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German casualties on the Somme - 1 July 1916


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#1 Ralph J. Whitehead

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 01:55 AM

Some of you may know that I have been compiling a comprehensive list of all possible German losses for 1 July 1916. Using a variety of sources it is possible to obtain many of their names and details on their fate. These can be obtained from many of the regimental histories published after the war or from many period accounts where specific details were provided on individual men.

Unfortunately many of the regimental accounts did not have any lists of men who were killed or wounded and the date they became a casualty. Some do contain references to the number of men lost on 1 July on the Somme, some have statistical details on an extended period, for example 24 June through 30 July while a few have no reference to losses at all.

The Verlustlisten are very useful in obtaining the names and particulars of the men who most likely became casualties on or very close to 1 July 1916. These names can then be used as reference points when looking through other period accounts to see if a particular name appears and if the details of their injury or casualty date can be located.

At the very least the Verlustlisten does provide a solid framework of the men who fit into the 1 July category. The lists were published for the most part from the end of July well into September 1916. Some of the smaller units involved in the fighting naturally had smaller lists while the losses in many of the regiments appeared in two or three lists as it was not uncommon to list each battalion separately.

In the case of RIR 99 (26th Reserve Division), the list appeared in September and covered some 5 pages of the Verlustlisten. The losses reported not only covered the end of June but well into July and probably August as the regiment continued to serve on the Somme for some time after 1 July and had suffered thousands of casualties in the process.

In the case involving RIR 15 (2nd Guard Reserve Division) only a handful of men became casualties on 1 July and the majority of these were named in the regimental history. This would appear to make it easier to trace the names of the few unknown casualties by looking at the Verlustlisten. The problem arose when this regiment was transferred further south and was involved in heavy fighting later in the month. The initial list printed does contain the names of the men already identified as casualties on 1 July. It also contains the names of hundreds of men who became casualties in the weeks that followed and there is no possibility of determining the names of 2-3 men from 1 July out of such a large list.

If it was still possible a researcher could visit the state archives and look through the regimental records that provided details of service for each soldier. These still exist for the most part in places such as Stuttgart, Münich and Karlsruhe but the bulk of the records, those stored by the Prussian archives were lost in bombing raids in the Second World War. Even if you were able to travel to the archives where records have survived it would take months or years to sift through the records.

I have found the majority of casualty lists that relate to the larger units, infantry regiments, artillery regiments, etc. I am now searching out some of the smaller units that took part in the fighting on 1 July.

One of the units I have completed is Reserve Infantry Regiment 55 (RIR 55) from the 2nd Guard Reserve Division. This regiment occupied the village of Gommécourt on 1 July and suffered a number of losses in the fighting on that day. One company in particular, the 8th Coy, suffered the most of all the companies in the regiment. They faced the 56th Division and occupied the trenches opposite Hébuterne. During the initial attack the sector held by the 8th Coy was partially overrun and was the focus of heavy fighting throughout the rest of the day.

The 8th Coy casualties that covered this date first appeared in print in Verlustlisten No. 594 on 31 July 1916. There were 108 officers and men listed for the company. Three of these casualties can be identified as having occurred in late June. The majority of the remainder probably occurred on 1 July. The date of every casualty cannot be determined with 100% accuracy. However 65% of the casualties can positively be identified as occurring on 1 July. Using a simple ratio of losses known to have occurred on 1 July and those known to have occurred earlier it appears that only 3% of the number of losses where the date is unknown probably occurred in June, the remainder on 1 July.

At present this is about as close as I can come to the actual numbers and for my purposes it is acceptable. I will be providing the reported number of losses for 1 July from every source available and will allow the reader to determine what is reasonable and what is not with the information being presented.

The initial loss report of the 8th Coy, less the 3 known losses from June, lists 105 men.
Killed in action - 43
Missing in action - 20
Severely wounded - 15
Slightly wounded - 27

The category of slightly wounded also includes the men whose injuries allowed them to remain with the regiment and not be evacuated to the rear for medical treatment.

I searched through the subsequent Verlustlisten through the end of 1916 to determine if any corrections or additions were made to the original list. In the case of the 8th Coy there were six subsequent lists that provided new details as they were discovered.

As in any casualty return taken shortly after heavy fighting and amidst the confusion and exhaustion that follows there were errors made. The corrections could be found on list 598, 4 August; 606, 14 August; 611, 19 August; 620, 30 August; 657, 12 October and 665, 21 October.

The result of these corrections resulted in the following loss details:
Killed in action and died from wounds - 43
(2 of these cannot be confirmed as they are not listed in the post-war regimental Ehrentafel. 2 of the men were discovered to be severely wounded and 3 of the men were found to be prisoners of war, their numbers were changed to the appropriate categories below)

Missing in action -1 unconfirmed
(The other 19 found in the initial list all had been changed as their fate became known. Of the 19 three were changed to KIA, sixteen were known to be prisoners of war)

Prisoner of War - 21 of which two were also listed as being wounded.

Severely wounded - 13
(Of the original number of 15 men 2 were changed to wounded and prisoners of war as shown in the previous category, 1 was changed to killed in action and 1 man died from his wounds. The two who had been killed or died were added to the first category of killed in action or died from wounds)

Slightly wounded - 27, no change from the original list.

As the status of each man was changed I rearranged the categories to reflect any additions or subtractions to the original report. The two men still shown as killed in action and the one man listed as missing were probably changed in a later list as if they had been killed their names and particulars would have appeared in the post-war Ehrentafel.

