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Ralph J. Whitehead

German Casualty discussion

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Ralph J. Whitehead

It seems Occleshaw is back. I have had a quick read the section of his book where he makes a number of claims that are not grounded in primary source research but all seem to be the opinions of earlier authors. Not a very good basis to provide a sound theory on.

I do agree that captured documents were a good source of intelligence but not to the extent of predicting loss details for entire Classes of men. On page 89 he alludes to the company roll number given to each man in the company and that ‘if paybooks from all the companies in a battalion , regiment or division could be taken, then the losses of that unit could be established with reasonable precision, as would the wastage of German manpower through the study of the conscription classes.’

The operative word is ‘if’. Allied intelligence did have documents from German soldiers but not to the extent of an entire unit at any time during the war I can think of. The numbering system used during the war is slightly more complicated than Occleshaw alludes to. In the first place, when a new man joined a company he was provided with a company roll number. He could have three or four of these in the course of his career as he was transferred from one unit to another. Entire companies were transferred to help form new regiments. The replacements would all have higher company roll numbers yet could all be from an earlier class.

War volunteers would join before their class was called up so if such a man was killed or captured and any of his documents were found does it indicate that his class was in the field? Or did they have a few examples of men joining earlier than the rest?

He cites generalizations regarding sacks of such documents being passed on by the French following the capture of German soldiers. How many sacks? How large? How many documents? Were these from period reports? Newspaper accounts? What? If the source is supect the information is useless. Occleshaw cites a short example from a secondary source, a later work, and did not apparently take the time to see the original documents for himself.

Numbering systems for men is excellent yet I have seen examples of company roll numbers for a man from the Class of 1902 as being below the number 10 yet he was not simply the 10th man into the company. In his case he was killed in June 1915 and his documents did not make it to Allied intelligence. The problem here is that many of the regiments contained reservists, Ersatz Reservists, Landwehr troops and such, all from much earlier classes. Unless you had the full details of all these men including rank and date of birth then it is not that easy to deduce the losses of any unit. Men were transferred, left briefly when sick only to return while others were transferred to other units.

If Allied intelligence was counting on the Germans using a clear and narrowly defined method of numbering for each and every man then they were mistaken. The pre-war system did not survive the needs of a massive buildup of men in 1914 and the rest of the war. Many of the finer points so carefully implemented did not survive. At one point you could determine a man’s company by the number on some of his uniform buttons. Not during the war as equipment was taken from storage, old uniforms given out, replacement items taken from any source available, etc.

German military clothing was generally marked to the particular army corps district it came from. Pre-war, the men would be wearing uniforms from their own district. War time, from almost any army corps district that had the equipment. Add in men from one district ending up in another if replacements were required then again a completely different picture is formed.

In the case of the man discovered by Serre, Jakob Hönes, he was wearing a Bavarian belt buckle yet he was in a Württemberg regiment. It is just an example of the problems not mentioned in Occleshaw’s book.

Occleshaw cites the example of the 14th Division prisoners, one set taken in December 1916 and the other, the larger number in October 1917; 480 in the former and 849 in the latter. The division was in heavy fighting at both occasions. In the 1916 fighting the division was reduced, supposedly, by casualties reaching 65%. This would mean that far more documents would have been taken under the Occleshaw theory. In 1917 the number of reported prisoners was 43 officers, 1,763 men. If the documents that were to provide such insights into the German army losses were available in the manner claimed then why so few in comparison to the number of men taken? His take was apparently on the existence of 1917 Class men at the end of 1916 and 1918 Class men at the end of 1917.

The existence of men in classes that were called up earlier than normal did indicate that the Germans were looking for additional reinforcements for the army for many reasons. Losses were naturally a large part of this. However, Occleshaw indicates that the existence of these men indicated that hundreds of thousands of young men in the 1917 Class had been ‘slaughtered, maimed or imprisoned and that the men of 1918 were undergoing the same fate.’

The presence of the 1917 and 1918 Classes of men as prisoners in this example cannot be stretched to imply the rest of the class were all dead, wounded or prisoners. It does indicate the time frame the Class was called up and it does confirm these men as examples but the Allies had no idea of the whereabouts or fate of the rest of the classes of men based on less than 200 men found on this chart.

He follows with the idea of taking the existing company numbers from the prisoners, their age class and numbers he could extrapolate the losses for the entire German army (my take on the section). The problem is that while this particular division was heavily engaged with the French can you safely assume that this example was the same for the entire German army? No. It can be used as information on the replacements, the class of men and provide insights into what is happening inside the German army in the units involved but it cannot be stretched quite as thin as we would be led to believe.

Also, many German soldiers died in the fighting throughout the war. In most cases even the German side did not have the time to go through pockets and bread bags for documents. Most men in the heaviest fighting that were killed were simply moved out of the way, rolled into shell holes and if really lucky given some sort of quick burial. Most of the German dead did not fall into British and French hands unless there was a successful advance and even then the numbers of dead and captured did not amount to tens of thousands. Raids provided some details but not the numbers needed to create conclusions drawn from several hundred names and extrapolate them into severl millions.

