World War II German Casualties: Military Casualties

German World War II casualties
Figure 1.--German military casualties were extremely light compared to World War I in the first 2 years of the War. This changed after the opening phase of Barbarossa--the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). German losses in the East meant that as early as the summer 1942 offensive, the Wehrmacht was fighting the War with an increasingly youthful fighting force.

Germany is believed to have suffered some 7.4 million killed, both military and civilian during World War II. [Kammerer and Kammerer, p. 12.] There are no precise records in that Germn military records were confused in the final year of the war, many caualties were ethnic Germans beyond the borders of the Reich, and many died after the War in the Soviet prison camps and as aesult of the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe. NAZI German launched World War II with the Blitzkrieg on Poland in cooperation with the Soviet Union (September 1939). Germany held the ininitative in the early years of the War ewith its early development of Blitzkrieg tactics. After the success in Poland, the Wehrmacht swept over most of Western Europe, invading Denmark and Norway (April 1940) and Belgium, Holland and France (May 1940). Plans to invade Britain (September 1940) had to be scraped when the Luftwaffe failed to gain air supremecy. Diplomatic efforts to secure the Balkans failed, resulting in another Blitkrieg (April 1941). German casualties in these campaigns were extremely light--especially in the Balkans. This was startling in view of the horific casualties sustained on the Western Front during World War I. The doctrine of war developed by the Wehrmacht overwealmed poorly prepared European armies, even the French Army which had been considered the strongest in Europe. The Wehrmacht continued its string of victories with the invasion of the Soviet Union--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). Again casualties were at first relattively light, but stiffened as the Wehrmact drove beyond the non-Russian areas of the western Soviet Union and the Wehrmacht for the first time in the War began to sustain sizeable casualties. Zukov's Winter Offence (December 1941) inflicted massive casualties on the Wehrmacht--casualties that the Germans could not possibly make up. After successes during the summer 1942, casualties again mounted culminating in the Stalingrad disaster (January 1943). And after Stalingrad the Red Army through a series of offensives steadily bled the Wehrmacht. This was combined with the loss of another entire army in Tunisia (May 1942). Competent generalship kept losses low in Sicily and Italy (where Hitler did not intefere as much) (1943-44). The Allied invasion of France (June 1944) reopened the Western Front another front and more heavy losses. The NAZIs finally surrendered only after Hitler's suiside in Berlin (May 1945). The German military is believed to have suffered about 3.5 million killed and 4.6 million wounded during the War.

Duration

World War II was the largest and most cataclysmic event in the history of warfare. Germany and the Soviet Union launched the war by invading Poland (September 1939). Germany along with Poland and Britain were the only two countries at war for the entire nearly 6 years of the conflict in Europe. The duration of the War contributed to the death toll, especially as Germany fought the last year of the war at a servere disadvantage to the growing Soviet and Allied armies.

Chronology

Germany held the ininitative in the early years of the War ewith its early development of Blitzkrieg tactics. After the success in Poland, the Wehrmacht swept over most of Western Europe, invading Denmark and Norway (April 1940) and Belgium, Holland and France (May 1940). Plans to invade Britain (September 1940) had to be scraped when the Luftwaffe failed to gain air supremecy. Diplomatic efforts to secure the Balkans failed, resulting in another Blitkrieg (April 1941). German casualties in these campaigns were extremely light--especially in the Balkans. This was startling in view of the horific casualties sustained on the Western Front during World War I. The doctrine of war developed by the Wehrmacht overwealmed poorly prepared European armies, even the French Army which had been considered the strongest in Europe. The Wehrmacht continued its string of victories with the invasion of the Soviet Union--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). Again casualties were at first relatively light until Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. After which casualties escalated exponrntually, especially after the initial Red Army disasters. Red Army resistance stiffened as the Wehrmacht drove beyond the non-Russian areas of the western Soviet Union and the Wehrmacht for the first time in the War began to sustain heavy casualties. Zukov's Winter Offence before Moscow (December 1941) inflicted massive casualties on the Wehrmacht--casualties that the Germans could not possibly replace in numbers or quality. Some 90 percent of German caulaties would be suffered on the Eastern Front in the fightijg with the Soviet Union. And few of the German soldiers who surrendered to the Red Army would sirvive to return to Germny. After successes during the summer 1942, casualties again mounted culminating in the Stalingrad disaster (January 1943). And after Stalingrad the Red Army through a series of offensives steadily bled the Wehrmacht. This was combined with the loss of another entire army in Tunisia (May 1942). Competent generalship kept losses low in Sicily and Italy (where Hitler did not intefere as much) (1943-44). The Allied invasion of France (June 1944) reopened the Western Front another front and more heavy losses. The NAZIs finally surrendered only after Hitler's suiside in Berlin (May 1945).

Numbers

There is no precise, definitive accounting og German casulaties during Workd war II. A good assessment is that the Germans suffered some 7.4 million killed, both military and civilian during World War II. [Kammerer and Kammerer, p. 12.] There are serious problems involved in compiling casualty records, both military and civilian.