I only reviewed lists through the end of 1916. One reason for this is that on 6 December 1916 the Verlustlisten were modified one last time before the end of the war. Much had changed on the Verlustlisten over time. The earlier versions often provided key details as to the rank of each man; the type of wound or cause of death. The lists were broken down by the different states and by unit in ascending numerical order by category.

Over time much of the information was changed to make the increasingly longer lists easier to produce. These were printed Monday through Saturday with some exceptions on the holidays and in the event of heavy fighting they increased in overall size as needed or had to be broken down into two lists printed on two separate days.

One modification was the omission of rank of all men below Gefreiter. Any reference to the type of wound or cause of death was taken out. The names still appeared on different state lists and by ascending numerical order in each category of service, ie. Active regiments, reserve regiments, cavalry, artillery, etc.

In December 1916 the lists were drastically changed. The men were still listed by the different states (Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg, Saxony) as well as the occasional list from the Marine forces, African units, returned prisoners of war, etc. but they were listed in alphabetical order without identifying the regiment or unit they came from. The only improvement was the addition of their date of birth.

While this last point makes it easier to research a family genealogy it is almost impossible to determine what regiment or unit they came from. If a man was listed as a casualty in earlier lists and his status changed then it would be possible to locate his name and follow his record but this means looking through hundreds of lists and tens of thousands of names.

Even with the lack of specific dates of many of the casualties it is still possible to present a listing of the men who fought and died on 1 July 1916 on the German side. I will eventually be presenting all of the details on how each list was formed, the degree of known accuracy, loss numbers and sources, etc. so that the reader has all of the facts before them. Perhaps someone out there has more details on a particular unit or a particular person. I would be happy to hear from anyone who might have ideas on how this project can be improved. All are welcome in this aspect of the work.

Ralph

#2 PJA

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 10:10 AM

Ralph.
For those who, as I have done over so many years, reflect on the implications of the great casualty controversy, your work is a supreme achievement. And this is especially pertinent to July 1st 1916, the day which more than any other exemplifies the stereotype of British soldiers being massacred by well protected and prudently deployed German defenders. The general impression conveyed by so much of the history we read about the first day on the Somme is that it took the lives of ten British soldiers to kill one German. Your efforts bring ome to us the other side of this : the Germans who confronted that British onslaught did not enjoy a relatively safe and protected defense, but, in many cases, took a terrible beating themselves. At Gommecourt, if I'm not mistaken, they ventured some pretty bold counter attacks, too. One aspect of many of the statistics you've compiled intrigues me , Ralph. The proportion of fatalites is inordinately high. To illustrate this, if we consult the sanitastsbericht, we see that for the Somme fighting the reports aggregate a loss of 58,000 killed, 273,000 wounded and 86,000 missing : even allowing for the fact that many of the missing were dead, the proportion posted as killed seems unusualy low when compared with the meticulous figures compiled by you - indeed, in the example you cite, the killed are in virtual parity with the wounded, whereas in the sanitsbericht they are usually less than one fifth, or even as low as one seventh, of the number counted as wounded. this might reflect the fact that the units you've researched were engaged in extremely fierce close quarters fighting; maybe the killed include died of wounds that are not counted in the SB reports as killed, but left in the wounded. I do find this a striking disparity, and IIRC the same applies to many other examples that you've posted from your reasearch. Why is this ?

An edit here : I suspect that I might have posted this question before....if so, apologies !

Phil

#3 bmac

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 12:07 PM

To put Ralph's fascinating numbers into perspective the 8/55 RIR held the sector attacked by the 5th Londons (LRB). Ralph has identified 105 casualties for the 8th Company, the LRB suffered 588 and the 1/2nd Londons who attempted to reinforce them 253. A total of 841. Of course, other companies of the 55 RIR came into action in this sector (6, 7, 10, 11) and would also have suffered casualtes. Ralph very kindly supplied the details of the casualties as he had then identified them for the second edition of my 56th Division book and their casualties were:

6/55 - 3 killed, 4 severely wounded, 11 slightly wounded. Total 18
7/55 - 14 killed, 13 missing, 5 severely wounded, 3 wounded, 21 slightly woundded. Total 56
10/55 - 5 killed, 1 DoW, 18 severely wounded, 15 slightly wounded. Total 39
11/55 - 9 killed, 1 DoW, 1 missing, 6 severely wounded, 13 slightly wounded. Total 30

Totals:
Killed 31
DoW 2
Missing 14
Severely wounded 33
Wounded 3
Slightly wounded 60
Total 143

So, very roughly, a casualty ratio of 248 German to 841 British in this sector, just over 1:3 (but this excludes some casualties suffered by the 1/3rd Londons in a support role - another 152 but they did not cross over to the German lines. In addition, the vast majority of the 1/2nd Londons failed to enter the German lines. The estimate is that 21 men got there and the rest became casualties in No Man's Land or their own trenches). Overall for the attack on Gommecourt the numbers were: Germans 1241, British, 6769, a ratio closer to 1:5 and this is explained by the fact that some 75% of German casualties on 1st July at Gommecourt occurred on the front attacked by the 56th Division with the relative casualty ratios for the two attacking divisions being: 56th Division 1:4 in favour of the Germans and for the 46th Division 1:7 in favour of the Germans.

It should, however, be noted that the LRB overran the 8/55's trenches and trapped a significant number of men in their dugouts. These men were then either put under guard or were sent back across No Man's Land either to become prisoners or to die in the German barrage by then smothering this area.

