were filled with victims of the influenza epidemic.
The largest of the Navy overseas hospitals in the Great War, Base Hospital No. 5 began operations in December 1917. The hospital was located in the major port city of Brest where the bulk of Americans disembarked and from which thousands of wounded were sent home from. The hospital was located in an old convent. Throughout the war period it averaged 400 patients; during the influenza epidemic it reached over 800.
The hospital received patients from all over France, from merchant marine, from U.S. Navy facilities of all classes operating in the Bay of Biscay, the North Atlantic, and the English Channel. More than once medical personnel assigned to the hospital administered to survivors of German submarine attacks. In 1918, 320 survivors from USS Covington and 82 survivors from the USS Westover were treated at the hospital.
The hospital’s operating room was located at a nearby hotel. The sterilization procedure consisted of boiling instruments over a gasoline stove. The autoclaves were heated and the water boiled by the same method. There was a gasoline engine, which supplied electric lights and the X-ray outfit. The speed of operating was often hampered by the difficulty of selecting and transporting patients to and from the operating rooms, as lights were prohibited owing to the fact that the hospital was being bombed at regular intervals.
Notable among these medical facilities were the base hospitals in Brest. That city served as a major port where American troops disembarked and thousands of wounded were sent home. Navy Base Hospital No. 5 had a minimum capacity of 500 beds and throughout the war it averaged 400 patients. During the influenza epidemic that number reached 800. The hospital had all the facilities necessary for providing advanced medical and surgical care and received patients from other naval stations in France, from the Merchant Marine, and from U.S. naval facilities of all classes. The hospital remained in operation until March 1919.