The 21st General Hospital was a World War Two US Army hospital unit whose medical officer and nursing corps were predominately staffed by the doctors and nurses of Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes Hospital. The unit was activated on January 12, 1942, and following several months of training and preparation at Ft. Benning, Georgia, the staff of the 21st sailed to the United Kingdom on October 20, 1942.
On November 27, 1942 the unit was deployed to North Africa as part of the Allied offensive “Operation Torch.” The 21st was first hospital unit stationed in Bou Hanifia, Algeria where the staff treated 20,989 Allied soldiers and patients over the course of twelve months (December 1942 to December 1943). Once northern Africa was firmly under American and British control, the 21st moved to Naples, Italy in order to aid the wounded Allied Forces involved in the intense fighting on the Italian mainland. The most critical period of service to the Italian campaign came in June 1944 during the various battles leading to the fall of Rome, a significant victory for the Allies. Bed capacity of the 21st General Hospital expanded to over 3,000 at that time, greatly straining hospital staff and supplies.
Following the D-Day invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944), the Allies began liberating southern France from German control. On September 25, 1944, the unit was transferred from Naples to Mirecourt, France. The 21st endured significant hardship in December 1944 during the “Battle of the Bulge.” The surprise German counteroffensive breached Allied lines in Belgium and Luxembourg and threatened a new invasion of France. The Allies successfully repelled the Germans, but lost thousands of soldiers in doing so. The 21st was called upon to treat many of the wounded from this devastating battle.
The long-awaited end of the war in Europe (V-E Day) came May 8, 1945, but much of the 21st General Hospital’s staff remained to treat patients long after the fighting had stopped. The remaining staff of the unit returned to the US on October 28, 1945. The final statistics compiled by the unit indicate that the 21st treated 65,503 patients in its nearly three years of overseas service.