On a more general note I look forward to Ralph's work developing other areas of this fascinating subject and that we might sometime soon have proper comparative figures for the 1st July as well as an indicator of the German casualties suffered during the bombardment. Many British officers thought these had to be very high indeed although, of course, they could only get some indication of this from the areas actually taken early in the battle where the cause of the loss of ground was the effectiveness of the bombardment in that particular area (and, almost certainly, issues with the defences and defenders of those sectors).


#4 PJA

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 01:15 PM

Fascinating post, Bill...it makes you wonder how Gommecourt compared in this respect with other secotrs of the front attacked that day : the Schwaben Redoubt, for example, or Carnoy. I note the same feature in the casualties of the other companies of 55RIR that I allude to in my earlier post - a proportion of killed vis-a-vis wounded significantly higher than the ratio posted in the santitatsbericht. To illustrate my point, the SB. for the entire Western Front for the whole month of July 1916, records 23,628 killed and 123,257 wounded. Why is the number posted as killed so small as against the wound cases ? This is strikingly different from the Gommecourt examples you cite, where 31 were killed compared with 98 wounded ( the latter including the died of wounds ).

Another edit : that approximate 5 to 1 ratio of British to German casualties that you cite for Gommecourt is redolent of the disparity at Fromelles, too. It's almost as if there is a rule of thumb for these notorious repulses : it applies to some of the battles of the American Civil War as well, and brings the Stonewall at the foot of Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, and the attack at Cold Harbor, to mind.

Phil

#5 bmac

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 02:31 PM

Phil,

It is interesting to note the differences in the casualty 'profile' from the 55 RIR companies defending the area where the LRB got into and held the German trenches until the early evening of the 1st July and those of the companies defending the sector attacked by the 137th Staffordshire Brigade where hardly any penetration beyond the first line was achieved but was anyway repulsed within the hour. These figures, from the book about the 46th Division and again kindly supplied by Ralph, show:

1st Company - 4 killed, 1 DoW, 19 slightly wounded. Total 24
2nd Company - 2 missing, 4 severely wounded, 13 slightly wounded. Total 19
3rd Company - 3 killed, 10 severely wounded, 14 slightly wounded. Total 27
4th Company - 8 killed, 2 DoW, 10 severely wounded, 38 slightly wounded. Total 58

Totals:
15 killed
3 DoW
2 missing
24 severely wounded
84 slightly wounded
Total 128

Casualties for 137th Brigade were 929, ratio of 1:7 in favour of the Germans. Also the ratio of dead to wounded for the Germans of 20 dead/missing to 108 wounded is not too dissimilar from the SB figures for July, i.e. just above 5 wounded for every 1 killed.

Bill

#6 PJA

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 04:19 PM

QUOTE (bmac @ Feb 18 2010, 02:31 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Casualties for 137th Brigade were 929, ratio of 1:7 in favour of the Germans. Also the ratio of dead to wounded for the Germans of 20 dead/missing to 108 wounded is not too dissimilar from the SB figures for July, i.e. just above 5 wounded for every 1 killed.

Bill


You include the missing with the dead, Bill.

Those SB figures that I cited did not include 35,322 missing : the extent to which these represented dead is uncertain...many were POWs. Any info as to how many German prisoners were captured at Gommecourt ?

Phil

#7 Ralph J. Whitehead

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 05:03 PM

Hello Phil,

I am aware of the unusual proportion of killed to wounded among many of the postings on German losses. There are a few things to look at in order to see why this may be.

In regard to the Sanitätsbericht the figures you were looking at were a compilation of the losses for all units in the period of fighting. In my case I was looking at one company of one regiment. The 8/R55 was mostly overrun on 1 July, two of the three platoons were either trapped in their dugouts, dead, wounded or captured. The third blocked off their section of trench and fought against the British for the remainder of the day.

The 8/R55 had the worst casualties of the regiment as would be expected in such a situation and the loss reports in the Verlustlisten support this point. If I had not found so many losses for this unit then I would suspect something was wrong with the historic accounts. The battle strength of the 8/R55 prior to the attack on 1 July was 170 rifles and 3 machine guns. The losses reported on the Verlustlisten seem to bear out the reports of the heavy fighting and losses in this company.

RIR 55 reported the following casualties for the first day of the battle: Killed: Offizier Stellvertreter Hermann Ridder (shell splinter to head), 115 men (Note: 43 of the men killed belonged to one company, the 8/R55, 37%). Wounded: Leutnant Kaiser (sprain, left ankle), Feldwebel Leutnant Backenecker (bayonet wound, arm), Offizier Stellvertreters Hau (rifle bullet, neck and chest), Besecke (shell splinter, arm), Wortmann (shell splinter, arm) and 296 men. 38 men were reported missing. The total losses for RIR 55 was 490 officers and men.

Verlustlisten No. 594, 31 July 1916 contained 491 names (one man was found on a subsequent list, No. 598, 4 August 1916 , probably as he was not shown on the original list and was a 1 July loss. No others from 1 July were found on any list but the original No. 594). 14 of the names on list No. 598 relate to Machine Gun Marksman Detachment 73, the dead from this unit were also listed in the regimental Ehrentafel. Since there were more names listed than what the regiment reported for losses on 1 July then it is safe to assume that some occurred in the days before and after 1 July.

