Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > Themes in History > War and Military History
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

War and Military History War and Military History Forum - Warfare, Tactics, and Military Technology over the centuries


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old November 13th, 2012, 06:12 AM   #11
Citizen
 
Joined: Nov 2012
From: Newcastle, England.
Posts: 7

I think a number of factors should be considered when looking at the casualties that are inflicted in wars throughout history.

The way in which wars are now fought is the catalyst, for example in ancient times the only way to effectively fight was to get right up to the opposing army and smash away with spears, axes, clubs, shields, and swords. When this happens you are always destined to see high casualties on both sides. Look at Roman history, the fact that they were better trained, had better equipment, disciplined, and armed meant they could beat mostly larger, untrained forces with exceptionally low losses.

The same theory can apply throughout the ages for me.

Look at WW1 for instance. You have 2 sides (French, British etc & German, Austrian etc) who were at the time fairly well developed western countries, as such they had the ability to create new weaponry to cause the maximum damage to whomever they fought. As no side had more of an advantage on the other it simply became a war of attrition, again causing mass casualties to both sides continually for years. In WW1 it was a case of 2 masses of men facing each other continually for 100's of miles in trenches, mass artillery, gas, and "going over the top", this all resulted in high casualties. In any circumstance a large force exposed to gunfire, artillery, and gas attacking an equally large force dug in with clean lines of fire would result in continual casualties to the aggressor and the defender.

WW2 then introduced mass arial bombardments on the people and cities of each nation which meant that non-combatants became casualties increasing the volume again.

As the world has become more civilised the chance of conflict between larger more developed nations has ceased, as such you normally see a powerhouse in conflict with a far inferior force which results in low casualties. The conflicts themselves are smaller, less men, more one sided, and as mentioned attacks on civilian populations is no longer accepted as a general state of war.

I honestly believe that we will not see another war in my lifetime, or that of my children that will have casualties to the volume we saw in ww1 and ww2.

Its strange to think that although we have the firepower, technology, and ability to cause more and more death and destruction than ever before society would never accept or condone it.

I know I have probably went off on a tangent here and for that I apologise if the above makes no sense.
grievesy33 is offline  
Remove Ads
Old November 13th, 2012, 12:12 PM   #12

Major Wilson's Avatar
Scholar
 
Joined: Dec 2011
From: Norway
Posts: 514

Quote:
Originally Posted by grievesy33 View Post
[...]I honestly believe that we will not see another war in my lifetime, or that of my children that will have casualties to the volume we saw in ww1 and ww2.[...]
I think you might be in for a surprise. It's only 9 years since the main actions of the Second Congo War ended (although there are still limited hostilities going on). Wth 5,4 million dead it seems obvious conflicts in our time can also have casualties comparable to WW1 and WW2.

The sad thing is that due to climate change and/or overpopulation and/or limited resources, there will probably be larger and more deadlier conflicts in the decades to come.
Major Wilson is offline  
Old November 13th, 2012, 01:41 PM   #13
Historian
 
Joined: Apr 2011
From: Georgia, USA
Posts: 3,006

Quote:
Originally Posted by Major Wilson View Post
I think you might be in for a surprise. It's only 9 years since the main actions of the Second Congo War ended (although there are still limited hostilities going on). Wth 5,4 million dead it seems obvious conflicts in our time can also have casualties comparable to WW1 and WW2.

The sad thing is that due to climate change and/or overpopulation and/or limited resources, there will probably be larger and more deadlier conflicts in the decades to come.
I doubt that

Countries have so much to lose now, there will never be another major war like the two world wars

We will have policing actions, limited conflicts, ethnic quarrels, border disputes and counter-insurgency operations but the era of the dictator is over and I just can't see a war of the size of the Gulf War ever happening.
Poly is offline  
Old June 24th, 2013, 09:02 AM   #14
Suspended indefinitely
 
Joined: Dec 2009
From: Poland
Posts: 5,558

Something on casualty rates in the American War for Independence:

British armies hired in total 18970 Hessian mercenaries for that war (most of them already in years 1776 - 1777). Of them only 535 were killed in combats, while in total 4983 died for various reasons (including disease, perhaps also died of wounds are included). The rest survived, several hundreds of them returned to Germany already during the war, further 10942 in years 1783 - 1784, and the rest of them settled in New Scotland.
Domen is offline  
Old June 24th, 2013, 10:47 AM   #15

