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  #1  
Old 30th June 2009, 04:19
Sylvester Stadler's Avatar
Sylvester Stadler Sylvester Stadler is offline
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Combat Fatigue

Combat fatigue is a subject which psychiatrists in the several armies of
WW II recognized but generally could not alleviate without severly
reducing the strength of their respective armies. In the news of today we
can read of soldiers returning home after one, two or more tours of
combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic syndrome, but we
hear little of the soldiers who actually experience combat or battle fatigue
during their actual combat tours. In past wars this has been variously
labelled as cowardice or lack of moral fiber.

In one book which I read regarding the experience of the British infantry,
it was concluded that a British soldier might experience battle fatigue
after 200-400 days of combat. The result of this experience can result in
reduced performance which can result in the destruction of unit moral or
cohesion and placing the other members of the unit in greater danger to
being killed or wounded. It can result in desertion or going AWOL, the
result of which is a reduction in the performance of the man's fighting
unit.

Martin van Creveld has written an interesting book, Fighting Power:
German and U.S. Army Performance 1939-1945, which compares nearly
all aspects of how each army performed in combat and how each differed
and how each were similar. One area which van Creveld asserts the
German Army was superior was in its handling of the psychiatric cases.
He states that the German Army had fewer cases of combat fatigue than
any other army and he attributes this to the fact that German fighting
divisions came from the same general geographic area which included
replacements from the same localities and that the replacement system
sent new soldiers to be trained by a divisions' field replacement battalion
where the new recruits could be give combat instructions and training by
the division's seasoned combat veterans. The recruits would work together
for a time and form a bond, after which they would be sent to the front line.

A famous philosopher once wrote that four cowardly men unknown
to each other would not attack a lion but that four such males bonded
to each other would not hesitate to do such. Soldiers were also given
periods of leave to visit their homes.

My question here is in regard to how the Luftwaffe and other air forces
treated psychiatric casualties. Just how much combat would it take to
affect a fighter pilot or bomber pilot before his wealth of experience
begins to turn into a liability? How many combat missions? I am
somewhat familiar with Heinz Bär where he was worn out (most probably
combat fatigue) to the extent of his arguments with Hermann Göring and
his relief from command for a while. With 2530 combat missions under
his belt, did Hans Rudel ever suffer the effects of so much combat? It is
understandably that the memoirs of combat pilots never mention or gloss
over any symptoms of combat fatigue as in the past it has been described
as a sign of weakness. Nevertheless, combat fatigue is present in war
and the strongest of the strong will be subject to it.
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Old 24th July 2009, 22:25
Adriano Baumgartner Adriano Baumgartner is offline
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Re: Combat Fatigue

Hello Sylvester!
I saw your thread a long time ago, but was unable to answer soon. This is a very interesting thread, NOT very often discussed with attention.
Well, I can add information from the last book I read, a couple of weeks ago: Band of Brothers by Stephen E Ambrose, pg.203:
" There is a limit to how long a man can function effectively in this topsy-turvy world. For some, mental breakdown comes early, Army psichiatrists found that in Normandy, between 10 to 20 percent of the men in Rifle companies suffered some form of mental disorder during the first week, or either had fled or had to be taken out of line....Most men were ineffective after 180 or even 140 days. The general consensus was that a man reached its peak of effectiveness in 90 days of combat, and that after that his efficiency of combat began to fall off and that he became steadily less valuable thereafter until he was completely useles".
You do mention Rudel, who was a very keen sportist ( there are photos of him running his 10km regularly and practicing other sports, Athletics ). I have read a lot of "war diaries", but never read either a RAF or a USAAF airman telling that he used his spare time to make sports. Rather, they used their spare time to visit girlfriends and family.
I can speak for myself. I am regularly fit and used to run everyday some 10km. When I entered the Company I am flying for, I did the "Sea survival course" and suffered from hipothermia after staying only two hours and half on a pool, making exercices! We also are used to make flights by night, after staying some time on "briefings" since 1600 up to 2200. So, we did not sleep well the afternoons. We then leave Hotel by 0100 and only return back often at 0900 or 1000! So, after 5 or 6 continue flights like that you are totally fatigued and do need a rest to sleep. I often wonder myself the PR airmen, who used to fly alone more than 04 hours; or the LW airmen that used to fly ( Rudel do mentions that on his book ) 5 or 7 missions each day...each time facing a landing with damaged airplanes!...
This is a very interesting subject that do lack more information on books. We do not find out much about it regularly...I do hope to have contributed to make this thread more interesting...am reading a book about Michael Wittmann and they too..they fought without much rest or "stops" to go home and relax a bit...
Yours
Adriano
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Old 24th July 2009, 22:27
Adriano Baumgartner Adriano Baumgartner is offline
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Re: Combat Fatigue