Military

Available statistics for German World War II military casualties are divergent and contradictory. The German Red Cross accepts the Germzn militarybassessmnt of some 4.3 million military dead and missing and presumed dead. [Kammerer and Kammerer, p. 12.] The German military search service Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt) reported some 4.3 million military dead and missing (1994). This estimate has been disputed by the German historian Rüdiger Overmans who conducted a statistical survey of the records at the military search service Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt). He estimated the total German military dead and missing at a higher figure than the military etimate-- 5.3 million (2000). [Overmans, p. 52-66.] Overmans insists that the German military wartime casualty figures were falty because if the chaos of the final months of the War. The Germans were invenerate records keepers, especially the military. There are, however, substantil problems with German military records. OKW records are often used by historians, especially in reporting on individual campaigns. The German records, however, only run through January 1945. This omits battles at the end of the war in which the Germans suffered substantial casualties. And they include prisoners taken by the Allies, most of whom survived the War.There are no precise records in that German military records were confused in the final year of the war, many caualties were ethnic Germans beyond the borders of the Reich, and many died after the War in the Soviet prison camps and as aesult of the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe. Also there is the problem as to how to how to account for non-Germans in the German military. This includes ethnic-Germans in areas annexed to the Reich: Austria, eastern Belgium, Czech Sudetenlans, French Alsace-Loraine, Luxembourg, western Poland, Slovenia, and other areas. A small number of non-Germans individuals in occupied countries volunteered to fight with the Germans.

Civilian

The numbers become even more complicated in assessing civilian casualties. This begins with the chaos and destruction associated with air raids. Substantial numbers of the civilans killed were ethnic Germans wjo retrrated uth the Gernans from Eastern Europe or were expelled after the war. Here there is not statistical record comparable to the military data base. Over 3 million German civilans were killed in the War. This was a major diference from World War I when very few civiiians were killed. Only very basic estimates are avilable. Roughly 0.5 million civilians perished during the Allied trategic bombing campaign. This is the principal cause of civilian deaths in the popular mind. Actually the NAZI Government killed about 0.5 million of their own people. Some 0.3 million Germns were killed as a resutt of NAZI ethnic, political, and religious perceution. Most of these murders occurred in the notorious NAZI concentration camps. Another 0.2 million handicapped Germans were killed unfer the T-4 euthenasia campaign. [Bundesarchiv] This killing was conducted by reputavle doctors in santotia taken over by the NAZI Welfare Organiztion (NSV). And this death toll does not include the hundreds of thousands never born because of the Racial Courts ordered sterilizations. The largest numbers of civilians, hiwever, died as a result of the ethnic Germans fleeing or expelled from Eastern Europe. The total will never be known, but probably exceeded 2.3 milliomn. [Kammerer and Kammerer, p. 12.]

Disposition of the Bodies

We do not have detailed information on what happened to the bodies of German soldier killed in World War II. Our primary interest here is the funerals held in Germany for fallen soldiers. As far as we can tell, there were very few such funerals. Some services my have been held without the soldier's body. The major factor here is that there were was no way of returning soldiers killed in action to Germny. Germny had limited air transport and far greater demands on it that the Luftwaffe could begin to supply. Even rail transport was not an option given that refigeration was required. Thus moist of the fallen were burried near they were killed. We are not sure about the early campaigns in Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France which bordered Germany. But after the battle grounds moved further from Germny, the families were simply informed that their sons or fathers had been killed or were missing. Most of the Germans killed in the War were killed in what was at the time the Soviet Union, some 90 percent bf the casulties were sustained there. The Germans did set up temporry cemetries. When the War began to go against Grmany and they began to retreat, the Germans themselves often destroyed the markers of their own dead, afraid that the graves might be desacrated and not wanting the Soviets to know the extent of their casualties. Understandbly the advancing Red Army had no interest in German war dead and there were no individual burials other than rustic graves for sanitary purposes. Thus there are German graves, both individual and mass pits all over the Western Soviet Union along a battlefiekd streaching 1,000 miles nort tho south. They are still being discovered. Altogether some 2.7 million German soldiers and 1.4 million civilans are believed to have perishied there. After the War, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK) took on the massive job of establishing military cemetaries for the fallen. [Crossland] Their work was of course complicated byvthe Cold War and the hatred toward the Germans as a result of the mssive attrocitues committed. Interestingly, the Soviets also gave little attention to indvidual graves for their own fallen. While they erected massive monuments, they were often surrounded mostly by mass graves. In the West, the Allies after the D-Day landings abd drive toward the Reich did collect and bury the German war dead. These cemetaries are also cared for by the VDK.

Sources

Bundesarchiv. Das Inventar der Quellen zur Geschichte der 'Euthanasie'-Verbrechen 1939–1945.

Crossland, David. "Cemetery in Russia: Germany Still Burying Eastern Front Dead," Spiegel Online International (July 31, 2013).

Kammerer, Willi and Anja Kammerer. Narben bleiben die Arbeit der Suchdienste - 60 Jahre nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg (Berlin Dienststelle, 2005). This assessment was published by the Search Service of the German Red Cross. It received official approval. The forward to the book was written by German President Horst Köhler and the German interior minister Otto Schily.

Overmans, Rüdiger. Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Oldenbourg 2000).







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Created: 7:01 PM 8/24/2007
Last updated: 12:55 AM 1/4/2015