This assumption is confirmed when looking at the fatal losses where I know the names, company and date of death for the men from other sources. I was able to positively identify 29 of the names as men who were killed between 24 June and 30 June or from 2 July to 7 July 1916 . Based upon reviewing hundreds of similar lists and subsequent reports it is safe to assume that a proportion of the men identified as becoming a casualty C. 1 July 1916 (my designation) actually became casualties in the week before and the week after the fighting but, most likely in the same percentage or less than those killed on 1 July when compared to those killed before or after 1 July. I say less as the level of fighting that produced the high number of wounded was not present at the same level of intensity as that on 1 July.

The following is a review of the statistical details for the men who can be identified to 1 July and those whose date could be related to 1 July. I have removed the names of the men who definitely fall outside of the 1 July date. This leaves us with 464 names.

I have broken the names down even further, from those who became casualties on 1 July compared to those C. 1 July 1916. It is simply part of the process of creating as detailed a list as possible with the resources at hand.

There were 121 men on the list where I can state they were casualties on 1 July 1916 . Of these 90 were reported as KIA, 29 MIA and 2 Severely wounded.

Of the 90 KIA: 2 were changed to POW, 2 were changed to severely wounded, 1 was changed to wounded and POW.

Of the 29 MIA: 6 were changed to KIA, 23 were changed to POW.

Of the 2 severely wounded men: 1 was changed to severely wounded and POW, 1 was changed to MIA and then again to KIA.

By placing the names into the corrected categories it leaves us with 92 KIA and 24 POW’s including one man who was also severely wounded. I am aware that this number does not match the losses reported by the regiment following the fighting. The next section should provide the reader with an explanation of this.

There are 343 names of men where the date they became a casualty is not known exactly, or I should say I do not know as there may be information out in some letter or archives that provide details on these men that I am currently unaware of.

One drawback of the regimental Ehrentafel for RIR 55 is that only date of death is provided for the men. In cases where a man was wounded and subsequently died the date of the wound is not provided. Since I cannot provide any proof these dates fall on 1 July they must be categorized into the C. 1 July 1916 column. Again, my procedure alone.

Of the 343 remaining names:

3 were injured or injured by accident.

2 were slightly injured

12 were KIA (I am still trying to determine the exact date of each)

6 were MIA (I am searching subsequent lists for updated information on their fate)

96 were severely wounded:

13 were changed to died from wounds

1 was changed to not being wounded and with the regiment

1 was changed to severely wounded and MIA, the final status is not known yet

3 were listed as having died from wounds (still verifying dates, etc.)

194 were slightly wounded

2 were changed to having died from wounds, exact dates still not known

2 were changed to not being wounded, they were with the regiment

21 were listed as slightly wounded, remained with the regiment

6 were listed as WIA

Admittedly there is still work to do on this list and with many others. It is simply a matter of the time needed to locate, transcribe and then search out corrections for each unit in order to get the most accurate picture possible under the current circumstances (mine that is). However, when looking at the numbers reported by the regiment after the fighting and the numbers associated with the Verlustlisten accounts they almost match perfectly in this instance. I am sure not all will work out so well but again, my resources and time are restricted so it is not something I can dedicate my entire free time to completing quickly.

The only point I can leave you with at present is that my examples relate to very small portions of regiments or from units fighting on a particular date. Also, the fighting was far heavier than in most instances. I would not try to match these specific figures to the overall results as I would need to identify and review all of the casualties related to the battle in order to confirm or refute the numbers listed in the Sanitätsbericht. All I can say is that the numbers reported in the Sanitätsbericht were taken directly from the 10 day casualty returns supplied by the units of the German army. They would have had access to the corrections as part of the 10 day reporting cycle where the corrections would have been made as the fate of men wounded or missing became known. Also, some reported as KIA or WIA were in fact not dead or wounded but with their regiment. Based on the examples I have seen so far these would have been a very small number on most reports and seem to be associated with periods of heavy fighting and larger than normal losses. During the quieter times the loss reports were probably more accurate as there were far fewer men to account for and there was little or no pressure on the men trying to collect the data required for the report.

Once I have all of the lists I can locate and compare them to the known units fighting on 1 July and then compare all of the data to the accepted numbers and printed data over the last 90+ years we might have a better idea of the numbers of men and their names associated with the fighting on 1 July 1916.

Ralph



P.S. So far I have about 10,000 or so names on the lists completed or near completion. I am also looking at the losses reported during the bombardment period and so far they are much lower than most optimistic reports have stated in the past. The materials mentioned above are the result of recent work on this regiment and others in the 2nd Guard Reserve Division that will be included in my second volume of The Other Side of the Wire.


#8 Jack Sheldon

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 05:23 PM

I look forward to the completion of Ralph's work. A similar exercise for the British took a member of the Official History Staff six months, at which point this type of work was suspended for reasons of economy. Ralph's figures for the Ovillers (IR 180) area should be interesting. My impression is that the exchange ratio down there was nearer to 20:1 in favour of the defence, despite clashes later in the day near Leipzig Redoubt. I also think that many are going to be astonished to see how few men became casualties on the 26th Res Div front during the bombardment. There is every chance that the BOH 'say, 10,000' is out by a factor of 2. 5,000 is probably nearer the mark and most of those came south of the Albert - Bapaume road. No wonder that the Wuerttembergers carved up two corps that day.

Jack

#9 bmac

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 05:49 PM

I made an estimate of the German casualties at Gommecourt during the bombardment based on the 55 RIRs own report and some anecdotal evidence from other units (170 and 15 IR) and it comes to no more than 200. The 56th Division suffered 490 casualties (excluding sick) during the same period. The 46th Division lost 249.

