WWI questions - regarding casualties

So, I was reading this post about WWI french casualties, and I looked at this site, and I was puzzled by two statistics and one column:

I know that if I’d pick up a big fat book about WWI I would learn all this (and I’ll do that…later) but my curiosity got the best of me and I can’t wait anymore, so:

1.I noticed that for all countries except one, there are more wounded than deaths. The one exception is Romania, so, what’s up with the romanians? Why was there 3 times more romanian deaths than wounded, are they less resistant or was there a shortage of doctors?

2.What was Japan’s role in the whole thing. They mobilised 800,000 men and only 300 of them died. Did they fight at all? Why so few casualties?

3.Finally, they list prisoniers and missing as casualty. So, I understand that at the end of the war, any presonier still remaining would be sent back to its original country, or judged, or whatever. But what about the missing? were they ever found? if they find a missing and he’s dead; does he count like a death or a missing? or how about a mission that goes behind enemy lines and don’t come back, do they assume they are dead or do they put them in the missing list? How about if one soldier is missing and then found alive and well and comes joins back his regiment of what about deserters, are they all considered missing? And also, what about a prisonier that is then killed by his captors, is that prisonnier or death?


A summary of Romania’s role in World War I. In short: brief and brutal. I don’t know exactly why the numbers killed outweighed those wounded – perhaps because of the blitzkrieg-style campaign waged by the Central Powers.

As for Japan – no, they mainly captured German territories in Asia and outlying Pacific territories, and provided materiel for the Allied Powers. So, yes, their casualty rate was low, compared to mobilisation rate. The most active campaign seems to have been in Siberia, when Russia was already reeling from the effects of revolution.

I’m not sure about the prisoners / missing issue, though.

Missing means missing. The dead are reckoned, not by counting bodies, but by taking roll after a battle. Everyone who can be identified as dead or wounded is so reported. However, if thousands die, there may be units with too few survivors to handle the paperwork (yes, paperwork goes everywhere) to actually identify all the people who should have been at roll. If the dead are left to rot in no man’s land (or their bodies are too badly disfigured) so that they cannot be positively identified, they will appear as missing, rather than dead or wounded. The guy compiling the rolls will not have a way to know which missing soldier was killed, who was captured, who was wounded and wound up getting aid from a different outfit, or who might have deserted. Under the Geneva conventions (that only slowly were introduced beginning in the late 19th century), an army that captures a soldier will report the capture (hence, you are required to give name, rank, and serial number so your captor can report you). The lists of the captured are then reconciled against the lists of the missing. (That does not mean that you will make it home, of course: previous wounds, rampant disease in prison camps, and prison brutality or escape attempts may still lead to your death. And, if you have already been reported “captured,” a later report of “death” may show up as a duplicate or it may get lost in the manual efforts to compile and cross-index the lists.
Dogtags were a rather recent invention, and not everyone had them before WWII. Computerized rolls only date to the 1960s.

After the war, many countries expend a lot of effort to go through the reports, reconciling the figures, but with lots of scattered information, they are not always able to reconcile the lists. Note that in Vietnam, the overwhelming number of “missing” were fliers. We know that they did not return from missions, but we have not been able to find and identify their remains. In contrast to WWI with its massive battles across repeatedly bombarded no-man’s-land, relatively few infantrymen went missing in Vietnam. The battles were smaller and the ability to recover the dead was much greater. Various countries have memorials as “the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” because so many bodies were recovered who could not be identified. (With DNA testing and computerized rolls, it is possible that large, industrialized nations may never add any more victims to their Tombs of the Unknown Soldier for future wars.)

As far as trench warfare on the western front goes, lot of the missing were never found: many of the weapons (large artillery shells, underground mines, etc) were easily capable of leaving nothing recognisable of the victim(s). There are thousands of graves in France marked simply “An unknown soldier of the Great War” - and these were the instances where they at least found something to bury. Hope this isn’t too graphic.

The Menin Gate ,for instance , lists over 50,000 British soldiers with no known graves . These are just the men who were fighting in the Ypres area. It is thought than many just sank into the mud and were never seen again.

