A hospital ship is a ship designated for primary function as a floating medical treatment facility or hospital. Most are operated by the military forces (mostly navies) of various countries, as they are intended to be used in or near war zones.
Although attacking a hospital ship is a war crime, belligerent navies have the right to board such ships for inspections.
In the nineteenth century redundant warships were used as moored hospitals for seamen.
Hospital ships possibly existed in ancient times. The Athenian Navy had a ship named Therapia, and the Roman Navy had a ship named Aesculapius, their names indicating that they may have been hospital ships.
The earliest British hospital ship may have been the vessel Goodwill, which accompanied a Royal Navy squadron in the Mediterranean in 1608 and was used to house the sick sent aboard from other ships. However this experiment in medical care was short-lived, with Goodwill assigned to other tasks within a year and her complement of convalescents simply left behind at the nearest port. It was not until the mid-seventeenth century that any Royal Navy vessels were formally designated as hospital ships, and then only two throughout the fleet. These were either hired merchant ship or elderly sixth rates, with the internal bulkheads removed to create more room, and additional ports cut through the deck and hull to increase internal ventilation.
In addition to their sailing crew, these seventeenth century hospital ships were staffed by a surgeon and four surgeon's mates. The standard issue of medical supplies were bandages, soap, needles and bedpans. Patients were offered a bed or rug to rest upon, and given a clean pair of sheets. These early hospital ships were for the care of the sick rather than the wounded, with patients quartered according to their symptoms and infectious cases quarantined from the general population behind a sheet of canvas. The quality of food was very poor. In the 1690s the surgeon aboard Siam complained that the meat was in an advanced state of putrefaction, the biscuits were weevil-ridden and bitter, and the bread was so hard that it stripped the skin off patient's mouths.
Hospital ships were also used for the treatment of wounded soldiers fighting on land. An early example of this was during an English operation to evacuate English Tangier in 1683. An account of this evacuation was written by Samuel Pepys, an eyewitness. One of the main concerns was the evacuation of sick soldiers "and the many families and their effects to be brought off". The hospital ships Unity and Welcome sailed for England on 18 October 1683 with 114 invalid soldiers and 104 women and children, arriving at The Downs on 14 December 1683.
The number of medical personnel aboard Royal Navy hospital ships was slowly increased, with regulations issued in 1703 requiring that each vessel also carry six landsmen to act surgical assistants, and four washerwomen. A 1705 amendment provided for a further five male nurses, and requisitions from the era suggest the number of sheets per patient was increased from one to two pairs. On 8 December 1798, unfit for service as a warship, HMS Victory was ordered to be converted to a hospital ship to hold wounded French and Spanish prisoners of war. According to Edward Hasted in 1798, two large hospital ships (also called lazarettos), (which were the surviving hulks of forty-four gun ships) were moored in Halstow Creek in Kent. The creek is an inlet from the River Medway and the River Thames. The crew of these vessels watched over ships coming to England, which were forced to stay in the creek under quarantine to protect the country from infectious diseases including the plague.
From 1821 to 1870 the Seamen's Hospital Society provided HMS Grampus, HMS Dreadnought and HMS Caledonia (later renamed Dreadnought) as successive hospital ships moored at Deptford in London. In 1866 HMS Hamadryad was moored in Cardiff as a seamen's hospital, replaced in 1905 by the Royal Hamadryad Seamen's Hospital. Other redundant warships were used as hospitals for convicts and prisoners of war.
The institutionalization of the use of hospital ships by the Royal Navy occurred during the first half of the nineteenth century. By the standard of the medical provision available at the time for convalescent soldiers, hospital ships were generally superior in their standard of service and sanitation. It was during the Crimean War in the 1850s that the modern hospital ship began to emerge. The only military hospital available to the British forces fighting on the Crimean Peninsula was at Scutari near the Dardanelles. Over the course of the Siege of Sevastopol, almost 15,000 wounded troops were transported there from the port at Balaklava by a squadron of converted hospital ships.
