hosted by my friend George Duncan.
Nice chap, old George, but he seems to have been taken in by the fantasies of Mr. James Bacque:
which gives me a bad conscience for not having made him familiar with the assessment of German military casualties in World War II by German military historian Rüdiger Overmans, which leave little room for Bacque's farcical calculations:
126.96.36.199 Prisoners of War
Now to the last section of the assessment: captivity, which for many German soldiers was the last stage of their military career. Unlike in the previous sections it will be necessary in the following to explain the methodological aspects first of all. Only after this can we proceed to an interpretation of the contents of the data.
In the explanation of the conception it was pointed out that the variable “type of death” can be understood as a continuum, with a great degree of accuracy of information being linked to the two extremes “died on the German side” and “died in captivity”, whereas the middle category, “missing”, is a consequence of the fact that, whereas death is a certainty, the circumstances are not exactly known. The quantitative dimensions of this margin of insecurity are shown in table 63.
Table 63: Deaths by year and type of death
(i) Died on the German side
1941 and before 428,066
1946 and after 0
1941 and before 30,495
(iii) Died in captivity
1941 and before 0
1946 and after 134,627
Sum of (i) +(ii)+(iii) 5,318,531
The first thing that becomes visible is that the part of deaths that clearly occurred on the German side is very high until about 1941, ca. 90 %. This part diminishes in every following year of the war until reaching only about one-third in 1945. On the other hand, the percentage of those who died as prisoners of war increases from marginal parts to about 16 % in the year 1945 – the later years are not taken into consideration given that after 1945 deaths can only have occurred in prisoner of war camps. What important for the present study, however, is mainly the part of the category “Missing” – which rises from less than 10 % to almost 50 %. The cases are not equally distributed over all fronts, however.
Table 64 still shows a rather clear distribution – mainly in the West, but also in the other theaters of war the number of those who died on the German side is very high. Altogether there are only about 180,000 persons regarding whom the exact circumstances of death are not known – a part of whom may thus have died in captivity.
Table 64: Deaths by Theaters of War and Destiny
Other Theaters of War
1941 and before
Died on the German side: 84,000
Died on the German side: 40,000
Died on the German side: 72,000
Died on the German side: 199,132
Died on the German side: 27,000
Sum Other Theaters of War
Died on the German side: 422,132
West (until 31.12.1944)
1941 and before
Died on the German side: 68,000
Died on the German side: 12,000
Died on the German side: 11,000
Died on the German side: 198,132
Sum West (until 31.12.1944)
Died on the German side: 289,132
East (until 31.12.1944)
1941 and before
Died on the German side: 276,066
Died on the German side: 399,066
Died on the German side: 418,066
Died on the German side: 514,297
Sum East (until 31.12.1944)
Died on the German side: 1,607,495
Final Battles 1945
Died on the German side: 532,726
Wholly different is the distribution in the categories “Eastern Front” and “Final Battles”. Already in 1944 the part of the not clearly established cases is higher than that of those who are died on the German side. This applies even more to the Final Battles, the examination of the concrete cases having shown that two thirds of the losses of this phase were incurred by the units fighting in the East – especially in what concerns the not clearly established cases.
What do these considerations imply for the results of the present study? They show that the tables about deaths in captivity are to be looked at with reservations insofar as they, one the one hand, show not to the sum of those who died there but only to the sum of documented deaths. On the other hand it becomes clear where there are still greater margins of uncertainty – not in the West or in the other theaters of war, but mainly in the East. What relevance does this realization have for the central question of the examination, about the sum of deaths? None at all at right away, given that the death of those in question cannot be doubted – the sum of losses therefor doesn’t change. What changes, however, is the distribution of the variables with regard to the various theaters of war – not so much in the West, but mainly in the East. The dimension of these inexactitudes is what is to be examined in the interpretation of the contents of the results.
First of all an overview of the number of deaths in captivity:
Table 65: Deaths in captivity (by custodian state)
Total number of prisoners of war
Great Britain 3,640,000
Other States 170,000
Deaths in captivity according to present study
Great Britain 21,000
Other States 8.000
Deaths in captivity according to Maschke Commission
Great Britain 1,300
Other States 13.000
When comparing the data about deaths related to the various custodian states, hardly a case of coincidence can be observed. The figures do, however, show a similar trend – custodian states with high death rates according to the data of the Maschke Commission also show an above average death rate in the present study. The same goes for states with low death rates. The question how the nevertheless existing differences in the absolute values can be explained will be examined in the following.