Underlankers's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Feb 2013
Posts: 5,138

There are a lot of factors that went into this. The most basic are that both WWI and WWII were fought to the finish, which meant that both sides fought balls to the wall. That does not, contrary to what Internet Tough Guys who want every war to be WWII, encourage a swift or bloodless victory. At the same time these were gigantic wars fought between massed combined-arms conscript forces, where all these armies had major elements of lack of experience and preparation for the wars they fought. It's worth noting that only the Soviet Union in WWII had a doctrine suited for what the war proved to be, and it took Lend-Lease to give them the full ability to carry that doctrine out. The Soviets ultimately did devise successful means of army-group-smashing encirclements. The Western Allies finally managed it.....in the spring of 1945. And in the Pacific the Marine Corps never did develop a brain for anything beyond straight-up frontal assaults, regardless of what the tactical trick set required.

In WWI armies were big, firepower was deadly, and the ability to communicate did not exist in proportion to size and the lethality of firepower. And of course the USA had a lot of those frontally attacking Marines fighting in the Marne-Meuse vincinity. Modern war means frontal attacks cost even more than they did in more primitive eras. In the West this led to trench warfare, in the East and in the Middle East it tended to lead to massively bloody battles where one side or the other did secure cracks in the line, but only the Germans managed to get a Gorlice-Tarnow out of it, with the single exception of the Brusilov Offensive. WWI was the least pleasant war of any of them to be an infantryman, IMHO.

In Vietnam, the USA was committing a lot of troops to fight a lot of very big battles, including urban battles. Commit more troops against a larger number of enemy forces and obviously more men on both sides are going to die. Where both sides have smaller numbers, even very bloody battles by proportion have minimal lives lost next to the gigantic bloodbaths.

Last edited by Underlankers; June 24th, 2013 at 12:17 PM.
Underlankers is offline  
Old June 24th, 2013, 10:56 AM   #16
Historian
 
Joined: Mar 2013
From: Texas, USA
Posts: 1,235

Its all about the numbers.

In WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, large scale engagements involving regiments, brigades, divisions and corps were common place. The numbers involved, coupled with the increased lethality of weaponry since 1900, at a speed that didnt catch up with innovative battle tactics, resulted in large amounts of casualties.

Throw into the sudden increase of the pool of available senior commanders and their competence level and its a recipe for disaster. I read that the average age of a battalion commander in the US Army in WWII was 27 years old. How skilled are you at your profession if you haven't even done the job for a decade? A modern battalion commander is usually in his late thirties, has served for almost twenty years, has been militarily educated along the way, and has a flawless record (a must have for command in the zero defect US military).

In the modern wars the US is facing today, the numbers are much lower. Couple that with the nature of the wars, insurgencies. While the US is better organized and equipped, the opposition has the initiative to launch attacks. Ambushes, IEDs, snipers, hit and run attacks. All favor the weaker side. However, organizing into large groups and/or attempting to slug it out with a modern military force is disastrous and will result in large amounts of casualties on the side of the insurgent.

In Iraq or Afghanistan, a company level TIC (troops in contact) will result in a bunch of generals being woken up in the dead of night, who will then monitor the event and redirect combat power to facilitate victory. In previous wars, it was so common place that a second though wasn't even given. A battalion is attacking your company? Welcome to the party, hold at all costs.

Throw in the risk adverse nature of Western societies. Fighting men (and some woman) are so well armored now they can't even move effectively in combat. Officers are discouraged from taking unnecessary casualties and the enemy escape to fight another day. ROEs and considerations of civilians on the battlefield are much more defined now than in Vietnam and prior. Men hold there fire now when in the past they didn't.

Warfare has changed. I remember reading a book about US forces in the Korean War. A US soldier, a machine gunner, was reprimanded by his NCOs and company commander for firing his machine gun when his position was attacked by a platoon of Chinese infiltrators. He killed all the enemy but was told later that he breached fire discipline and gave away his gun's position. He was told that he should have relied on grenades, bayonets and e-tools to finish off the enemy. The machine gun was reserved for when LOTS of enemy attacked. Can you imagine the sh*t storm that would happen know if the media heard something similar happened today?

