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This Month in AFMS History: First attached Army Air Forces unit hospital established 75 years ago

U.S. Army Air Forces nurses make their way down the ramp of their Landing Craft Infantry amphibious assault ship on the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, Italy in 1943. The 34th Station Hospital on the island became the first Army Air Forces hospital truly attached to an Army Air Forces unit. (National Archives)

U.S. Army Air Forces nurses make their way down the ramp of their Landing Craft Infantry amphibious assault ship on the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, Italy in 1943. The 34th Station Hospital on the island became the first Army Air Forces hospital truly attached to an Army Air Forces unit. (National Archives)

Billowing smoke covers bomb-blasted Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, Italy, where the Allies dropped 6,202 tons of bombs for more than a month in 1943. (National Archives)

Billowing smoke covers bomb-blasted Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, Italy, where the Allies dropped 6,202 tons of bombs for more than a month in 1943. (National Archives)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- The 34th Station Hospital, attached to the 12th Air Force on Pantelleria Island in the Mediterranean Sea from June 18 to Sept. 21, 1943, was the first station hospital attached to an Army Air Force Unit.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower considered Pantelleria valuable as an airbase to support the invasion of Sicily because it was located between Tunisia, North Africa, and Sicily. The Allies began bombing Pantelleria even before the North African campaign ended on May 13. Bombers pounded the island’s airdrome and sank ships in the harbor, while fighter planes added to the destruction. In early June, the Allies subjected the island to heavy bombardment and, for four days before the June 11 invasion, round-the-clock bombing.

The Allies easily captured the island with few casualties after almost two months of constant aerial bombardment. From May 8 to June 11, the Allies flew 5,285 sorties and dropped 6,202 tons of bombs, losing only 14 aircraft in the process. An estimated 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped per square mile on the island. The media hailed the operation as the first time an enemy had surrendered to an air attack.

The island was occupied almost exclusively by Army Air Forces Soldiers. Attaching the 34th Station Hospital to the 12th Air Force allowed the commander of the 12th to administer the hospital without coordinating with theater headquarters. The 34th Station Hospital operated 250 beds on the island, serving Curtis P-40 Warhawk fighter plane crews, as they began flying sorties over Sicily, July 9, 1943. The occupying Army Air Forces units’ senior surgeon acted as base surgeon for the garrison.

On November 1, the hospital moved to Palermo, Sicily, captured by elements of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s 7th Army four months earlier. In August of 1944, the 34th left Sicily and transferred to Dugenta, Italy. It took up station at a prisoner of war hospital, where the staff cared for enemy POWs. The 34th continued up the spine of Italy, setting up in Caserta, and later in Rome, where it paired up with the 73rd Station Hospital, both managing 750 beds. The unit inactivated on October 9, 1945, five months after Germany surrendered.