In this project I am working with various statistical sources about World War I to produce some data visualizations that will better allow students to understand military statistics and assess the impact of the war. I will mostly be using Google chart tools and Tableau Public to create the visualizations.
A data visualization is just what it sounds like. Using a set of data/statistics, you create a visual based on that data. The visualization can be a simple chart or line graph, or it can be something far more complicated like a Washington DC Metro map or Minard's Carte Figurative of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. A visualization helps you to see better any pattern in the data.
As I studied the statistics of the Great War, I kept coming up with more questions that continue to bother me and that maybe I'll get around to researching:
- POWs in the war. What happened to them? How were the Germans and Austro-Hungarians able to take care of that many Russian POWs? Did the Russian POWs go back to Russia after the war?
- Civilian casualty figures. They are still subject to widespread disagreement and are extremely difficult to quantify.
- Russia. Will Russia ever acknowledge (and commemorate) its role in the war and its huge number of casualties?
- The high rates of deaths among the combatant countries from non-battle illness and disease.
- The non-western front. Casualties occurred beyond the Western and Eastern fronts in Europe (Balkans, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Africa).
- The Armies of World War I shows the mobilization strength of armies before 1914 and then when mobilized in 1914. It is common to find figures for how many men were mobilized in an army during the duration of the war, but that figure does not correspond to the actual troop strength of the army at any single time during the war. So, for example, while France might have mobilized 5 million men, in four year of war, there were casualties, and so the actual strength of the army tended to vary over time. For the United States, the size of the army grew continuously.
- Annual Live Birth Rates in Select Countries before 1914 (two views) This was important information for politicians and military leadership in the years before the war broke out.
- Pre-1914 Male Population Aged 15-24 in Selected Countries Did size of male population transfer into military strength?
- Percentage Mobilized of Male Population (Number of Men Mobilized per 100 Men in the Country) The impact of the war on the male population varied quite a bit from country to country.
- Some French Vital Statistics, 1913-1919 Looking at information about marriages, births and divorces, we can get a pretty clear idea of the war's impact on French society.
- Size of the French Army in World War I on the "western" front in France. Note how this figure varied little over the course of the entire war.
- Size of the British Expeditionary Force in France (BEF) (Besides France, the British army was deployed all over the world during the war: Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Salonika, East Africa, Italy, Russia and Siberia.)
- Size of the U.S. Army, 1914-1920 and Size of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France (I have included both of these on the same page to illustrate the difference. Notice the extremely rapid increase in size of the army and the troops deployed to France.)
- French Losses per Annual Mobilization Class This visualization on Tableau Public shows that each mobilization class suffered very high casualties, the classes of men from 1912 through 1916 suffered the highest mortality.
- Killed in Action These are the "official figures."
- Wounded in Action These numbers are really just a best guess.
- Prisoners of War, World War I. A lot of men became prisoners during the war, and I have a lot of unanswered questions about their fate.
- Year by Year Casualties on the Western Front for the major combatants on the "western" front. The year 1918 was particularly deadly.
- Strength of Armies at the Armistice, 1918 There were a lot of men still under arms as the war came to an end in 1918, and the allies were enjoying numerical superiority despite that fact that Russia had left the war in 1917.
- Steel Production in Countries during World War I Steel production during the war gives important insight into the resources and consequently the ability of a country to sustain the war effort. This chart also clearly shows the importance of the United States to the allied war effort.
- I am still working to develop a visualization using Tableau Public showing a comparison in the size of French, British, American and German armies on the western front in France throughout the war.
- Because of the casualties of the war, it is not surprising that the male-female ratio after the war skewed heavily in favor of females. For example, in 1921, there were 45 males to 55 females in the 20-39 age group. Source: John Keegan, The First World War (New York, 1999), page 6.
