American Military Medical Impression

The Army Nurse Corps in WWII

ANC Ranks in World War II


During WWII, the issue of military rank was a very sensitive subject, particularly in the Medical Department. Even though the doctors and nurses were professionals and had spent many years of training, they were bound by the limits the Congress imposed on the Army as to how many of each rank they could have. And the Tables of Organizations (T/O) for the various hospital units reflected these limits. Promotions were very slow, almost non-existent for most of the war.


At the outbreak of the war, the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) consisted of a superintendent, assistant superintendents, chief nurses and nurses. Nurses in the ANC held "relative rank" untiUune 1944 when they achieved full commissioned status. Relative rank meant they had some of the rights and privileges accorded to commissioned officers, and that didn't include full pay and allowances. To be appointed to the ANC, you had to be a registered nurse with 2 years of general. hospital training or equivalent experience. In essence, unless you were a chief nurse, you were just a nurse and years of experience didn't have anything to do with your rank. In many of the early T/Os, the nurse rank structure was not defined. It listed the chief nurse and assistants, and the rest were nurses with no rank structure identified.

Almost all nurses who came into the Army Nurse Corps, came in as 2nd Lieutenants. The grades of colonel, lieutenant colonel and major were not authorized as a general rule in the ANC. Although the superintendent and her chief assistant had been granted the grade of colonel and lieutenant colonel, respectively. In 1942, Congress set the limits on rank distribution in the ANC as follows: one major, captains not to exceed 1%, first lieutenants not to exceed 15% and the remainder were second lieutenants. Although the numbers sometimes exceeded these limits, this was the general rule. A limiter on rank was the T/O of the units you were assigned to. Ifyou were in a 2nd LT billet, you didn't get a promotion unless

there was a vacancy in a 1st LT billet, which was usually reserved for the chief nurse or the assistant chief nurse. [In the book of the history ofthe 81h Evacuation Hospital that I brought to the AMMI Meeting, it said they started off with 52 nurses. The chief nurse and the assistant chief nurse were 151 LTs, the other 50 were 2nd LTs.]


For example, here is the rank breakdown for the entire ANC in December 1943

Colonel -1 (.003%)
LtCol-22 (.06%)
Major -54 (.15%)

Capt -222 (.60%)

1st LT -2,056 (6.24%)

2nd LT -33,363 (93.42%)


In November 1943, in response to many complaints about the slow rate of promotion in ANC, especially when compared to the promotion seen in the Women's Army Corps (WAC), the Medical Department revised the T/O's of many units which raised the number of 151 LT and lowered the number of2nd LTs. However, this did not automatically guarantee promotions across the board. In fact, by November 1944, the total number of2nd LT in the ANC was at 75%. It wasn't until December 1944 that the War Department announced that any 2nd LT who had completed 18 months of service in grade, could be promoted to 1'1 LT, regardless of T10 vacancies. Even this wasn't totally automatic. It was reserved for those 2nd LT who had been denied merit promotions due to fact that they were not in a position that rated a higher grade. Even with this directive, it wasn't until February 1945 that a marked increase in the number of 151 LT in the ANC was realized. It wasn't until June 1945 that the number of 151 LTs outnumbered 2nd LT (26,330 to 26,013). By August 1945 the ratio was 28, 695 to 23, 984 or 52.38% to 43.78%. (The information for this article came from the Medical Department, United States Army book entitled, Personnel in World War II, published in 1963.)

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