Recommend
16 
 Thumb up
 Hide
16 Posts

Wargames» Forums » General

Subject: Officer vs. Enlisted Casualties in combat rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Larz Welo
United States
Las Cruces
New Mexico
flag msg tools
No more stones. No more spears. No more slings. No more swords. No more weapons! NO MORE SYSTEMS!
badge
You can fire your arrows from the Tower of Babel, but you can never strike God!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
So, I was reading this fictional book and it talked about a couple of different units being reorganized because one had been decimated in a defensive action and the other's officers had mostly been killed off in an attack.

That really got me thinking, throughout history, when have officers died in higher proportions to the regular soldiers? There seem to be 5 basic types of reasons to die in war, offensive actions (go and take that hill!), defensive actions (hold to the last!), bombardment (find some cover!), disease (what a way to die...), and random deaths (mines!/watch where you're driving that tank!).

There also seem to be many historical time periods we can discuss:
Ancients
Roman Period
Medieval Era
Musket and Pike
Expansion of the Empires
Napoleonic
American Civil War
World War 1
World War 2 (Europe and Pacific are probably different enough)
Cold War Conflicts

There's been a pretty clear distinction between officers and soldiers since at least the Musket and Pike era, and if there are 10 officers for every hundred men, and they get engaged and 20 men die and 4 officers, the officers took the worse share. However, 20 men and 1 officer, the men are losing out big time. Are certain types of actions worse for field officers statistically?

I'm understand war is hell and everyone's life is on the line, but I'm really curious. The only thing I'm pretty certain of is that disease has killed officers and leaders far less frequently than normal soldiers because generally if there was any medical care or clean water at all it would be given to officers first, but beyond that, I haven't a clue.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Pete Belli
United States
Florida
flag msg tools
designer
"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
American Civil War battlefields were like a shooting gallery for officers.

Regimental commanders fell at frightening pace because colonels led their men on the firing line... junior officers were even more vulnerable.

Brigade or division leaders suffered heavy losses because the only way to retain a vague hint of command and control was to operate near the troops.

Several corps commanders were struck by small arms fire; there is also a famous story about General Polk taking a direct hit from a Union artillery projectile. Officers commanding independent divison-sized or corps-sized "army" formations (like Zollicoffer) were also shot.

Two men commanding major armies were gunned down, Johnston for the CSA and McPherson for the USA.

Disease did kill thousands but Regular Army officers had an advantage. Their duties had previously exposed them to the kind of common, but potentially deadly, illness to which men from relatively isolated rural areas had never built up an immunity.
14 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Brian Morris
United States
Raytown
Missouri
flag msg tools
2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, 24th Michigan
badge
24th Michigan Monument Gettysburg Pa
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
In terms of the American civil war battle casualties among generals was considerably higher than 20th century conflicts. Not 100% sure how it compares to ancient conflicts but I suspect it would be similar to the civil war. At Gettysburg alone the Army of Northern Virginia had almost 1/3 of it's general officers killed, wounded or captured. At Antietam each side had 3 general officers killed in battle. That doesn't include Union General Jesse Reno who died at South Mountain a few days prior.

In a large part the reason for the high casualty rates for general officers in the Civil War was a matter of communications. Today a general in command would rarely if ever have to be right at the front lines because he can better communicate and control his men from a position farther back. After all a general's job isn't to tote a rifle but organize his men and today you don't have to be right in the front to do that. In fact it can better be done father back. In the civil war however the only way for a general officer to communicate and control his men was to be where they were. Combine that with the fact that officers in general had to be visible to their men meant that they were visible to the enemy as well and if you're a private looking across the battlefield and see a guy sitting on top of a horse acting like he's in charge you're naturally going to want to take a shot at him.

While again I am not much on ancient warfare I suspect casualties in terms of generals in pre-civil war era battles was also often high. It's the increase in the 20th century in terms of communications that have resulted in casualties among 20th Century generals to be greatly diminished over their historical predecessors.
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Captain Nemo
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
(1) Nobles and knights were important, lesser men were not.
(2) Gentlemen were worth noting but the followers were not.
(3) Leaders (officers) were worth mentioning but others not although their losses were significant and worth noting.
(4) All worth noting.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kris Van Beurden
Belgium
Leuven
Vlaams-Brabant
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Napoleonic Wars (source:http://www.napoleon-series.org/research/abstract/military/army/france/c_casualties.html)

French & french allied officers from 1804-1815: grand total of 12343 killed or died of wounds and 39879 wounded.