#10 Jack Sheldon

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 09:08 PM

Interesting, Bill. The figures I obtained for 51 Res Bde: Redan Ridge - Beaumont Hamel - Ancre Valley are: RIR 121 - 24 KIA, 122 wounded and 1 missing; RIR 119 20 KIA and 83 wounded. This does not represent much of a return for the many thousands of shells and tons of gas used by the British army in this sector. When 1 Jul 16 dawned, their fighting efficiency was effectively undiminished - less than 300 casualties from a ration strength of about 5,000.

Jack

#11 Ralph J. Whitehead

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 02:54 AM

Jack,

In looking at the loss reports for the 7 day bombardment period there is no way 10,000 men were casualties on the German side. I had not seen this number before and I am surprised it has not been challenged. I hope to have an actual number or one close enough as possible. I would doubt the losses reached 5,000, most likely far less.

I looked at IR 180 losses quickly after seeing your posting. In the 7 day bombardment the regiment lost 1 officer killed, 1 officer died from wounds, 1 officer severely wounded, 1 officer slightly wounded and 58 Other Ranks killed, 83 Other Ranks wounded and 1 Other Rank missing. On 1 July the regiment lost 4 officers killed, 3 officers severely wounded, 79 Other Ranks killed, 181 Other Ranks wounded and 13 Other Ranks missing.

The total for the 7 day period was 146 officers and men. The total for 1 July was 280 officers and men. When combined, 426 officers and men. I will take a look at the comparison losses on the British side to see what kind of ratio exists.

I also looked at the ratio of losses on the 46th Division front. When breaking the losses down by company and location of fighting the 46th Division faced the 4/R55, part of the 2/R55, 12th, 9th, 6th, 8th and 5/R91. The losses suffered by the 46th Division were 2,455 officer and Other Ranks of which 50 officers, 803 Other Ranks were listed as killed. The losses suffered by the seven German companies using the Verlustlisten and regimental records show 2 officers, 73 Other Ranks killed, 2 officers, 152 Other Ranks wounded for a total of 5 officers, 229 Other Ranks. Of this number 2 officers and 73 Other Ranks can positively be identified as being killed on 1 July 1916. Given that the Verlustlisten probably contains men who were wounded in the few days prior to 1 July and possibly the next day or two this rather small number of fatal losses pales in significance to the 853 fatal casualties alone suffered by the 46th Division. The same can be said for the men who were wounded.

There is also a mention of some 300 Germans being sent back to the British lines near Gommecourt with some 80 being killed by German shell fire yet the losses by the regiments fighting there do not even come close to this number of missing men or could account for the 80 men supposedly killed.

Ralph

#12 Jack Sheldon

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 08:31 AM

Ralph.

This figure cropped up last year while I was having a frank exchangeof views about how BOH compiled casualty figures for the German army. It appears as an assertion without evidence on page xv of the Preface to 1916 Vol II (2nd July to the end of the Battles of the Somme). Your work will be an invaluable additional proof that Edmonds' work on German casualties on the Somme was slapdash and biased if you can demonstrate that, 'say 10,000' is a figure plucked out of the sky and a considerable exaggeration.

Jack

#13 bmac

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 08:53 AM

Ralph,

The BOH records 160 as the total of German missing at Gommecourt which includes any PoWs.

Bill

#14 PJA

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 09:40 AM

There has never been such research into the unit by unit casualty statistics of an army engaged in a battle as that carried out by Ralph....at least, if there has, I've never seen it.

Not only are the figures bewildering in their detail, they are also contorted by additions and subtractions as the fate of men became apparent in the days and months ahead.

I only hope that we do justice to Ralph's work. I, for one, am hoping to extrapolate from these "micro" statistics and try and apply the resulting exigencies to a "macro" assessment of the Somme. Hitherto we've only had Middlebrook's book to furnish us with a reasonable guess as to what German casualties were on July 1st 1916, and his stab at a rough total of c.8,000 applied to those against the British alone. A comparison with the German experience against the French would be instructive.

It's quite stark how an overall total of regimental casualties conceals the wide disparity in the experience of the individual companies, particularly in regard to the proportion of fatalities. Two companies might sustain one hundred casualties each, but in the one case eighty or ninety might live to return home, while in the other, trapped in dugouts and fighting an unimaginable battle with bomb, bayonet and entrenching shovel, half will be killed.

You alllude, Ralph, to about 10,000 names on your database : does this imply ten thousand German casualties on July 1st 1916 ? I'm wondering how Middlebrook's estimate will bear up afrer the revelations of your research.

Phil

#15 bmac

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 09:50 AM

The French lost c. 2,500 on 1st July gaining all of their first day objectives (and temporarily occupying two of their second day ones) and the heaviest casualties were around Curlu, Assevillers and Herbecourt. Five and a half divisions attacked on a front of about 8 miles. I have seen no numbers for the German casualties on this front but the damage done to their front line defences was, in many places, so severe that they had abandoned them and retired to the 2nd and 3rd lines of forward trenches (not the 2nd position). With the exception of the area in front of Frise, where the terrain caused some delays, the French swept over the German lines without interference.

#16 Ralph J. Whitehead

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 11:26 AM

QUOTE (PJA @ Feb 19 2010, 04:40 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
You alllude, Ralph, to about 10,000 names on your database : does this imply ten thousand German casualties on July 1st 1916 ? I'm wondering how Middlebrook's estimate will bear up afrer the revelations of your research.