PS: Could you mention the source of the book you used to say that British infantrymen experienced battle fatigue after 300-400 days? Just to compare with the US infantrymen quoted by Stephen Ambrose?
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Old 25th July 2009, 14:32
Larry deZeng Larry deZeng is offline
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Re: Combat Fatigue

Herr Stadler wrote in part:
Quote:
.......My question here is in regard to how the Luftwaffe and other air forces treated psychiatric casualties.
The Luftwaffe did not treat combat fatigue or exhaustion as something other than as an expected outcome for most. A pilot or other combatant who went to his unit M.D. and said he had arrived at the breaking point was immediately sent home on leave or to an Erholungsheim (convalescent facility, sanitarium) run by the Luftwaffe. This was not held against the individual. However, speed of treatment was a qualitative call based on the individual's rank and perceived value to the Luftwaffe, i.e., a hotshot fighter jockey would be attended to much more quickly than an Unteroffizier from the ranks who cleaned Bf 109 windshields and kept the cockpit tidy.

There is a huge body of study on this subject that was done during the several years following the war by Allied medical and academic personnel. Twenty years ago it was all available at the U.S. Army Library in the Pentagon, but since then it may have been moved elsewhere, possibly to the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. You can also check this 5-volume work that includes quite a bit on the subject:

Fischer, Hubert, Der deutsche Sanitätsdienst 1921-1945. 5 Bde (Osnabrück, 1982-1988).

Additionally, I recall seeing at least one scholarly article on the topic in the outstanding quarterly journal Militärgeschlichtliche Mitteilungen (an official publication of the Militärgeschlichtliche Forschungsamt in conjunction with the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg). IIRC, it was back in the 1980's.
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Old 26th July 2009, 02:27
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Re: Combat Fatigue

Adriano:

It has been several years since I read Charles Whiting's Poor Bloody Infantry but I am certain this is where I picked up the information regarding the length of time in combat for the British infantryman. It must be remembered that most days on the front line don't involve intense combat but those days I am sure are counted within that time period. Who was it who stated that war involves long periods of boredom with short periods of intense fighting? Another excellent work is John Ellis' The Sharp End but again this involves the man with the bayonet.
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Old 26th July 2009, 05:05
Steve_Fossey Steve_Fossey is offline
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Re: Combat Fatigue

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adriano Baumgartner View Post
I have read a lot of "war diaries", but never read either a RAF or a USAAF airman telling that he used his spare time to make sports. Rather, they used their spare time to visit girlfriends and family.
This is a little bit anecdotal. I've been reading many of the USAAF 15th Air Force unit histories and war diaries, many include scores of softball or basketball games. Sometimes for a given day more words are devoted to how the softball team fared than to combat operations. How much aircrew were involved is difficult to tell.

Re combat fatigue, I don't have a reference for this (just from the recollections of one bomber crewman), again for the 15th Air Force in the spring of 1944, crew men were given an extended leave about half way through their 50 missions or earlier if the flight surgeon decided they needed a break.

Steve
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