The first ships to be equipped with genuine medical facilities were the steamships HMS Melbourne and HMS Mauritius. These hospitals were manned by the Medical Staff Corps and provided services to the British expedition to China in 1860. The ships provided relatively spacious accommodation for the patients and were equipped with an operating theatre. Another early example of a hospital ship was USS Red Rover in the 1860s, which aided the wounded soldiers of both sides during the American Civil War.
During the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78), the British Red Cross supplied a steel-hulled ship, equipped with modern surgery equipment including chloroform and other anaesthetics and carbolic acid for antisepsis. Similar vessels accompanied the 1882 invasion of Egypt and aided American personnel during the Spanish–American War.
Hospital ships were used by both sides in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05). It was the sighting by the Japanese of the Russian hospital ship Orel, correctly illuminated in accordance with regulations, that led to the decisive naval Battle of Tsushima. Orel was retained as a prize of war by the Japanese after the battle.
During World War I and World War II, hospital ships were first used on a massive scale. Many passenger liners were converted for use as hospital ships. RMS Aquitania and HMHS Britannic were two famous examples of ships serving in this capacity. By the end of the First World War, The British Royal Navy had 77 such ships in service. During the Gallipoli Campaign, hospital ships were used to evacuate over 100,000 wounded personnel to Egypt.
Canada operated hospital ships in both world wars. In World War I these included SS Letitia (I) and HMHS Llandovery Castle which was deliberately sunk by a German U-boat with great loss of life, despite the hospital ship's clearly marked status. In World War II, Canada operated the hospital ship RMS Lady Nelson and SS Letitia (II).
The first purposely built hospital ship in the U.S. Navy was USS Relief which was commissioned in 1921. During World War II both the United States Navy and Army operated hospital ships though with different purposes. Naval hospital ships were fully equipped hospitals designed to receive casualties direct from the battlefield and also supplied to provide logistical support to front line medical teams ashore. Army hospital ships were essentially hospital transports intended and equipped to evacuate patients from forward area Army hospitals to rear area hospitals or from those to the United States and were not equipped or staffed to handle large numbers of direct battle casualties. Three of the Navy hospital ships, USS Comfort, USS Hope, and USS Mercy, were less elaborately equipped than other Navy hospital ships, medically staffed by Army medical personnel and similar in purpose to the Army model.
The last British royal yacht, the post World War II HMY Britannia, was ostensibly constructed in a way as to be easily convertible to a hospital ship in wartime. After her decommissioning, Peter Hennessey discovered that this was a cover story: her actual role would have been as Queen Elizabeth II's refuge from nuclear weapons, hiding amidst the lochs (fjords) of western Scotland.
A development of the Lun-class ekranoplan was planned for use as a mobile field hospital for rapid deployment to any ocean or coastal location at a speed of 297 knots (550 km/h, 341.8 mph). Work was 90% complete on this model, Spasatel, but Soviet military funding ceased and it was never completed.
According to the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, a hospital ship violating legal restrictions must be duly warned and given a reasonable time limit to comply. If a hospital ship persists in violating restrictions, a belligerent is legally entitled to capture it or take other means to enforce compliance. A non-complying hospital ship may only be fired on under the following conditions:
In all other circumstances, attacking a hospital ship is a war crime.
Modern hospital ships display large Red Crosses or Red Crescents to signify their Geneva Convention protection under the laws of war. Even so, marked vessels have not been completely free from attack. Notable examples of hospital ships deliberately attacked during wartime are HMHS Llandovery Castle in 1915, the Soviet hospital ship Armenia in 1941 and AHS Centaur in 1943.