Occleshaw goes on the mention captured postcards that provided clues to regiments or divisions by uniform details. In this I would suspect it was the numbered or cypher shoulder strap. These could be used to identify the men in the photo. Of course it could have been a photo of a friend of the man holding it, or before a transfer, or was it an active regiment or a reserve or a Landwehr regiment? If there was nothing on the back as to the unit stamp or such then it is not as reliable as would be believed. Then there is the issue of when it was taken, last week or two year earlier.

Occleshaw also contradicts his own theories to some degree. While stating that mountains of documents and official papers were being taken from the enemy in fighting, raids, or from dead bodies then why state the task was not as easy as it sounded as it required men to go into no man’s land and become exposed to enemy fire so the task was not performed as conscientiously as might have been desired.

All of the methods mentioned were useful but not the answer to the casualty question. Each one provided a piece of the puzzle but unless you know how the enemy army works then they are only small pieces and not the answer to all questions.

My take on it all is an author with little or most likely no direct research into the larger picture of the war, using no major primary sources if any at all. Few French and German sources, five in total if I recall, 1 French and 4 German that had very little to add other than anecdotal details. He relies upon work of others and then draws broad sweeping conclusions from very few examples. Rather worthless in this sense.

Oddly enough it sounds very similar to the criticism made against some of the examples I provided in the thread. It would seem that Occleshaw’s methods are accepted even though poorly researched while mine do not pass muster. I wonder why that is?

Ralph

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salesie

You're off the mark somewhat regarding Occleshaw's use of sources, Ralph, but no matter because I can now see, after your last few posts, that your prime concern is to have your own work recognised as authoritative, perhaps even definitive. I'm afraid the latter will always allude you, mostly because of your own long list of caveats, but there are many on this forum who credit your work with being authoritative despite those caveats; that appreciation from members and your dedication to your task is praiseworthy. That said, I have given you my opinion of your work in this and other threads, and that hasn't changed one jot - in fact, the more complex you make your posts the more doubtful I become; I've never accepted that the more complex an argument is then the more rational it becomes (Einstein had an interesting take on this when saying, 'If you can't explain your own theories simply then you don't really understand them.')

There are many who praise your work, and in many ways it is praiseworthy, and I do understand everything that you say, I just don't agree with much of it for the reasons already given in this and other threads.

Cheers-salesie.

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Ralph J. Whitehead

Salesie, You are not my concern on this thread or this forum. I find that you have often tried to marginalize many members through simple rhetoric without any solid research that I can see. I find your latest comments on my motives bordering on rude and condescending. I will decide what my motives are and what and how much to post. I find this hobby fascinating and I enjoy talking to the many people I have met through it these last years. If you do not like what I have to say so be it but let me decide on how I use the forum and interact with the members.

Ralph

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phil andrade

Are you still content to limit your criticism of Edmonds's analysis of German casualty figures to admitting that " his arithmetic is open to question", salesie, or have you started to suspect that his assertions about these bear the hallmarks of a Pakistani "No Ball" at Lord's ?

Phil (PJA)

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Dragon

... Ralph, but no matter because I can now see, after your last few posts, that your prime concern is to have your own work recognised as authoritative, perhaps even definitive. I'm afraid the latter will always allude you, mostly because of your own long list of caveats, but there are many on this forum who credit your work with being authoritative despite those caveats ...

Staggering.

Incidentally, it's 'elude'.

Gwyn

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salesie

Staggering.

Incidentally, it's 'elude'.

Gwyn

Of course it is, Gwyn. Many thanks for pointing it out. And just to show you that I'm not all bad, I'll keep an eye on your posts for you from now on - after all, one good turn deserves another.

Cheers-salesie (now firmly ensconced in the land of pedantry).

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salesie

Are you still content to limit your criticism of Edmonds's analysis of German casualty figures to admitting that " his arithmetic is open to question", salesie, or have you started to suspect that his assertions about these bear the hallmarks of a Pakistani "No Ball" at Lord's ?

Phil (PJA)

Why do you imagine that my stance would have changed, Phil? I still see your approach as "balls dropped in the field"!

Cheers-salesie.

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phil andrade

Staggering.

Incidentally, it's 'elude'.

Gwyn

Yes, it makes you cringe, doesn't it ?

I hope Ralph will not be driven away from us by such a staggering display of ignorance and arrogance.

The emptier the vessel, the louder the noise.

Phil (PJA)

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Steven Broomfield

I must say that I've still not seen anything in the way of 'evidence' to make me doubt Ralph's research. The opposition (if I can them that) seem very able to doubt the figures, but there seems to be little real research or evidence to back up their claims.

And if the last resort is a blunt rebuttal, coupled with a somewhat patronising attitude, I'm beginning to wonder where the discussion will go next.

