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Casualties by rank


Petroc
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Hi,

It is often said that, for fighting arms and units operating close to or on the battlefield, the most dangerous rank to hold was one of the more junior commissioned appointments. But would any member have an opinion as to which (Officer or Other Rank) was actually THE most dangerous proprtionate to the number of men who served at a particular rank? I'm thinking specifically wounds and deaths directly attributable to enemy action rather than accidents or disease.

And would results have differed according to theatre of operations and particular years?

Be interested to hear your opinions,

Andy

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Martin Middlebrooke, in his famous book The First Day of the Somme, stated that the most dangerous rank to hold that day was that of Captain.

As to whether that might prove a valid basis for extrapolation for the rest of the war is moot.

I would guess that Captains took a terrible risk throughout the war - they were at the sharp end, and were required to lead. If you lead you bleed.

The statistics of the Medical History of the War give definitive figures for the major fronts 1914-1918.

As soon as I can find my calculator, I'll take a look at how the Western Front compares with other theatres, and take the analysis further by comparing the Officer OR ratio year by year.

It would be especially interesting to see how the 1914 fighting compared with that of 1918 in this respect.

I'm due to go out for a dinner party now, but will resume the search later.

Phil.

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Thanks mate, your findings might be very illuminating

(plus, I'm useless with a calculator)

The question was (perhaps unfairly) also originally posed with regard to British and Dominion forces, but it would be interesting to see how our experiences compared with those of other nations; for example, we often hear how the 1916 Somme fighting denuded the German Army of valuable officers and NCOs...but what SPECIFIC rank suffered the most?

Again, this has to be proprtionate to the number of troops in any army at any particular time holding a specific rank

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Andy

If you mean a promoted rank then I have not done any careful analysis but reading lots of war diaries and seeing the officer casualties I would say that 2nd Lieut. was a very common casualty - but of course there were more of them than Captains so ....? Not easy to say I would think, especially when taking NCOs into account.

Jim

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Hello Andy,

I did do an analysis of the the most dangerous rank to have. With my chaotic filing system, I cannot find it at the moment but I will ! Anyhow, I do remember the safest Non-Commissioned rank to have. It was a Corporal. Percentage wise, less Corporals died than Sergeants or any other rank for that matter.

I never examined Officer deaths in detail but would agree with Jim. Overall the most dangerous rank to have was 2nd. Lieut.. To me they appear to be the sacrificial lambs in any attack, not Captains. No definite figures, just remember seeing lots of headstones in lots of cemeteries.

Regards Mike Jones

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Is that substantative rank or acting rank?

Mick

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British Army

2nd Lt 21,368

Lt 9744

Capt 7856

Maj 1680

L/Col 727

Col 56

Brig Gen 81

Maj Gen 12

Lt/Gen 4

Field Marshal 2

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Hi Mick(Somme).

Not sure if that question was intended for me but just in case it was. I think I get your drift. Many of the 2nd. Lieut. had only just come in to action (It seemed to me) or just been temporarily promoted from the ranks.

Regards Mike

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A couple of issues to bear in mind. These are all arms. And re the comment above about sacrificial lambs, there is a structure to the forces which depends on command and leadership, are you saying that 2nd Lt's were sacrificed to preserve the lives of Lt's and captains?

Mick

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With reference to the comment re; Corporals...would I be correct in assuming that the comparitively low proportionate percentage of casualties at this rank (and Sergeant, too, perhaps) was due to the fact that in an infantry battalion a substantial proportion of these NCOs held what were normally 'non-combatent' appointments (i.e tailors, bootmakers, transport, orderly room, cooks)?

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Equipped with a calculator, I can now try and present a statistical analysis.

Let me start by quoting Middlebrook, from page 263-264 in his First day on the Somme:

" Seventy- eight battalions recorded their officer casualties in detail, and these figures indicate that the most dangerous rank to have held on 1 July was that of captain."

From the Medical History of the War, these are the figures for Officers killed in action/ died from wounds as a ratio of the fatalities among other ranks:

France and Flanders 1 officer for every 17.8 men

Gallipoli 1 officer for every 17.8 men

Italy 1 officer for every 13.4 men

Macedonia 1 officer for every 18 men

Egypt/Palestine 1 officer for every 12.4 men

Mesopotamia 1 officer for every 14.1 men

East Africa 1 officer for every 13 men

These are for battle casualties only, and include those posted as killed in action, died from wounds and the missing who were eventually recorded as dead.