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It is common for naval ships, especially large ships such as aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships to have on-board hospitals. However, they are only one small part of the vessel's overall capability, and are used primarily for the ship's crew and its amphibious forces (and occasionally for relief missions). They do not qualify as "hospital ships", as they are not marked and designated as such, and as armed vessels they are disqualified from protection as a hospital ship under international law. Examples of these ships from various navies include;
Several classes of US Navy ships are equipped with on-board hospitals;
Media related to Hospital ships at Wikimedia CommonsAHS Centaur
Australian Hospital Ship (AHS) Centaur was a hospital ship which was attacked and sunk by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Queensland, Australia, on 14 May 1943. Of the 332 medical personnel and civilian crew aboard, 268 died, including 63 of the 65 army personnel.
The Scottish-built vessel was launched in 1924 as a combination passenger liner and refrigerated cargo ship and operated a trade route between Western Australia and Singapore via the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), carrying passengers, cargo, and livestock. At the start of World War II, Centaur (like all British Merchant Navy vessels) was placed under British Admiralty control, but after being fitted with defensive equipment, was allowed to continue normal operations. In November 1941, the ship rescued German survivors of the engagement between Kormoran and HMAS Sydney. Centaur was relocated to Australia's east coast in October 1942, and used to transport materiel to New Guinea.
In January 1943, Centaur was handed over to the Australian military for conversion into a hospital ship, as the ship's small size made her suitable for operating in Maritime Southeast Asia. The refit (including installation of medical facilities and repainting with Red Cross markings) was completed in March, and the ship undertook a trial voyage: transporting wounded from Townsville to Brisbane, then from Port Moresby to Brisbane. After replenishing in Sydney, Centaur embarked the 2/12th Field Ambulance for transport to New Guinea, and sailed on 12 May. Before dawn on 14 May 1943, during her second voyage, Centaur was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine off North Stradbroke Island, Queensland. The majority of the 332 aboard died in the attack; the 64 survivors were discovered 36 hours later. The incident resulted in public outrage as attacking a hospital ship is considered a war crime under the 1907 Hague Convention. Protests were made by the Australian and British governments to Japan and efforts were made to discover the people responsible so they could be tried at a war crimes tribunal. In the 1970s the probable identity of the attacking submarine, I-177, became public.
The reason for the attack is unknown, with theories that Centaur was in breach of the international conventions that should have protected her, that I-177's commander was unaware that Centaur was a hospital ship, or that the submarine commander knowingly attacked a protected vessel. The wreck of Centaur was found on 20 December 2009; a claimed discovery in 1995 had been proven to be a different shipwreck.BAP Puno (ABH-306)
BAP Puno is a Peruvian Navy hospital ship on Lake Titicaca. Until 1976 she was called Yapura.Chinese hospital ship Daishan Dao
Daishan Dao is a Type 920 hospital ship of the People's Liberation Army Navy of the People's Republic of China. Daishan Dao is also known as Peace Ark during peacetime.Gil Eannes (ship)
Gil Eannes is a former Portuguese hospital ship, now permanently moored in the Port of Viana do Castelo, serving as museum ship and youth hostel.
The official name of the ship is written according to the old spelling of the Portuguese language, but occasionally it appears written with the modern spelling Gil Eanes.
Between 1955 and 1973, Gil Eannes was the flagship of the Portuguese White Fleet that operated in the codfish fishing in the seas of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Greenland. As the flagship of the White Fleet and besides her main function as hospital ship, Gil Eannes served also as maritime authority, mail ship, tug, icebreaker and general support ship for the Portuguese fishing vessels.HMAT Wandilla
SS Wandilla was a steamship built in 1912 for the Adelaide Steamship Company. The ship operated on the Fremantle to Sydney run until 1915, when she was acquired for military service and redesignated HMAT Wandilla. Initially used as a troop transport, the vessel was converted to a hospital ship in 1916. Wandilla was returned to her owners at the end of the war, then was sold to the Bermuda & West Indies SS Company and renamed Fort St. George in 1921. She was sold in 1935 to Lloyd Triestino and renamed Cesarea before being renamed Arno in 1938. At the start of World War II, the ship was acquired by the Regia Marina for use as a hospital ship. She was sunk by British aircraft on 10 September 1942.HMHS Anglia
SS Anglia was a steam ship requisitioned for use as a hospital ship during the First World War. On 17 November 1915 she hit a mine laid by the German U-boat, UC-5.HMHS Britannic
HMHS Britannic () was the third and final vessel of the White Star Line's Olympic class of steamships and the second to bear the name "Britannic." She was the fleet mate of both the RMS Olympic and the RMS Titanic and was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner.