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Jack Sheldon

Well we cannot have this descending into name calling, so I am going to have a first crack at the question posed by Salesie a couple of days ago and speculate about what Edmonds' motivation for playing up German casualties might have been. His Somme Vol II preface is deconstructed point by point in the 1966 Williams RUSI article, to which reference has been made several times. George has hinted more than once that there are problems with at least some aspects of Williams' work - but I am afraid I do not know what they are. I believe that I am accurately summarising Williams when I say that his complaint against Edmonds is that he was economical with the truth, he misrepresented, or overlooked, some of the German published material and his maths did not stand up to scrutiny. In my last series of posts, I picked up on an additional assertion of his concerning casualties during the bombardment, which Williams did not deal with in any detail and showed that this was an additional clear example of Edmonds being mischievous. I could add in, perhaps, his acceptance and use of an entirely speculative assertion by Oman which appears on p xiii of the preface: 'In the first days of December 1916, the Berlin office suddenly 'shut down' and published no more regimental lists. The reason was obvious - the total was getting too ghastly and the information afforded to Paris or London calculators was too valuable'. I refer you to Ralph's work in refutation of this point.

Of course Williams was not first in the field. Some earlier commentators had been utterly scathing, without providing the detailed analysis applied by Williams. AJP Taylor in the ever popular rant - dedicated to Joan Littlewood of OWALW, let it be noted - The First World War: An Illustrated History, London, 1963, wrote of his treatment of Somme casualties (p 140), 'Many years later, the editor of the British official history performed a conjuring trick on the German figures and blew them up to 650,000, thus making out against all experience that the attackers suffered less than the defence. There is no need to take these figures seriously'. Of Passchendaele, he added, 'The British casualties were something over 300,000; the Germans under 200,000 [not quite correct, in my view] - a proportion slightly better than on the Somme. Thirty years later, the British official history turned these figures round: British losses, 250,000: German 400,000. No one believes these farcical calculations'. En passant, I wonder what the old rogue would have made of the fact that there are those present here on the Forum who evidently do believe them?.

The thrust of Taylor's criticism and that of others of the same view was that Edmonds had set out to deflect criticism of the British chain of command, the work of the senior staff and the reliance on attrition to win the war by making out that, yes, the cost had been high, but look how many Germans numerically we killed along the way. Now of course the irony of this is that attrition worked. The Allies inflicted unsustainable damage on the German army during these long drawn out battles, so there should have been no need to go in for this exaggeration but, just as a generation later, everybody wanted to wash their hands of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany as the Second World War drew to a close, I suspect that the merits of attrition were a hard sell in the villages, towns and cities of the British Isles. At that level, leaving aside equally exaggerated assertions of the 'loss of a generation', society was having to deal with huge numbers of casualties for the first time in their history, not to mention a massive dislocation of expectations, which began in earnest on the Somme. Harry, Bert and Sid had joined up from their homes in Gasworks Street expecting and being encouraged in their belief that all they and their Pals' Battalions had to do was turn up, advance and it was Berlin next stop. Their disabuse and that of their communites must have been a very rude shock. Let us face it, the echoes have still not died away nearly one hundred years on.

Personally I still find myself torn on this issue. As an historian I can accept that, at the time, there was no alternative to a long hard slog to victory. As a human being and a professional soldier all my working life, my soul revolts at the thought of fighting on the basis that it did not matter how the lives of Harry, Bert and Sid were thrown away, just as long as they took Heinrich and Gustav with them. The Somme casts a long shadow over the British army. It demonstrably affected how the British leaders of the Second World War planned their campaigns and fought their battles. Long after that, the very first day of my staff training as a junior officer began with the commandant quoting Sassoon's The General at us and telling us that never again would it be professionally acceptable for 'staff' and 'incompetent swine' to be uttered in the same breath and it was our constant duty to make sure that it never was.

This has been a long ramble around the issue, but I think that it is at least as likely that Edmonds cooked the books to ease the pain of the bereaved as to defend the reputation of the officers of the BEF, who filled all the key appointments for the next four years. You can almost detect the narrative, 'Sorry, families and friends of Harry, Bert and Sid. Yes your boys had to join the 'Glorious Dead', but they fought like lions, the opposition was in constant fear of them and each of them took two of the enemy with them. Yes it was a terrible sacrifice, but look at what they achieved man against man'.

Jack

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Ralph J. Whitehead

For a change of pace I thought the forum members would like to see a complete Verlustlisten covering a single day of printing. If this link works (fingers crossed) then you will have access to an album containing every page of 1 August 1916 from the Verlustlisten. The photo numbers are the page numbers. I hope they are large enough to read, I do not know of any other method for files this large.

Ralph

http://s211.photobucket.com/albums/bb270/Xadow_3/

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salesie

This has been a long ramble around the issue, but I think that it is at least as likely that Edmonds cooked the books to ease the pain of the bereaved as to defend the reputation of the officers of the BEF, who filled all the key appointments for the next four years. You can almost detect the narrative, 'Sorry, families and friends of Harry, Bert and Sid. Yes your boys had to join the 'Glorious Dead', but they fought like lions, the opposition was in constant fear of them and each of them took two of the enemy with them. Yes it was a terrible sacrifice, but look at what they achieved man against man'.

