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WWII - Casualty rates in US infantry units


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#1 Red Ant

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 1626 PM

Hi all,

From watching war movies and reading history books I sometimes get the impression that most platoons, companies, etc routinely lost 1/3 or more of their strength every time they mixed it up with the enemy - and they mixed it up many a time!
Say you start out with an infantry platoon of about 30 men on Dec 7th 1941. Through the various campaigns in Eruope/Africa/Asia, how many are likely to be still alive and serving when the fighting ends sometime in 1945? I'm not talking worst-case/best-case scenarios, I full well realize that some unlucky units probably had to have their entire manpower completely replaced several times over while some of the very lucky ones barely suffered any losses at all. I'm interested in your average, front line unit. Was it common for a platoon to still consist largely of the same soldiers in 1945 that served in it when the US joined the war?
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#2 Mk 1

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 1711 PM

Say you start out with an infantry platoon of about 30 men on Dec 7th 1941. Through the various campaigns in Eruope/Africa/Asia, how many are likely to be still alive and serving when the fighting ends sometime in 1945? ...Was it common for a platoon to still consist largely of the same soldiers in 1945 that served in it when the US joined the war?

Well, I expect we'll get some reasonable statistics flowing into this thread fairly soon, so I'll try to get my half-informed speculation posted up before the window of opportunity is closed... :P

It really is not reasonable to speak of an "average" unit. Some units saw lots of combat, some units saw none. Averaging them together dilutes the information so much that it becomes meaningless.

More meaningful is to speak of units that were engaged in combat over time in the various theaters of operations, and examine their casualty rates in time during their periods in action.

I believe that the "teeth" sub-units in many US infantry divisions saw casualty rates in excess of 200 or 300% during their period in the ETO (about 10 months at most, from June '44 through April '45, and in reality less for most units).

During their time in an active combat arena, units were still rotated out of the line for rest and refitting on a fairly regular basis. I've seen statements that it was "doctrine" to pull infantry off of the line after about 3 weeks on the front. But practical need often trumped doctrine, so even in the same theater of operations some units saw a LOT more time on the line than others.

Still, sometimes being pulled-out for rest might still lead to assignment to the front lines, although in a sector that was expected to be more quiet. That often worked, although notably for a few units that were placed in the "quiet" Ardennes in December of 1944 it did not work out quite as expected...

That is not to say that such a unit in May of '45 would not have any of the originals left. Those who survived their first two or three weeks in combat had significantly lower casualty rates after that, compared to fresh replacements. So a unit might see 200% casualties and still have a core of 25 or 30% of its original members.

Also, it is important to recognize that the "teeth" units (the line infantry companies, scouts, supporting arms and artillery) were only a portion of any given division. The US Army in particular had a LONG and heavy tail behind each soldier. I've seen numbers tossed-around like 9 out of every 10 members of the US Army being non-combatants. Truck drivers and supply clercks did wind up as casualites from time-to-time, but at nowhere near the rate of infantrymen. It was only in that last 1 out of 10, in the the "teeth" units, that such high casualties occured.

Hope that helps as a starting point. Looking forward to some of the recorded stats...

-Mark 1
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#3 TSJ

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 1733 PM

Since some divisions saw more action than others it is hard to give an average unit's casualty figure but there are some examples:

The 29th divison, the Blue Grays, a national guard unit from Virgina who helped spear head Omaha Beach, suffered over 20,000 casualties during the war. They were second highest.

The first infantry division suffered the most but I do not have their casualty number. Somebody could probably google it up.

IIRC, the 36th Division suffered over 10,000 casualties as did the 45th. I would expect that they would be about average.

For the 10th mountain division which only fought for the first 5 months in Italy:

Of the 19,734 men who served in the 10th Mountain Division in Italy, including 5,500 replacements, 25% became casualties. Of these, 20% were wounded and 5% killed

The 34th division in Italy had 16,400 casualties and the 88th had a little over 13,000 casualties.

There would be about 3200 infantrymen in each division and it is usually the infantry that takes the casualties, so if a division has say, 10,000 casualties, not a whole lot of the original infantry was left by the end of the war. Most of the paratroops were gone as well, and the famous photo of the 82nd marching in formation at the end of the war showed only those troops brought up from North Carolina training to march in the parade. Sad, but true.

Edited by TSJ, 20 May 2005 - 1753 PM.

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#4 History Buff

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 1814 PM

The 29th divison, the Blue Grays, a national guard unit from Virgina who helped spear head Omaha Beach, suffered over 20,000 casualties during the war. They were second highest.

The first infantry division suffered the most but I do not have their casualty number. Somebody could probably googel it up.

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Neither is true. According to Stanton, the 3rd Division had 24,324 battle casualties-4922 KIA, 18766 WIA and 636 DOW.
The 4th Division had 22225 battle casualties- 4097 KIA 17371 WIA and 757 DOW. 9th Division suffered 21920- 3856 KIA, 17416 WIA and 648 DOW.
The 29th suffered 20327- 3887 KIA, 15541 WIA and 899 DOW.
1st ID 19488- 3616 KIA, 15208 WIA and 664 DOW.

