RFA Maine (4) goes to War in support of United States Forces

When the Korean War broke out in 1950 the 7,515 ton Hospital Ship RFA Maine (4) was at Kobe, Japan with units of the British Far East Fleet and she was immediately placed under the American Naval command. The US Forces initially had no hospital ships in theatre and consequently RFA Maine (4) played an especially valuable role.

Maine 4 off Korea

 

 

RFA Maine (4), was a then 25 year old former Italian passenger liner, Leonardo da Vinci which had been captured by HMS Hawkins from Italian Forces in the Red Sea in 1941

 

Leonardo Da Vinci 07

Leonardo da Vinci

 

HMS Hawkins

HMS Hawkins

 

 

After repairs in Mombasa, Bombay and Cape Town and under the management of Ellerman Lines. She sailed to New York via Trinidad and on arrival received further repairs at Newport News including being re-engined and her conversion into the British Army Hospital Ship initially renamed ‘Ship 289’ in January 1943 and then HMHS  Empire Clyde in March 1943.

She saw very useful service in the Mediterranean during 1944 and in early 1945. The Royal Navy took her over as a Naval Hospital Ship and the last Army Medical team disembarked on 31 May 1945 at Glasgow.  After a refit the Empire Clyde sailed for service in Far East with the British Pacific Fleet and being engaged additionally in returning internees and the injured from China to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong and Singapore to Australia

The Admiralty took over ownership of the ship in April 1947 and Captain Stanley G Kent OBE RFA was appointed as Master of Empire Clyde in September of that year. On 26 January 1948 the ship was renamed RFA Maine.

RFA Maine jpg

RFA Maine (4) was, in April 1949, laid up at Malta when the incident in China which involved HMS Amethyst caused a considerable number of casualties. The US Naval Hospital Ship Repose rendered outstanding medical assistance at the time and it is believed that this caused the decision to bring RFA Maine (4) forward from the reserve.

 

Maine 4 at Malta

 

On 19 September 1949 RFA Maine (4) sailed from Malta for service in the Far East

A press report on RFA Maine (4) in 1950 stated that in many ways she was unsuited to her task when compared with the US Navy Hospital Ships which had arrived in theatre. The US ships Consolation and Repose were, it was reported, built and equipped on a most lavish scale and both the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Navy crew of the Maine felt almost like the poor relations. The press report went onto list the perceived defects of the Maine including a slow speed of 12 knots, high temperatures in nearly all wards, totally inadequate laundry facilities and inadequate storage space. It claimed that of the Maine’s 300 beds 18 were on the lowest deck below the water line. One of the lowest wards was situated immediately above the main generator and thus the temperature in this ward was never below 90°F and on one recent trip a temperature of 116°F was recorded. It was further noted that there were no washing facilities in the lowest four wards and only one ward in the ship had air conditioning.

On 14 July 1950 RFA Maine arrived at Pusan, South Korea to assist in the evacuation of casualties back to the United States bases in Japan being the only Hospital Ship at the time in theatre. She admitted 37 patients and sailed two days later for Kukuoka, Japan where there was an excellent United States Station Hospital. Regrettably with her deep draft this port proved totally unsuitable as the Maine had to anchor some 3½ miles off shore and the patients had to be disembarked using a US Air Force air sea rescue launch. Subsequent evacuations were made to Osaka, Japan where she could berth alongside and on one occasion did she have to divert to Yokohama after a severe typhoon in the area caused grave loss of life and enormous damage to shipping.

RFA Maine made a total of nine trips from Pusan to Japan and carried a total of 2,107 US casualties for treatment in the US facilities in that country or for onward passage to the United States. This necessitated over 780 steaming hours port to port and the ship travelled over 8,500 nmiles. During these journeys from Korea to Japan a total of seven US soldiers died from their injuries. They were discharged at Osaka, Japan with due military respect and were carried back to the United States for burial by the US Military authorities –

 

RankNameDate of DeathLocation of Their Burial
PFCDonald E Sellers4 August 1950Highland Home Cemetery, Jamestown, North Dakota
PFCRonald E Kendall4 August 1950Bowman Cemetery, Bowman, North Dakota
PFCElbert Miller5 August 1950Nowata Memorial Cemetery, Nowata, Nowata County, Oklahoma
SergeantRoselio J Torres11 August 1950Beaver Cemetery, Beaver, Beaver County, Pennsylvania
PFCWilliam R Weitman11 August 1950Watermelon Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, Tison, Tattnall County, Georgia
PFCGeorge A Poulson12 August 1950Wataga Cemetery, Wataga, Knox County, Illinois
PFCBilly E Manring14 September 1950Fores tLawn Cemetery, Greenboro, Guildford County North Carolina

 

 

PLC George A Poulson

PFC George A Poulson

The patients included over 650 with wounds of limbs involving massive tissue destruction and often compound fractures. There were over 80 perforating thoracic wounds and around 70 perforating abdominal wounds involving small and large bowels, liver, spleen, kidney or bladder respectively, there were over 50 cases of head injury, and about 250 frank neuropsychiatric subjects. The remainder were miscellaneous medical and surgical patients. About 70 major surgical procedures under general anaesthesia were carried out, often at sea, including 3 mid-thigh amputations. 221 X-ray photographs were taken; over 30 blood transfusions were given; and nearly 1,000 mega units of penicillin were expended. In the laboratory 372 pints of distilled and filtered water were produced.

The galley produced over 21,000 meals for service to the patients. The ships 8 Chinese boats crew were invaluable in providing domestic help. It should be borne in mind with these figures and the staffing problems involved that Maine’s Sick Berth Staff complement had been based on the peacetime usage of the ship, sufficient for 126 beds only and based on the assumption that they were not all occupied at once, and catering only for small numbers of miscellaneous patients and might be reasonably anticipated from a fleet manned by fit health young men, and certainly not to deal with battle casualties en masse.

Some patients were sent by the US Army for treatment in Japan for strange reasons – one man who drank Dettol in mistake for fruit juice made a full recovery. Another soldier was bitten in Korea by a dog – the dog died three days later and the victim was evacuated for anti-rabies treatment. Two soldiers were sent back to Japan as they had lost their spectacles and third had broken his dentures. The US Soldiers addressed the Royal Naval Nursing Sisters as Ma’am as it appeared in the USA at the time that ‘Sister’ only applied to members of religious orders. Patients were disappointed to find the bedside bottle of gin only contained water. Beer very quickly ran out and so the ship ordered 4,000 bottles from a Wine Merchant from the South of England who were well known as Naval suppliers.  The signal placing the order was misread and 4,000 dozen bottles were despatched causing questions to be asked what they were going do with 48,000 bottles of beer.

RFA Maine, as indicated, was originally built as an Italian liner and each trip produced burst pipes due to the elderly plumbing resulting in wards being under several inches of swilling water before the fault was detected and repaired.

The main hospital consisted of wards on two deck levels, an upper level comprising one hundred and ten beds in five wards and a lower level of one hundred and fifty six double tiered beds split in three large wards. This lower level was not provided with heads or bathing facilities and access was by means of fairly steep ladders. As a result of this, these beds could only be used by ambulatory patients, for the most part well able to look after themselves. These lower deck wards could not, while at sea, have their scuttles open a fact which did nothing to help the temperature.

In addition a 16 bed Officer’s ward was located on the upper deck

The ship was equipped with an excellent air conditioned operating theatre, a minor theatre, X-Ray room, laboratory, dispensary, dental surgery. Upper level wards were approached by ramps on gently sloping stairways and a lift served between the operating theatre and the wards allocated to serious cases.

The Royal Naval medical team consisted of a Medical Officer-in-charge, a Medical, Surgical and an ENT Specialist, an Anaesthetist, Dental Surgeon and a Commissioned Wardmaster. Matron had four Nursing Sisters including an operating theatre Sister, six VAD’s and twenty nine Sick Berth Attendants of which only twenty one were available for nursing duties on the wards. The remainder were employed on special duties including administration, medical stores, laboratory, X-Ray, dispensing and in the operating theatre. This manning did not allow any margin for illness etc. Four trips sailing with US Military patients had a SBA or a VAD short.

Many neuropsychiatric patients may be typified by the few; there was the man who always crawled on all fours, hopping along to throw his arms around the neck of his medical officer when beckoned: the man who managed to approach the Officer of the Watch on several occasions, piteously importuning him to alter course as he was sure they were sailing into an ambush.

Having been re-commissioned the United States Hospital Ship Haven (AH12) sailed on 25 September 1950 via Pearl Harbour for Inchon, Korea

USSHaven

 The American Hospital Ship USS Haven (AH12)

and RFA Maine (4) was then employed on carrying British and other Allied casualties from Korea to Hong Kong ending her service for the US forces.