Britannic was launched just before the start of the First World War. She was designed to be the safest of the three ships with design changes actioned during construction due to lessons learned from the sinking of the Titanic. She was laid up at her builders, Harland and Wolff, in Belfast for many months before being put to use as a hospital ship in 1915. In 1915 and 1916 she served between the United Kingdom and the Dardanelles. On the morning of 21 November 1916 she was shaken by an explosion caused by a naval mine near the Greek island of Kea and foundered 55 minutes later, killing 30 people.
There were 1,065 people on board; the 1,035 survivors were rescued from the water and lifeboats. Britannic was the largest ship lost in the First World War. The loss of the ship was compensated by the award of SS Bismarck to the White Star Line as part of postwar reparations; she became the RMS Majestic.
The wreck was located and explored by Jacques-Yves Cousteau in 1975. The vessel is the largest passenger ship on the sea floor.Hikawa Maru
Hikawa Maru (氷川丸) is a Japanese ocean liner that Yokohama Dock Company built for Nippon Yūsen Kabushiki Kaisha ("NYK Line"). She was launched on 30 September 1929 and made her maiden voyage from Kobe to Seattle on 13 May 1930. She is permanently berthed as a museum ship at Yamashita Park, Naka-ku, Yokohama.
Hikawa Maru was one of three Hikawa Maru class motor ships, all named after major Shinto shrines. The Hikawa Shrine is in Saitama in central Honshu. Her two sister ships, both lost in the Second World War, were Heian Maru and Hie Maru.Hospital Ship (TV series)
Hospital Ship (Korean: 병원선; RR: Byeong-wonseon) is a South Korean television series starring Ha Ji-won and Kang Min-hyuk.
The series is directed by Park Jae-bum and written by screenwriter Yoon Sun-joo. It aired on MBC every Wednesday and Thursday at 22:00 (KST) and started on August 30, 2017.Italian hospital ship Ramb IV
Ramb IV was an Italian hospital ship, built at Monfalcone by the United Yards of the Adriatic (Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico, CRDA) in 1938.
Ramb IV was the last of four sister ships all built to the same design. The other ships were the Ramb I, Ramb II, and the Ramb III.
The four ships were built for the Royal Banana Monopoly Business (Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane). These ships were originally devised as "banana boats" for transporting refrigerated bananas from Somaliland and Eritrea in Italian East Africa.
In the event of war, the design of Ramb IV allowed it to be refitted as an "auxiliary cruiser" for commerce raiding. She was 3,667 tons displacement, oil powered, and capable of 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h) knots. Following a declaration of war, Ramb IV was capable of being armed with two 120-millimetre (4.7 in) guns and eight 13.2 mm (0.52 in) anti-aircraft guns and of becoming an auxiliary cruiser.
Instead, Ramb IV was converted into a hospital ship for the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina). The goal of Ramb IV, in case of fall of Eritrea, was transporting Italian wounded back to Italy. However, this mission was impossible because of the British control of the Suez Canal. In addition, it would have been suicide to attempt to round the Cape of Good Hope and enter the Mediterranean Sea past Gibraltar. The work to convert the banana boat to a hospital ship was performed at the Eritrean port of Massawa. Ramb IV was part of the Italian Navy's Red Sea Flotilla.
When the port of Massawa fell on 10 April 1941 during the East African Campaign, the British captured Ramb IV. Pressed into British service, she then operated in the Red Sea and later off Libya. Ramb IV was bombed and set afire by German aircraft and sank off Alexandria in Egypt on 10 May 1942.MS Wanganella
MS Wanganella was an Australian-registered merchant vessel constructed by the Harland and Wolff shipyards and entering service as a trans-Tasman passenger liner in 1933. Originally named Achimota, the liner was acquired by Huddart Parker after the original sale to Elder Dempster Lines fell through.