I didn't have time to check all divisional casualty lists.

Edited by History Buff, 20 May 2005 - 1815 PM.

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#5 TSJ

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 1819 PM

This is where I got my information about the 29th casualties being the second highest to the 1st Infantry Division. Sorry if it is incorrect.

http://29thinfantryd.....e history.htm
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#6 History Buff

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 1850 PM

This is where I got my information about the 29th casualties being the second highest to the 1st Infantry Division. Sorry if it is incorrect.

http://29thinfantryd.....e history.htm

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NoGos. You can't trust 'em. ;)
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#7 FormerBlue

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 2029 PM

NoGos.  You can't trust 'em.  ;)

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Sure you can. They didn't claim they had the highest casualities, they claimed the highest rate. The 45th had 28,000 IIRC but that would be from the summer of 43 to the end of the war. If the 29th had 20K from June of 44 to the end the rate is higher. I doubt that the 1st had a higher rate though. Highest rates would be Marines right?
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#8 History Buff

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 2305 PM

Sure you can.  They didn't claim they had the highest casualities, they claimed the highest rate.  The 45th had 28,000 IIRC but that would be from the summer of 43 to the end of the war.  If the 29th had 20K from June of 44 to the end the rate is higher.  I doubt that the 1st had a higher rate though.  Highest rates would be Marines right?

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Ok, we can kinda sorta trust them then. :) Using this site http://www.army.mil/...B/ETOOB-TOC.htm the highest casualty rate (Battle Casualties/ Days in Combat) in the ETO would belong to the 106th ID who lost an average of 129.57 battle casualties per credited combat day. The top ten divisions would be:

106th ID 129.57
29th ID 83.10
28th ID 81.14
4th ID 75.09
9th ID 70.57
78th ID 63.12
30th ID 62.73
83rd ID 62.49
80th ID 60.50
90th ID 59.93

The lowest in the ETO would be:
71st ID 16.08
89th ID 17.64
65th ID 19.12
86th ID 22.35
69th ID 23.83

the 82nd Airborne's figure was unavailable.

Edited by History Buff, 20 May 2005 - 2306 PM.

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#9 FormerBlue

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 2337 PM

Ok, we can kinda sorta trust them then. :)  Using this site http://www.army.mil/...B/ETOOB-TOC.htm  the highest casualty rate (Battle Casualties/ Days in Combat) in the ETO would belong to the 106th ID who lost an average of 129.57 battle casualties per credited combat day. The top ten divisions would be:

106th ID 129.57
29th ID 83.10
28th ID 81.14
4th  ID 75.09
9th  ID 70.57
78th ID 63.12
30th ID 62.73
83rd ID 62.49
80th ID 60.50
90th ID 59.93

The lowest in the ETO would be:
71st ID 16.08
89th ID  17.64
65th ID 19.12
86th ID  22.35
69th  ID 23.83

the 82nd Airborne's figure was unavailable.

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We knew somebody had the numbers. ;)

I think that the 106th is a special case though. I'd have to think that they include "missing" or POW to get that rate for them. For the same reason the units in the Philippines would have a pretty high rate.

I will say that we have to be careful with the army CMH site. They tend to focus on post DDay ETO. I think this has to do with the regular army finally getting into combat instead of spending their time in pubs in England. The bulk of the early war was carried on the backs of the NG. I've also noticed they aren't real big on Italy. Where I ran into difficulties is "days in combat" for the divisions. They included only post DDay combat. Kind of short changed the 7th Army units. The CMH site has a noticable lack of PTO data. The 41st Division was involved in some pretty extensive combat but you'll be hard pressed to find it on that site. Another glaring problem is they don't credit "combat days" to some NG divisions in the Pacific as not all Regiments were engaged at the same time. IIRC they don't credit the 37th? with any days in combat as it fought strictly as Regiments.
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#10 History Buff

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Posted 21 May 2005 - 0017 AM

I'd bet the 96th Division's rate would be pretty high also.
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#11 Wyvern75

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Posted 21 May 2005 - 0451 AM

I believe in Audie Murphy's book "To Hell and Back", he mentioned that at the end of the war (either early or late May), the only soldier who had been with the company as long as he had was the supply clerk (that would have been North Africa waiting on the Sicily Invastion (3d ID). Everyone else had been injured, wounded, captured, killed or rotated home with points. The reason Murphy was still around was because he was the company commander and they kept him in Europe to give him the CMH.

People need to realize that in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and the drive from France to Germany, it was not unusual to have entire companies wiped out in an operation. In some cases there might have been the supply section left but that wasn't always true.

