Casualties of the Great War - 1919

France, Thankful to the American Allies. A ses Alliés Amèricains La France Reconnaissante.

France, Thankful to the American Allies. A ses Alliés Amèricains La France Reconnaissante. The Homeward Bound American, 1919. GGA Image ID # 17fdbec0c7

The astounding number of casualties, herein listed by country, places a tremendous cost of human life during the Great War. France bore the brunt of the destruction of lives, infrastructure, and the many sacrifices endured.

What Other Countries Gave

Belgium has been the martyr of the war; Serbia has been the heroine. Belgium with only 7,500,000 inhabitants, with no standing army, only a national guard for defense, supposedly protected by the treaty which respected her neutrality, and which Germany, with the other European nations, had signed, was invaded through bad faith and treachery, and almost wholly occupied by the Huns from August 4, 1914, until the armistice was signed.

Serbia, with a population of 4,547,992, shared a similar fate. Except for a small region in the neighborhood of Monastir, she was completely dominated by the enemy from 1915 until her successful advance in the autumn of 1918.

Aside from the soldiers killed on the battlefield, there were 50,000 deaths of typhus among the Serbian troops. At the same time, of the civilians, 700,000 were put out of existence. Thousands more were deported to Germany and to the harems of Turkey.

Italy, with characteristic gallantry, fought under the most trying geographical conditions. To storm the Austrian fortresses which commanded her frontier meant taking the offensive at an altitude of 10,000 feet, sometimes in snow ten feet deep, or again in mud or in the rising freshets of spring.

Though England was not obliged to endure the horrors of an enemy invasion, her sacrifices on land and on sea were made with the determination inspired by a life-long tradition of freedom. The part played by the Colonies forms one of the stirring chapters of the war.

The British lost in ships sunk at sea 9,031,823 tons.

The story of Poland, all of which fell into the hands of the enemy in 1945, is a series of disasters. The Poles suffered alternate destruction by the Russian armies in retreat, or by the German and Austrian armies in advance, back and forth, until there remained nothing but a desolate waste of land that had been devastated, animals that had been killed, and men who had died of starvation.

The Romanians were forced to endure a double humiliation: in 1916, the country was almost completely possessed by the Germans, and in 1917, the patriots, being unable to assert their true spirit, the opposing political party made peace with the enemy.

The relative number of men from these countries who suffered or were killed are:   

Duration of hostilities in days

  • Belgium: 1,560
  • France: 1,561
  • Great Britain: 1,560
  • Italy: 1,269
  • Montenegro: 1,558
  • Portugal: 1,450
  • Romania: 558
  • Serbia : 1,568
  • United States: 585

Casualties in killed, dead and missing:

  • Belgium: 40,000
  • France: 1,370,000
  • Great Britain: 835,700
  • Italy: 460,000
  • Montenegro:  20,000
  • Portugal: 1,406
  • Romania: 150,000
  • Serbia : 369,578
  • United States: 88,000

Number of Wounded:

  • France: 3,000,000
  • Great Britain: 2,043,000
  • Italy: 947,000
  • Portugal: 5,207
  • Serbia : 700,000
  • United States: 179,625

Number of Prisoners

  • Belgium: 45,000
  • France: 470,000
  • Great Britain: 170,000
  • Italy: 520,000
  • Romania: 200,000
  • Serbia : 150,000
  • United States: 2,900

As regards to France, the following details the 1,370,000 casualties:

  • Killed: 1,038,700 men, amongst whom 32,700 officers
  • Died: 41,000 men 
  • Missing: 290,300 men, amongst whom 3,000 officers.

Amongst the prisoners (470,000) are included 8,300 officers. Amongst the wounded (3,000,000), 734,000 men are maimed for life.
The losses of France amount to about 26% of her mobilized men and 57% of her soldiers under 31 years of age.

What France Gave

During the summer of 1917, when the first American troops came to prepare to take part in the war, the French had already been fighting for thirty-seven months.

They had lost, up to that time —killed, dead, hopelessly wounded, missing and prisoners — 2,033,000 men.

Figures are impressive, yet the greater their number, the less one fails to grasp what they signify. To say that the Germans destroyed 1,500 French locomotives and 50,000 railway cars in the first days of the war, that later, they have sunk over a million tons of French ships, is a cold-blooded proposition.

But when you realize that fishing is one of the prosperous occupations in France, that Boulogne alone sells every year $5,000,000 worth of fish brought in by the nets off her coast, that out of the total of 78,000 fishermen, 31,000 have now lost their barks and find themselves with no means of earning a livelihood, you begin to wonder how their children and wives have managed to subsist during these long terrible months.