Jack

A ramble well-worth waiting for, Jack, a quite superb narrative; as good as any I've read.

If I'm correct, you see Edmonds as a "benign dictator" in the way he wrote about the casualty issue; a man without malicious intent, but having dictatorial control over the content of the BOH? Whether or not that's the way you see him, I find your post plausible and persuasive, and am impressed with your use of language; it touches the British psyche on many levels, many of those levels lying below the surface. That said, I see a "benign dictator" being just as bad as an out-and-out "con-man", and either would, in my opinion, deserve severe censure.

However, your narrative is, of course, pure speculation (as my earlier opinion was) and until someone, anyone, gives a rational explanation as to why several German casualty lists don't tally (lists that purport to count the same casualties, in the same categories, in the same war) along with the other anomalies contained in said lists (highlighted mostly in other threads), I'm not anywhere near ready to censure Edmonds (or anyone else for that matter, apart from those who keep trying to tell us that glaring gross imbalances, and anomalies, don't matter). After all, with all the masses of research we constantly hear goes on into this subject, you'd think that someone, anyone, would at least have a go at assembling all this modern research into a rational argument, instead of relying on the now trite, historical, efforts of others?

Cheers-salesie.

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salesie

Yes, it makes you cringe, doesn't it ?

I hope Ralph will not be driven away from us by such a staggering display of ignorance and arrogance.

The emptier the vessel, the louder the noise.

Phil (PJA)

Quite the orator (on occasion), Phil. You cheeky-boy you. :lol:

Cheers-salesie.

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ph0ebus

Salesie,

I am still waiting for you to back up your assertions with FACTS. I know facts are harder to produce than ad hominem attacks, but let's give it a try, shall we? All you are succeeding in doing is sullying your own reputation on the GWF which, given that some of your previous and well-written contributions in other threads I found interesting and well thought-out, is truly a shame.

In the meantime, to the other thoughtful contributors to this thread, a hearty thank you for initiating this discussion. I am learning quite a bit. Please keep it going.

-Daniel

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phil andrade

Here are some figures which I've taken from the Sanitatsbericht and set alongside those from the Reichsarchiv.

these are for the western front only, and are confined to the period of February 1915 to June 1918, inclusive. The period between August 1914 and January 1915 did not allow for properly compiled records from the RA, and, of course, the figures are very incomplete for the final months of the war, so here are the totals which throw some light on the way the different categories of casualty are apportioned :

Killed; RA; 539,629. SB 476,093

Missing; RA; 501,590. SB; 450,955

Wounded: RA; 2,171,923. SB; 2,979,719

Total : RA; 3,213,142. SB; 3,906,767

In every period of the survey the killed in the RA sample exceeded the number in the SB; in the case of the missing, with one or two exceptions, this was also the case. In terms of wounded, however, the SB figure was always the higher.

Phil (PJA)

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George Armstrong Custer

George, I agree with your latest points. This whole area is definitely worthy of a separate discussion at some point.

Thank you, Robert. I think, however, that the points I raised are central to this thread in respect of refuting some of the more vitriolic attacks on Edmonds. The analysis and predictions I refer to which gave British Intelligence a grasp of what the scale of German losses had to have been are something Edmonds was intimately familiar with. In other words, Edmonds pretty much knew from British wartime intelligence reports what the scale of German losses must have been in round terms. What he was openly working through in several revisions and reassessments in the British OH, in its various editions and subsequent addenda and corrigenda, was to find a way of reconciling what the Germans had published during and after the war with the scale of damage which it was known their army had suffered 1916 - 18. As he explored various German sources in successive editions of the OH his figures fluctuated, yet because he set out the thought process behind them it is not difficult to pin down where he was more likely to have ended up with perhaps too high, or even too low, a figure in some of his attempts. None of which is the modus operandi of a fraudster.

The rather unworthy and repeated accusations in this thread that Edmonds was some kind of lying fraudster fall immediately anyone opens the OH and reads the openly set out workings of Edmonds' wrestling with the conundrum of German casualty stats, which he revised and corrected whilst clearly setting out his reasoning for doing so. As Andrew Green sets out in his respected account of Edmonds and the writing of the British OH: “[T]he issue of casualty figures was one which genuinely troubled Edmonds and, as has been shown with his compilation of other evidence, the diligence with which he investigated the matter belies the suggestion that he manipulated them for ulterior reasons. In his official volume Edmonds detailed the problems he encountered in trying to reconcile the various methods of calculating casualties employed by the British and German armies in order to produce a meaningful comparison.”

Did Edmonds convincingly succeed in cutting the Gordian knot of German casualty totals in so far as reconciling what was produced in Germany during and after the war with what British Intelligence knew to be the state of the German army by 1918? I don't think so. No more than has anyone on this thread. But the assessments of historians like Richard Holmes for German casualties on the Somme (after citing the vaunted SanB vol 3 in his bibliography) is still that "it cannot have been much less than 600,000." Whilst William Philpott concludes that "by inference, the heaviest casualties suffered by the German Army in 1916 were on the Somme, probably more than 500,000 irreplaceable losses." Neither is far from the OH corrected figure of 582,919. We have yet to see an evidentially based argument to sustain the accusations put forward that Edmonds was a liar and a fraudster.