Phil


Phil, That number only telates to the number of men I have transcribed from the loss returns. This would include the period from 24 June to 30 June as well as 1 July. In some cases such as RIR 91 the list is quite long but most of the men were casualties near Bazentin le Petit and Ovillers later in the July fighting while the relatively few men who were casualties on 1 July are mixed in with them. RIR 91 suffered about 21 KIA in the 7 day bombardment, the number of wounded is not known but the available lists covering this period does not indicate it was very high.

I am not indicating this would be the numbers of men lost on 1 July. I have not begun to add the returns from each unit together yet, I am dtill uncovering lists. It is a real annoyance to find two of three battalions easily then hunt for the third or in one case, RIR 121 I believe, all of the losses were concentrated on 1-2 lists but no machine gun company returns. I found the list containing them some weeks or months after the previous ones had been published.

I will try to piece together some of the divisional returns to see if there are any trends that come up and post the results here. More to follow, must get ready for work and shovel the snow off the driveway and sidewalk.

Ralph

#17 Ralph J. Whitehead

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 04:55 PM

I should point out that my figure of 31 KIA or died from wounds in RIR 91 in a previous post was incorrect, it was actually 21 men. I have made changes to the earlier posting to reflect this change.

I was curious to see how the loss reports by the different regiments compares to the historical accounts of the fighting. I found that in all cases the after action reports were mirrored by the casualty returns. This could be seen in examples such as the 8/R55 and the 4/23 that was destroyed in the fighting near Mametz.

By far the heaviest losses are associated with the areas of fighting where it was particularly deadly such as Thiepval and especially further south between Mametz, Montauban and Curlu. Losses in the regiments of the 28th Reserve Division, 12th Division and the 6th Bavarian Reserve Regiment are by far the heaviest and they fought in the sectors where the greatest progress was made by the French and British troops that were attacking.

In an associated matter, I once brought up the disparity of the official loss report used by some regiments and the actual numbers once the details were checked. This is especially important when looking at loss numbers for regiments like RIR 109 (28th Reserve Division, Montauban Sector). The regimental account used the initial loss return to portray the losses suffered by the regiment. The numbers are:

Killed: 14 officers, 94 Other Ranks

Wounded: 6 officers, 261 Other Ranks

Missing: 24 officers, 1,749 Other Ranks

Total 44 officers, 2,104 Other Ranks.

This is a correct assessment of the losses suffered by the regiment and the loss returns taken after a particularly bad day of fighting. It is however the initial loss report and as such did not contain much of the information needed to adequately determine the fate of the numerous missing officers and men.

In my initial review of RIR 109 I was able to track down the fate of many of the missing officers and men and obtain a more accurate portrayal of the actual losses suffered by the regiment. I found that the number of men killed, 108 in all was actually far higher when the first list and subsequent loss lists were reviewed.

17 officers and acting officers were killed plus at least 533 Other Ranks that were killed or died from wounds; including 23 men who died of wounds while a prisoner of war. This means at least 550 officers and men died on 1 July or from wounds received on that date and not the 108 from the original report. Most of the other MIA were prisoners of war as can be seen in the Malins film as they are marched to the rear.

Of course I had the luxury of looking through the lists covering the initial reports and the subsequent corrections that appeared over time. The corrections came from any number of sources, Red Cross reports taken from British lists of the PoW’s, corrections as men either returned to the regiment after becoming detached or as hospital reports arrived listing a man as being treated when he was listed as MIA. In the case of the 6th Bavarian RIR (10th Bavarian Division) many of the missing men turned up as prisoners of war and their names were provided from private letters sent from the PoW camps to family at home. These details were then provided to the Bavarian Government who had them published in subsequent lists.

A unique aspect of the fighting in the southern sector near Curlu was that the regiments holding the front line were replaced at the last minute by units drawn from the 6th Bavarian RIR. This in itself was one reason the losses were so high in this sector on 1 July, more of that at a later time.

I looked at IR 62 and IR 63, both of which reported heavy losses in the bombardment requiring their replacement. IR 62 did suffer heavier than average losses from 24 – 30 June and much of this had to do with the terrain they were defending. In the preliminary bombardment this regiment lost 7 officers, 91 men killed; 7 officers, 241 men wounded and 4 men missing making this regiment one with the highest losses I have looked at so far.

When looking at the historic records, loss reports, etc. I must be wary of just where the numbers were obtained; from the initial loss reports or from later periods when exact numbers were known. The regiments north of the Ancre did not have this issue for the most part as the losses they suffered on 1 July were minor when compared to those closer to the River Somme.

As an example, IR 66 (52nd Division) just north of Serre lost 37 men killed in the 7 day bombardment period, the number of wounded is still not known though one day mentioned 12 men being wounded. This regiment was not attacked; just a small portion of the left wing was involved directly as it was just north of the 31st Division sector and only covered by artillery fire and a smoke screen. During the subsequent fighting on 1 July the regiment lost 36 killed, 92 wounded. The small losses suffered both before the attack and on 1 July meant that a large ready reserve of fresh troops was located near a critical area and ready to be deployed as needed.

I have many parts of the puzzle, none that have been put together in any formal manner by division or otherwise. This will be the next step once the Verlustlisten are all found and transcribed. It will then be possible to look at the overall numbers, sources, etc. and come to some conclusions.

Ralph



#18 bmac

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 05:01 PM

Fantastic stuff, Ralph. Who can seriously say there is nothing more to learn or write about the beginning of the Somme battle.

