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: