WW1 Monthly Casualties by Fronts and Belligerents

April 2, 2015

(This article was first published on sweissblaug, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

I’ve been reading a few books on WW1 and wanted to see a time series plot of battle casualty/pow by country to get a better understanding of how the conflict fits together. I couldn’t find any database for military casualties in WW1 but Wikipedia does include casualty statistics for each battle. I wrote some code to scrape / parse it but the data was extremely messy and I had to go through each battle to obtain proper statistics. The dataset I’ve complied is incomplete, as it only includes major battles. 
Below is a time series plot of casualties for each front colored by country. Left side of each Front are Central Powers and right side are Allied Powers.

Without going through the entire war, I’ll just observe a few points:

  • Offensives were seasonal (no major offensives during winter). 
  • The Western Front in WW1 in 1915 wasn’t the main focus. During this time allies launched the Gallipoli Campaign, the beginning of Italian Front, and the Great Retreat in Russia. 
  • Russia experienced lower battle exchange rate compared with England/ France. 
  • There were 2 dramatically lopsided battles
  • No major battles at Eastern Front after mid 1917 (Russian Revolution made peace with Germany)
  • France had no major battles in 1917 (French Mutiny)
  • Large numbers of casualties were experienced up to the end of the conflict.
  • American casualties were very light compared with other countries but its impact was far greater than numbers suggest. It was the inevitability of defeat due to America’s introduction into the conflict that caused Germany to sue for peace, not defeat in the field itself.

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