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Author Topic: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle  (Read 4813 times)

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Offline BlackEd

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Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« on: June 16, 2010, 03:16:17 AM »
I have a friend who is writing an alternate history, set in the early 1300s.  The question he had for me was: In a battle during this time, how many men would be killed and wounded in a battle?  He was thinking about two thousand men on each side.  The setting is in England.

So do any of you know how many men are likely to be killed and wounded in battle?  And how long would a battle take to fight?

Thanks!

Offline Carrington

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Re: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2010, 03:38:13 AM »
Keegan, Face of Battle is a good resource.  Also Victor Hansen has done some good work on ancient warfare, even if his contemporary commentary is a little 'light.'

I think the general point is that casualties were generally light until the 'push of pike' had given way to one side beginning to run, at which point the slaughter began.


« Last Edit: June 17, 2010, 10:16:07 PM by Carrington »

Offline wellspring

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Re: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2010, 06:20:35 PM »
Keep in mind that the single all-time number-one killer in warfare, all the way up to the end of the 19th century, was disease. As in, you were far more likely to die on the march of dysentery, cholera or some other infection than you were to be killed in battle. It's an unromantic way to die and was considered an inevitable part of war, so ancient historians often glossed over the magnitude of the problem.

Offline BlackEd

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Re: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2010, 04:27:45 PM »
Thanks wellspring and Carrington for the responses!

It is true that disease was the biggest killer.  I will make sure that gets remembered too!

Offline jchaos79

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Re: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2010, 08:12:58 PM »
I had make some quick research about data relating to your question, and I have found that (do not know if is exactly what are your looking for, but could help):

Source: Revista de historia miliatar. (Instituto de historia y cultura militar (2009) 109, pp 194). Author: Fernando Soteras Escartin.

The paper review the military tactics and battle of the invasion of the Peninsula leaded by Tarin and his army against the visigoth (711 after Christ).

Visigoth army (Leader Rodrigo) Defeted.
12.470 men
Casualities (dead and wounded) 35%
deserted: 15%
Traition-: 20%
Survivor: 30% (3741 men aprox)

Muslm army (leader Tarik) Victory
8000 men
calusalities 15% deads / 5% wounded
Deserted: 2%
Traitions: +20
Survivor: 88% 7040 islamic + 2594 visigoths

Offline Carrington

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Re: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2010, 03:34:18 PM »
One significant point: the variance in casualties is probably higher than in the gunpowder era.  Muskets and cannons kill people on both sides during the combat, almost without fail. 

The question with sword and pike combat: who breaks first and runs.. and dies.

My guess is that most of the Visigoths killed in Jchaos's example were killed trying to escape. But NB, their losses were fairly light compared with Roman losses at Teotoburger
Wald or Cannae.

.... And then there's Agincourt, where the English leadership panics and begins slaughtering their prisoners.





Offline jchaos79

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Re: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2010, 07:36:00 PM »
just talking about this topic, I would like to notice that I always been very very carefull with the numbers of people of the armies that gives written sources. The history is written by the glorious winners, and oversize the ferocity and the number of the army defeated always give more glorious and pestige to the winner. So... herodoto, Xenophontes, even Caesar... always makes me hestitate about the numbers they manage when describe their victories (or even defeats...).

So take written sources as a true statement of how it was the warfare in antiquity and infere percentage of killed and wounded is always a risky research.

Offline Carrington

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Re: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2010, 11:00:12 PM »
just talking about this topic, I would like to notice that I always been very very carefull with the numbers of people of the armies that gives written sources. The history is written by the glorious winners, and oversize the ferocity and the number of the army defeated always give more glorious and pestige to the winner. So... herodoto, Xenophontes, even Caesar... always makes me hestitate about the numbers they manage when describe their victories (or even defeats...).

So take written sources as a true statement of how it was the warfare in antiquity and infere percentage of killed and wounded is always a risky research.

Good point...  Herodotus especially.  Lots of modern (19th century and after) debate about numbers involved in many of these battles. (Even Thucydides took pot-shots at Herodotus' scholarship).
« Last Edit: August 31, 2010, 05:09:57 PM by Carrington »

Offline ianrs54

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Re: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2010, 07:51:52 PM »
It's a  huge generalisation but 25-35 % seems to fit the bill. There are 1 or 2 100%  ones - but those were rare and an exception - Mazikurt and Mohacs fit that bill. The casualty rate was very high in battle, so there were few battles. Most troops died of diease - British army lost more to disease rahter than battle up to 1914. Even with "modern" medcine from 14 onward it's still quite high, roughly 5-10 % of casualties.

There's also the consideration that a proprtion of the dead were comatose, and non responsive, and buried alive.

IanS

Offline Haranin

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Re: Casualty rates -- wounded and killed in battle
« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2010, 12:37:26 PM »
Even Manzikert wasn't that bad from a military losses perspective. Manzikert was an inflection point, that many focus on because battles are cool, and people like to find one event to focus on. What made Manzikert important wasn't that the Byzantines lost a battle to the Turks, but roughly a dozen factors all interlinked that coincided with Manzikert; namely the inability of the central government to control the military aristocracy, the economic imbalance between the East and West, and the resulting civil war.

Actually losses at Manzikert weren't more then 20%, and that is if you include defections. Its the civil war for 20 odd years afterwards, and the loss of the military manpower of the Anatolian highlands and Armenia which gutted the military of Byzantium. Actual losses probably in the 10% range.

Basil II over expanded the Empire and screwed up the succession badly. The military renaissance in Byzantium's power gutted the resilience of the army.

http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/articles/markham.htm

Rule of thumb is a combat unit can generally take 10% losses before it breaks. Sometimes more (WWI and II Germans) sometimes less (green troops).