15 Bloodiest Battles of World War One by Casualty Figures | History Hit

15 Bloodiest Battles of World War One by Casualty Figures

Alex Browne

09 Nov 2018

The First World War is infamous for its colossal numbers of deaths, interminably long battles and unashamedly vicious methods of waging war. This list gives some concrete figures to highlight the true extent of the destruction of the First World War.

The figures include not only the dead but also the wounded and prisoners of war. With the huge numbers of people involved there are, of course, difficulties in calculating precise numbers. Despite the occasional imprecision of First World War record keeping however these figures still provide a powerful illustration of the appalling effects of the war.

Dan interviews the brilliant historian Nick Lloyd, author of The Western Front who tells a much more nuanced account of the Western Front.
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15. Battle of Arras

9 April–16 May 1917 – 278,000 casualties


This photo shows the town of Arras still in ruins in 1919.

The Battle was fought between Britain and Germany with 158,000 British and 120,000 German casualties.

14. Battles of Tannenberg & Masurian Lakes

26–30 August 1914 & 7–14 September 1914 – 347,000 casualties


The German General Staff observing events at the Battle of Tannenberg.

At the Battle of Tannenberg itself the German army lost only 10,000 men but inflicted 170,000 casualties on the Russians. The Battle of Masurian Lakes occured as the Germans pursued the retreating Russian force inflicting another 125,000 casualties while once again only losing 10,000 of their own men.

Dan Snow takes an emotional journey through the key battlefields of the Western Front, from the memorial parks at the Somme to the formidable defences around Ypres.
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13. Second Battle of the Aisne

16 April – 9 May 1917 – 355,000 Casualties


German soldiers at the Battle of the Aisne firing from the cover of some trees.

Fought between the French and the Germans the second battle of the Aisne resulted in 182,000 French and 163,000 German casualties.

12. Battle of Kolubara

16 November – 16 December 1914 – 405,000 casualties


Men of the Serbian army on the march.

The Serbian campaign was disastrous for Austria-Hungary and Kolubara marked the turning point in favour of the Serbians.

273,000 Austrian casualties were inflicted and they fled the country. The Serbian human cost was extensive too though and over a quarter of their population perished in the course of World War One.

11. Gallipoli campaign

25 April 1915 – 9 January 1916 – 470,000 casualties

Dan Plesch is director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London. He is the author of 'America, Hitler and the UN', co-editor of 'Wartime Origins and the Future United Nations', and has been a frequent contributor to the Guardian and other media. His latest book is entitled 'Human Rights After Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes'.
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The Gallipoli offensive is best known for its failure and high cost in allied lives which totalled 187,959 casualties including 28,150 Australians. The Ottomans too, however, suffered heavy losses defending and their total casualties were around 174,828

10. First Battle of the Marne

6–12 September 1914 – 519,000 casualties


At the Battle of the Marne the French had yet to modernise their uniforms as seen here in their soft hats and long tunics.

Fought to defend Paris from German capture the Battle of the Marne led to a quarter of a million French casualties. German casualty figures are unknown but believed to be similar.

Historian Richard van Emden, explains why we should give more attention to 1918 when studying the First World War. How close did Germany come to winning the war in early 1918 and how did the soldiers feel who faced their final onslaught?
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9. Battle of Galicia (Lemberg)

23 August – 11 September 1914 – 655,0000 casualties


Although not ubiquitous as they were in the west trenches did feature in eastern front warfare such as this one dug near Galicia.

Despite being a significant victory for the Russians they still lost 225,000 men at Galicia. Their opponents, Austria-Hungary, suffered greater losses at around 324,000 men.

8. Battle of Verdun – 21 February

20 December 1916 – 698,000 casualties


French forces advancing under fire at the Battle of Verdun.

Lasting three quarters of a year Verdun was one of the longest battles of the war and the French and German armies suffered in excess of 300,000 casualties each and average of around 70,000 per month.

7. Battle of Lys and Second Battle of the Somme

7–29 April 1918 & August 21 – September 3, 191 – 804,100 casualties


British soldiers leaving their trench during the Battle of the Somme.

Taking place around the time of the Hundred Days and Spring Offensives the Battles of the Somme and Lys would proved immensely costly for all sides.

The first day of the Battle of the Somme holds an infamous record for the British army, being the bloodiest day in its history. But the battle wasn't just being fought in no-man's land. Beneath the ground a dreadful, silent war was taking place, as British and German engineers tunnelled and counter-tunnelled in a vicious war of explosives and hand-to-hand fighting.
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6. Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele)

31 July – 10 November 1917 – 857,100 casualties


Soldiers making their way across the ravaged landscape around Ypres.

The casualty figures for Passchendaele are highly contested but it is generally agreeed that each side lost a minimum of 200,000 men and likely as many as twice that.

5. Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive

2 May – June 1915 – 1,087,000 casualties


In 1915 prior to the offensive Kaiser Wilhelm paid a visit to the 11th Army on the Eastern Front.

The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive was a clear victory for the Central Powers over Russia with the latter suffering over 400,000 casualties in May alone.

4. First Battle of the Somme

1 July – 18 November 1916 – 1,113,000 casualties

The Battle of the Somme presented very few tangible gains for either side and yet was one of the most terrible of the war. 623,907 French and British soldiers became causalties as did up to half a million Germans.

On the eve of the Battle of the Somme, cameraman Geoffrey Malins visited the front lines near Beaumont-Hamel to film footage of the troops as they prepared for the supposed, decisive offensive. He went on to film some of the most iconic footage of the battle. This short drama follows in the footsteps of Malins that fateful morning in 1916.
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3. Spring Offensive (Kaiserschalcht/Ludendorff Offensive)

21 March – 18 July 1918 – 1,539,715 casualties


An abandoned British trench taken during the Spring Offensive.

The Spring Offensive was technically as success for the Germans and they succeeded in taking allied ground. In the process, however, they took 688,341 casualties and their depleted forces were unable to hold onto the areas  taken in the offensive.

Allied losses too were high though and both Britian and France would emerge from the Spring Offensive with over 400,000 fewer men than they started with.

2. Hundred Days Offensive

8 August – 11 November 1918 – 1,855,369 Casualties


The war prompted rapid advances in military technology and inventions such as this tank contributed to the horrific scale of killings.

Launched in response to the Spring Offensive the Hundred Days would be one of the worst periods of fighting on the western front. 785,733 Germans were injured or killed and a further 386,342 taken prisoner.

A total of 1,070,000 British, French and Americans were either captured, killed or wounded.

Dan Snow introduces four projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council over the last four years, highlighing underexplored aspects of First World War history, from German wartime photography to miltary training in Northern Ireland.
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1. Brusilov Offensive

June 4 – September 20, 1916 – 2,317,800 casualties


The Brusilov Offensive was one of the most lethal offensives ever; Russia alone lost around 1,400,000 men.

As with the Battle of Galicia the Brusilov Offensive was a Russian victory that came at a staggeringly high price this time over 1 million men became casualties on the Russian side alone.

750,000 casualties were inflicted on the Central Powers, these were mostly Austro-Hungarian but around 140,000 Germans are also included in the 750,000.

Alex Browne