Evidence that Edmonds was not a fraudster is to be found in the corollary to the concessions made by those levelling them that such criticisms apply only to his treatment of German casualty totals. In other words, although not perfect, the British OH is largely accepted as a work of integrity apart from this single issue, upon which, we are asked to believe, Edmonds becomes almost criminally culpable. But no-one putting this accusation forward sustains it with a convincing argument as to why Edmonds would have felt the need to undermine the integrity of the whole OH project over this single issue. The British had won the war, and the German army in the field had been comprehensively defeated. So why would he need to lie about how many of them were killed? I can see an argument for the reverse - ie why the defeated Germans might like to pretend that they weren't actually whipped - but why the British OH would need to do so remains unexplained.

So, the internal evidence of the British OH argues that it was, on the whole, put together with integrity. I prefer that evidence to Jack’s speculation that in the specific case of German casualties Edmonds resorted to fraud and lies in order to sell the merits of attrition to the bereaved “in the villages, towns and cities of the British Isles.” Those who suggest that Edmonds ‘cooked the books’ in order to prove that attrition had been successful because the British army killed more of the enemy in specific actions fail to understand what attrition aimed at achieving. The strategic objective of attritional warfare was to diminish the pool of reserves available to the enemy. In this the Allies unquestionably succeeded. Both British Intelligence during the war and Edmonds overseeing the OH knew this. There was no need to lie about numbers of killed in individual engagements during the achieving of that purpose – the end result demonstrated the scale of what German losses had been in total. Reconciling this with any degree of accuracy to totals culled from German sources for individual campaigns such as the Somme is an impossibility. Edmonds never definitively cracked it, and neither did the Germans writing before the records of 90% of their Great War army were destroyed in WWII. One really does have to question, then, the idea that anyone on this thread has been mining any archives with sufficient relevance to sustain a reassessment of German casualty totals which was not possible before 90% of the Great War German Army archives were destroyed in 1945. William Philpott is surely in the right of it in his Bloody Victory when he sums up that “The complex, often incomplete and contradictory nature of German statistical returns is not in dispute. An accurate figure for German casualties on the Somme will never be established, but undoubtedly it lies somewhere between the lower and higher estimates given. From the available evidence, however, it can be inferred that they were heavy, and difficult to bear in an army that was increasingly stretched by intensifying campaigns on two fronts. Whatever the precise number, there is much evidence to suggest that German units fighting on the Somme were decimated." As an example, Philpott cites Ernst Junger (Storm of Steel, p 106), who after being wounded and passed through a casualty clearing station at Fins, wrote that a nurse there had told him that over 30,000 wounded had passed through that clearing station alone over the previous few days.

Take it from a dyed in the wool wobbler, salesie, if the British Official Historian, in his attempts to estimate German casualties in the Battle of the Somme, takes an official German statistic for the entire Western Front, and states that this alludes to the Battle of the Somme only, he is either terribly mistaken or pulling a fast one. I prefer to think the latter : it wouldn't do to have an official historian who was thick....

Only if you accept what Liddell Hart's puppet, M J Williams, says on p 73 of his 1966 Treatment of the German Losses on the Somme in the British Official History, where he claims that about 537,919 of Edmonds' Somme figure of 582,919 is taken from Winston Churchill's figure from the Reichsarchive for German losses on the whole of the Western Front July - Oct 1916. But Williams himself goes on to note in the very next paragraph that the German Official total for the Somme alone is 500,000.

Further, Williams also concedes that Edmonds may indeed have been correct in claiming that some proportion of the additional losses reported to the Nachweisamt after 1918 should be assigned to the Somme. Williams underlines the Gordian knot nature of the various German figures by also admitting that "it is clearly very difficult to determine what proportion" of these can be attributed to the Somme. Leading on from this last point, I'd note that Williams concedes that "many German works, including Der Weltkrieg, have admitted that in the early months the [casualty] returns were incomplete. But with the onset of trench warfare, the returns appear to have become much better. [...] Therefore the position in 1914 was not necessarily relevant to that in 1916."

Finally, Williams also has to concede that there are again "important gaps" in German casualty returns from July 1918. What we're being asked to believe by some on this thread, then, is that the plethora of competing German figures for the middle years of the war can be reconciled into sustainable totals for campaigns such as the Somme which completely undermine British Intelligence analyses of what these totals must have been, and which prove that the British OH was a fraudulent liar.

Jack has said that he buys completely into Williams' argument, which he says is a devastating critique of the OH. I'm afraid that on this one, given my own reading of their content and my archival investigations into how and why Williams came to write his two pieces on the treatment of German casualties in the British OH, I beg to differ – though I believe that there is no other single Great War issue upon which Jack and my own opinions are so disparate. As Jack is aware, my research on this is for initial publication elsewhere, but I will in due course set out my findings in full on this forum. What was left out and what put in and why is quite an eye opener. Suffice to say at this point that although Williams’ papers appeared in the 1960’s, the sequence of events which led directly to their creation and purpose began in 1938.