#19 PJA

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Posted 20 February 2010 - 12:56 AM

QUOTE (Ralph J. Whitehead @ Feb 19 2010, 04:55 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
17 officers and acting officers were killed plus at least 533 Other Ranks that were killed or died from wounds; including 23 men who died of wounds while a prisoner of war. This means at least 550 officers and men died on 1 July or from wounds received on that date and not the 108 from the original report.


That's a mind boggling disparity, and leads me to wonder whether the relativley small loss of killed compiled in the sanitatsbericht is susceptible to very significant revision upwards, too.

Phil

#20 Ralph J. Whitehead

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Posted 20 February 2010 - 02:01 AM

QUOTE (PJA @ Feb 19 2010, 07:56 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
That's a mind boggling disparity, and leads me to wonder whether the relativley small loss of killed compiled in the sanitatsbericht is susceptible to very significant revision upwards, too.

Phil

Phil, Don't forget, it all depends upon the time period the original losses were recorded. As details changed so did the 10 day reports. As the missing became identified as to KIA, PoW, etc. the reports would change as well. It is not the best method for my purposes but then it is all I have and I must make the best of it.

In regard to knowing when losses occurred, when they were reported and how the source uses the information is critical. There was not any single method and having the appropriate text to describe the action, the portions of the regiment involved, etc. is important when trying to determine if a particular list is appropriate over another.

I am working on IR 62 at present. The regiment reported a high number of missing after 1 July. I have found over a dozen subsequent lists where corrections were added to indicate the fate of these men. So far it seems most became prisoners while a few were in the hospital or still with the regiment. I hope to post some of these findings shortly. I also found several large casualty lists for this regiment in the weeks following the 1 July reporting. I will need to review the appropriate text to see just what sort of action they were involved in to see why so many additional names appear.

Given the tens of thousands of names printed I am amazed at the level of accuracy in trying to publish the exact fate of these men. Nothing seems to have been left out including suicides. I came across an amaazing list of German losses in Africa. Not only were their occupations listed so was the action, nature of death, etc. including Black Water fever, in action against an English cruiser in the Rufiji delta, fighting against South African brigades, Belgian outposts or in a few cases yellow fever or simply drowning.

Ralph

#21 PJA

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Posted 20 February 2010 - 09:15 AM

QUOTE (bmac @ Feb 19 2010, 09:50 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
The French lost c. 2,500 on 1st July gaining all of their first day objectives (and temporarily occupying two of their second day ones) and the heaviest casualties were around Curlu, Assevillers and Herbecourt. Five and a half divisions attacked on a front of about 8 miles. .



That implies an average divisional loss of roughly one tenth that sustained by the British divisions that attacked that day......I exaggerate, but not by much. Those Frenchmen captured more prisoners, too.
I am sure that by the end of the first month of fighting, French casualties on the Somme were still fewer than those that the British had suffered on that one day. For the whole battle, though, the French returns indicate very close to 200,000 casualties. Of these, apparently, 37,000 were posted as killed, 130,000 wounded and 29,000 missing. I find it very curious that, whereas the French killed amounted to 28.5% of their wounded, the German killed, according to the sanitatsbericht, amounted to only 21%....the regimental experiences compiled by Ralph show a very different story.

Editing yet again : at Verdun this disparity is even more marked, with the French reporting nearly thirty men killed for every one hundred wounded, while the Germans, according to the sanitatsbericht, reported only seventeen killed for every one hundred wounded. Bearing in mind the extent to which we rely on the SB as the most meticulous source for studying German casualites I am troubled by this, and suspect that Ralph's monumental efforts will allow us to re-assess the implications of those SB tabulations.

Phil

#22 Ralph J. Whitehead

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Posted 20 February 2010 - 08:55 PM

I would like to bring up two points. First, the loss figures I am compiling are not sufficient to support or challenge the Sanitätsbericht statistical details. The losses recorded by this work are taken from the field 10 day casualty returns and as such do reflect the losses as reported during the war.

The problem with comparisons of percentages and the like come up if the samples are not compatible. In this I mean if the different armies did not report losses in the same manner (I do not know if any of them are similar or not) then it is not possible to compare them together. THe numbers of men missing in the initial reports did, for the most part, have a resolution at some point in the war. In order to determine the ratios of dead to wounded, dead to the all casualties suffered by one country must have these numbers resolved.

I am also looking at a small sampling for a particular day. The Sanitätsbericht looked at ten day periods for every unit within an army, division, etc. In order for my numbers to be compared with the Sanitätsbericht I would have to compile and review the same units for the same ten day period. I simply cannot do this. The problem arises when the Verlustlisten were published they did reflect the loss reports filed by the different units. They did not however follow the same time period for publishing. From what I have been able to determine many items sent to the list for publication appeared far beyond the 10 day casualty return period. This is most likely a result of the time needed to pass them along to the printers, the time spent typesetting, etc. Some untis appeared in late July, many in August and some as late as September 1916. As reports were received they were set for printing but it does appear lists may have been broken up to fit the printing schedule or the page capacity. When finishing my book I had to have a page count that could be divided by 8, the number of pages printed on each master sheet before cutting and folding.

These reports would have been filed in the 10 day period for the army, not the Verlustlisten. You should look at the losses that I am compiling with all of the criteria I used, the reasoning, numbers, etc. Once I am able to compile known statistical details, how they were arrived at, the Verlustlisten studies and any other variables that might creep into the procedure then we can evaluate some of the accepted claims by historians over the decades such as the 10,000 men lost in the bombardment period and similar accounts.

