Casualties of World War I

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.

For many countries, the 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) and 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). 

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 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 awfully.

Some say that the First World War's death toll is 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

CountryMobilizedKilledWoundedTotal K and WCasualties
The Caribbean21,0001,0003,0004,00019%
French Empire7,500,0001,385,0004,266,0005,651,00075%
Great Britain5,397,000703,0001,663,0002,367,00044%
New Zealand110,00018,00055,00073,00066%
South Africa149,0007,00012,00019,00013%