Battle Relic # 8             

Item Description: Parachute cloth used for medical purposes  found at US Army Hospital site in Normandy

Introduction: In June 2007 Battle Detective John De Neef found a piece of US Army camouflage parachute cloth at the site where once the First Surgical of the Allied forces in France was located. We have previously introduced this discovery in Battle Study # 6.Tied to the camouflaged piece of cloth was a piece of fabric of a different structure. It appeared to be have been white as issued but to have turned into a light red to pink color. Because of its discovery on the location of a large US Army medical facility, with a temporary cemetery, combined with the knowledge from Battle Study # 6 that especially in that facility parachutes where collected from the Drop Zones to be used for medical purposes, we assumed that blood had stained the white fabric into the reddish color it now has.

 

The Story: John had found the strip of parachute cloth while searching the location of the former Chateau Colombiere. The chateau is known to have been the location of a large military hospital which provided medial care to numerous casualties in the first days after the beginning of the Allied invasion in France on June 6th 1944. It was in full operation until bombed by the German Luftwaffe on June 9th 1944.

John immediately understood the significance of the piece of parachute fabric on this location. Carefully removing from the dirt the piece of camouflaged cloth he found first, he saw another piece of fabric emerging from the French soil. Tied to the parachute cloth with two tight knots in a loop a piece of pink cloth appeared.

 

It was our hypothesis that at the Chateau parachutes where ripped to strips and used as makeshift slings, bandages and tourniquets and that this was an example of it. The piece of pink and white fabric, tied in a loop, gave reason to believe that it was used for the latter purpose and that blood had given the white bandage this color.

 

The investigation: In order to determine if it was indeed blood that stained the white fabric, we decided to conduct some presumptive tests.

 

Tetra Base Test

First, we removed a sample of the and inserted it in a tetra base test tube. A tetra base test makes use of two different solution -a tetra base solution (scientific name: N,N,N,N-tetramethyl-4,4-diamino-dephenyl-methane) and a barium peroxide (BaO2) solution- which is to be applied in the right sequence on material to be tested. These substances will react to the presence of blood and makes the sample turn blue. When this occurs, the alleged blood trace is in fact blood. In our case the sample turned dark. We weren't absolutely positive whether it was a dark blue color or if the fact that the sample was drenched in both solutions, made it look the way it did. Not even when taking the test tube into the bright daylight.

 

Chemiluminescence test (luminol)

This made us decide to conduct a test with luminol. Luminol (scientific name: 5-amino-2,3dihydro-1,4phtalazinedione) is used to visualize latent traces of blood. A positive reaction can be recognized by the appearing of a blue intense luminescence, comparable with the light from a blue or purple Cayalume(Tm) glow stick.

 

After mixing the luminol components we took the tourniquet to a darkened room and applied a mist of luminol liquid on the pink piece of fabric. What happened wasn't a bright and clear reaction of all the red parts of the cloth attached to the camouflage fabric. But we did see a faint, though recognizable luminol reaction coming from the creases of the fabric. We saw it on both the pink cloth and the camouflage strip. Also after repeated use of the luminol. Regrettably the camera was not able to register the reaction because of the short period of the visible reaction. After three treatments with the luminol, the fabric showed no reactions anymore.

 

This is an impression of the test:

 (click on the images to enlarge)

1

The tourniquet

2

The pink loop

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Removing a sample

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The tetra base test tube makes the sample turn dark

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Inconclusive coloration of the tetra base test

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The tetra base test tube with sample in outdoor daylight

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Forensic lab in John's kitchen

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Mixing the Luminol components

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Dissolving the Luminol in the mister

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Spraying the Luminol on the tourniquet

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What the camera could register

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Combat Scene Investigation

Interpretation of the luminol reaction

What we witnessed may have been caused by either the presence of just the smallest amount of blood, hidden in the creases of the knots, or a positive false luminol reaction with substances other than blood. Both options are likely. The first option because of the location where the parachute cloth was found, combined with accounts of the use of such cloth for medical purposes on that location. The repeated application of luminol may have washed away the last speckles of blood, thus ending further recognizable reactions. The latter option is likely because the cloth came from under the top layer of the Norman soil. It probably contained micro-organisms (like fungus or bacteria) and chemical substances (peroxidases), present in plants. These are known to cause a shorter luminol reaction than the ones seen with actual blood.

