13 million German soldiers: A look at World War I in numbers

Germany and Russian suffered the highest number of casualties in WWI, which ended 100 years ago in November. What do the figures of the war say about the scale and horror of the conflict?

13 million German soldiers: A look at World War I in numbers
A group of German soldiers who were captured by the British during an offensive on the Western Front in 1918. Photo: DPA

A lack of reliable statistics from the 52-month war a century ago makes the figures difficult to pin down, accounting for the sometimes substantial variations between historians.

AFP has compiled the most widely accepted figures from the Great War, providing estimates in cases where major discrepancies remain.

More than 70 nations

Even this figure is tricky, as many of the more than 70 current-day nations drawn into the conflict had not yet gained independence from the six empires and colonial powers at its heart: Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the Ottoman empire.

SEE ALSO: What lead to the German collapse in WWI?

A dozen independent nations went to war at its start in 1914, the rest entering later, such as Italy in 1915 and the United States in 1917.

German cavalry leaving Berlin at the beginning of World War I. Photo: DPA

Together the warring nations accounted for more than 800 million people, which was more than half the world's population at the time.

Only around 20 countries across the globe were to remain neutral throughout the conflict, most of them in Latin America or northern Europe.

 70 million troops 

About 20 million men were mobilized by the warring parties at the outset, the number rising to around 70 million as the war dragged on and expanded.

There were eight million soldiers from France, 13 million from Germany, nine million from Austria-Hungary and six million from Italy.

Britain sent nine million men, including troops from around the British Empire, chiefly India. The United States deployed four million.

10 million soldiers killed 

Germany and Russia suffered the highest numbers of dead and wounded, with 10 million soldiers generally estimated to have been killed and more than double that number wounded overall.

Here is a broad breakdown:
Russia: two million dead, five million injured;
Germany: two million dead, 4.2 million injured;
France: 1.4 million dead, 4.2 million injured;
Austria-Hungary: 1.4 million dead, 3.6 million injured;
Britain and British empire: 960,000 dead, two million injured;
Italy: 600,000 dead, one million injured;
Ottoman empire: 800,000 dead;
United States: 117,000 dead.
Serbia suffered the worst losses proportional to the size of its army with 130,000 dead and 135,000 wounded, or three-quarters of its forces.

Artillery fire caused 70 percent of the casualties in the fighting, after which between five and six million men were left mutilated for life.

The conflict saw the first large-scale use of chemical weapons when German forces deployed chlorine gas at Ypres in Belgium in 1915.

Toxic gas eventually claimed 20,000 lives over the war.

Millions of civilians dead

Between five and 10 million civilians are estimated to have been killed in the war and its consequences, which were many and make a precise figure difficult to establish.

The toll generally includes those killed in the actual fighting as well as from the resulting forced displacements of populations, famine and the subsequent civil conflicts in Russia, eastern Europe and Turkey.

German soldiers in the Northern French city of Saint-Quentin, taken at an unknown date. Photo: DPA

Some historians include the disputed figure of 1.2-1.5 million Armenians massacred in the Ottoman empire.

A Spanish influenza epidemic that broke out at the end of the war then spread across the world claimed tens of millions of lives in Europe.

Other figures 

-There were six million prisoners of war.

-By 1915 about 20 million civilians were living under the occupation of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. Most were in Belgium, France, Poland and Serbia.

-The war left 10 million refugees across Europe.

-And three million widows and six million orphans.

-Around 1.3 billion shells were fired during the conflict.

-About 10 billion letters and packages were exchanged between fighters on the front and their loved ones back home.

-The war is estimated to have cost the main parties the equivalent of three or four times the combined GDP of its European players, who were left ruined by the conflict.

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Five maps that explain Saarland, Germany’s 100-year old state

In honor of Saarland's 100-year anniversary as a German state this year, we look at its most important aspects, from history to geography.

Five maps that explain Saarland, Germany's 100-year old state
A sign reads "Welcome to Saarbrücken," the capital and largest city in the state of Saarland. Datenschutz-Stockfoto/Depositphotos

Saarland is Germany's smallest non-city state by land mass, and with just under one million inhabitants, is only larger than Bremen by population. 

READ ALSO: Big birthday in a small state: Saarland celebrates its 100-year old history

An international state with heavy influences from France and Luxembourg and a history of independence, Saarland presents a beautiful, eclectic culture. 

Let's begin with the basics. 


Located in the westernmost point of Southern Germany, Saarland is surrounded almost completely by the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. France creates a border to the south, while Luxembourg shares a small border with Saarland to the northwest.

The capital and most populous city of the state is Saarbrücken.

Source: ingomenhard/Depositphotos

The Saar region has a well-documented history, from being conquered by the Holy Roman Empire to being parts of the kingdoms of the Carolingians and Franks.
The 100-year anniversary of the founding comes from the 1920 Treaty of Versailles, which gave the then-British and-French occupied Saar area an independent League of Nations mandate lasting 15 years. The map below displays the state's new territory.
Source: Soerfm via Wikimedia
After the mandate was over in 1935, Saarland's population voted with around a 90 percent majority to join Germany.  
Post-World War II
After World War II, Saarland fell under French occupation as France attempted to take control of the coal-rich industrial areas like North Rhine-Wesphalia's Ruhr area and Saarland.
France didn't manage to do this, and the Saar fell under France's Saar Protectorate, as shown on the map below. This meant the state was dependent on France for protection, but retained some measure of independence and autonomy. 
Source: Paasikivi via Wikimedia
Historically, France has been very influential in Saarland. So influential that the government announced in 2014 it aims to make schools include French as a language requirement by 2043.  
However, Saarland remains mostly German-speaking and has its own dialectical characteristics. People in the area generally speak Moselle Franconian in the north and Rhine Franconian in the South, divided by the famous dat/das line that zigzags across Europe.
The line passes above the capital but below Saarlouis, as shown in the map below. Another characteristic is the tendency to refer to women in the neutral form rather than feminine.
Source: Roßbacher via Wikimedia
Saarland is one of Germany's most religious states, and is the only one with an over-50 percent Catholic majority. The map below shows the concentration of self-identified Catholics in Germany, according to a 2011 census.
Most Catholics are centered in former West Germany, either in Bavaria or farther to the west in North-Rhine Westphalia or, as mentioned, Saarland. More recent statistics from late 2017 show that almost 60 percent of Saarland's population identifies as Roman Catholic.  
Source: Michael Sander  via Wikimedia