Battlefield medicine

An illustration showing a variety of wounds from the Feldbuch der Wundarznei (Field manual for the treatment of wounds) by Hans von Gersdorff, (1517); illustration by Hans Wechtlin.

Battlefield medicine, also called field surgery and later combat casualty care, is the treatment of wounded combatants and non-combatants in or near an area of combat. Civilian medicine has been greatly advanced by procedures that were first developed to treat the wounds inflicted during combat. With the advent of advanced procedures and medical technology, even polytrauma can be survivable in modern wars. Battlefield medicine is a category of military medicine.

Chronology of medical advances on the battlefieldEdit

A wounded knight is carried on a medieval stretcher.
  • During Alexander the Great’s military campaigns in the fourth century BC, tourniquets were used to stanch the bleeding of wounded soldiers.[1] Romans used them to control bleeding, especially during amputations. These tourniquets were narrow straps made of bronze, using only leather for comfort.[2]
  • An early stretcher, likely made of wicker over a frame, appears in a manuscript from c.1380.[3] Simple stretchers were common with militaries right through the middle of the 20th century.[4]
  • During the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, Prince Henry had an arrow removed from his face using a specially designed surgical instrument.
  • Ambulances or dedicated vehicles for the purpose of carrying injured persons. These were first used by Spanish soldiers during the Siege of Málaga (1487).
    Ambroise Paré, on the battlefield using a ligature for the artery of an amputated leg of a soldier.
  • French military surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510–90) pioneered modern battlefield wound treatment. His two main contributions to battlefield medicine are the use of dressing to treat wounds and the use of ligature to stop bleeding during amputation.
  • The practice of triage pioneered by Dominique Jean Larrey during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). He also pioneered the use of ambulances in the midst of combat ('ambulances volantes', or flying ambulances). Prior to this, military ambulances had waited for combat to cease before collecting the wounded by which time many casualties would have succumbed to their injuries.
  • Russian surgeon Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov was one of the first surgeons to use ether as an anaesthetic in 1847, as well as the very first surgeon to use anaesthesia in a field operation during the Crimean War.
  • American Civil War surgeon Jonathan Letterman (1824–72) originated modern methods of medical organization within armies.
  • In the late 19th century, the influence of notable medical practitioners like Friedrich von Esmarch and members of the Venerable Order of Saint John pushing for every adult man and woman to be taught the basics of first aid eventually led to institutionalised first-aid courses amongst the military and standard first-aid kits for every soldier.
  • Advances in surgery - especially amputation, during the Napoleonic Wars and First World War on the battlefield of the Somme.
  • Medical advances also provided kinder methods for treatment of battlefield injuries, such as antiseptic ointments, which replaced boiling oil for cauterizing amputations.[5]
  • During the Spanish Civil War there were two major advances. The first one was the invention of a practical method for transporting blood. Developed in Barcelona by Duran i Jordà, the technique mixed the blood of the donors with the same blood type and then, using Grífols glass tubes and a refrigerator truck, transported the blood to the frontline. A few weeks later Norman Bethune developed a similar service. The second advance was the invention of the mobile operating room by the Catalan Moisès Broggi, who worked for the International Brigades.[6]
A US Army soldier, wounded by a Japanese sniper, undergoes surgery during the Bougainville Campaign in World War II.
  • The establishment of fully equipped and mobile field hospitals such as the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital was first practiced by the United States in World War II. It was succeeded in 2006 by the Combat Support Hospital.
  • The use of helicopters as ambulances, or MEDEVACs was first practiced in Burma in 1944. The first MEDEVAC under fire was done in Manila in 1945 where over 70 troops were extracted in five helicopters, one and two at a time.
  • The extension of emergency medicine to pre-hospital settings through the use of emergency medical technicians.
  • The use of Remote physiological monitoring devices on soldiers to show vital signs and biomechanical data to the medic and MEDEVAC crew before and during trauma. This allows medicine and treatment to be administered as soon as possible in the field and during extraction. Similar telemetry units are used in manned spaceflight, where a flight surgeon at the Command Center can monitor vital signs. This can help to see issues before larger problems occur, such as elevated carbon dioxide levels, or a rise in body temperature indicating a possible infection.