- Before 1914, the French and German armies had different service requirements. Germany: 2 years active service, 5.5 years in the reserve, then Landwehr to 39; France: 3 years active service, reserves 23 to 37, then territorial to age 48. Source: Sewell Tyng, The Campaign of the Marne (Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2007 ) page 24
- The first two months of the war proved to be extremely costly for the French: August (20,253 killed, 78,468 wounded and 107,794 missing) and September (18,073 killed, 111,963 wounded, 83,409 missing). Source: Holger Herwig, The Marne, 1914 (Random House, 2009), page 315
- British losses in the first two months were also very high: August (1,277 killed; 3,115 wounded; 9,546 missing); September (2,476 killed; 8,834 wounded; 3,050 missing). That works out to 28,298/115,000, or 24.6% casualties in the BEF in just two months. Source: Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War, page 253,
- By the end of 1914, dead and missing for all combatants had reached very high levels: French 528,000; British 115,333; Belgian 62,000; German 223,766. Source: John Mosier, Verdun (Penguin, 2014), page 177
- Here is another example of how complicated military statistics can be. On 11 November 1918, for the British Expeditionary Force (ration strength = 1,731,578, combatant strength = 1,164,790, rifle strength = 461,748); similarly for the American Expeditionary Force (1,924,000; 1,160,000; 322,000). Ration strength would be the total size of the army; combatant strength then would be the number in units at the front line; rifle strength is the number of those actually fighting (not staff or support) on the front line. Source: Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War, pages 756-57
- If you look at the size of the French army (on the "Western" front) during the war, you'll notice that the size of the army did not change much over the four-year course of the war.
- On 1 July 1916, the Battle of the Somme began. The British Expeditionary Force attacked with over 100,000 men in 13 divisions. Casualties on the first day alone of the attack have been estimated as 57,470 with 19,240 killed. Source: Michael Clodfelter, Warfare and Armed Conflicts, 4th ed. (2017), page 396
The Illusion of Statistics
It is just extremely hard to determine an accurate amount of dead, not just for Romania, or Serbia or Bulgaria, or Turkey where record keeping was not always rigorous, or for Russia, which suffered such a huge number of casualties, but it just as difficult for the United States or France. People just disappeared during the war.
So, when you look for World War I statistics, everywhere you will find seemingly accurate "official" figures, such as these from Encyclopedia Britannica: 8,528,831 dead with total casualties as 37,468,904. And there are many other sources with total casualties:
- the chart on Wikipedia for World War I Casualties or the numbers from the Centre européen Robert Schuman
- Comment on estimate total dead at 9,722,000; 21 million wounded; Clodfelter, page 430, gives Allies = 5.1 million dead and 12.8 million wounded out of 42.4 mobilized Central = 3.5 million dead and 8.4 million wounded out of 22.9 mobilized
- Holger Herwig approximates that 60 million men were mobilized in the war with ten million killed and 20 million wounded. Source: Holger Herwig, The Marne, 1914 (Random House, 2009), page 319
One thing that I clearly learned in this project is that there are no authoritative statistics for World War I casualties. For example, with regard to killed in action during the war, you can find many different numbers for that. Even seemingly exact numbers like those of the British should only be regarded as very close approximations. It was just impossible to be 100% accurate.
This Illusion of statistical accuracy is even more so the case when dealing with lengthy “battles,” like Verdun, or all operations on the Eastern front.
It was extremely difficult for combatants to keep statistics, for example, who was responsible for recording the death, wounding or capture of a soldier? What if that responsible person himself was killed? How do you account for a person being recorded as wounded at multiple times (by his immediate commander, at the dressing station, at the divisional aid station, etc). And then there was the problem of how to tell if a soldier was either killed, wounded or missing as sometimes people just disappeared. Many bodies were never properly buried, and in some cases there was no body to bury with the soldier was literally blown to bits. And in some countries, like Russia or Turkey, there just never any real focus on accurate statistics.
- Leonard P. Ayres. The War with Germany: A Statistical Summary, 2nd ed. (Washington, 1919)
- Great Britain. War Office. Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War (London, 1922)
- Michel Huber. La population de la France pendant la guerre (Paris, 1931)
- U.S. Bureau of the Census. Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 (Washington, 1975)
- U.S. Department of Defense. OASD (Comptroller). Directorate for Information Operations and Control. Selected Manpower Statistics (Washington, 1975)
- John Ellis & Michael Cox. The World War I Databook (London, 2004)
- B. R. Mitchell. International Historical Statistics: Europe, 1750-2005, 6th ed. (New York, 2007)