George

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Jack Sheldon

Sorry Phil

Despite having the San B in front of me, I am struggling to find where these figures appear in that format. Can you assist with page and chart numbers please?

Jack

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Jack Sheldon

Thank you for your post George. I suppose where we differ is that I do think and continue to think that Edmonds, for some reason, manipulated the German casualty figures and I agree with you, he should not have felt the need to do so. Attrition worked, as I pointed out earlier. You are right, of course that I was speculating in my last post - I said as much. In fact, in introducing the thought I did, I was trying to move away from the usual criticism of Edmonds that the BOH, as a whole, was a thinly veiled defence of the command and staff structure which achieved victory, but at too high a price. I am not going to rehearse the other criticisms of a series of books which I find immensely useful. In fact, barely a day goes by without me using them. By the way, I rather thought that Andrew Green in his very interesting book skirted round the German casualty question - but that is an aside. Thank you, too for raising some of the issues connected with Williams, though I am sure you will not mind me pointing out that he makes some solid points, not mentioned by you, which do beg an answer.

Let me add that an important reason I am troubled by the figures asserted by Edmonds is that they fly in the face of reason and all accumulated military wisdom concerning the balance of advantage between attack and defence. In crude terms. If there was a choice between manning a machine gun from a trench or shell hole at 300 metres or attacking it in the open, I know where I should prefer to have been and this was a scenario repeated times without number for four months on the Somme. During the period in question, not only was Germany on the strategic defensive in the west, locally they were often grossly outnumbered. Even assuming that at certain times on the battlefield, formations were decimated or even, ludicrously, that every man was killed, the numbers involved could not have totted up to the sort of figures asserted by Edmonds. Consider, for example, the 26th Res Div, which smashed two British corps on 1 July, was still there beating off the attacks on 3 September and was not relieved until much later.

Let us take a couple of other examples. On the Somme the battle for Guillemont raged for weeks. British divisions throughout August were thrown repeatedly against the defences and, eventually, there had to be a relief of the defenders. But when that came, on 25 August, one division: the 27th from Wuerttemberg, had been beating off these incessant attacks single handed - for twenty five days and there were still men left to march away. At Passchendaele the further the British pushed into the narrow salient there, the more they were exposed to German artillery fire from three sides and, although the village was lost of course, who caused the Canadians 12,000 casualties? One man and a dog and as often as not the dog had the day off.

I could go on, but dinner calls! I shall try to return and say something more about the San B later.

Jack

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salesie

Salesie,

I am still waiting for you to back up your assertions with FACTS. I know facts are harder to produce than ad hominem attacks, but let's give it a try, shall we? All you are succeeding in doing is sullying your own reputation on the GWF which, given that some of your previous and well-written contributions in other threads I found interesting and well thought-out, is truly a shame.

In the meantime, to the other thoughtful contributors to this thread, a hearty thank you for initiating this discussion. I am learning quite a bit. Please keep it going.

-Daniel

You want a few "facts" from me, Daniel? Here goes:

My post #44

"Come off it, Ralph, you're well aware that there are more than two German lists that do not tally, there are several in fact. And every single one of them has been put forward at some time on this forum as "proof" for some point or other. The most recent "Holy Grail" put forward being the Sanitats, which clearly is no such thing.

After reading everyone of your posts in this and other threads I've noticed a remarkable consistency; in that 90% of the content of your posts is invariably a repetitive list of caveats as to why German casualty lists cannot be totally accurate and/or in balance. You tell us over and over again that the lists were extremely complex to compile so errors, sometimes gross errors, are inevitable, (but also tell us how super efficient Germans were at such things), that some count "apples" whilst others count "oranges" so, of course, they don't balance (but fail to tell us that all these lists purport to measure/count the same thing), that until someone sits down for fifty years and cross-references everything then no one truly knows if the lists are accurate or not, so criticism is unwarranted and unhelpful (but fail to mention that fifty years is an underestimate because 90% of German archives were destroyed in the firestorms of WW2 so a time span of infinity should be given to the impossible task of applying due-diligence to the German lists), that at the beginning and end of the war there were many incomplete records (yet you criticise Edmonds' for not having all the facts) etc. etc. - the number of caveats you put on these lists is actually far in excess of those of any critic of German casualty lists."

I count 9 "facts" there. Now if you want more, I can only say that you need to understand that this is not a stand-alone-thread, understand that there are several more threads on this topic, and that this thread's content is as much about the previous threads as it is about this one. Then you need to read a lot more of those other threads, but you will be disappointed because this whole debate is about disputed "facts".

But this thread is a little different in one way. Ralph started it in order to contest the rationale of certain arguments with the use of the now trite, historical, efforts of others as his main tool. The only "facts" he’s actually presented are a few German casualty figures from a few German regiments in a few engagements. In other words, Ralph set out to challenge the logic of certain arguments, and censure the reputation of Edmonds in particular, with very few facts but plenty of rhetoric from others (as well as his own, almost all of which he's said many times in the past). If Ralph wishes to challenge the logic of the words of others then it seems only fair that the logic of his own words should be equally open to challenge (see opening paragraph).

