M*A*S*H, The real medical Units


The Beginning

WWI 1914  – 1918, the French military used automobile-chirurgical units during this war and shortly after the Americans join this war they established their first mobile hospital following the French example.

The MASH Unit

The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) refers to a US medical unit serving as a fully functional hospital in a combat area of operations. The units were first established in August 1945.

Principles for a mobile medical unit and their implementation were established through trial and error in the dental field during World War II 1939  –  1945 by Major Vincent P. Marran, medic in Patton’s Third Army. The effectiveness of his efforts were widely admired and supported by the command structure, but no formal designation was established at that time.


Dr Michael E. DeBakey & Col. Harry A. Ferguson formally established the concept of the MASH program, it was decided it was a better concept than what was already in  use during times of conflict, random individual systems of portable surgical hospitals, field hospitals, and general hospitals used during World War II 1939  –  1945.

It was designed to get experienced personnel closer to the front, so that the wounded could be treated sooner and with greater success. This proved to be highly successful; during the Korean War, a seriously wounded soldier who made it to a MASH unit alive had a greater than 97% chance of survival once he received treatment.

MASH structure

Mobile Army Surgical Hospital had personnel including 10 medical officers, 12 nursing officers, and 89 enlisted soldiers of assorted medical and non medical specialities. On one occasion, a unit handled over 600 casualties in a 24-hour period.

MASH units played an important role in the development of the triage system; a technique that underscores emergency rooms (ER) medicine in hospitals today. In the field they used a colour coded system as shown below:

Black Deceased or so severely wounded that there is no hope for survival.
Red Requires immediate treatment in order to survive.
Yellow Not in immediate danger but requires medical care. Requires observation.
Green Wounds or injuries that aren’t completely disabling. Referred to as “walking wounded.”

This system allows for caregivers to prioritise patient’s wounds and injuries in order to get those who are severely injured treated as soon as possible. The patient’s status is determined an overview of their respiratory, perfusion, and mental status.  The current triage system consists of colour coding; each patient (and at times their different wounds) are tagged with either a black, red, yellow, or green tag making it easy for all those concerned to instantly see what each patient required.


MASH units have played a vital part in many conflicts since WWII, they first cam into their own during the Korean War 1950  –  1953.

High casualties in the front line called for onsite care, such as ambulances and medical tents. Having learned from World War II that transporting wounded soldiers to rear hospitals was highly inefficient in reducing mortality rates, MASH units were established near front lines to supply mobile and flexible military medical & surgical care.


MASH onsite paramedic care and air ambulance systems decreased post evacuation mortality from 40% in World War II to 2.5% in the Korean War, that percentage in its self is something that requires recognition….

This post is dedicated to all those medical and none medical staff from any country who safe life’s on the front line…..without you many more would not survive…thank you!