Medical Air Evacuation 1950-1973: History in Focus
This education resource encourages inquiry learning and discussion in the classroom. Between 1950 and 1973, Medical Air Evacuation units continued to evolve and operate. Specially trained personnel evacuated seriously wounded soldiers from war zones for treatment and care. Use this printable postcard to engage your students.
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For many people, the medical evacuation of seriously wounded soldiers by helicopter during the Korean War, as portrayed in the television series M*A*S*H, is an enduring image of that conflict. However, for Australians it was fixed-wing aircraft that provided the backbone of the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) evacuation system. The task of evacuating wounded British Commonwealth personnel from Korea back to Japan was given to No. 30 Communications Flight, subsequently designated No. 30 Transport Unit. In March 1953, the unit was succeeded by the newly formed No. 36 Transport Squadron.
Medical evacuations were one of a number of general duties undertaken by the transport unit. Wounded soldiers were usually carried by ambulance to Kimpo airfield in Seoul, where they were assessed for evacuation. RAAF nurses were posted in Seoul and would accompany the wounded back to Iwakuni in Japan. After stabilisation, the men were often flown back to Australia on chartered Qantas DC-4 aircraft with a RAAF nurse and a medical orderly accompanying the patients.
From November 1952 a specialised RAAF casualty staging section had been established within the precinct of the British Commonwealth Z Medical Unit in Seoul, staffed by RAAF nurses from Iwakuni on a rotation basis. Between January 1951 and December 1953, more than 12,000 patients were evacuated by RAAF nurses.
In the early 1960s, Iroquois helicopters introduced a new evacuation capability to Australian defence forces. The first operational experience in helicopter medical evacuations came in 1964, when No. 5 Squadron supported Commonwealth operations against Communist insurgents in Malaya.
In Vietnam, No. 9 Squadron helicopter crews flew in excess of 4000 medical evacuations – code named ‘dust-off’– to bring wounded soldiers back to medical facilities at Vung Tau or Bien Hoa. A RAAF or Army medical orderly usually accompanied each flight.
From 1966, No. 37 Squadron began flying long-range transport missions in support of Australian forces in Vietnam. Specially rigged C-130 Hercules aircraft crewed by aero-medical evacuation teams conveyed wounded soldiers back to Australia.
Department of Veterans' Affairs 2020