Second, back to the lists for a look at another regiment already mentioned previously. IR 62 reported 350 officers and men killed, wounded and missing for the period of 24 - 30 June. In looking at the initial Verlustlisten entries for this regiment it is very likely these men were included in the first published lists (three seperate dates for the three battalions). The lists contain 1,492 names of men lost in this period. Once I check the regimental accounts I can determine if the regiment continued to fight on 2 July and when it was relieved, etc. and ths will narrow down the possible losses suffered on 1 July.

Of the 1,492 names the list shows:
KIA 240
Died from wounds 17
Injured 1
MIA 484
Severely wounded 178
Slightly wounded 537
Slightly wounded, remained with the regiment 13
WIA 11
PoW 11

In searching later lists I have found 12 more with corrections of the names from the initial lists. These generally contained names of men who were thought to be missing who were later determined to be prisoners of war. Some were back with the regiment, some sick in hospital. Some corrections also appear for the men listed as wounded. I hope to track down all of the men listed as missing or any other corrections through December 1916 when the lists start to be printed alphabetically and tracking down so many names would be a lifetime of work.

My interest in looking at these lists and the regimental accounts is twofold. One, to determine as accurately as possible how many men the German army lost during this period as compared to the generally accepted numbers. Two, to identify them by name, birthplace, etc. and to restore a small bit of humanity to the statistical numbers. It is easy to look at numbers and compare them to each other. It is more difficult to realize that each number was a person and their experiences and suffering (both sides of the conflict) should be remembered. I am just looking at them as people.

Ralph



#23 PJA

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Posted 21 February 2010 - 11:49 AM

QUOTE (Ralph J. Whitehead @ Feb 19 2010, 04:55 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
The numbers are:

Killed: 14 officers, 94 Other Ranks

Wounded: 6 officers, 261 Other Ranks

Missing: 24 officers, 1,749 Other Ranks

Total 44 officers, 2,104 Other Ranks.

In my initial review of RIR 109 I was able to track down the fate of many of the missing officers and men and obtain a more accurate portrayal of the actual losses suffered by the regiment. I found that the number of men killed, 108 in all was actually far higher when the first list and subsequent loss lists were reviewed.

17 officers and acting officers were killed plus at least 533 Other Ranks that were killed or died from wounds; including 23 men who died of wounds while a prisoner of war. This means at least 550 officers and men died on 1 July or from wounds received on that date and not the 108 from the original report. Most of the other MIA were prisoners of war as can be seen in the Malins film as they are marched to the rear.

Ralph


This is truly sensational. For one thing, two thirds of a regiment was wiped out in a single day. Am I right, Ralph, in assuming that the strength of the regiment was - supposedly - three thousand or thereabouts ? Perhaps it was somewhat less in this case, with wastage taken into account.

More astonishing still is the number of fatalities : the actual number being killed or mortally wounded exceeding the initial reported number of killed by a factor of more than five to one. Significantly, the increase in the number of officers is just over 20%, whereas the other ranks' increase is a staggering 467% ! Even in the most extreme ordeals, it would appear, the fate of the officer was far more meticulously recorded than was the case for those under his command.

There is an impication here about the intensity and ferocity of the fighting. Unless many of the prisoners of war were wounded - and the fact that only 23 died of wounds while prisoner suggests that no more than two or three hundred wounded were taken prisoner - then the number of deaths equals and perhaps even exceeds the total of wounded: an unusual and shocking episode. Buried alive under bombardment ? The French heavies made havoc with German dugouts in Montabaun, and Jack's history regales us with endless harrowing acounts of soldiers trying to rescue their comrades who were buried...but, as you remind us, relatively few Germans were victims of the preparatory bombardment, and these regimetal losses are July 1st victims, anyway. Killed during or immediately after surrender ? Or just a highly motivated and disciplined unit determined to fight to the death ? On both counts, a signifcant haul of prisoners has to be addressed before assumptions are made.

Whatever transpires, it's a sobering thought that perhaps one fifth of an entire regiment, approaching three thpusand in its strength, were killed or died from wounds received that day. In proportionate terms, this surely rivals the experience of British brigades that were slaughtered.

I fully appreciate your reminder that, in compiling these statistics, you always remember that these were individual people and their stories are unbearably poignant. I know that you gave terrific support to that TV series "Finding the Fallen". All honour to you, Ralph.

Phil

#24 bmac

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Posted 21 February 2010 - 11:58 AM

The further south on the German front you go the less effective were the dugouts most especially from La Boisselle onwards. There was a troop rotation south of the Albert-Bapaume road and the new arrivals were very unhappy about the condition of the defences, if I recall correctly. As previously mentioned, south of the Somme the French preparation was so effective that most of the German front line was abandoned. This was not just caused by the French artillery but also by the delpoyment in large numbers of their new Mortar 58 which, with a decent rate of fire and a wide variety of projectiles, caused some havoc in the German trenches.

#25 PJA

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Posted 21 February 2010 - 12:12 PM

QUOTE (PJA @ Feb 21 2010, 11:49 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
In proportionate terms, this surely rivals the experience of British brigades that were slaughtered.

Phil


Compare with the South African Brigade at Delville Wood. About 3.200 effectives took 2,500 casualties of whom approx.750 were killed or died from wounds - quite similar to the German RIR 109....but that was in fighting that lasted a week.

Phil