 

As a result of these forensic tests, it is now our hypothesis that although some blood may have been on the cloth, the pink part was originally a piece from a red cargo parachute.

 

The US Army used a color code when dropping supplies and a red parachute signified ammunition being strapped beneath the canopy and risers.

 

This is a color photograph taken from one of the C-47's dropping supplies into the besieged city of Bastogne, Belgium.

This was during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and January 1945 when the 101st Airborne Division and elements of the 10th Armored Division defended the town against numerical superior German forces until relieved.

 

Note the colored parachute canopies. 

We assume that sixty three years of exposure made the red parachute fade to pink. Perhaps the parachute was a white one dyed red for just the purpose of the color code of dropping supplies and a low quality dye was used.


Moreover, human blood looses its red color after some (short) time. When blood is exposed to air it turns from red to brown. This is because iron is a part of hemoglobin (which is what is inside the red blood cells) giving blood its red color. When the iron comes in contact with oxygen in the air it becomes oxidized and turns to a brown color. This is similar to how metals which contain iron become rusty and change from their original
color to a reddish-brown color.

 

Stains known to be from wounds received in 1944

In the Hartenstein Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek, Holland, Battledetective.com found two examples of human bloodstains that originated from wounds sustained in 1944.

This first stain is of the blood of Brigadier General John 'Shan' Hackett, commanding the 4th Brigade of the British 1st Airborne Division during the Battle of Arnhem. Hackett was wounded on the 24th of September 1944 near the end of the battle. He was kept from being taken prisoner by the Germans and was hidden by Dutch resistance fighters for weeks. Hackett's widow donated many items from that period to the Airborne Museum. Among these items is an undershirt which still shows a large dark blood stain. The 63 year old blood has turned almost black.

 

Also on display is a part of the floor in the former Tafelberg Hotel. The building was confiscated by German Field Marshall Model in September 1944 and during the Battle of Arnhem served as a main dressing station and surgical hospital. In 2003 it was partially demolished to build an apartment complex in the rear of the building. The gable of the Tafelberg is still intact and serves as the entrance to the complex today. The floor was also removed from the Tafelberg but a piece of about two foot by a half from one of the former operating rooms was cut from it. The  piece shows blood marks from patients (either British or German)  who were treated in the Tafelberg Hotel in September 1944.  It is now on display in the Airborne Museum. The blood had turned to a dark brown color.

13

General Sir John 'Shan' Winthrop Hackett GCB, CBE, DSO and Bar, MC, (5 November 1910-10 September 1997)

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Showcase dedicated to items that belonged to Brigadier General Hackett, donated to the Airborne Museum by his widow

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Hackett's red beret and undershirt

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Visible damage to breast pocket of battle dress jacket where bullet entered Hackett's chest

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Label in Hackett's undershirt, dated 1944

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Blood stain from Hackett's wound, sustained on the 24th of September 1944, turned into an almost black color

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Part of the stone floor in one of the operating rooms in the Tafelberg Hotel now on display in the Airborne Museum

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Details of blood stains from wounds sustained in 1944

 

We have also found evidence of red parachutes fading to a light pink color.

In the Hartenstein Airborne Museum we found a red parachute displayed as hanging from a tree branch. A closer look at the canopy shows some fading of the red fabric.

 

Battledetective.com visited the Wings & Wheels Military Show in Ursel, Belgium on the 18th of August 2007. On the huge open air show we found several examples of packed red World War Two vintage British parachutes which showed discoloration on parts which were exposed to the sunlight over a certain period of time.

 

 

Some bits showed the same pink color as on the tourniquet/sling that John found in Normandy.

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Wicker drop basket with red parachute (indicating ammo) on display in the Hartenstein Airborne Museum

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Another example of the use of color coded parachutes. This yellow canopy is attached to a metal drop container containing medical supplies.

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Example of fading red parachute cloth on parts exposed to light

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Another example of the difference between exposed and unexposed parachute cloth

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Red parachute fabric turning to almost the same shade as the tourniquet/sling

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Fading on parts exposed through the folds of the parachute pack

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Label on one of the World War Tow vintage Britisch made parachutes

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The color stenciled on the parachute pack on another red canopy

 

This at least proves that British red parachutes fade to pink over the years.

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