General Officers 171 killed 908 wounded
Other Superior Officers 1,130 killed 5,352 wounded


This is to be compared to the 371000 killed in action (800000 killed by disease, but I have no officer numbers to compare) and the 65000 french allies killed.

Thus, I believe 12343 officers (of sub-lieutenant to marshall) killed compared to 436000 total killed, for a result of 35 troops killd per officer.





10 
 Thumb up
0.05
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Alfred Wallace
United States
Champaign
IL
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
According to Anthony Clayton (and echoing things I've read elsewhere but can't find), the British officers serving in the trenches in WWI suffered higher casualty rates than their men--they were often expected to lead from the front, once again. The life expectancy in the trenches for officers was supposedly about a month.

General officers suffered somewhat fewer casualties...

ADDED: He says the same of Crimea.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Michael Dorosh
Canada
Calgary
Alberta
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Tactical Wargamer's Journal
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
greatredwarrior wrote:
So, I was reading this fictional book and it talked about a couple of different units being reorganized because one had been decimated


Just to be pedantic, "decimated" in the literal sense means 1 in 10. From the Latin, of course.

Quote:
That really got me thinking, throughout history, when have officers died in higher proportions to the regular soldiers?


Normandy comes to mind, when subalterns in the Commonwealth forces were especially hard hit. American forces as well.

The Germans were not as bad off, mostly because they had far fewer officers to begin with. On paper, a German infantry company with three platoons was only authorized one officer platoon commander - they had two platoons commanded by NCOs, and in practice, perhaps all three would be led by sergeants.

The British had tried to decrease the reliance on officers early in the war by introducing a new rank - Warrant Officer Class III - and an appointment to go with it - Platoon Sergeant Major. The experiment crashed and burned in 1940 and most of the PSMs were commissioned as lieutenants. Apparently, the British and CW armies couldn't adjust to non-commissioned soldiers leading platoons.

As it turned out, the British were so desperate to fill their ranks with junior officers, they had to borrow several hundred from the Canadians. Under CANLOAN, 623 infantry platoon commanders (and 50 ordnance officers) went to serve with the British Army in combat in Italy and NW Europe. Some were promoted to company command, many were decorated and several killed.

Very interesting to contrast this reliance on officers to the German army, which relied much more heavily on NCOs.
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Clint Herron
United States
Bethel
Ohio
flag msg tools
designer
♜ ♞ ♝ ♛ ♚ ♝ ♞ ♜ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟
badge
♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♖ ♘ ♗ ♕ ♔ ♗ ♘ ♖
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
pete belli wrote:
...there is also a famous story about General Polk taking a direct hit from a Union artillery projectile.


Wow. I had to look that one up after you said it -- that was a crazy read. Hit directly in the side by a 3-inch ball -- nearly severed him in half. Insane.

3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
flag msg tools
Avatar
Quote:
Just to be pedantic, "decimated" in the literal sense means 1 in 10. From the Latin, of course.


Gee, Mike, don't ya think we wargamers know the etymology of that word?

Are you aware of its modern usage?

–verb (used with object), -mat·ed, -mat·ing.
1.
to destroy a great number or proportion of: The population was decimated by a plague.
2.
to select by lot and kill every tenth person of.
3.
Obsolete . to take a tenth of or from.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Łukasz
Poland
Warsaw
flag msg tools
Non vi sed virtute, not armis sed arte paritur victoria.
badge
e^{i · π} + 1 = 0
Avatar
mb
Funny, I've always thought decimating means kills as many so that only one tenth remains.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Enrico Viglino
United States
Eugene
OR
flag msg tools
Slowed - BGG's moderation policies have driven me partially from here
badge
http://thegamebox.byethost15.com/smf/
Avatar
mb
grouchysmurf wrote:
Funny, I've always thought decimating means kills as many so that only one tenth remains.


Nah. It was only a morale-boosting event.

IIRC, Mussolini tried it too.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Michael Dorosh
Canada
Calgary
Alberta
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Tactical Wargamer's Journal
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
grouchysmurf wrote:
Funny, I've always thought decimating means kills as many so that only one tenth remains.


Now you know.

