World War II: Casualties


Figure 1.--It should not be thought that the Germans did not experience casualties in rge eaeky campigns of the War. There were casualties both in Poland and France, but the short length of the campaign mean that the casualties were limited sn replaceable. They were operations that the Whermacht was perfectly equipped for, quick decisive campaigns. Bsrbarossa was a different matter. After the Red army recovered from the initial shock of the German invasion, Whermacht casualties began to mount. Even befor the Soviet Winter Offensive before Moscow, Whermcht casualties began to reach levels that could not be replaced. We now know that Hitler had one real chance at victory, if he destroyed the Red Army in a quick decisive summer campaign. After the failure of Barbarossa, the Whermacht had to fight its campaigns with each years 18-year old conscript class. These youthful injured German soldiers are at a railway station somewhere in the Soviet Union as they return to the Reich to recover from their battlefield wounds in the aftermath of the Staligrad disaster and preparations began for the Kursk offensive (Match 26, 1943). The German caption read, 'Auf einem Bahnhof im Osten. Ein kleiner Russenjunge ist bemüht unseren Leichtverwunderten die Stiefel wieder auf Glanz zu bringen," (At a railway station in the East: A small Russian boy takes the trouble to shine the boots of our walking wounded.) The Germans restricted food deliveries to occupied Soviet cities, only Russians working for the Germans got ration allocations. Unless this boy earned some money, he would starve. This was part of the NAZI Hunger Plan. Source: PK-Aufnahme: kriegsberichter Modl - PBZ. (War designated reporter)

World War II was the largest and most destructive war in human history. The human toll was also the largest of any war. Estimates average about 60 million deaths. Even World War I was only a fraction of this. The enormous death toll. This was not only because of advances in weapon technology. In fact with the exception of the atom bombs, World War II weapons were refinements of World War I weapons, not quantum leaps in weapon technology. What made World War I so deadly was not only the substantial expansion in the theaters of war, but the fact that the Axis powers changed several centuries of war conventions that were aimed at honorably treating prioners of War and avoiding civilian casualties. Here the Geneva Conventions and developing international law protected both POWs and civilians in World War I. The Axis powers actually targetted civilians as part of not only their war stratgy, but of their war goals. The extent of outright murder is so massive that the word casualty is inappropriate, rather the term victim seems more accurate. Thus unlike World War I, there were enormous civilian casualties, far exceeding battlefied casualties. World War II because of its length, global extent, and unbelievable destruction makes it impossible to calculate the casualties with any accuracy. This is especially the case with lesser developed countries like China without Governmental statistical systems. As a result, the numbers of deaths and and wounded can not be calculated with any percesssion, especially the civilin casualties. There are estimates and the accuracy varies widely. American, British, and French etimates are fairly accurate. There is not real way of knowing Soviet casualties and even more so, Chinese casualties, except that they were enormous. Several attempts have been mase to quantify casualties and there are major diffrences between many of these effort. The major unknown is China. Deaths are oftn estimated at about 25 million. There is every reason to believe that this is a low estimate, total casualties could be as high as 50 million. With such a dicrepancy it is easy to see why it is so difficult to quantify casulaties with any accuracy. Generally speaking, most estimates of battle military deaths come in at about 15 million with some 25 million wounded. The military deaths include the German and Japanese murder of many POWs. Civilian deaths are much higher, perhaps 45 million people. This includes civilians killed as unintended victims of fighting, but the largest numbers were people who perished because of Axis killing actions, NAZI race-based killing or the Japanese Three Alls. This included outright physical murder or because of famines caused on purpose or through indiference. The 45 million figure will be primarily affected by the figure assigned to China.

Enormity

World War II was the largest and most destructive war in human history. The human toll was also the largest of any war. Even World War I was only a fraction of this. The death toll was staggering. Estimates average about 60 million deaths and this is probably a conservative estimate. No one knows with any surity the nimber of people tht perished in the War. Despite the massive strategic bombing of Germany and Japan, including the dropping of two atomic bombs, neither Germsny and Japan feature at the top of World War II casualty rates. Here two coiuntries stand out--China and the Soviet Union. Anf here by a large margin civilians were the primary group in the casualty totals. This was because of the degree to which noth the Gemans and Japanese targeted civilians ot waged the War without consideration of civilian casualties. And here food was a major consideration,

Causes

There were several reasons for the enormous death tool. Advances in military technology is often cited. This was certainly a factor, but the enormous numbers od deths was not only because of advances in weapon technology. In fact with the exception of the atom bombs, World War II weapons were refinements of World War I weapons, not quantum leaps in weapon technology. There were major advances in military technology, but the most impressive adbances, even nuclear devices accounted for only limited actual casualties. Mor people died in making the V-2 than actually killed by it. And there were greater caualties in the fire bombing of Tokyo than What made World War I so deadly was not only the substantial expansion in the theaters of war, but the fact that the Axis powers changed several centuries of war conventions that were aimed at honorably treating prioners of War and avoiding civilian casualties. Here the Geneva Conventions and developing international law protected both POWs and civilians in World War I.