Try refighting the battle of the Somme in the days of Twitter and Youtube and see how long it lasts before politicians cave into political pressure and call a halt of offensive ops. Anyone remember watching the 24 hour news networks during the first battle of Fallujah? They called a halt because Al Jazaeera showed a bunch of civilian dead. The second attack didnt start until months later when no other option was left.
attila006 is online now  
Old June 24th, 2013, 12:12 PM   #17
Suspended indefinitely
 
Joined: Dec 2009
From: Poland
Posts: 5,558

One more factor is that casualty figures for various individual battles of WW1 and WW2 are often exaggerated, due to less reliable sources which say about those casualties. In popular history books casualties in such battles like Stalingrad, Kursk or Moscow are often exaggerated.
Domen is offline  
Old June 24th, 2013, 12:14 PM   #18

Ichon's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Mar 2013
From: .
Posts: 1,338

If there rises a modern total war casualties figured will probably be even higher than WWI in my opinion. Wars since WII/Korean War are not total wars and usually involved one side which was clearly superior in arms and mobility vs an opponent which had lower quality arms and less mobility but greater numbers and very difficult to 'pin' down and destroy- also the length of modern wars- for all the damage of WWII it only lasted 6 years but Vietnam and many wars with 'modern' military involvement have been far longer.

Wars in Africa are probably the closest we have contemporary records for casualty rates between relatively equal opponents and the rates are a bit lower than WWII depending on sources used but still devastating and way higher than other recent 'wars' which probably don't actually deserve that title and are more small operations.

Precision strikes work well against small opponents but could precision strikes cripple US, China, Russia, or even Brasil or Turkey? They could greatly damage them but short of nuclear/biological the war would go on and those nations could still respond with lots of weapons and their own 'precision' strikes which would be more or less effective depending on the parity with their opponent.
Ichon is offline  
Old June 24th, 2013, 12:32 PM   #19

Underlankers's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Feb 2013
Posts: 5,138

Quote:
Originally Posted by attila006 View Post
Its all about the numbers.

In WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, large scale engagements involving regiments, brigades, divisions and corps were common place. The numbers involved, coupled with the increased lethality of weaponry since 1900, at a speed that didnt catch up with innovative battle tactics, resulted in large amounts of casualties.

Throw into the sudden increase of the pool of available senior commanders and their competence level and its a recipe for disaster. I read that the average age of a battalion commander in the US Army in WWII was 27 years old. How skilled are you at your profession if you haven't even done the job for a decade? A modern battalion commander is usually in his late thirties, has served for almost twenty years, has been militarily educated along the way, and has a flawless record (a must have for command in the zero defect US military).

In the modern wars the US is facing today, the numbers are much lower. Couple that with the nature of the wars, insurgencies. While the US is better organized and equipped, the opposition has the initiative to launch attacks. Ambushes, IEDs, snipers, hit and run attacks. All favor the weaker side. However, organizing into large groups and/or attempting to slug it out with a modern military force is disastrous and will result in large amounts of casualties on the side of the insurgent.

In Iraq or Afghanistan, a company level TIC (troops in contact) will result in a bunch of generals being woken up in the dead of night, who will then monitor the event and redirect combat power to facilitate victory. In previous wars, it was so common place that a second though wasn't even given. A battalion is attacking your company? Welcome to the party, hold at all costs.

Throw in the risk adverse nature of Western societies. Fighting men (and some woman) are so well armored now they can't even move effectively in combat. Officers are discouraged from taking unnecessary casualties and the enemy escape to fight another day. ROEs and considerations of civilians on the battlefield are much more defined now than in Vietnam and prior. Men hold there fire now when in the past they didn't.

Warfare has changed. I remember reading a book about US forces in the Korean War. A US soldier, a machine gunner, was reprimanded by his NCOs and company commander for firing his machine gun when his position was attacked by a platoon of Chinese infiltrators. He killed all the enemy but was told later that he breached fire discipline and gave away his gun's position. He was told that he should have relied on grenades, bayonets and e-tools to finish off the enemy. The machine gun was reserved for when LOTS of enemy attacked. Can you imagine the sh*t storm that would happen know if the media heard something similar happened today?

