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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

German POWs


phil andrade

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According to figures cited by Crutwell and Terraine, 924,000 Germans were taken prisoner on all fronts 1914-1918. Of this number, 774,000 were taken on the Western Front. Nealry all the balance of 150,000 were captured by the Russians. I find it significant that virtually half of all the POWs taken by the Allies in France and Belgium were taken in the period from mid July to November 11th 1918, in the period known - innaccurately but understandably - by the British as "The Hundred Days". The British armies alone captured, in that period, more than 188,000 Germans...nearly half the total taken by all armies on that front in that time.

In 1914, the BEF captured just over 6,000 German POWs; a similar figure in 1915, 41,500 in 1916, more than 70,000 in 1917 and 200,000 in 1918. Does anyone have information regarding how many were captured by the French, year by year ? I have one estimate of 78,500 captured by the French in 1916, of whom more than half were taken on the Somme and over 26,000 at Verdun. They appear to have taken a very large number in 1917, despite the crisis in morale that led to the Mutinies. In 1918 they took fewer than the British. Another question : when prisoners were counted, did the number allude only to unwounded ? There is significance in this question; if unwounded men surrender in large numbers, it suggests a more convincing aspect of defeat than does the capture of soldiers who are unable to resist because they're wounded or dying.

Phil.

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Hello Phil

I do not possess the data to address your first question but your observations concerning wounded an unwounded captured is clearly of great significance during the end phase of the war.

I do not accept the curvist orthodoxy that the hundred days was simply the culmination of a four year learning experience. The German Army in the final months of the war was an entirely different animal from even that of the Spring offensive in the earlier part of the year. Its rapid disintegration and successive defeats were not simply caused by the logistical and numerical superioty of the Allies but by a multiplicty of factors including those that directly impacted upon morale. The near starvation of the civilian population and the imminent prospect of social revolution are but two that have to be weighed in the balance.

Regards

Mel

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Hello Phil

I do not possess the data to address your first question but your observations concerning wounded an unwounded captured is clearly of great significance during the end phase of the war.

I do not accept the curvist orthodoxy that the hundred days was simply the culmination of a four year learning experience. The German Army in the final months of the war was an entirely different animal from even that of the Spring offensive in the earlier part of the year. Its rapid disintegration and successive defeats were not simply caused by the logistical and numerical superioty of the Allies but by a multiplicty of factors including those that directly impacted upon morale. The near starvation of the civilian population and the imminent prospect of social revolution are but two that have to be weighed in the balance.

Regards

Mel

Good evening Mel,

Prior to the collapse of the German armies in the last months of 1918 - and I proffer the word "collapse" with circumspection, since Allied casualties were very heavy in October 1918 - there were one or two "peak periods" when German losses in prisoners were excessivley high. The principal loss was sustained in the period from July -December 1916, when in excess of 100,000 German POWs were taken by the Franco-British armies on the Western Front. This also coincided with a crisis on the Russian Front, with the Brusilov Offensive shattering the Austrians and giving the Germans some very anxious moments. There is, I think, a correlation between these captures and a discernible decline in morale - on the Home Front especially : I think the German war bonds had their first significant failure in the autumn of 1916. The following year even more prisoners were captured by the Entente in France and Belgium, although the haul was more evenly spread through the year... the British taking nearly 75,000 and the French about 55,000; in terms of the casualty prisoner exchange rate, this indicated one for every ten British casualties, compared with one in for every eight French. The previous year the ratio had been one for every fifteen British casualties and one for every ten French. I reckon, therefore, that there was a significant improvement in Allied methods as the war progressed, and the qualitative edge enjoyed by the Germans was diminishing. The spring and early summer of 1918 saw a dramatic disruption to this trend, as the Germans took ten times as many prisoners in the period March-June 1918 as they lost. Then again, from mid July to November 11th there was a spectacular reversal, with some 390,000 Germans surrendering, implying one POW for every three Allied casualties. It's also apparent that, in this last period, German losses in prisoners equated to about two thirds of their loss in killed and wounded; in March to June 1918, they had lost thirty four men killed or wounded for every one taken prisoner !

These are very generalised statistics, and I offer them with diffidence - for one thing, the count of German POWs is based on Allied claims, and these might differ markedly from German reports. It's hard to draw a coherent conclusion, but I think the numbers do tell a compelling story.

Phil.

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