Renamed Wanganella, the ship sailed between New Zealand and Australia until 1941, when she was converted into a hospital ship. As Australian Hospital Ship (AHS) Wanganella, the ship operated in support of Australian forces until 1946, when she was returned to her civilian operator. During the 1950s and 1960s, Wanganella was affected by several incidents of industrial action by wharf labourers.
The increase in travel by air made operating the ship less viable, but before the ship was due to be scrapped in 1963, she was acquired and moored in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand, and used as a hostel for construction workers building the Manapouri Power Station until 1970. In April 1970, a tug towed Wanganella to Hong Kong, then later Taiwan, where she was scrapped.MV Wilhelm Gustloff
MV Wilhelm Gustloff was a German cruise ship converted into an armed hospital ship and which while functioning as a military transport ship was sunk on 30 January 1945 by Soviet submarine S-13 in the Baltic Sea while evacuating German civilians, German officials, refugees from Prussia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Estonia and Croatia and military personnel from Gotenhafen (Gdynia) as the Red Army advanced. By one estimate, 9,400 people died, which makes it the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking in history.
Constructed as a cruise ship for the Nazi Kraft durch Freude (Strength Through Joy) organisation in 1937, she had been requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine (German navy) in 1939. She served as a hospital ship in 1939 and 1940. She was then assigned as a floating barracks for naval personnel in Gdynia (Gotenhafen) before being put into service to transport evacuees in 1945.RV Vityaz (1939)
Vityaz (Russian: Витязь) is a research vessel that was built in 1939 by Deutsche Schiff- und Maschinenbau AG, Bremen, Germany as Mars for Neptun Line, Bremen. She served with the Kriegsmarine during World War II and was seized by the United Kingdom in 1945. She was renamed Empire Forth for the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT).
She was allocated to the Soviet Union in 1946 under the terms of the Potsdam Agreement and renamed Equator (Russian: Экватор) and later renamed Admiral Makarov (Russian: Адмирал Мака́ров). She was renamed Vityaz in 1949 and was used as a research vessel. Retired in 1979, she was preserved as a museum ship in 1982.SS Admiral Nakhimov
SS Admiral Nakhimov (Russian: Адмирал Нахимов), launched in March 1925 and originally named SS Berlin, was a passenger liner of the German Weimar Republic later converted to a hospital ship, then a Soviet passenger ship. On 31 August 1986, Admiral Nakhimov collided with the large bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev in the Tsemes Bay, near the port of Novorossiysk, Russian SFSR, and quickly sank. In total, 423 of the 1,234 people on board died.SS König Albert
The SS König Albert was a German Barbarossa class ocean liner owned by the Norddeutscher Lloyd Line. Interned in Italy at the outbreak of World War I, she was seized by the Italian Government in 1915 and converted to a hospital ship. Sold into merchant service in 1920, she was used as a transport for the Italian Navy, before being scrapped in 1926.Soviet hospital ship Armenia
The Soviet hospital ship Armenia (Russian: теплоход «Армения») was a transport ship operated by the Soviet Union during World War II to carry both wounded soldiers and military cargo. It had originally been built as a passenger ship for operations on the Black Sea.
Armenia was sunk on 7 November 1941 by German aircraft while evacuating civilians and wounded soldiers from Crimea. It has been estimated that approximately 5,000 to 7,000 people were killed during the sinking, making it one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history. There were only 8 survivors.Type C4-class ship
The Type C4-class ship were the largest cargo ships built by the United States Maritime Commission (MARCOM) during World War II. The design was originally developed for the American-Hawaiian Lines in 1941, but in late 1941 the plans were taken over by the MARCOM.
Eighty-one ships were built as cargo or troopships in four shipyards: Kaiser Richmond, California (35 ships), Kaiser Vancouver, Washington (20 ships), Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock in Chester, Pennsylvania (20 ships) and Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point, Maryland (6 ships). All ships were capable of 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph), driven by a single screw steam turbine generating 9,900 shaft horsepower (7,400 kW).
Among the variations of the design were the Haven-class hospital ship.
They were followed post-war by thirty-seven of the larger C4-S-1 class, also known as the Mariner class.USAHS Blanche F. Sigman
USAHS Blanche F. Sigman was a United States Army hospital ship during World War II. The ship was completed in April 1943 as Liberty ship SS Stanford White. When selected for conversion to a hospital ship, she was originally assigned the name USAHS Poppy, but never operated under that name. After being decommissioned as a hospital ship, she became U.S. Army transport USAT Blanche F. Sigman.
SS Stanford White, named in honor of American architect Stanford White, was built by California Shipbuilding Corporation of Los Angeles for the United States Maritime Commission (USMC) in early 1943. Laid down in March 1943 and launched the following month, the ship was assigned to United States Lines, Inc. for merchant operation by the War Shipping Administration (WSA). Stanford White made her way from California to New York and from that port made one transatlantic round trip to Liverpool.
In November 1943, the WSA allocated the ship to the U.S. Army, which converted her to a hospital ship. Though initially assigned the name Poppy, she was instead named in honor of First Lieutenant Blanche F. Sigman, a U.S. Army nurse killed in action in Italy. The hospital ship was initially based in Charleston, South Carolina, and made multiple voyages to ports in England, the Mediterranean, and France. After her homeport was changed to New York in December 1945, she made several more runs to Europe as a hospital ship, then converted to USAT Blanche F. Sigman in April 1946. As a transport, the ship made numerous trips bringing home nurses and military personnel prior to entering the National Defense Reserve Fleet in 1948. The ship was declared surplus by the Army in 1949, and sold for scrapping in 1974.USS Comfort (AH-3)
USS Comfort (AH-3) was a hospital ship for the United States Navy in World War I. She was the sister ship of USS Mercy (AH-4) but the two ships were not of a ship class. Comfort was known as SS Havana in passenger service for the Ward Line, and as USAT Havana in United States Army service before her Navy service. Her name was restored to Havana in 1927, and she was renamed SS Yucatán in 1935, and SS Agwileon in 1941. In World War II, she was known as USAT Agwileon and USAHS Shamrock in service for the United States Army.
Launched in 1906, SS Havana was a passenger steamer for the Ward Line on the New York–Havana route from 1907 to 1917. Before being purchased by the Navy, the ship briefly served as United States Army transport ship USAT Havana and was in the first U.S. convoy of ships to sail for France during World War I. In her Navy career, Comfort made three transatlantic voyages, bringing home over 1,100 men from European ports. Comfort was placed in reserve in September 1919, decommissioned in 1921, and sold in April 1925.
The former hospital ship was repurchased by the Ward Line in 1927, who refitted her and placed her back in service on the Havana route under her original name of Havana. In January 1935, Havana grounded on a reef north of The Bahamas and remained there for three months. After being refloated and repaired, she was placed back in service as SS Yucatán in June. In 1940 the ship was removed from passenger service to be converted into a freighter. After capsizing in port in 1941, the ship was again refloated and renamed SS Agwileon.
Under a bareboat charter by the United States Maritime Commission, Agwileon carried civilian technicians and advisors to Sierra Leone for the U.S. Army. In November 1942, the ship was taken over by the Army as USAT Agwileon and converted to a troopship, making one trip in that capacity. In June 1943, the ship was selected for conversion to an Army hospital ship, and was renamed USAHS Shamrock. Operating locally in the Mediterranean for most of her career, the ship had transported almost 18,000 patients by September 1944. The ship was converted for use in the Pacific Theatre, but not before the war ended. The ship was placed in reserve in February 1946, and was scrapped in February 1948.
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