Too Close for Comfort
Hospital ships. Where did the concept of medical facilities afloat come from? Well, the idea is not exactly new. As early as 400 B.C. the city-state of Athens used them with their sizeable sea-going armada as Greece expanded its territory throughout the Mediterranean. Caesar's conquering armies used them as the Roman Empire extended its colonies and acquisitions in all directions. They were found among the fleets of the Crusaders and the Italian republics in the Middle Ages. Both the British and French navies had hospital ships during the naval wars of the eighteenth century. Of course, the methods, equipment, and facilities in use then were quite primitive, but the idea of shipboard medicine was born and would grow and improve in the future.
Centuries later in our own country a small 60-foot sailboat, the Intrepid was converted into a hospital ship in 1804 to serve in that capacity for the small American Navy. During the Civil War when the Union forces captured a Confederate passenger steamer it was converted into a well equipped hospital ship and served commendably throughout the war. It also had the distinction of being the first hospital ship to carry female nurses as part of the ship's crew.
The Navy operated four hospital ships during the First World War and into the 1920's, during which time they began using the new designator AH (auxiliary, hospital) to indicate their function. The Relief was AH-1 followed by Solace, Mercy and Comfort. In the 1930's due to the Depression and budget cuts, Solace, Mercy and Comfort were decommissioned. However, a new Solace was added to replace the old one. Thus when World War II broke out the Relief (AH-1) and Solace (AH-5) were the only hospital ships on active duty in the United States Navy.
The Solace was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, and did a commendable job in helping to care for the casualties of the sneak attack, good enough to be awarded the Navy Commendation Award by the Secretary of the Navy.
When America entered World War II, providing medical attention that its fighting forces would require was high on the priority list. Shipyards began turning out hospital ships and eventually 13 of them (Benevolence, Bountiful, Comfort, Consolation, Haven, Hope, Mercy, Relief, Rescue, Samaritan, Sanctuary, Solace, and Tranquility) would end up serving in the combat zones of the Pacific.
This book is respectfully dedicated to the Navy crew members, the Army 205th Hospital Ship Complement, and the American Red Cross hospital staff aides of the USS Comfort (AH-6), who bravely sailed into harms way to bring medical treatment to the casualties resulting from our war against Japan.