In the beginning of the war, the primary role of women in Germany was to produce children to increase the population of Germany. After WWI, there were approximately 2 million more women than men. Through incentive programs, which ultimately failed, The National Socialist Welfare Organization (NSV) sought to keep women in the home. Through programing by the NSV, children were raised with a strong socialist mentality in part by organizations such as League of German Girls (BDM) and National Socialist Women's League (NS Frauenschaft).
Initially, it was thought inappropriate for women to work and especially take part in any military operations. Hitler stated, in 1934, “What the man gives in courage on the battlefield, the woman gives in eternal pain and suffering. Every child that a woman brings into the world is a battle, a battle waged for the existence of her people.” This reinforce the idea to keep women behind house doors to encourage reproduction.
As the war progress, it was quickly realized that women were needed outside of the home. Unforeseen changes caused the country to pull together by mobilizing the majority of the population which enabled women to become more involved in taking on other supportive roles. Many women took jobs in welfare and teaching, as men moved to factories the women moved to farms and household services. Eventually women were required as labor in factories and other industrial areas. A viable option for employment during this time was becoming a member of the German Red Cross. Through propaganda posters, the DRK was put in a romantic light as a way for a woman to do service to her country. The DRK became an acceptable way for middle class women to support the cause and earn an income between 28-44 USD a month.
Contrary to Allied nurses, who were given membership to the armed forced, DRK nurses were commanded by the German Army and could be held to military disciplinary measures, but were not given military status. Women volunteered their services, but were ordered to serve with the military through drafts. Such examples can be seen through first person accounts, such as Tabea Springer who was drafted and assigned to the Ninth Army Division out of her Mother House at Kassel. The Red Cross worked in the medical corp as neutral actors for the purpose of providing medical care to soldiers of all combatant nations, and the DRK work exclusively for the Wehrmacht during the war. Other non-DRK nurses, including deaconess nurses, were able to stay behind to support civilian hospitals in their city of origin.
All branches of the Wehrmact had their own individual medical personnel, but many nurses were sourced from the DRK after it’s absorption into the Ministry of the Interior's Social WelfareOrganization. This allowed for the DRK’s participation in military matters, something that was previously forbidden by Article 10 of the Agreement of Geneva. This article forbade the DRK from military affiliation.
The first and only known formal uniform regulations for the female Red Cross is from 15 January 1938, in Uniformen-Markt. This document showed uniform and rank, but gave no specific descriptions.
The medical corp of the army was divided into the medical services for the field and replacement armies, from large army groups to battalions. They were under the protection of the Geneva Convention, with the right to carry arms for the protection of themselves and their wounded when in urgent danger. Armed with pistols and 98k rifles, they were put into the mix of ground, air and sea combat; not as combatants, but as a protected group of people denoted by the wearing of the red cross armband. Though, there were no consequences for the abuse of the cross symbol to be used to the advantage of combat troops.
The red cross was attached and highly visible to not only the uniforms, but on buildings, tents and vehicles being used for medical purposes. The use of theses buildings and vehicles was to transport and treat the sick and wounded. Hundreds of thousands of german soldiers owe their lives to the doctors, medics and nurses throughout the course of the war; through their services at field hospitals, bandaging stations and hospital trains.
During the first year of the war, 1939-40, there were 17,034 medical officers and 164,898 men with the troops, 4,689 doctors and 28, 737 medical corpsmen in hospitals. In addition, the replacement army had 9,507 and 53,438 medical personnel.
In 1939, just prior to the start of war, there were 14,600 fully qualified DRK nurses. By 1943, this number grew to 93,685 nurses and lesser qualified nursing assistants.
Training for many doctors began pre-war. After many semesters of studying and training, they voluntarily enlisted and were stationed as an orderly. They then were lead to infantry training for approximately eight months. Afterwards, men progressed to the Military Medical Academy in Berlin, the training base for doctors of the German army. After their eduction and state examination, the doctors would then attend Unterarzt training at the Academy. These lower ranked doctors (Oberfähnrich) would spend a year in practice in larger clinics, as well as attend lectures by staff doctors, to earn their certification. After a written dissertation they would take their examination, they then could hold the title of doctor. Transferred to garrisons, they took the rank of Assistenzarzt (Leutnant).