The Pacific Campaign, while a savage and brutal fight, generally didn't have men in combat as long and replacements were generally brought up after the fighting and the unit (company, battalion, etc) was able to retrain/refit for the next operation. Fighting in the Philippines in their liberation was a bit different, as Luzan was one of the largest islands that we fought on.
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#12 Ken Estes

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Posted 21 May 2005 - 1015 AM

The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945 by Peter R. Mansoor (Hardcover - June 1, 1999) has the numbers, with further refs to the more specialized studies. The copy I use is at work, will try to post some stuff on Monday.
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#13 Ken Estes

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Posted 23 May 2005 - 0925 AM

Mansoor, p. 252 Table 11.1 - Total Battle and Nonbattle Casualties, Infantry Divisions 1944-45

4th 35545 252%
9th 33864 240
1st 29630 206
29th 28776 202
3rd 28400 202
90th 27617 196
45th 26449 188
36th 26157 186
30th 26038 185
2nd 25884 184
35th 25488 181
80th 25472 181
28th 24840 176
83rd 23980 170
5th 23487 167
79th 23457 167
8th 21056 149
26th 16851 120
44th 13748 98
104th 13407 95
78th 12257 87
100th 12215 87
99th 11987 85
87th 11587 82
94th 10810 77
106th 10671 76
95th 10204 72
84th 9811 70
103rd 9369 67
102nd 8825 63
70th 8201 58
63rd 8019 57
75th 8016 57
42nd 5949 42
76th 5556 39
69th 3347 24
65th 2302 16
89th 2080 15
66th 1947 14
71st 1869 13
97th 1318 9
86th 1282 9

Source: Order of Battle, United States Army in World War II: ETO (Office of the Theater Historian, December, 1945)


Table 8.1 9th ID Casualties 1 July-31Oct44

1690 KIA 8573 WIA 1241 Exhaustion 5155 Nonbattle = 16659 Total
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#14 Jim Martin

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Posted 23 May 2005 - 1141 AM

A common "joke" heard among US infantry during the war was that US Division commanders were really in fact, corps commanders, with a division in the field, a division in the hospital, and a division in the grave....
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#15 Ken Estes

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Posted 23 May 2005 - 1144 AM

A common "joke" heard among US infantry during the war was that US Division commanders were really in fact, corps commanders, with a division in the field, a division in the hospital, and a division in the grave....

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Really excellent! We all know that as soldiers and marines we are lost w/o gallows humor [on active duty, elsewhere seldom understood!]. Ken
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#16 TSJ

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Posted 23 May 2005 - 1154 AM

Man, I had no idea! The 90th, the 45th, the 36th were all at Camp Barkley one time or another. I lived in Abilene as a kid and I knew there was a camp there but I just didn't realize the significance of it. Kinda like living next to Fort Hood and thinking it's no big deal.

Unfortunately, Camp Barkley has been used as a huge cattle feed lot and practically nothing remains. Next time i am there I am going to see if anybody has put a plaque there. It seems to me if Abilene can commemorate the nuclear missle silos now long gone, they can do the same for Camp Barkley.

Those NG units really saw a lot of action!
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#17 Ken Estes

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Posted 23 May 2005 - 1208 PM

Those NG units really saw a lot of action!

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Yep, the regular army and guard divs went first and the 'draftee' divs did not hit the ETO until '44. We are, of course, still missing the data from Nov42-end/43.
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#18 Red Ant

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Posted 23 May 2005 - 1712 PM

Ken, thanks for that exhaustive list you posted there! One question, tho. WRT the casualties figures, does the word 'casualties' include those who suffered injuries but later returned to their units to soldier on? Or are casualties definitely 'write-offs' in the sense that they didn't return to their units?

Edited by Red Ant, 23 May 2005 - 1712 PM.

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#19 Ken Estes

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Posted 23 May 2005 - 1738 PM

Ken, thanks for that exhaustive list you posted there! One question, tho. WRT the casualties figures, does the word 'casualties' include those who suffered injuries but later returned to their units to soldier on? Or are casualties definitely 'write-offs' in the sense that they didn't return to their units?

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I'll check tomorrow, I'd be guessing right now. Ken

[edit to add, no info in book, so I'd still be guessing, hence silence on this one]

Edited by Ken Estes, 24 May 2005 - 1256 PM.

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#20 FormerBlue

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Posted 23 May 2005 - 1844 PM

Man, I had no idea! The 90th, the 45th, the 36th were all at Camp Barkley one time or another. I lived in Abilene as a kid and I knew there was a camp there but I just didn't realize the significance of it. Kinda like living next to Fort Hood and thinking it's no big deal.

Unfortunately, Camp Barkley has been used as a huge cattle feed lot and practically nothing remains. Next time i am there I am going to see if anybody has put a plaque there. It seems to me if Abilene can commemorate the nuclear missle silos now long gone, they can do the same for Camp Barkley.

Those NG units really saw a lot of action!

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It's spelled Barkeley...
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:P
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