The map above reveals a rather shocking aspect of the First World War. While most people in Western Europe and North America focus on the trench warfare in Northern France and Belgium, it shows that Western European countries were nowhere close to suffering the worst casualty rates in the war.
Instead, you have to look south to the country where the fighting began, Serbia. Depending on sources, Serbia’s death rate during the war could have been as high as 27.78% or up to 1.25 million people.
To put that into comparison here some World War I casualty figures as a percentage of prewar population from other countries (source: Wikipedia – note ranges given when sources do not agree):
- Serbia: 16.67%-27.78% (750,000-1,250,000 people)
- Ottoman Empire: 13.26%-15.36% (2,825,000-3,271,844 people)
- Romania: 7.73%-8.88% (580,000-665,706 people)
- France: 4.29%-4.39% (1,697,000-1,737,800 people)
- German Empire: 3.39%-4.32% (2,198,420-2,800,720 people)
- Austro-Hungarian Empire : 3.48%-4.05% (1,787,000-2,081,200 people)
- Greece: 3.23%-3.67% (155,000-176,000 people)
- Bulgaria: 3.41% (187,500 people)
- Italy: 2.96%-3.49% (1,052,400-1,243,400 people)
- UK: 1.79%-2.2% (826,746-1,012,075 people)
- Belgium: 1.34%-1.95% (99,416-144,337 people)
- Russian Empire: 1.62%-1.94% (2,840,000-3,394,369 people)
- New Zealand: 1.52%-1.64% (16,711-18,053 people)
- Montenegro: 0.6%-2.67% (3,000-13,325 people)
- Portugal: 1.49% (89,222 people)
- Australia: 1.24%-1.32% (59,330-62,081 people)
- Canada: 0.81%-0.9% (58,639-64,997 people)
- Newfoundland: 0.6%-0.79% (1,204-1,570 people)
- South Africa: 0.12%-0.16% (7,121-9,592 people)
- USA: 0.13% (117,465 people)
- India: 0.02% (64,449-73,895 people)
- Japan: 0.01% (300-4,661 people)
In terms of absolute numbers, both the Russia and the Ottoman Empires fared the worst, with potential deaths of over 3 million apiece and the end of both Empires. The German and Austro-Hungarian Empires would also cease to exist at the end of the conflict.
Overall, the war resulted in a combined 37 million military and civilian casualties of which 17 million were killed and a further 20 million wounded. A pointless conflict that need not have happened, yet had been predicted 36 years earlier by German’s then Chancellor Otto Von Bismark (1878):
Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal … A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all … I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where … Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.
You can learn more about the First World War from the following books:
- The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic About the Outbreak of World War I
- The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
- Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
Are you surprised by the map? Leave your comments below:
Andre Engels says
Looking at the map I get the impression that withe the exception of Newfoundland and British India, colonies have been counted with their motherland. This will probably have the effect of lowering the percentages for UK, France, Belgium, Germany and Italy compared to what it would have been if only the European population were counted.
India is included in the casualties for the UK, I assume, since they’ve always been included in the official casualties list of the British Empire (and these numbers correspond to those). Newfoundland, on the other hand, had been self-governing since 1855 (India’s parliament met for the first time in 1919), which might explain why it has never been counted among the imperial casualties.
Peter Tygesen says
It would be quite rewarding to have the map makers’ response to Engels’ question. Please?
Peter Tygesen says
Map makers: It would be rewarding if you could answer Engels’ question, please – that “colonies have been counted with their motherland.” This will of course be misleading, but at the same time it would be very interesting to have the real figures for the colonies who actually did loose quite a number of people.
Ian Osmond says
Holy mother of dragons, that’s … I lack words for that.
My glorious Serbian ancestors died for freedom! For King and fatherland; freedom or death!!! ☠️🇷🇸
Michael j varga says
i get irritated by wasp historians who try labelling Princep a terrorist
Peter Hillock says
First, do the enormous losses in the Ottoman Empire include Armenian civilians? That would skew the numbers.
Second, the mentality of educated, civilized men happily feeding themselves and each other into the furnace is best displayed (as far as I’ve found) in the 1920 memoir by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s uncle called “My Mission in Finland and the Baltic” (e-book). A great cure for nostalgia.
Robert Basset says
Who the hell is bragging, you tool.
