Casualties of World War I

cemetery
Ohlsdorf Cemetery, Germany, burial site of WWI casualties.

Staro1/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Despite intensive research by historians, there is no—and there will never be—a definitive list of the casualties inflicted during World War I. Where detailed record-keeping was attempted, the demands of battle undermined it. The destructive nature of the war, a conflict where soldiers could be wholly obliterated or instantly buried, destroyed both the records themselves and the memories of those who knew the fates of their comrades.

Estimating the Numbers

For many countries, the estimated figures only vary within the hundreds, even tens, of thousands, but those of others—particularly France—can be over a million apart. Consequently, the numbers given here have been rounded to the nearest thousand (Japan is an exception, given the low number). The figures in this, and almost every other list, will differ; however, the proportions should remain similar and it is these (represented here as percentages) which allow the greatest insight.

In addition, there is no convention as to whether the dead and wounded of the British Empire are listed under this umbrella title or by individual nation (and there is certainly no convention for those regions which have since divided). 

How People Died

Many people expect the deaths and wounds of World War I to have come from bullets, as soldiers were engaged in combat: charges into no man's land, struggles over trenches, etc. However, while bullets certainly killed a lot of people, it was aerial artillery which killed the most. This death from the skies could bury people or just blow a limb off, and the repeated hammerings of millions of shells induced illness even when the shrapnel didn't hit. This devastating killer, which could kill you while you were on your own territory away from enemy troops, was supplemented by new weapons: humanity lived up to its horrible reputation by deciding that new methods of killing ​were needed, and poison gas was introduced on both western and eastern fronts. This didn't kill as many people as you might think, given the way we remember it, but those it did kill died a painful and hideous death.

Some say that the First World War's death toll is used today as an emotional weapon used to cast the conflict in overwhelmingly negative terms, part of the modern revisionism on the war, which may be a completely dishonest way to portray the conflict. One look at the list below, with millions dead, over a war for imperial control, is telling evidence. The vast and scarring psychological effects of those who were wounded, or those who bore no physical wounds (and don't appear in the list below), yet suffered emotional wounds, must also be born in mind when you consider the human cost of this conflict. A generation was damaged.

Notes on Countries

With regards to Africa, the figure of 55,000 refers to soldiers who saw combat; the number of Africans involved as auxiliaries or otherwise is likely to include several hundred thousand. Troops were drawn from Nigeria, Gambia, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Nyasaland/Malawi, Kenya, and the Gold Coast. Figures for South Africa are given separately. In the Caribbean, the British West Indies regiment drew men from across the region, including Barbados, Bahamas, Honduras, Grenada, Guyana, Leeward Islands, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Trinidad and Tobago; the bulk came from Jamaica.

The figures are cited from The Longman Companion to the First World War (Colin Nicholson, Longman 2001, pg. 248); they have been rounded to the nearest thousand. All percentages are my own; they refer to the % of the total mobilized.

Casualties of World War I

Country Mobilized Killed Wounded Total K and W Casualties
Africa 55,000 10,000 unknown unknown -
Australia 330,000 59,000 152,000 211,000 64%
Austria-Hungary 6,500,000 1,200,000 3,620,000 4,820,000 74%
Belgium 207,000 13,000 44,000 57,000 28%
Bulgaria 400,000 101,000 153,000 254,000 64%
Canada 620,000 67,000 173,000 241,000 39%
The Caribbean 21,000 1,000 3,000 4,000 19%
French Empire 7,500,000 1,385,000 4,266,000 5,651,000 75%
Germany 11,000,000 1,718,000 4,234,000 5,952,000 54%
Great Britain 5,397,000 703,000 1,663,000 2,367,000 44%
Greece 230,000 5,000 21,000 26,000 11%
India 1,500,000 43,000 65,000 108,000 7%
Italy 5,500,000 460,000 947,000 1,407,000 26%
Japan 800,000 250 1,000 1,250 0.2%
Montenegro 50,000 3,000 10,000 13,000 26%
New Zealand 110,000 18,000 55,000 73,000 66%
Portugal 100,000 7,000 15,000 22,000 22%
Romania 750,000 200,000 120,000 320,000 43%
Russia 12,000,000 1,700,000 4,950,000 6,650,000 55%
Serbia 707,000 128,000 133,000 261,000 37%
South Africa 149,000 7,000 12,000 19,000 13%
Turkey 1,600,000 336,000 400,000 736,000 46%
USA 4,272,500 117,000 204,000 321,000 8%

Sources and Further Reading