Current battlefield medicine used by the U.S militaryEdit

Over the past decade combat medicine has improved drastically. Everything has been given a complete overhaul from the training to the gear. In 2011, all enlisted military medical training for the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Army were located under one command, the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC). After attending a basic medical course there (which is similar to a civilian EMT course), the students go on to advanced training in Tactical Combat Casualty Care.[7]

Tactical Combat Casualty CareEdit

TCCC is becoming the standard of care for the tactical management of combat casualties within the Department of Defense and is the sole standard of care endorsed by both the American College of Surgeons and the National Association of EMT's for casualty management in tactical environments.[8]

TCCC is built around three definitive phases of casualty care:

  1. Care Under Fire: Care rendered at the scene of the injury while both the medic and the casualty are under hostile fire. Available medical equipment is limited to that carried by each operator and the medic. This stage focuses on a quick assessment, and placing a tourniquet on any major bleed.
  2. Tactical Field Care: Rendered once the casualty is no longer under hostile fire. Medical equipment is still limited to that carried into the field by mission personnel. Time prior to evacuation may range from a few minutes to many hours. Care here may include advanced airway treatment, IV therapy, etc. The treatment rendered varies depending on the skill level of the provider as well as the supplies available. This is when a corpsman/medic will make a triage and evacuation decision.
  3. Tactical Evacuation Care (TACEVAC): Rendered while the casualty is evacuated to a higher echelon of care. Any additional personnel and medical equipment pre-staged in these assets will be available during this phase.[9][10]

Since "90% of combat deaths occur on the battlefield before the casualty ever reaches a medical treatment facility" (Col. Ron Bellamy) TCCC focuses training on major hemorrhaging and airway complications such as a tension-pneumothorax. This has driven the casualty fatality rate down to less than 9%.[11][12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ SCHMIDT, MICHAEL S. (19 January 2014). "Reviving a Life Saver, the Tourniquet". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "Thigh tourniquet, Roman, 199 BCE-500 CE". July 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2009.
  3. ^ Valère-Maxime, Facta et Dicta memorabilia traduction françaiseSimon de Hesdin (Livres I-IV).
  4. ^
  5. ^ Oldfield, Philip (2014). Vesalius at 500: An Exhibition Commemorating the Five Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Andreas Vesalius. Toronto: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. p. 19.
  6. ^ Solé & Camarasa 2015, p. 38-39.
  7. ^ "METC Online". Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 April 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC)". Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  10. ^ Holcomb JB, McMullin NR, Pearse L, Caruso J, Wade CE, Oetjen-Gerdes L, Champion HR, Lawnick M, Farr W, Rodriguez S, Butler FK (2007). "Causes of Death in U.S. Special Operations Forces in the Global War on Terrorism". Ann. Surg. 245 (6): 986–91. doi:10.1097/01.sla.0000259433.03754.98. PMC 1876965. PMID 17522526.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC)". Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 29 December 2014.


  • Cowdrey, Albert E. Fighting for Life: American Military Medicine in World War II (1994), 400pp; scholarly history
  • Devine, Eugene J. "Procurement and retention of Navy physicians." No. CNS-1030. Center For Naval Analyses Alexandria Va Inst Of Naval Studies, 1973. online
  • Friedenberg, Zachary. Hospital at War: The 95th Evacuation Hospital in World War II (2004), US Army
  • Littleton, Mark R. Doc: Heroic Stories of Medics, Corpsmen, and Surgeons in Combat (2005) popular American history
  • McClendon, F. O. "Doctors and dentists, nurses and corpsmen in Vietnam." Vietnam: The Naval Story (1970): 254-268.
  • Editorial Board, Army Medical Department Center & School, ed. (2004). Emergency War Surgery (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Borden Institute at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  • Solé, Felip; Camarasa, Josep Maria (February 2015). "Els pioners catalans de la medicina moderna" [Catalan pioneers of modern medicine]. Sàpiens (in Catalan). Barcelona. 152: 34–39. ISSN 1695-2014.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Oldfield, Philip. Vesalius at 500: An Exhibition Commemorating the Five Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Andreas Vesalius. Exhibition and catalogue by Philip Oldfield. Toronto: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, 2014.


  • Robert "Doc Joe" Franklin. Medic!: How I Fought World War II with Morphine, Sulfa, and Iodine Swabs (2008)
  • Allen N. Towne. Doctor Danger Forward: A World War II Memoir of a Combat Medical Aidman, First Infantry Division (1999)
  • Littleton, Mark R. Doc: Heroic Stories of Medics, Corpsmen, and Surgeons in Combat (2005) popular American history

External linksEdit