by Steve Turchet
The term ambulance comes from the Latin word
ambulare which means to walk or move about. The history of military ambulances dates back to ancient times when carts or wagons were used to transport wounded soldiers. During World War One, the Red Cross implemented the first military motor ambulances to replace horse-drawn vehicles.
During World War Two, both the Allied and Axis armed forces employed many types of field ambulances. Most were built on standard military truck chassis to simplify maintenance, repair, and interchangeability of parts; and many were all-wheel-drive, or even half-tracked, for use in rugged terrain.
As the need for ambulances increased, other vehicles, usually cargo trucks, were often pressed into ambulance service and converted in the field by adding stretcher racks and the requisite markings. There were hundreds of different types of military ambulances used by the various armed forces during the war, so the vehicles presented here comprise only a fraction and may be considered typical examples.
The Soviet Union had a relatively standardized military vehicle fleet at the outbreak of World War Two and the invasion by Germany, consisting mainly of GAZ and ZIS vehicles. These trucks were inexpensive to produce, and simple to operate and maintain.
The resemblance of the GAZ to the Ford Model AA is neither accidental nor coincidental, because they were based on the Ford-licensed AA.
Just as the GMC CCKW was vital to Allied forces and the Opel Blitz to Germany, the Isuzu Type 94 was essential to Japan’s military. The Type 94 was put into production in 1933 and was widely used in the Pacific Theater during WWII.
Although Japan did not honor the Geneva Rules Of Engagement, it was not adverse to using them for its advantage, such as protecting its own wounded combatants as evidenced by this Isuzu Type 94 ambulance.
Ironically, before the invasion of North Africa, most Italian military authorities didn’t consider the problems that vehicles would encounter in the desert. Fiat, supported by Marshal Italo Balbo, Governor of Libya, independently developed the SPA AS-37.
The Fiat SPA AS-37 was developed in 1937 to be used by the Italian Armed Forces in the North African desert. The vehicle’s four-wheel drive and large wheels were well suited to a desert environment, and many served as ambulances.
Opel also produced “bus type” ambulances.
Rear view of an Opel Ambulance.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941, the German Army quickly found that Russia’s road conditions and terrain were far from favorable to wheeled vehicles, so half-track trucks were developed, such as the Opel Maultier (Mule), including ambulance versions.
Although not put into production until 1945, the Renault R2087 was a very capable and practical military ambulance. Not surprisingly, many have survived and are in civilian hands today as off-road campers.
During the years preceding World War Two, Opel was Germany’s largest truck manufacturer. Although many people assume the Blitz name was associated with Hitler’s “Blitzkrieg” (lightening war), it was actually a model name first given to an Opel truck in 1930. Just as the GMC CCKW was to U.S. and Allied forces, the Opel Blitz was the mainstay of German military transport. There were several dedicated ambulance models, one of which was this van unit.
A dedicated ambulance model of the Citroën Type 23.
About 6,000 Citroën Type 23s were pressed into German service after the French defeat in June of 1940. These trucks were used by the German Army from 1940 to 1945.
As per the Geneva Rules Of Engagement, German ambulances, like those of Allied Forces, were well-marked as such.
Another version of a CMP ambulance.
The Type 23 was a 2-ton truck introduced by Citroën in 1936 and produced in large numbers for the French Armed Forces. Many were converted to ambulances.
As with the U.S. Jeep, the British Universal Carrier’s small size, low profile, and capabilities in rough terrain made it well suited as a front-line ambulance.
The Austin K2/Y ambulance, nicknamed Katy, was used by all the Commonwealth services during World War Two, and was based on the civilian Austin K30. The K2/Y was also used in the Korean Conflict.
Although the Geneva Conference of 1929 mandated humane treatment of wounded combatants and exempted properly designed and marked vehicles from being fired upon, the heat of battle, random fire, and artillery barrages made no such exceptions, so armored ambulances were developed, such as this CMP design.
In the late 1930s, the Canadian Government, in collaboration with Ford and GM of Canada, began designing trucks to prepare for what seemed an inevitable war. The eventual standardized designs were the Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) vehicles, of which several variants were ambulance models.
Canadian medical personnel and a chaplain from the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division use a Jeep to evacuate wounded soldiers during the fighting in the vicinity of Caen, France, July 15, 1944.
Transportation of Soviet wounded soldiers to the medical battalion using service dogs. Germany, 1945. Photo by Arkady Khodov
While the WC-54 was the standard frontline ambulance of US troops, extreme circumstances required extreme adaptations. Here, a CCKW bearing a Red Cross flag transports wounded soldiers past a German medium tank Panzer IV Ausf J from the 2nd German Panzer Division near Pont-Farcy, Normandy, France, in August 1944.