In the most "intense" theatres of combat - Western Front and Gallipoli - the ratios are virtually identical.

In the fronts where artillery was less prominent, the ratio of officers to men killed was higher : might this be a function of conspicuousness in fighting in which rifle and machine gun fire was more prominent, and officers presented easier targets than they did in the more "impersonal" battlefields?

Let me try and compare the different years of fighting on the Western Front, and venture some conclusions:

1914 1 officer for every 14.3 men

1915 1 officer for every 18 men

1916 1 0fficer for every 17.7 men

1917 1 officer for every 17.1 men

1918 1 officer for every 19 men

There is fundamental consistency here with the exception of 1914. Here again we might consider that this reflects the greater importance of rifle fire in 1914, with the battles being more "personal" than they were to become in the following years, when artillery routines predominated. I am tempted to conclude that they also suggest a greater social divide between officers and other ranks, with the concomittant requirement of leadership by example. Much to think about!

What do you reckon?

I'll watch some rugby now and look forward to some more discussion.

Phil.

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Thanks for that, Phil.

I'll try to respond more fully later.....rugby fan here too! Half time in the Scotland-Ireland match at the moment, an interesting day so far to say the least!

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I have 11752 Royal Warwicks in my regimental database covering regular, territorial and service battalions and the Western Front, Italy and the Middle East.

There was 1 officer death for every 19.47 non-officer death 1914-1918 (4.87% of all deaths were officers)

Raw figures..

Lt Col = 9

Major = 19

Captain = 118

Lieutenant = 109

2nd Lieutenant = 319

RSM/CSM = 71

Sgt etc = 608

Corporal = 485

L/Cpl = 865

Private = 9149

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Thanks, Alan.

Your compilation presumably covers deaths from all causes - hence the slightly lower proportion of officer deaths: the figures I cited were for combat fatalities only; while being an officer entailed a higher risk of being killed in battle, the other ranks were more likely to fall victim to disease and accidental injury.

To perfect the message from your figures, could we have the number of deaths for each rank presented alongside the number who served in each capacity?

Actually ( I'm just adding this as an edit) my request is a little unreasonable, in so far as there was bound to be some fluidity in these numbers, bearing in mind that promotions entailed distortions. It would be interesting to see how far the ratios between deaths in the different ranks comply with those set out in auchonvillers' post no.7. One thing is clear from the tabulation for the Royal Warwicks - in that regiment the proportion of captains who died, vis a vis lieutenants and 2nd lieutenants combined, is higher than it is for the British army as a whole, as set out in post 7.

Phil.

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Hi Andy,

I have been on the calculator for hours but so as not to overdo the figures, I will summarize.

The Worcestershire Regiment had approx. 9759 Deaths in the Great war.

Of which Percentage wise

Major 0.2%

CSM 0.4%

L/Sgt 0.6%

Captains 1.1%

Lieut. 1.2%

2nd. Lieut. 3.0%

Cpl. 3.6%

Sgt. 4.0%

L/Cpl 8.6%

Pte. 76.4%

It would seem that I was wrong earlier. Captains do in this case have a similar % chance of dying as a 2nd Lieut. Man for man.

The overall ratio officers to men is 17.3 men per officer died.

On Gallipolli however it was completely different.

For the 4th Battalion Worcesters on Gallipoli 38 men per officer.

For the 9th Battalion Worcesters on Gallipoli 29 men per officer.

On the worst day for the 4th Bn. Worcesters (6th August 1915) ratio was 90 men per officer.

Regards Mike

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Mike

With respect, I think you may be tackling the figures in the wrong way. What you need to find out, in order to identify the "most dangerous rank", is not how many captains (etc) were killed or wounded as a proportion of the total number of casualties, but as a proportion of the total number of captains (etc). Yes, more subalterns than majors were killed, but there were more subalterns than majors in a battalion (etc). Otherwise, you could argue that the most dangerous rank was Private, accounting for over 76% of casualties!

In round figures, about 3% of all ranks were officers, and about 5% of all ranks killed were officers. That alone suggests that officers were more vulnerable than other ranks, and (with many honourable exceptions) fewer field officers were likely to be as much exposed to the risk of death than company officers. This was not because of "funk" - they were simply too valuable to be subjected to as much risk.

