Thursday, April 2, 2015

WW1 Monthly Casualties by Fronts and Belligerents

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.


  1. Very interesting work Sam, good job.

    I assume you mean 'British Empire' when you say 'England' in the plot legend. Does your data set also have the breakdown by country for the British Empire, i.e. England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India, and other (e.g. African) colonial countries?

    1. Thanks. I appreciate that.

      Yes, it should be "British Empire" not England. My own data doesn't breakdown by country but it should exist for many battles.


  2. Hello Sam,

    Very interesting data and analysis. I would like to obtain your data for hobbyistic purposes but am unable to use the Github file (allfront_battles.csv). It seems corrupt. Would you be so kind to update the file in Github? Many thanks in advance!


    1. Hey it’s actually a .rdata file so you should be able to load it into R fine - sorry about confusion but you gotta throw off those Russian spies somehow

  3. Aah got it. Thanks for the speedy reply.

    If I may, two more questions. Are your definitive casualty numbers in the field 'new.casult'? And how is this field computed? In some instances it differs from the Wikipedia entries under 'casualties and losses'.

    I think this confusion surely throws the Russians off!

    - Vladimir

    1. hey looks like i used 'casulties.numbers'. Not sure if i included POW or MIA in those numbers..

      It's very possible I made an error parsing this data. sorry