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Remembered Today:

Blood on the Snow

James A Pratt III

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I just got through reading the book "Blood on the Snow" on the Carpathian Winter war of 1915. It deals with the Austro-hungarian attempts to relieve the fortress of Przemysl during january-March 1915. The KUK suffered 800,000+ casualties in 3 major offensives and failed to relieve Przemysl's 120.000 man garrison which surrendered on 22 march when the food ran out. This is not the easist book I have ever red. it really needs some better maps. It also has the Russian army taking 1 million casualties during this same period January-April 1915 Is this about right? It seems somewhat high because the Russians were mostly defending. the german army also had a limited involvement and the author has both sides suffering a totla of 2 million casualties? which sounds somewhat high to me.

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The eight hundred thousand Austro-Hungarian casualties alluded to include a very large number of sick. Actual KUK battle casualties - killed, wounded or missing in action - amounted to just over 1.6 million on the Russian Front for the first twelve months of war - an average of about 135,000 per month. The heaviest rate of loss occurred in the first five months. Half a million battle casualties for the Carpathians...maybe, at a stretch. And that's pretty dreadful.

German casualties on the Russian Front between January and April 1915 were tabulated as 146,638 killed, wounded or missing in action

Russian battle casualties up until the end of 1915 were reported as 3,403,013 : an average 200,000 per month. That suggests a maximum of 800,000 for January to April 1915 : bearing in mind that the preponderance of loss was to be borne in the summer of 1915, I would have thought that six hundred thousand would have been the more likely figure for the first four months of 1915.

Again, the figure of one million alluded to in the opening post might include sick.

So much depends on who and how you count.

For outright battle casualties, I would guess that a figure in the order of between one million and a million and a quarter for all armies on the Russian Front is more plausible for the first four months of 1915. The sick and frostbitten amounted to hundreds of thousands of additional victims.

Edit : An official Russian return of battle casualties for the five months of May to September 1915 gives 1,729,000 killed wounded and missing, reflecting the catastrophic losses sustained during and after the German breakthrough at Gorlice - Tarnow. That would leave a total of fewer than one million for the other seven months of the year, indicating that the period of January to April could hardly have exceeded the six hundred thousand I suggested.

Significantly, the same source for German casualties that I cited above gives 447,739 killed wounded and missing for those same five months, a monthly average two and a half times higher than that of the January to April period. No doubt the Austrians suffered a preponderance of losses in the first four months of the year, so their experience was different : but the message is loud and clear....it was the summer battles of 1915 which caused a peak in the year's casualties on the Russian Front.

Whatever the true total of casualties suffered by all the combattants on the Russian Front in 1915 - and we have to deal with a bewildering array of contradictory estimates here - I would be confident in attributing no more than one quarter of them to the period January to April, and nearly two thirds to the mighty onslaught of May to September. The Russians lost at least three quarters of a million men as PoWs alone in that period - maybe even a million - and the precisely tabulated casualties of the Germans indicate how huge their effort was in the East at that point. This was the only sustained period of the war in which German casualties on the Eastern Front exceeded those they suffered in the West.

Phil (PJA)

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  • 4 years later...

If German k.i.a in WW1 were 1.88 million, I read somewhere that German k.i.a on the Eastern Front were 315,000.

How does that sound? I wonder if that Eastern Front figure includes k.i.a in Romania, Serbia, Greece and Palestine.


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As some of you may know, I review for Stand To! and one or two other publications.

I am always 'going on' about the poor quality of mapping and the importance they have in making sense of the text, particularly in a complex battle narrative.

Publishers are keen to receive copies of reviews, they never take note of what the reviewers says - although some authors react, invariable about negative comments but rarely about the complimentary ones.

I have come to the conclusion that the majority of publishers - and perhaps authors - simply regard maps - and often good illustrations - as an unimportant expense and a damned nuisance. Nevertheless, I will continue to bang on about it crap maps.

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I have come to the conclusion that the majority of publishers - and perhaps authors - simply regard maps - and often good illustrations - as an unimportant expense and a damned nuisance. Nevertheless, I will continue to bang on about it crap maps.

Hi David,

One of the issues is definitely money. It's not cheap to get good maps made. Everybody wants them, but nobody wants to pay for them. Most authors make them themselves or even get a friend or family member to do it.

I'll share an experience I had a few years back. I've made the maps for a few books, and one of the fellows I did them for was very pleased and passed on my name to his publisher.

The publisher (a military history line) contacted me and we had a nice phone interview about me working for the publisher as the map-maker on call when an author needed maps made. That was two years ago, and I've never heard a peep from them since the phone interview. I've taken a look at some of their more recent books, and the vast majority of their maps are still being done by the authors.

The key to making good maps is interaction between the author and the map maker. I've worked with people who know exactly what they want and will provide the names of all the towns they want on each map before we even begin a project so the maps match the places mentioned in a text. These authors are a joy to work with and the results pay off for the reader.


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  • 4 weeks later...

If German k.i.a in WW1 were 1.88 million, I read somewhere that German k.i.a on the Eastern Front were 315,000.How does that sound? I wonder if that Eastern Front figure includes k.i.a in Romania, Serbia, Greece and Palestine.Don

German War Graves data suggest in excess of 400,000 dead in Poland alone, and another 115,000 in the former Soviet Union.

That 315,000 seems well short of the mark.

Perhaps that's just for confirmed deaths, and does not allow for missing.

2,000,000 + German soldiers died on all fronts : about three quarters in France and Belgium.

Phil (PJA )

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Now that memory serves me better, I recognise the provenance of that 315,000 figure : it's from the santitatsbericht, the official German medical history.

It alludes to killed in action and missing. The latter includes POWs.

It does not include died of wounds, nor deaths from disease, accidents and other non battle causes.

The tabulations were kept going until the end of July 1918, so all the losses from then until the end of the war are missing ....not that this would impinge on the Eastern Front, where the war with Russia had long since ceased.

I do not know whether this figure allows for losses in Serbia ; I'm pretty certain it does include deaths on the Romanian sector of the Eastern Front.

I am absolutely sure that the figures for killed and missing are very incomplete : this enormous medical treatise was meticulous when it came to recording wounds and illnesses - that was its function, after all - but it could not be expected to be up to the same standard when it came to the recording of men who were killed in action or went missing. The authors of the study were very open about this, and were keen to endorse the final total of 2,037,000 German military deaths for all fronts : the figure that is widely accepted.

On reflection, it does seem very legitimate to assume that the war on the Western Front accounted for three quarters of those two million deaths.

This is hardly surprisng, given that the fighting in the East died away after the summer of 1917, while the biggest losses of all were yet to come in the West.

Editing here : A week or two ago, I attended an excellent lecture by Professor Keith Jeffrey at Whitehall. He launched his new book: 1916 - A GLOBAL HISTORY.

His mission is to widen the scope of our perception of how the conflict developed in that pivotal year. He mentioned something that astonished me ....the Ottoman Empire lost four hundred thousand soldiers in 1916 in its war against the Russians alone. I have to say, that I felt the need to ask a question about that...it seems an incredibly high figure. Of course, the word " lost " probably alludes to hundreds of thousands of sick and deserters more than it does to outright battle casualties : all the same, it's another example of how little known or acknowledged this theatre of the war is ; and it also testifies to the immensity of the military endeavour of the Tsar's Empire, and the unheralded successes that it achieved.

Phil (PJA )

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