Basically, what Ralph is actually saying is that my research contains all the answers, but, like all researchers, I provide the raw data for others to draw conclusions from. And I will use the historical words of others to help you to see for certain that the criticism of German casualty lists is seriously misguided, that all those lists are in fact valid (because of "apples and oranges" and dates and things), and that Edmonds fellow is nothing but a ne’er-do-well. In this way you will soon come to see that all those who "attack" the veracity of German lists are rank amateurs compared to me (as well as those whose words I choose to represent my case, of course). I mean, how can they accept the work of others and not mine?

The only "facts" I want is a rational explanation for the serious anomalies that appear in the German lists that others claim to be valid, a request that is either ignored or fobbed-off as irrelevant by those who claim to have found the latest "proving" list or to have masses of modern research into the subject at their disposal.

If you want "facts", Daniel, then it seems to me that you first need to understand what they actually are - but I'll ask you anyway, what facts did you have in mind?

Cheers-salesie.

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phil andrade

Neither is far from the OH corrected figure of 582,919.

That's the smoking gun in the BOH's treatment of the casualty figures.

Plain as a pikestaff : the Reichsarchiv give that figure (537,919) for the entire Western Front July to October, Wendt gave a monthly analysis of German Somme casualties, and attributed 45,000 to November, and BOH provides us with the combination of the two, and we have a corrected figure of 582,919 for the Battle of the Somme.

I find it hard to understand how Edmonds could have made such a big mistake : perhaps he was sick and tired of dealing with an unpalatable array of dismal and controversial statistics, and wanted to take a stab at the numbers and have done with it.

To a degree, I find the same reaction in Oman's work. He was a brilliant military commentator, and his history of the Peninsular War is a gem : he does make some significant comments about casualties in battles such as Albuera and Salamanca. He tells us that he was immersed in German casualty statistics for months, and then he appears to have made a huge error in his argument about applying ratios of wounded to killed. You will find an allusion to this in Ralph's second post at the beginning of the thread.

Phil (PJA)

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phil andrade

Sorry Phil

Despite having the San B in front of me, I am struggling to find where these figures appear in that format. Can you assist with page and chart numbers please?

Jack

Forgive me, Jack, my computer crashes every time I try to download my San B, and all I can see is that wretched egg timer.... should be repaired in a day or two.

Phil (PJA)

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phil andrade

Middlebrook makes interesting conjectures about the ratio of German to Allied losses on the Somme, in terms of burials and missing bodies.

CWGC registers show that, from the Great War, 153,040 British Empire dead are buried in cemeteries on the Somme battlefields - both identified and unknown - and that a further 53,564 were "lost" i.e. never recovered for burial. There are 66,828 French dead interred, and, by the same proportional criterion as the British, another 23,480 might be assumed to be "lost". The German cemeteries in those battlefields contain 88,705 dead from 1914-1918, and Middlebrook extrapolates an estimated 31,166 "lost "bodies. This aggregates nearly 300,000 Allied dead, and just under 120,000 German, a ratio that would look very bad for Edmonds's case.

Now I'm sure that Middlebrook understates the German number...probably a significantly greater proportion of their dead were never recovered than was the case with the British. But even if we increase the German total to 200,000, the ratio looks absolutely irreconcilable with the contentions of the BOH, especially when we remember that that figure includes the huge German losses of March 1918, when, by their own account, their loss in killed was enormous. The implication for the mortality exchange rate for the 1916 fighting is grim for those who endorse the figures suggested by Edmonds.

The prospect that Churchill's statistical guesswork proved valid when he presented his August 1916 Memorandum must have been anathema to the "Westerners" : it clearly is still resented by commentators today. It does seem plausible that, in order to present a case that refuted the Churchillian argument, it was deemed necessary to inflate German casualty figures, in this case by a factor of fifty percent if we take the RA 437,000 and set it against the BOH 650,000.

Phil (PJA)

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George Armstrong Custer

Thank you for your post George.

And thanks for yours, Jack. Your mention of 27 Wuerttemberg "still having men to march away" and still being capable of inflicting severe damage on the Canadians ought not, of course, be taken to imply that they got off lightly. It might be useful to set them in context with the experience of the 26 Württembergische Reserve-Division. I have a letter from Oberst Freiherr von Bechtolsheim, the military attache at the Third Reich's London embassy, written to Liddell Hart on 1 February 1939:

It is, for example, extraordinary that the losses of the 26th Württembergische Reserve-Division showed a total amount of more than 13,000. Here one has to consider that this division, in contrast to nearly all the other divisions, had been continuously in action from July 4th to October 10th. During this time the division was completed several times.