Our regimental bard worked it into a poem about the Battle of St. Julien rather nicely:

http://www.calgaryhighlanders.com/prosemusic/poetry.htm

What to do? There was no way around it, and time was their foe
Just as much as the Germans: smash through; there's nowhere else to go.
So they tried, and they died, row on row, as though caught in barbed wire
As the enemy, startled alert, laid down murderous fire.
Decimated - each tenth man laid dead - was a word coined in Rome,
And the Tenth would have happily settled for that, and gone home,
But the hedge all around them confined them, and try as they would,
They had no way but forward to go ... To St. Julien Wood.


 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Pasi Hyvönen
Finland
MASKU
flag msg tools
mbmbmb
Michael Dorosh wrote:
The Germans were not as bad off, mostly because they had far fewer officers to begin with. On paper, a German infantry company with three platoons was only authorized one officer platoon commander - they had two platoons commanded by NCOs, and in practice, perhaps all three would be led by sergeants.

First, sorry for my badengilish. I will try to make it crystal clear.

Finnish organisation, which relies much on German organisation, depends on training superior NCOs. I, myself am an Anti-tank squad leader, and I have been trained to lead a full platoon if needed to. Likewise our company leader can take the lead of a full battalion in the case of emergency or wartime needs.

To the OP, as some armies train Officers as reservist, and some armies train only active duty officers, I find it quite difficult to compare all different era armies. Are platoon leaders officers if they are reservists? How about company leaders? But alas, we have a terrible rate for the junior officers in our history books from Winter war and Continuation war.

EDIT: Winter War ratio for total KIA/MIA was 30 men for every officer. Total losses were 22.900 from total of 360.000, from which were reservist officers KIA/MIA 910 out of 13.364. Active duty officers KIA/MIA 135 out of about 3100. Summa summarum, your odds were better on lower ranks to survive. Total percentages: Officers 11,5 %, NCOs 10,8 % ja "rank-and-file" 9,0 %. Quoted from the book Talvisodan pikkujättiläinen (roughly translates as The little big history of winter war).
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Michael Edwards
United States
Everett
Washington
flag msg tools
YA R'LYAH
badge
Phnglui mglw nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah nagl fhtagn! With cheeze!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Certainly I would imagine that in periods like the Civil War, etc, where officers led from the front (and are fairly easy to pick out), they would have a higher proportion of casualties.

This period cartoon comes to mind:


Quote:
EQUITY or a Sailors PRAYER before BATTLE. Anecdote of the Battle of Trafalgar.

“Why Starboard! how is this at prayers when the enemy is bearing down upon us, are you afraid of them?”

“Afraid! No! I was only praying that the enemys shot may be distributed in the same proportion as the prize money, the greatest parts among the Officers.”

“Why don’t you sing Amen to that, Tom.”


The other thing that comes to mind was the experience of my father in WWII (an infantry sergeant in the 28th Infantry Division). He went through three Lieutenants, I believe. Such was his conviction that the position was a death-sentence, that after being repatriated from a P.O.W. camp, he turned down an offer to go through officer training and become one himself. He both feared the mortality rate, and the inevitable shipping off to the Pacific theater.

As it turned out, it was a big mistake. He would have just finished being commissioned and mustered out an officer when the war ended. Of course, he had no way of knowing that.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Michael Dorosh
Canada
Calgary
Alberta
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Tactical Wargamer's Journal
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
kiintins wrote:

First, sorry for my badengilish. I will try to make it crystal clear.

Finnish organisation, which relies much on German organisation, depends on training superior NCOs. I, myself am an Anti-tank squad leader, and I have been trained to lead a full platoon if needed to. Likewise our company leader can take the lead of a full battalion in the case of emergency or wartime needs.


Your English is excellent.

You make a good point. Any good army will train its soldiers to take over the job of someone one or two slots above. The Second World War was mostly an exercise in crisis management, though. All the major armies underwent major expansions from peacetime strength (the Red Army did not help itself by also purging large numbers of officers, which increased their need for trained officers and diminished their ability to provide "extra" training such as staff courses, etc.)

4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
M Evan Brooks
United States
Gainesville
Virginia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


For a fascinating look at British General Officer casualties during the First World War, cf. Bloody Red Tabs (Davies & Maddocks). Contrary to the general perception of the "Cheateau Generals", the British Army had 78 General Officers KIA and another 146 wounded/POW.

By contrast, British General Officer casualties during World War II were 21.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.