What? 4% to 10% is one group? Why? This puts Romania with 9% and France with 4% in the same category despite the large disparity, while other categories are more narrowly defined. This makes no sense statistically unless you are trying to create a specific impression. Wouldn’t it make more sense to lump France with Greece and Bulgaria, who are within a percentage point or two? It’s as if someone was deliberately trying to create the impression that France suffered disproportionally compared with most other European nations. It’s arbitrary and misleading.
What? 4% to 10% is one group when all the other divisions are a couple percentage points? Why? This puts Romania with 9% and France with 4% in the same category despite the large disparity. This makes no sense unless you are trying to create a specific impression. Wouldn’t it make more sense to lump France with Greece and Bulgaria, who are within a percentage point or two? It’s as if someone was deliberately trying to create the impression that France suffered disproportionally compared with most other European nations. It’s arbitrary and misleading.
I like seeing how outlying colonies were affected. But again, many are lumped into the ill-defined 4-10% group, and no stats are given for them. I suspect their numbers are at the bottom of that category. This looks like bald attempt to create the impression that they were, in terms of percentage of their population, toward the top of the scale of sufferers rather than the bottom.
This could have been a valuable exercise, instead it’s a demonstration of the power of using charts and statistics to massage data.
xenotypos . says
I love how this article is amazingly misleading and is purposefully showing a map that counts colonies with their motherland. And that’s not all, the Ottoman thing remains unclarified too.
Surprised? (ahahah) Yes I man, because it’s nonsense of course.
Of course most human losses in WW1 were mainly Western European, with even greater losses in some countries of Eastern Europe if you consider the smaller population. Ottoman losses were for a large part due to their own genocides (Armenians, Greeks in Anatolia, christian Assyrians), so permit me not cry about the so horrible losses of the Turks during this war.
People on the internet, stop trying to be fucking original: just tell the mere facts, fairly.
xenotypos . says
Because they are. Yes, it’s a garbage map. Without even counting the joke about the Ottoman losses.
i need the amount of British civilians that died
Not many as there was very limited bombing and navy bombardment
For France, you’re showing the number of deaths, not total casulties (which were about 6 million).
Cora Henderson says
Why wasn’t West Africa- who according to the map had a high casualty rate- mentioned and listed??
Bert Clayton says
It really seems like there’s been an intention to obliterate the people of European decent!
The black plague in the middle ages. The Revolutionary War, where for freedom? Europe has just as many freedoms as the U.S.
Then the Civil War, where hundreds of thousands people of European decent killed each other.
Then this article shows WWI & WWII efforts to reduce the number of European people.
Where all Europeans go back to the same fathers and here brother is killing brother.
Have those of European decent ever looked at this? Not to mention sending others out for their excursions. Getting killed and killing in foreign lands.
Then look at the many who died in the Great Depression.
Many have forgotten the stories of hobos and soup lines.
All so idiots can buy beer, get drunk, but loud radios and disturb others peace even in their home.
Which Russians were severely hurt in Afghanistan, losing significant numbers. But why bother the Afghanis? I don’t know. But all through time at least since the 2nd millenia, it seems efforts have been exerted to keep the European population down. Could be a spiritual thing. People getting evil or Satan simply desiring destruction.
How come Vietnam has a enormous death toll? What did Korea and Malaysia do in the 1st world war? Map is confusing and far from correct.
Ken Burroughs says
Casualties should include not just dead but wounded for example Canada had around 61,000 dead and 170,000 wounded for a total of 231,000 not 58,000. Basically 3% of the population.
Could everyone just take a deep breath and go to the source Wikipedia article as quoted? It contains answers to all of the above questions, accusations etc. Whoever might still be dissatisfied then may enter the discussion forum under the Wikipedia article and exchange opinions about methodologies, historical truths and lies etc.
Kennis Bufflo says
The casualties from the colonies from Britain and France should be included as theirs, if not, it just admitted the fact that people in colonial world are not citizens from their “own” country. The fact that using percentage-wise is just plain wrong, the map clearly showed small country was hurt the most but it’s not true at all, like Serbian losses in ww1 is particularly heavy, but its population is just about 3-4 million, therefore compared to other country especially Russian losses is specifically misleading. Using pure numbers would be so much better for audiences to see.
Get a Life says
Many look back on WWI as a pointless, if tragic, squabble. Could it be that comments on maps about it fall in the same category?