The invaded regions of northern France, although small in extent, were the wealthiest in the whole country, and they yearly contributed more than 20% of the French taxes.

One million agricultural implements have been destroyed in these departments; 36,000 horses, 1,700,000 head of cattle, 38,500 pigs, etc., have been killed or stolen by the enemy.

Almost 40,000 acres planted in grain and 10,000 in pasture lands have been hopelessly tom to pieces. The industries in this same locality, which have been wrecked, represent one-third of the total HP and one-half of the electric power in France.

The coal mines which furnished half of the coal and more than half of the coke used in France have been willfully flooded or blown up so that their production will not be normal again for several years.

The iron mine's destruction reduces the French output by 80%, the steel by 85%. The textile industries have suffered in proportion: 94% of the linen spindles and 30% of the cotton spindles are gone, not to speak of 500,000 flax spindles and almost 100,000 looms.

The breweries of the north—1,700 in number,—the sugar refineries—220 in number—have been half-ruined. When this holocaust has added the destruction of homes, furniture, works of art, and personal property, the total loss for these invaded regions amounts to almost twenty thousand million dollars.

Such enumeration does not actually lay hold of your heart until you have seen, in a devastated village, some poor man, creeping back to what used to be his home, carrying with him a shovel or a pick-ax, in the hope of digging out something that resembles his former hearthstone.

The immensity of the desolation sweeps over you when you catch sight of a middle-aged woman, in black, standing in the waste of ruins, destitute, broken-hearted, yet determined to begin life again.

Speaking of these brave and afflicted people, President Wilson, in his address to Congress on December 2, 1918, said:

"Their machinery has been destroyed or taken away. Their people are scattered, and many of their best workers are dead. Their markets will be taken by others if they are not in some special way assisted to rebuild their factories and replace their lost instruments of manufacture. They should not be left to the vicissitudes of the sharp competition for material and industrial facilities, which is now to set in.

I hope that Congress will not be unwilling, if it should be necessary, to grant some such agency as the War Trade Board the right to establish priorities of export and supply for the benefit of these people whom we have been so happy to assist in saving from the German terror."

Murder, theft, and humiliation were part of the plan which the Hun was to execute. In opposition to this will of evil inspiration, it is uplifting to consider the French people's spirit. The fragment of a letter written in 1917 by a French woman from a northern town in possession of the enemy gives some idea of the situation. She says:

"...But the material part is nothing to the agony we have had to endure owing to the military deportation of women by night... You can realize the state of mind of parents seeing young girls of 16 to 20 going off amongst men of all conditions; no one knows where,..”

We are in an atmosphere of misery. But, in spite of it, we keep up our courage and our confidence.

There are over half a million homes to be rebuilt in France.

Bear this in mind. Think of the children who, on the day you arrived, placed their hands in yours, confident that you were their friends, that they might count on you in the future.

In helping them begin life again, you can offer them more than material aid. If you teach them some of the lessons, you have learned yourselves in free America, if you bring them, in their way of looking at things, a broader, because of a more hopeful vision.


And you yourselves?

You have taken part in the greatest adventure upon which humanity has so far ever been launched. You have soon your friends fall by your side, you have, yourselves, perhaps, been face to face with death.

Your contact with men of many nations, your journey in foreign lands, the discipline you have accepted, and the close association with Americans from every State in the country will have inevitably changed your perspective. It has been said that you came into the war as crusaders. When you reach home, you will take up your work in the same spirit.

The American Army was great because the men in it were moved to be their best. Though you disperse as soon as you touch the shores of the United States, a common determination will hold you together; it will bind you in the fraternal union to the comrades in arms by whose side you fought in France. 

In 1776 Americans conquered the liberty of their own country. In this war, you have helped to win the freedom of the universe.

At the time you entered the war, with the French and British armies at their maximum strength, all efforts to dispossess the enemy from his firmly entrenched position in Belgium and France had failed.

Your brilliant dash, your uncalculating spirit of sacrifice, checked the onward movement of the adversary.

Your great numbers made possible the final Allied offensive,, forcing the Germans first to retreat and then capitulate. France will ever remember you and your intrepid Chief as the generous and heroic citizens of a great democracy, the Expeditionary Forces of a new and better world whose "hope is in America."

B. Van Vorst, "To The Homeward Bound Americans: Casualties of the Great War," University of Virginia, 1919. Pamphlet included in "European War 1917-1818 Pamphlets, Vol. 67.

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