Try refighting the battle of the Somme in the days of Twitter and Youtube and see how long it lasts before politicians cave into political pressure and call a halt of offensive ops. Anyone remember watching the 24 hour news networks during the first battle of Fallujah? They called a halt because Al Jazaeera showed a bunch of civilian dead. The second attack didnt start until months later when no other option was left.
War has never been all about the numbers. If it was merely numbers, 1941 indeed should have been over in three months with the Soviets on the Rhine. For that matter 1940 should have wrecked German offensive power given that the Germans were quantitatively and qualitatively outmatched at everything but the highest levels of command. Obviously reality had other plans.

For that matter, the idea that media in the past didn't criticize these approach is.....shall we say, somewhat naive. I mean look at the US Civil War: people like Grant owe reputations as butchers as much to contemporary (ideologically biased) newspapers as anything else. Haig went from the great victory of the greatest war in human history to the epitome of Zapp Brannigan war primarily from media and the motivations for lying on the part of his former political masters.

For that matter, in the East, both winner and loser alike commanded the most vast armies in the history of humankind and waged perhaps the most brutal war ever fought between states, as opposed to between states and a particular indigenous tribal people or coalition. Somehow, in some way, nobody praises either Hitler or Stalin for the inhumane and savage war to the last ditch waged in just the fashion that all the Internet Strategists argue for. A major factor in Iraq, for that matter, was that Rumsfeld was deliberately intent on ignoring the requirements for a counterinsurgency and when he tried to fight a war in that fashion it turned out that committing insufficient forces to a war never ends well for anyone.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Domen View Post
One more factor is that casualty figures for various individual battles of WW1 and WW2 are often exaggerated, due to less reliable sources which say about those casualties. In popular history books casualties in such battles like Stalingrad, Kursk or Moscow are often exaggerated.
Actually if anything they're proportional. Stalingrad, Moscow, and Kursk were massive battles on a scale that outmatched anything fought in the Western-Fascist wars. Operation Olive and the Bulge, the two largest engagements of the Anglo-American/Nazi War, were equal in size counting the armed forces of both sidesto the German forces committed in Kursk alone, leaving out the at least twice as numerous Soviet forces. Barbarossa in the opening days involved a total of five million men. That kind of fighting will see vast casualties without parallel to any other war, if for no other reason other than the sheer masses involved mean that proportion has to be factored in to a relative analysis of casualties.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ichon View Post
If there rises a modern total war casualties figured will probably be even higher than WWI in my opinion. Wars since WII/Korean War are not total wars and usually involved one side which was clearly superior in arms and mobility vs an opponent which had lower quality arms and less mobility but greater numbers and very difficult to 'pin' down and destroy- also the length of modern wars- for all the damage of WWII it only lasted 6 years but Vietnam and many wars with 'modern' military involvement have been far longer.

Wars in Africa are probably the closest we have contemporary records for casualty rates between relatively equal opponents and the rates are a bit lower than WWII depending on sources used but still devastating and way higher than other recent 'wars' which probably don't actually deserve that title and are more small operations.

Precision strikes work well against small opponents but could precision strikes cripple US, China, Russia, or even Brasil or Turkey? They could greatly damage them but short of nuclear/biological the war would go on and those nations could still respond with lots of weapons and their own 'precision' strikes which would be more or less effective depending on the parity with their opponent.
We do have plenty of examples of prolonged modern wars, but only one of them has been between two states (the Iran-Iraq War) and only one since 1945 has reached a scale to rival the two world wars (the Second Congo War). Most prolonged modern wars are either civil wars or counterinsurgencies.
Underlankers is offline  
Old June 24th, 2013, 12:45 PM   #20
Lecturer
 
Joined: Nov 2012
From: Oklahoma
Posts: 316

The tactics have finally caught up with the technology. That's why cavalry was on the way out in WWI. Very few cav formations can stand up to machine gun fire on an entrenched line.
We have also gone from a 2 dimensional to 3 dimensional war due to aircraft and longer ranged guided missiles.
No longer do you have to mass your troops to mass your fire. Now, you don't necessarily have to be on the same part of the earth-UAVs armed with air to surface missiles controlled by a young man or woman back in their home country can strike from the comfort of their air conditioned office.

Getting pretty scary out there!
dobbie is offline  
Reply

  Historum > Themes in History > War and Military History

Tags
casualty, rates


Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Crime rates and multiculturalism.... Thessalonian Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology 20 November 15th, 2011 10:41 PM
Last casualty of World War II? Belloc War and Military History 20 May 7th, 2011 01:38 PM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.