The major WW2 belligerent militaries suffered varying death rates the world over. The UK and US rates were low (3.3% and 2.5% respectively) whereas the USSR, Germany, and Japan’s rates (31.1%, 29.2% and 25.3% respectively) were high. With nearly 100 million serving the averaged death rate among the major belligerents was 19.1%.
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World War II Military Deaths
Different Rates per Military Branch
Even within a country the various branches suffered at different rates. For example, the death rates in the German military branches during World War II varied significantly. The German Army suffered the highest number of deaths, with an estimated 4.2 million deaths out of a total of 5.3 million military deaths for Germany as a whole, representing 79% of German deaths. However, as a military branch the Army deaths of 4.2 million out 13.6 million conscripts resulted in a 30.9% death rate.
The German Navy had a death rate of approximately 11.7%, with an estimated 140,000 deaths, while the German Air Force had a death rate of approximately 17.2%, with an estimated 433,000 deaths.
Military Deaths by Country
The high death rate in the German Army was due to aggressive military strategy, harsh conditions, nonstop service duties, and other factors. Germany’s Army suffered very high rate compared to the western Allied armies due in part that their tours of duty were unending. With Hitler’s frequent orders of not one more step back and to hold on at all costs preventing better defensive actions multiplying German losses. Overall, 5.3 million German military personnel were killed or missing out of 18.2 million who served.
The Japanese also fought to the last man or used massed charges with similar results. Japan’s military fighting style was characterized by a willingness to engage in suicidal attacks, such as the use of kamikaze pilots or Bonsai charges. This resulted in high casualties among Japanese soldiers, with an estimated 2.7 million military deaths. The Japanese culture also placed a high value on honor and sacrifice, which made high casualties more acceptable. Overall, 2.1 million Japanese military personnel were killed or missing out of 8.4 million who served.
Soviet Armies also suffered very high rates as their commanders were not averse to using massed charges repeatedly in order to achieve their goals. The Soviet Union’s military fighting style was characterized by a focus on ground troops and mass assaults, which resulted in high casualties among Soviet soldiers, with an estimated 8.7 million military deaths. The Soviet culture also placed a high value on sacrifice and duty, which made high casualties more acceptable. Overall, 10.7 million Soviet military personnel were killed or missing out of 34.5 million who served.
Whereas both the US and UK preferred to fight in ways that limited casualties on their part while still achieving their goals. Gaining air superiority allowed the war to be fought over enemy territory and limiting enemy mobility avoiding the massive casualty-inducing engagements seen in the Eastern Front.
The United Kingdom’s military fighting style was characterized by a combination of air power, naval superiority, and ground troops. With a focus on strategic bombing and naval operations. Overall, 384,000 United Kingdom military personnel were killed or missing out of 17.8 million who served.
The United States’ military fighting style was characterized by a combination of air power, naval operations, and ground troops. With a focus on amphibious invasions and strategic bombing. The American culture placed a high value on individualism and innovation, which led to the development of advanced technology and tactics that helped minimize casualties. Overall, 417,000 United states military personnel were killed or missing out of 16.4 million who served.
Military versus Civilian Deaths
It is estimated that the total number of deaths in World War II was approximately 70-85 million people. Of these, approximately 60 million were civilians, and approximately 25 million were military personnel.
This means that roughly 70% of the deaths in World War II were civilians, while 30% were military personnel. Most civilian deaths were due to factors such as bombings, executions, forced labor, starvation, disease, and other war-related causes.
Military Manpower and Deaths by Country Data
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Source: Wikipedia, “World War II casualties”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties, Date Accessed June 25, 2022
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