Ron

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Hello Ron,

I accept completely what you are saying and thank you for replying so politely. Some guys just come back on an aggressive tack (Which ****** me off and I do not reply). Open , friendly discussion is my motto. Those figures I gave are just a breakdown of total deaths. The next step, as you suggest is to find out what percentage of an infantry battalion are Privates/Corporals etc. Then if say Pte,s account for 60% of a full Bn. and as seen 76% died then it is a risky rank to have. At the moment I am struggling with what an "Ideal" Infantry Bn. consisted of. There is a thread running on this theme but I cannot make too much sense of it.

I will give you my figures, please correct me if as usual I am wrong !

An "Ideal" Infantry Battalion consists of 1000 men

1 Colonel

4 Captains

16 Lieutenants (2nd Lieut.)

1 RSM

4 CSM's

32 Sgt

64 Cpl (L/Cpl)

800 Pte.

The other 78 men are in Administration, cooks and Odd bods.

Regards Mike

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The figures that Alan and Mike have supplied us with tend to support the view that the rank of captain was the most lethal one, although I confess that there is little to choose between the captains and lieutenants in so far as mortality rates are concerned.

Middlebrook is unequivocal in his analysis, which suggests to me that the freakish carnage of July 1st 1916 must have dramatically increased the danger faced by captains as compared with other officers - it would be challenging to speculate as to why this was so. Was there a special burden of expectation placed on captains that was not shared by lieutenants that day? When troops did go over the top, were captains - in their rather more administrative role - expected to hang back and rely on lieutenants to lead the men? If so, then the immediate and dramatic failure of the attacks on July 1st might have compelled the captains to go forward more recklessly than normal, with fatal consequences. This is just speculative suggestion on my part.

Phil.

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Hello Mike

Thank you for taking my remarks in the spirit in which they wqere intended!

The following is the breakdown of an infantry battalion at the outbreak of war - there were indeed exactly 1000 men, excluding medical and other attached personnel.

Lt-Col 1

Majors 3 (1)

Captains 7 (5)

Lieuts 10 (10)

2nd Lts 8 (12)

WOs Class I 1

WOs Class II 0 (5)

Staff Sgts 16 (11)

Sgts 33

L/Sgts 8

Cpls 34

L/Cpls 49

Ptes etc 830

The figures in brackets reflect the introduction of the WOII rank in 1915, embracing CSMs and the RQMS, and the fact that, as the war progressed, officers in particular tended to hold ranks lower than the pre-war norm, companies normally being commanded by captains with a lieutenant as 2i/c. There wouls also be a greater proportion of 2/Lts among the subalterns.

I think that an analysis of fatal casualties, as a proportion of those holding that rank, will confirm that captains and subalterns were in the most dangerous positions, even though my comments on the actual ranks held may make it difficult to make a rigorous analysis possible between these ranks.

It is not difficult to gauge the reasons for this. Company officers had to lead by example, especially when taking inexperienced troops into their first major battle - i.e. 1 July 1916 in particular. Additionally, most subalterns had little or no pre-war experience and therefore lacked some of the "tactical awareness" of the more experienced NCOs and were therefore more likely to "wander into danger", as it were.

Figures will be different in arms other than infantry. In the Tank Corps, for instance, the crew of a tank was one officer (usually a subaltern) and seven other ranks, which gives a very different officer/man ratio and means that most senior officers (and WOs and staff-sgts) rarely took part in attacks.

Phil - the diagram of an assault formation given in MM's book confirms that company commanders went over the top among thir platoons - it was usually a two-platton frontage, then the company cdr and his team, then the other two platoons of the company. Company 2i/cs, and some of the senior NCOs (e.g. two of the four CSMs) were usually kept out of an attack in order to form a nucleus around which a shattered battalion could be rebuilt, but I think that this policy, which was in place by 1917, owes much to the experiences of the Somme and may not have been in force on 1 July.

Ron

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Evening Gentlemen,

I hope Andy is still interested in the tread he started. I do not wish to monopolise it, so please come on in Andy or anyone with any additional facts.

Ron (Or anyone else interested), I feel we now have some common ground which will allow us to get our calculators out for some serious analysis ! I have been through the embarkation list of the 2nd Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment . There was a full Bn. of 1014 men that arrived in France 12th August 1914. I have added together both types of Lieutenant, both types of Sergeant and both types of Corporal (Lance and Full).

