Casualties of War
Last week, I wrote about the end of World War II. Today I’ll give you some staggering statistics about the casualties of that war. It’s not a pleasant topic, to be sure. But I hope it will help to keep all of what I’ve been writing about over the past seventeen months in perspective. On occasion, I’ve discussed numbers, but today you’ll see more. Bear with me.
Early in my research efforts for My Mother’s Friend, I spent several hours at the library, looking through magazines that were issued during 1944 and 1945 when my story takes place. Like the newspapers from those years, magazines gave me a detailed notion of what life was like in America and around the world during World War II. I’ve already forgotten a lot of what I saw and read, but I did make photocopies of particularly relevant articles that I wanted to keep handy, just in case. Now that I’m blogging—in 2015, when I spent those all those hours at the library, I had no idea I’d be blogging in 2022—I’m glad I held onto those copies.
Recently, I came across a folder in my file cabinet I’d labeled “War casualties (U.S.).” Inside I found copies from Time magazine’s “Army & Navy” section where, at least between May 1944 and May 1945, they published the numbers of U.S. war casualties “last month” and “since Pearl Harbor.” In three instances, the tables were expanded to include casualty statistics broken down by branch: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The numbers are impressive, and I need to remind myself (and now you, my readers, as well) that each number represents real people—brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers—people who, for whatever reason or circumstance, found themselves in harm’s way while serving their country.
The three tables below are from May 15, 1944, December 11, 1944, and May 7, 1945.
It is possible some members of our armed forces saw these war casualty tables if they read Time (and probably other periodicals containing similar statistics) during the war. Under an arrangement with the U.S. Army, the publishers of twenty-seven magazines supplied overseas editions for servicemen and women in 1944. Some of those, including Time, produced six-by-nine inch “pony” editions, free of advertisements, which were sent to military installations weekly. Maybe war casualty statistics were omitted from the “pony” editions.
The National Archives in Washington, DC maintains web pages with lists of names of World War II casualties by county for every state in the union plus the Territories of the United States. (According to information provided in the front of this Honor List from Iowa, the entire original document, published in 1946, is 1,700 pages long.) One list contains the names of Army and Army Air Force casualties, and the other includes Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard casualties. Causes of death are indicated as: KIA (killed in action); DOW (died of wounds); DOI (died of injuries); DNB (died, non-battle); and FOD (finding of death—in the absence of a recovered body, soldiers who were determined to be dead under Public Law 490). Missing persons are listed as M. You can find those lists here:
According to several sources I found, World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history, with more than seventy million (that’s seven with seven zeros) military and civilian deaths. At least fifty million of those deaths were directly caused by the war, and another 20+ million were caused by disease and famine. Numbers of wounded and injured need to be added to these astonishing figures. It just takes your breath away.
Of course, the Second World War was devastating for both Allied and Axis nations. Five countries lost more than five percent of their population: Poland (17%); Soviet Union (14%); Yugoslavia (11%); Germany (9%); and Greece (6%).
The Soviet Union suffered the greatest numbers of dead and wounded. In 1939, the population of the USSR was almost 189 million. Estimates of military deaths during the war range from 8.6 million to 11.4 million, and civilian deaths due to military activity and crimes against humanity range from 4.5 million to 10 million. Add to those numbers the number of civilian deaths due to war-related famine and disease (8 to 9 million) and the total Soviet deaths during WWII range from 21 to 30 million. Military wounded were well over 14 million.
China, with a population of over 517 million in 1939, suffered tremendous loss as well. The war started earlier for them, with the Japanese invasion occurring in July 1937. Over the next eight years, Chinese military war deaths from all causes totaled over 3 million, and civilian deaths due to military activity, crimes against humanity, and war-related famine and disease were over 15 million.
Germany’s population in 1939 was slightly more than 69 million. Their military death count ranged from 4.4 million to 5.3 million, and civilian deaths from all causes ranged from 1.5 million to 3 million.
In 1939, there were more than 71 million people living in Japan. During the war, their military losses numbered between 2.1 and 2.3 million, and civilian losses were estimated between 550,000 and 800,000.
The population of the United States was just over 131 million in 1939. (By comparison, it’s just over 335 million today.) We lost 407,300 service men and women and just over 12,000 civilians in the Second World War. Somewhat surprisingly, New Jersey lost more men and women (31,215) than any other state during the war.
The Holocaust was the systematic extermination of European Jews and other “undesirables” by the Nazi regime during World War II. It deserves a deeper discussion than I’ll offer here today, but nonetheless, I did want to include the sobering statistics.
Deaths attributed to the Holocaust:
Jews = 6 million
Soviet civilians = 7 million
Non-Jewish Polish civilians = 1.8 million
Serb civilians, people with disabilities, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, criminals, political opponents and resistance activists = over 1.3 million
I like cemeteries. Maybe it’s because I’m the daughter and granddaughter of funeral directors. Or maybe I just like the serenity and peacefulness. When my husband Joe and I travel in Europe, we often find ourselves wandering around cemeteries. We’ve searched for (and found) the graves of famous people (e.g., Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna and Igor Stravinsky in Venice), and we’ve looked for dead relatives in Sweden and the Czech Republic.
Today there are twenty-six American military cemeteries in ten foreign countries: France (12), Belgium (3), the United Kingdom (2), the Philippines (2), Panama (1), Italy (2), Luxembourg (1), Mexico (1), the Netherlands (1), and Tunisia (1). All are maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. More than 140,000 armed services personnel are buried in these cemeteries, with the last burials occurring during the Korean War. Since then, the military has made every effort to bring home those who die on foreign soil.
Twice we’ve been to the American Cemetery in Normandy, France. On one of those visits, we also stopped to see the German Military Cemetery just south of Pointe du Hoc where 21,000 German soldiers were laid to rest. We were still using slide film that year, so I don’t have a print from our visit. (We have had several slides digitized but apparently not one from the German Military Cemetery.) But we did write about it in our journal.
Sara: From here we follow signs (and the map) to a German Cemetery, something we wanted to see but didn’t in ’96. Lining the road to the cemetery, for quite a distance, are what appear to be newly planted trees. They are not more than 10 or 12 feet tall, and all are labeled with a marker. After we park, I walk over to see that someone has donated each tree. The cemetery is large, and there is a mound in the center with stairs up to a sculpture on the top. Most of the graves are marked with dark stones at almost ground level. But, spaced evenly throughout the grounds are also groups of 5 dark crosses about 3 feet high. The contrast to the American cemetery is striking.
Joe: On the way to St.-Mere-Eglise we visit a German cemetery. It is a large cemetery with graves being marked not by the traditional white military markers, but by dark headstones that are slightly above ground level with 2 names inscribed on each. The field is articulated by occasional groupings of 5 dark stone crosses. There is a modest visitors’ center that has facsimiles of letters and biographies of soldiers of not just Germany but of all the participating countries, dramatizing that the combatants were all the same in their personal aspirations and making the point that all should look to peaceful ways of settling international stress.
This blog (#53) is probably the most challenging one I’ve written to date—not in technical terms, but in the idea of it. I still have much to learn and share about World War II. I look forward to writing more about it as time allows.
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in southwest Virginia with her husband Joe and Bart, Dog Number 8. (We said goodbye to Lucky, Dog Number 7, on August 10, 2022.) My Mother’s Friend is her (soon to be published) debut novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.