Training for nurses was regimented and centered in Berlin at the Werner School prior to and at the start of the war. Education requirements were established formally in 1938, requiring a education and formal training, including a state wide nursing exam. As the war progressed, the duration of their education was shortened, resulting in many under-educated women being thrust into the horror of a busy field hospital. In fact, though nurses never earned military rank, in comparison to their allied nursing counterparts, they were given a waiver for their formal nursing exam after 1.5 years of conscription with the German Army Medical Corp.
Every battalion had a sick bay, directed by a medical officer (Assistenzarzt, Stabsarzt, etc.). Medical enlisted men were assisted to the medical officer after six months of basic training; these men provided first aid and looked after patients, and were always attached to a certain troop unit for supplies. Officers and enlisted men formed the medical staff of the locality and were members of a medical unit.
With mobilization in 1939, hospitals were created and medical units were setup. Cadres of medical personnel joined the troop units to which they were assigned during peacetime. During the war, training was shortened for all medical personnel as there was a shortage of surgeons, interests, pharmacists, etc. Medical units had to train men as quickly as possible. A common addition to the medical personnel were Red Cross nurses. Drafted by the Wehrmacht, they were a militarized addition to the medical corp. As the war progressed, nurses were required to go closer and closer to the front. This was an unusual concept, as German idealism prided femininity and the protection and safety of German women was prized. Necessity came from the Eastern front, and nurses worked closely with the medical corp as well as forced laborers such as nurses and doctors from the occupied country in which they were set-up. There are records of German and Russian nurses working side by side, though not without strain and conflict. Local populations were conscripted as assistants out of pure need and lack of fully trained medical personnel. Many prisoners of war were assigned to work in the hospitals due to a shortage of staffing, especially on the Eastern front.
Individual units were commanded by medical officers, the director and commander of all medical services was the division doctor.
Medical services of a division had a total strength of 16 medical officers and 500 men; of which included:
1st Medical Company (horse drawn): 6 medical officers, two officials, 160 NCOs (soldiers, stretcher bearers, care personnel and drivers) 17 horse drawn vehicles, 45 horses, one car, one truck, one solo and one sidecar motorcycle, and one bicycle echelon.
2nd Medical Company (motorized): 6 medical officers, three officials, 157 medical NCOs and men, 4 cars, 21 trucks, two solo and four sidecar motorcycles.
Every medical company was lead by a Stabsarzt or Oberstabarzt, and the duties of each company may have overlapped. This means they may have used one another as a transition in building bandaging stations and hospitals as the companies were required to move.
The German army was extremely efficient in the movement and mobilization of medical personnel for the triage and treatment of their sick and wounded. Bandaging stations strategically placed behind the frontline were able to effectively sort soldiers into priority categories for treatment and transport.
In the front hospitals there could be found 500 beds, which could be expanded to 1000 if need be. Hospitals in the east could accommodate 4000 to 6000 beds. The army doctors held command over various medical services. Eg. 6 army front hospitals, two medical companies, six ambulance platoons, and one army medical park with three platoons. Among troop doctors there was the regimental doctor. This man supervised battalion doctors, medical facilitates directed transport of sick and wounded, saw to supplying medical materials and was always in direct contact with the division doctor.
The other Kompanie, motorized, was held in reserve to be used after substantial gains had been made on the front. Then, if further gains were made and the Hauptverbandplatz (bandaging station) was required farther forward, the motorized Kompanie moved, leaving its patients to be taken over by the animal-drawn Kompanie. The patients of the animal-drawn Kompanie were left to be taken over by a Feldlazarett. Thus there were often two divisional units performing surgery ahead of the Army's most forward Feldlazarett.
Field hospitals were centers for medical treatment, including internist and surgical care of the sick and wounded. These hospitals were were care was administered that could not be given by the bandaging stations. The hospitals allowed for short term stay for the necessary attention and rest required for healing. Their practices included head wounds and transportable chest wounds, severe muscle wounds, buttock wounds, intra-abdominal surgery and major compound fractures. From the very start of the war, these hospitals also helped to create a community which the DRK supported through humanitarian work. Nurses were a source for mental and emotional support for soldiers who had seen the horrors of war on the Eastern front; giving them medical care as well as comfort, enforcing the femininity of the role of German women throughout the war.
All FeldLazarett were assigned a number, and as Feldlazarett Großdeutschland we are controlled by the army (field hospitals were moved from an divisional to army level starting in 1943) and assigned to provide medical support to I.D. Großdeutschland, as well as all units in need. We were mobilized as necessary across the Eastern Front to provide medical aide.