The large proportion of “missing” can also be partially accounted for by the fact that relatively few people carried personal ID compared to nowadays; (for example) there were no ID cards issued by the Canadian or British armies. It was also common practice for troops “going over the top” to empty their pockets of anything of intelligence value to the enemy. Many Canadian units didn’t even issue identity discs (“dog tags” in US parlance). Now add the complication that a body might lie for months, or years before discovery, and you’ll start to see why there are so many graves in France and Belgium marked simply, in Kipling’s memorable words, “A Soldier of the Great War, Known Unto God.”

Many were never discovered at all; the narrow width of the Western Front, coupled with the fact that the four years of fighting took place back and forth over the same battlefields meant that millions of high-explosive shells churned up the same earth over and over; many bodies simply vanished into the soil, nothing left to find. http://www3.sympatico.ca/bkeevil/greatwar/passpics/passchendale1917.jpg

This haunts us even today. In a month or better, I will be attending a burial ceremony near the Belgian villiage of Passchendaele for three Canadian soldiers, lost in the sea of mud in the 1917 offensive. The three bodies were found in January of 2002 during foundation work for a new building. No identity discs were found, but from brass cap and collar insignia, their Canadian identity was clear. After much investigation in military records (including dental), and even DNA testing of people in Canada, failure was admitted. We still just don’t know who these men are. But on June 9th, they will at least have their long-delayed service, and be laid to rest alongside their comrades.

Can “missing” and “casualty” figures count the same person multiple times during the war?
Here’s a really contrived example:

Tommy Atkins goes over the top and gets shot in the arm and gets listed as a casualty. After treatment, he returns to his unit.

Another battle and Tommy goes over the top again, but this time his injury is more severe and, in the heat of the battle, Tommy is evacuated to a field hospital of a completely different unit. Tommy is unconscious and nobody at the hospital knows who he is. His unit takes roll and lists Tommy as missing. After a few weeks, Tommy recovers, tells people who he is and is returned to his unit.

Yet another battle, and this time Tommy has (understandably) decided he wants no more part in the war. He deserts and is listed as “missing” again. He doesn’t get far, though, and is punished and sent back to the line.

In his final battle, Tommy gets captured and sent to a German POW camp where he stays until the Armistice. His unit lists him as “missing” yet again.
In the final analysis, how is Tommy’s service counted? Just as a single missing/POW? Or as two casualties, one missing/desertion and one missing/POW? Or what?

The blitzkrieg style of warfare, didn’t come into being until Germany introduced it in WWII. The trench warfare of WWI consisted of artillery barrages and massed unit charges across No-Mans land, which were usually right into the teeth of machine gun fire, which was one reason for the hideous casualty levels.

Actually Payton’s Servant, thats not completely true. In the opening stages of the war, Germany was quite moble (relatively speaking…no blitzkrieg though). It was in the mid stages (say after they failed to capture Paris) that you had your trench warfare that is so identified with WWI.


This is of course largely correct for the fighting on the Western Front after the Marne and before the final offensives which caused the collapse of the German front, but the Romanian situation is far different.

Romania entered the war on the heels of the Russian Brusilov Offensives fully two years after the war began, in August 1916. It sent most of its forces into Transylvania instead of protecting its own borders. As soon as it did, the Central Powers pounced on the Romanian army with a two-year lead in practical experience and battered it so badly it could not stabilize its front as the French did. They were badly mauled and much territory was lost in the retreat.

The winter of 1916/1917 was also very bad, and there was a typhus outbreak in the Romanian forces as well.

Romania’s learning curve was easily the steepest of any nation in the war save perhaps the United States, which spent a full year training its forces under French tutelage before committing to battle in strength. That could be a major contributing factor in the large number of Romanian battlefield deaths.


When reading WWI & WWII casualty figures, do the French and British figures include colonial troops and, in the case of the French, Foreign Legionaires?

It depends on the source. They should make it explicit whether they do or not.
In the link noted in the OP, they refer to British Empire and provide no separate line for Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. This would indicate that those figures roll the “colonies” into the totals, (although each of those places had moved away from colonial status).

If a place is not mentioned, I would expect its numbers to be included in the numbers for any place from which it derived authority.

Payton’s Servant writes: “The blitzkrieg style of warfare, didn’t come into being until Germany introduced it in WWII.”

Actually, it was first used during the Spanish Civil War.