First it should be pointed out that – except in case of the Soviet Union – the losses in captivity in all custodian states are but fractions of percentages of the total losses and are thus in an order of magnitude that cannot be evaluated accurately even with the present, relatively large sample. Furthermore the methods of establishing the figures vary. The data of the Maschke Kommission are based on files of the custodian state and numerous testimonials of German prisoners of war. In matters of content they refer, in what concerns to the Western Allies, to those who died in Allied custody in a narrower sense. The compilation techniques of the present study, however, mandate the inclusion in the category “captivity” also of such cases that formally fall under that category but for which the respective custodian state was not responsible in material terms. This applies especially to the differences in the data related to Great Britain, the USA and the “other countries”.
Things are different in the case of France, where the numbers of the Maschke Commission are based on the official French data and there are substantial indications for the assumption that, of the ca. 180,000 missing in the West, a great number died indeed in French custody – or as mercenaries in Indochina. Even more difficult is the situation regarding deaths in Yugoslavian custody – apart from rather contradictory German testimonials on the one hand and the documented cases underlying the present study on the other there is no examination that could contribute to the clarification of the question.
Given this unsatisfactory state of research the question arises how reliable data about the deaths in captivity could be obtained. Not by means of an empiric compilation analogous to the present one, given that the information deficits pointed out are not caused by methodological deficiencies of the study – the study only demonstrates the fact that the information available to the German authorities is insufficient. Only the evaluation of reports presently coming in from the former Soviet Union, the recovery of unburied dead presently under way both in the former USSR and in Eastern Germany as well as the registration of graves in the Soviet Union by the VDK will lead to an improvement of the state of information in the next years or decades.
But independently of what the number of deaths in captivity actually is, the differences – at least in what concerns the Western Allies – are so small that they cannot significantly affect the results of this study so far. This does not apply in regard to Yugoslavia let alone for the Soviet Union – here the difference between 300,000 or a million deaths is so huge that it influences the distribution of the variables. It will thus be attempted in the following to localize the differences more closely.
Table 66: Deaths in Soviet custody by years
Deaths in Soviet captivity according to present study
1946 and after 118,000
Missing according to present study*
1945 ca. 400,000
1946 and after -
* The number of missing in 1945 was estimated for the present study on the basis of the established fact that about two thirds of deaths during the Final Battles occurred in the East of Germany.
Deaths in Soviet captivity according to Maschke Commission
1946 and after included in 1945
Table 66, which differentiates the number of deaths by years, shows first the number of prisoners of war in Soviet custody and the missing on the Eastern Front, followed by the data of the Maschke Commission. According to the present study a total of ca. 363,000 German soldiers died in Soviet captivity – the sum of individually documented deaths. The approach of the Maschke Commission was another: they established, on the basis of various sources, the number of soldiers taken prisoner as well as the percentage of those who died every year. Although it is an estimate, it can be considered as well founded. When comparing the number of the missing established in the present study, ca. 1.5 million, with the difference in deaths considered by the present study on the one hand and the Maschke Commission on the other, it becomes visible that the difference, ca. 700,000 deaths, corresponds to about half of the number of missing. And it seems altogether plausible, although it cannot be proven, that half of those missing were killed in battle and the other half actually died in Soviet custody . Parting from this consideration the question arises how these ca. 700,000 cases are distributed temporarily. For this it is necessary to recall the conduction of military operations. In the first year, i.e. until ca. the middle of 1943, when the German armies were attacking, they were usually in conditions to recover their own dead in the conquered areas. This means that, at the beginning, the overwhelming majority of missing were taken prisoner and died in Soviet custody – out of the Germans taken prisoner at Stalingrad alone ca. 90,000 died rather soon in captivity. The more the initiative went over to the Soviet side and the more often large units were destroyed and taken prisoner, the greater the number of men killed in battle among those missing is likely to have been.
In relation to the above data this plausible if not provable consideration has the consequence that the results of the present study should be modified. Presumably the number of missing in the years 1941/42 must be almost wholly added to the deaths in captivity, whereas in the following years an ever growing part must be added to those killed on the German side. If the numbers of the present study are nevertheless used for the further assessment, this is only because the above considerations, while plausible, are not based on documented individual fates like the remaining results of the present study. As already mentioned, it must be left to a complementary study to evaluate the information arriving from the former Soviet Union at present and in the future, in order to obtain more accurate results in what concerns captivity.[...]
The total figure for German POW deaths in American captivity given by Overmans is 22,000, which is somewhat higher than the figure established by the West German government's Maschke Commission in 1974 (5,000). The figures of the Maschke Commission include 4,537 deaths at the Rhine Meadows camps of Remagen, Bad Kreuznach, Andernach, Buderich, Rheinbach and Sinzig camps, established in an investigation conducted by the surrounding communities - US authorities only admitted to 3,053 deaths at these camps.
For further information on the Rhein Meadows camps, I suggest you contact the webmaster of the "POW" web site, who seems to have done a lot of research on them. You may find the site under