133 Parachute Field Ambulance RAMC

133 Parachute Field Ambulance RAMC

1943 to 1945

The 133 Field Ambulance RAMC was originally a TA unit based in Croydon, Surrey and accompanied the 44th (Home Counties) Division of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France in 1939, returning to the UK in the escape from Dunkirk in the early Summer of 1940. Sent to North Africa, the unit was sent to Syria, and then to the Canal Zone in Egypt, before being selected to form part of the new Airborne Forces after 44th Division was disbanded. In early 1943, renamed 133 Airborne Field Ambulance RAMC the unit undertook parachute training at Ramat David airfield in Palestine. The first CO, Lt Col Scriven, was injured in a parachuting accident and was succeeded by Lt Col Alford prior to the invasion of Italy.

Now known as 133 Parachute Field Ambulance RAMC, they joined 4th Parachute Brigade alongside 10th and 156th Parachute Battalions and prepared for the invasion of Italy in September 1943. After successful training they travelled to Haifa, and on to Tripoli before sailing to join the rest of 1st Airborne Division in Italy. A small volunteer contingent had been sent with 16 Para Field Ambulance to Sicily, however this would prove their first Airborne deployment (albeit arriving by sea).

Based at Taranto, they were able to set up in the Ospedale Maritima, the Seamen’s Hospital at the Harbour. 133 PFA played a crucial role caring for the wounded coming in from ships off the coast (including men from the ill-fated HMS Adbiel, a minelayer carrying 1st Airborne troops sunk in the Harbour when a mine exploded as it passed). In addition to the Abdiel casualties, the Hospital had admitted a further 67 battle casualties by 15 September 1943, and treated (though were unable to save) Divisional Commander Maj-Gen Hopkinson after he was injured in Battle. Later during the Italian campaign, 133 PFA supported the continuing operations from a School in Gioia. By the end of their time in Italy, the unit had treated 52 Officers, 687 Other Ranks, 21 Prisoners of War and 1 Russian soldier in just 20 days from 10 September to the end of that month.

Along with the majority of the Division, 133 PFA returned to the UK in November 1943. After a brief spell at Barleythorpe Hall to refresh training, preparations were made for the invasion of North West Europe. The 1st Airborne Division were finally sent to Arnhem, as part of Op Market Garden.

Sent in to jump as part of the Second Lift on 18 September 1944, 133 PFA landed as Ginkel Heath DZ. They were ordered to slowly move towards Arnhem passing through Wolfheze and Oosterbeek on their way.

Once on the ground, the operation did not go well on the first day for 133 Para Field Ambulance. Their proposed RV point was held by the Germans and had to be cleared. With the DZ under fire for a time, many drop zone casualties had to be collected and treated. Perhaps worse still, at the roll call about 40 men were missing. Some turned up later but several sticks had been dropped away from the DZ and never managed to reach their unit at Arnhem. Nevertheless, 133 PFA had to make the best of their situation and were supplemented by men of 181 PFA whose resources had also been depleted.

First, they set up a MDS in the Zuid Ginkel café, then on 19 September 133 PFA personnel supported the 4th Parachute Brigade in its efforts to reach the Arnhem road bridge, and treated many casualties during this day working from a CCP (Casualty Collecting Point) set up under a bridge, before CO Lt Col Alford proposed creation of a Dressing Station located on the Utrechtseweg close to the Vreewijk Hotel. On the 20 September these buildings were shelled however, and it was decided to move to a building near the river called Pietersberg. By the early hours of 21 September the first casualties were received and the staff established an operating theatre where serious cases were treated over the following five days.

The conditions in this largish house (which is still standing today), a former office, must have been grim. Medical supplies, food and water were in short supply and the building was under fire on many occasions. With an Allied evacuation of the Medical stations impractical, the remnants of 133 PFA stayed after the the 1st Airborne evacuation on the night of 25-26 September, and were captured and evacuated to Apeldoorn, the later-known 'Airborne Hospital, which operated until closed by the German forces in November.

Alongside other Airborne Medical personnel, men and officers of 133 PFA distinguished themselves during the Battle, and later in Apedoorn by their determined efforts to perform their duties as effectively as possible, caring for the wounded from all sides. After Arnhem many members of the 133 were recognised for their services during the conflict.

In practice however, the Battle of Arnhem had taken its toll on the unit. Of the men sent to Holland, only 3 ORs returned (who joined 16 Para Field Ambulance), and all officers had been killed, injured or captured. When the men who had missed their DZ at Arnhem returned to the UK in late 1944 however, it was decided to reform 133 from this contingent at a base in Lincolnshire.

By May 1945, as the War in Europe neared its end the 1st Airborne Division were ready for further deployments. Remarkably, pre-Arnhem CO Lt Col Alford was back in charge after his release from captivity and led the unit once more to Stavanger, Norway on 11 May 1945 as part of Op Doomsday to disarm the German forces in the region. It proved a short deployment however, and 133 PFA returned to the UK in July 1945, based at Bulford in Wiltshire.

133 Parachute Field Ambulance RAMC was finally disbanded on 1 December 1945.

Commanding Officers

1943                 Lt Col Scriven
1943-45           Lt Col WC Alford OBE

With assistance from Niall Cherry - grateful thanks to the Student Volunteer Team

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  • Gen Montgomery visits 133 Para Field Ambulance at Oakham, March 1944

    Gen Montgomery visits 133 Para Field Ambulance at Oakham, March 1944

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