I have, too, a letter to M J Williams from Dr Zoske of the Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt at Freiburg. Williams was preparing his first paper on German casualties, Thirty Per Cent: A Study in Casualty Statistics, which was published in the RUSI Journal of February 1964, and had written to Zoske looking for an opinion on the veracity of the German casualty figures referenced by Edmonds in the British OH. I will quote Dr Zoske's reply to Williams, dated 7 May 1963. I will quote it in full, and it ought to be immediately apparent why Williams didn't quote it at all in his article of the following February:*

Dear Dr Williams,

To your main questions on the more or less probable accuracy of the German statements on the loss-figures of World War 1914/18. I can only say that beyond the information provided by your authorities, fresh knowledge is scarcely expected. The situation of the old documentary materials is hopeless, a completely irreplacable gap exists through the loss of the Library of the Military Doctors Academy in Berlin.**

The uncertainty of the statistics was, of course, always known from the beginning in German quarters. The Reichsarchiv emphasises in its work 'Der Weltkrieg' repeatedly that, "the loss accounts...generally require reservations." and "whether reliable certainties [feststellungen] are still possible appears questionable." (1925)

Your similar questions to Dr Jacobsen were forwarded to the Militärgeschichtliches-Forschungsamt as having competence.

I regret not being able to give you more information.

With Regards,

Zoske (Dr)

* The English translation of the Militärgeschichtliches-Forschungsamt's letter is by Williams. Having copied the original German to his mentor Liddell Hart, the latter wrote on 15 May 1963 asking Williams to render it in English as "my German is very poor." Extraordinarily, then, Liddell Hart, who for over thirty years orchestrated the undermining of the British OH in person and by proxy on the basis of its treatment of German casualty statistics undermining his own writings on the futile waste of British attrition on the Western Front, did not have German. Edmonds, of course, was a giften liguist, with German, Italian, French and Russian. He read all of the German material which he referenced in the OH in the original language.

** The "Military Doctors Academy" was the former Kaiser Wilhelms Akademie für das Militärarzliche Bildungsgewesen.

Neither is far from the OH corrected figure of 582,919.

That's the smoking gun in the BOH's treatment of the casualty figures.

Plain as a pikestaff : the Reichsarchiv give that figure (537,919) for the entire Western Front July to October,

Perhaps you will explain to us how you reconcile your pikestaff of 537,919 German casualties for the entire Western Front during July to October 1916 with Williams' reference that "the German Official total for the Somme is 500,000." If the latter were true, then the total German casualties on the Western Front between July - October 1916, exclusive of the Somme, were under 38,000.

With due respect to all contributors, I see nothing on this thread remotely in the nature of a definitive resolution of the question of German casualty statistics - and certainly no research or evidence to demonstrate that the British OH attempted to perpetrate a fraud or to 'cook the books' in regard to the issue.

George

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truthergw

.............................

The prospect that Churchill's statistical guesswork proved valid when he presented his August 1916 Memorandum must have been anathema to the "Westerners" : it clearly is still resented by commentators today. It does seem plausible that, in order to present a case that refuted the Churchillian argument, it was deemed necessary to inflate German casualty figures, in this case by a factor of fifty percent if we take the RA 437,000 and set it against the BOH 650,000.

Phil (PJA)

You may be in awe of Churchill Phil but at the time and for more than a decade after, very few of his contemporaries were. He had been sacked from his post as First Lord for incompetence, spent a few months on the Western Front then returned to the House of Commons where he was a back bencher at the time of the Somme. For most of the war he was treated with mild derision by some, regarded as a loose cannon by others and detested as an unreliable turncoat by the rest. He was a journalist and politician. He had a great gift with the spoken and the written word but the fact that he ended his military career as a Lieutenant before the Boer War gives us a fair measure of his ability as a strategist and tactician. His book is simply an ' apologia pro vita sua ' in six well crafted volumes. He never grasped the idea of attrition nor the fact that the Great War was a war of material. It was no longer sufficient to capture a knoll or lay siege to a fort. To win a war in the 20th Century, it was necessary to destroy the enemy army. Edmonds would not have thought for a moment that anything Churchill said would require refutation.

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Jack Sheldon

Thanks again George. I will get back to you on this, because I have bucketloads of information on it, but need to check my stuff from Stuttgart. I think that the 26th Res Div figures are a bit high, but then some of its regiments were still in the line during the Battle of the Ancre in mid November so, after three and a half months solidly in action, high losses would be expected. The 27th Inf Div casualties at Guillemont(Deutelmoser Die 27.Infanterie-Division im Weltkrieg 1914 - 18, Stuttgart 1925 p 47) were of course regarded as high. In 25 days they amounted to no fewer than 27 Offr and 924 OR KIA; 73 offr & 3471 OR wounded. I am afraid I do not have easy access to the losses suffered by all the various fresh British divs storming repeatedly at them from the direction of of Trones Wood. If you were able to put your hands on them by any chance, that would be an interesting comparison, because it would be one not distorted by a major day of battle - 1 July, 15 Sep etc. Do you, by any chance, have the loss figures for 51st (Highland) Division for the day they stormed Beaumont Hamel and took it in the November? I can work out the number of defenders fairly accurately and may also be able to say something about losses which would again be an interesting exercise.

Jack

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