Civilians and Military


Civilians

Defying centuries of tradition and developing international law, the Axis powers actually targetted civilians as part of not only their war stratgy, but of their war goals. The extent of outright murder is so massive that the word casualty is inappropriate, rather the term victim seems more accurate. Thus unlike World War I, there were enormous civilian casualties, far exceeding battlefied casualties. World War II because of its length, global extent, and unbelievable destruction makes it impossible to calculate the casualties with any accuracy. This is especially the case with lesser developed countries like China without Governmental statistical systems. As a result, the numbers of deaths and and wounded can not be calculated with any percesssion, especially the civilin casualties. There are estimates and the accuracy varies widely. There is not real way of knowing Soviet casualties and even more so, Chinese casualties, except that they were enormous. Several attempts have been mase to quantify casualties and there are major diffrences between many of these effort. The major unknown is China. Deaths are oftn estimated at about 25 million. There is every reason to believe that this is a low estimate, total casualties could be as high as 50 million. With such a dicrepancy it is easy to see why it is so difficult to quantify casulaties with any accuracy. Civilian deaths are much higher, perhaps 45 million people. This includes civilians killed as unintended victims of fighting, but the largest numbers were people who perished because of Axis killing actions, NAZI racde-based killing or the Japanese Three Alls. This included outright physical murder or because of famines caused on purpose or through indiference. The 45 million figure will be primarily affected by the figure assigned to China.

Military

Statistics on military casualties are available with far greater percission that civilian casualties. Militaries by their very nature kept detailed records. American, British, and French etimates are fairly accurate. Chinese military records are not nearly as accurate, but far more accurate than estimates of civilian casualties. Generally speaking, most estimates of battle military deaths come in at about 15 million with some 25 million wounded. The military deaths include the German and Japanese murder of many POWs. The Germans murdered several million Polish and Soviet POWS, the largest number starved to death. Much has been written about the brutal Japanese treatment of Western POWS. The Japanese did not even take Chinese POWs. Virtually all the Chinese soldiers surrendering to the Japanese were murdered, often in incredibly brutal ways, including beheadings, burning alive, bayonet practice, and medical experimentation.

Country Trends

Countries arond the world experienced enormous caualties. Heavy casualties began at the outset of the War launched by Germany and the Soviet Union when they invaded Poland (September 1939). Casualties varied greattly from county to country. The largest casualties were experienced by the Soviet Union and China. Soviet casualties are commonly given at 25 million people. Chinese casualtis are even more difficult, but certainly exceeded 15 million people and probably were higher. Many small countries experienced enormous casualties as well when measured in terms of a percentage of the population. In countries like the Baltic, Belarus (not independent at the time), Poland, and Yugoslavia ocvcupied by thg Germans this reached levels unknown in modern times, except perhaps the Turkish genocide of the Armenians during World War I. Casualties in Belarus and Polan tiotaled n incrediblke 17-17 percent, mostly civilians. The Axis countries (primarilyGermany and Japan) experienced far lower casualties, casulties given the intensity with which their armed forces pursued the War, pimarily because their defeat and occupation did not involve genocide by the Soviets and Western Allies. Unlike World War I, the casualties were not concentated mostly in Europe. We also see huge casualties in Asia and Oceania. The military casualties were primarily experienced by the combatants on the European Eastern Front and the genocidal treatment of POWs. Therewere also massive milkitary casualties in Asia because the Japanese did not take prisoners in China. Also unlike World War I, the casualties were not confined primarily to the militry. There were of course massive militarty casualties, but much larger casualties were sustained by civilians. Here the casualties involved both genocide and often related food shortages. This was primarily with one notable exception in the countries invaded and occuied by Axis countries and reflected the genocidal policies of the Axis. With he Germans it was carefully planned genocide. Relatively few German civilians were killed despite the Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign, And only when the Germans were drien out of occupied countries did their civilians bgan to experence the hunger and starvation they imposed on those countries. With the Japanese civilian casualties were more of a mixture of terror tactics and incopetent admnistration. In the end it would be Japanese who would begin to sarve in far-flung garrisons that could be supplied and the population on the Home Islands that would be brought to the edge of starvation. Only America food aid, as in World War I prevented massive world-wide starvation, including among the people of the Axis countries. Stalin to the detriment of the Soviet people was intent on an Eastern Eurpean empire did not receive continued American aid.

Sources

Collingham, Lizze. The Taate of War: World War II and the Battlke for Food (New York: Peguin: 2012), 634p.

Library of Congress (LOC). "Indonesia: World War II and the Struggle For Independence, 1942-50; The Japanese Occupation, 1942-45".

Mitter, Rana. Forgotton Ally: World War II, 1937-45

Rummel, R. J. "Statistics of Democide: Chapter 3 - Statistics Of Japanese Democide Estimates, Calculations, And Sources," Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War (1999).

Wikipedia, "World War II casualties". Gor our discussion of World War II casualties we ave tended to ue the Wikipedia assessment, supplmented with our research. The Wikipedia is a good basic effort to assess caualties taken nto account that for many countries no precise accounting can be made. We welcome reader contributins with more detailed country estimates. adr







CIH






Navigate the CIH World War II Pages:
[Main Wotld War I casuaty page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]




Created: 1:51 AM 6/7/2014
Last updated: 4:40 PM 7/21/2014