There was

1 Lieut. Colonel

1 Major

7 Captains (One was RAMC) Five of them were to die before May 1915

14 Lieut.

1 RSM

4 CSM

48 Sgt.

76 Cpl.

836 Pte.

26 Odd bods

1014 Total

Very similar figures to yours, do you agree Ron?

It does seem at first glance that a Captain's three pips came with a death sentence attached.

Regards Mike

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Thank you, Mike. Please don't think that my failure to post indicates lack of interest - far from it.

QED, I think....the Captaincy was the most fatal posting of all.

Phil.

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I certainly am still interested, Mike! Not being particularly adept in calculator-based analysis, however, I must simply bow to your own workings and those of other Pals!

I must say that I do agree with Ron's comments regarding the fact that heavy the heqavy casualty rates suffered by Captains and subalterns as a group were due to the necessity of 'leading from the front'. Perhaps this was due to the unfortunate combination of large numbers of relatively-recently enlisted (and therefore inexperienced) recruits and contemporary tactics (especially up to 1917). One often hears the accusation that British troops demonstrated far less initiative and independence of thought when there were no officers or senior NCOs around to lead them, and accusation that would only be made if this were a rather common occurrence!

It would be interesting to see whether the percentage figures (what may be termed the 'risk factor') altered somewhat as the British Army began to adopt a more flexible fire-and-movement approach to battle based upon more specialised sub-Company units (bombers, Lewis-gunners, Rifle-grenadiers, etc) which may have lessened the need for close supervision by junior officers.

Then again...did the relationship change again during the Spring Offensive and then swing back during the last 100 days.....?

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It would be interesting to see whether the percentage figures (what may be termed the 'risk factor') altered somewhat as the British Army began to adopt a more flexible fire-and-movement approach to battle based upon more specialised sub-Company units (bombers, Lewis-gunners, Rifle-grenadiers, etc) which may have lessened the need for close supervision by junior officers.

Then again...did the relationship change again during the Spring Offensive and then swing back during the last 100 days.....?

The impression I get is that the more technically advanced British army sustained a significantly lower ratio of officer to men casualties in the last months of the war. Weaponry and tactics must have been factors in this, but I also suspect that there was a "class" aspect as well....the narrowing of the social divide between officers and their men : different, I imagine, in 1918 from what it had been in 1914.

There is a school of thought, which Churchill emphasised in his casualty analyses in his World Crisis, that the offensive entails a higher attritional rate on officers than does the defensive, for the simple reason that the attackers are exposed to more selective firepower than defenders, upon whom the barrage falls more indiscriminately. This was dramatically demonstrated by inordinately high German officer casualties in the Kaiserslacht of March/April 1918, when German officer losses were not only high in absolute numbers, but bore a strikingly higher ratio to that of other ranks when compared with the defensive battles fought by the Germans earlier in the war.

This does make sense, but it does not tally with the British experience : in 1914, when the BEF was fighting on the defensive, the ratio of officer casualties to that of other ranks was higher than it was to be on the Somme and at Passchendaele. Here agian, we might have evidence of the social code that differentiated the Regular Army from the New Armies, but I'm wary of pushing the point too far.

Phil.

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i seem to remember this being discussedf some years ago, and the answer that was arrived upn was padre's, now what demonation or class i don't know, but something worth baring in mind, i would contact Dr Michael Snape at Birmingham university re this

matt

i could of course be wrong!

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Hi,

It is often said that, for fighting arms and units operating close to or on the battlefield, the most dangerous rank to hold was one of the more junior commissioned appointments. But would any member have an opinion as to which (Officer or Other Rank) was actually THE most dangerous proprtionate to the number of men who served at a particular rank? I'm thinking specifically wounds and deaths directly attributable to enemy action rather than accidents or disease.

And would results have differed according to theatre of operations and particular years?

Be interested to hear your opinions,

Andy

Just out of interest - out of my 250 Maldon (Essex) men, of the army:

Major - 1

Captain - 1

Lieutenant - 4

Second-Lieutenant - 7

Sergeant Major - 3

Quartermaster Sergeant - 1

Sergeant (including acting) - 10

Corporal (including acting) - 8

Lance-Corporal - 23

Private (&c) - 165

Regards.

SPN

Maldon

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