The bombardment of 37 and 36 General Hospitals

In a previous post there was mention of frequent bombings of 36 and 37 general hospitals by enemy aircraft. Hospital No 37, in particular, was struck on August 10, 1916 by two bombs falling in the hospital grounds, destroying a large tent and injuring two men. On August 19, 1916 – the second day of the big Bulgarian attack north and west of Vegoritis (then Ostrovo) lake – twenty four bombs were dropped on the hospital injuring three men and destroying several tents. But the most murderous one took place on 12 March 1917. The bombardment of the hospitals was considered a barbarian act.

A scene from the 37 general hospital

37 hospital

From French aviation sources we know that on February 15, 1917 the German squadron Kagohll 1 of twin-engine heavy bombers moved to the Hudova airbase north of Guevgueli. These bombers were quick to spread the panic in the Vardar area and in the city of Thessaloniki. They were also targeting the French army in the plain of Monastir and the rear of the Serbian area in the center of their deployment. On March 12, 1917 a raid against the ammunition depot of the 2nd Serbian Army near the RR Station at Skydra (then Vertekop) took place. It was a huge ammunition depot located close to the Station in the direction of Mavrovouni.

Creating the ammunition depot in Skydra (1)

Σκυδρα Réserve d'obus

Creating the ammunition depot in Skydra (2)

Σκυδρα Train de troupes et de munitions

Only two of the French Nieuport fighter planes of the nearby detachment were able to take off but could do nothing to counter the raid. The ammunition depot of the 2nd Serbian Army was very severely damaged but not completely destroyed.

A large part of the ammunition depot was destroyed

Vertekop Depot

French officers looking at the damage standing on the decauville line


The bombing also affected the hospitals nearby. Would it be a collateral damage as the Central powers put forward? Following the public emotion and the controversy, the Allied governments asked for an independent expert assessment to be made on the circumstances of the hospital bombing. Hence, Dr Reiss, a Swiss independent criminologist and professor at the University of Lausanne, was asked by the Serbian headquarters to conduct an inquiry. The Swiss expert first noticed that the explosion of the ammunition depot did not produce any damage to the RR Station at a distance of about 100 to 150 meters. It was then impossible that fragments of the explosion damaged the hospitals lying at a distance of 2 kilometers. He then examined the hospital camp where he was received by the Colonel commanding the 37 hospital. The Colonel informed him that the bombardment took place on March 12th between 8.15 and 8.30 in the morning by planes coming from Skydra. Two English nurses and four hospital orderlies were killed and six Serbian orderlies and three patients were injured.

The operating theater in front of which a bomb fell killing a nurse

37 salle d'operation

In the 36 hospital three men were injured and one killed. At the moment of the bombardment a train was passing on the line east of the hospitals. Would then the moving train next to the hospitals be the target of the bombing?

The railway from Skydra to Edessa was passing just next to the two hospitals (here the 36 GH)

Railway next to 36

According to the expert the pilots knew from the display on the ground of the big red cross canvasses that they were above hospitals. If they had the intention to attack the train, they could only wait a few minutes until the train had quitted the zone of the hospitals.

Twelve red crosses were lying on the ground of the two hospitals. Here one from the 36 hospital.

36 Red Cross

The expert noticed also that to attack a train it would be necessary to drop large bombs intended for the destruction of massive objects and not bombs against personnel. Overall, 23 bombs fell in a widespread area. Taking into account the number and the spots where the bombs fell, the expert concluded that the bombing of the hospitals was a deliberate action by at least four planes which came after the bombardment of the ammunition depot. He finally drew the following conclusions:

“(1) That the explosion of the ammunition dump at Vertekop station had nothing to do with the bombardment of Hospitals No 36 and 37.

(2) That the bombardment of Hospital No 37 at least was carried out by three distinct enemy airplanes.

(3) That as the visibility of the distinguishing Crosses was perfect at the height of 3,000 metres, the enemy airmen knew that they were above hospitals.

(4) That the bombs employed were not the large bombs usually employed for the destruction of massive objects, but bombs intended for attacking human beings.

(5) That the bombardment was aimed at the Hospitals No 36 and 37 and not at the train which was passing at the time”.




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