World War 2 Industrial Casualties

Quote of the Day

Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines.

– Kevin Kling, quoting a little boy in a religion class describing Solomon.


Introduction

Figure 1: Poster Encouraging Job Safety.

Figure 1: Poster Encouraging Job Safety (Source).

I like to watch authors discuss their history books on BookTV. I listen to BookTV while I work around the house. One weekend, I heard two historians (I did not write down their names) discussing World War 2 and each mentioned a statistic that sounded something like this (my wording).

During World War 2, the US took the better part of 18 months to build its military-industrial base after Pearl Harbor. Building this industrial base had its own cost in lives. In fact, the number of US military personnel killed in action each year did not exceed the number of US industrial deaths each year until sometime in 1943.

I had never considered the number of people that were dying on the home-front building the armaments needed to fight World War 2. I thought that I should be able to fact check this statement – work that I document in this post.

Background

I did a quick web search and found the following sources.

  • This post consists of grabbing this data, cleaning it up, and summarizing the results in a pivot table.

    If you want to see how I processed the data, here is my spreadsheet.

    Analysis

    The historians were correct if you strictly take casualties listed as Killed in Action (KIA) or air combat deaths. To keep things simple, I focused on the data for the US Army, Navy, and Marines – I could not find yearly Coast Guard data, but did find yearly Merchant Marine data (shown in the attached spreadsheet). I grabbed all the KIA data on the pages listed above and generated a pivot table (Table 1), which I show below. The casualties in war are never-ending and it can be jarring to see on paper. People want to show their support for those who serve by honoring their memory, whether that be flying marine corp flags outside their homes to attending the ceremonies that happen throughout the year. All we can say is that those KIA are never forgotten, on paper or in the mind. One could never know how big their sacrifice is and they will always be remembered by the country and their loved ones (through Toledo Blade obituaries or similar others), for their valour and conviction.

    It was during 1943 that the number of military KIA exceeded the number of workers dying in factories. The table also shows that military casualties really surged during 1944, which makes sense when you think of D-Day and the increasing tempo of operations in the Pacific War. Note that the official records list some deaths as occurring in 1946. I have included these deaths in 1945, which is why I label 1945 with a plus.

    Table 1: US Army, Navy, and Marine World War 2 Killed in Action Statistics.

    Year

    Army

    Marines

    Navy

    Military KIA

    Factory Deaths

    1941

    467

    99

    2,181

    2,747

    18,000

    1942

    4,497

    1,239

    2,890

    8,626

    18,500

    1943

    19,548

    1,732

    4,839

    26,119

    17,500

    1944

    107,437

    5,892

    8,187

    121,516

    16,000

    1945+

    57,747

    8,414

    15,907

    78,678

    16,000

    Totals

    189,696

    17,376

    34,004

    237,686

    85,500

    I would argue that these numbers are not really fair because there are many other battle deaths not listed as KIA. I get Table 2 if I count all the battle and non-battle-related deaths, and you can see the military deaths swamp out the civilian deaths in 1942.

    Table 2: US Army, Navy, and Marine World War 2 Battle and Non-Battle Killed Statistics.

    Year

    Army

    Marines

    Navy

    Military KIA

    Factory Deaths

    1941

    493

    165

    2,217

    2,875

    18,000

    1942

    17,612

    1,607

    3,278

    22,497

    18,500

    1943

    22,592

    1,839

    5,251

    29,682

    17,500

    1944

    126,170

    5,746

    9,348

    141,264

    16,000

    1945+

    68,007

    10,376

    16,856

    95,239

    16,000

    Totals

    234,874

    19,733

    36,950

    291,557

    85,500

    These totals agree with those reported by the Wikipedia. For total Army, Navy, and Marine casualties, see Appendix B.

    The US Marine’s listed their casualties by battle and not by year. I obtained the list of US Marine casualties by year from a book quote on a forum post (see Appendix A).

    Conclusions

    Here is what I learned from this data:

    • US factory work in the early 20th century was dangerous.
      • For comparison, there were 4,679 fatal work injuries in the US during 2014.
      • There were ~149 million employed workers in the US during 2015. (Source)
      • There were ~53 million employed workers in the US during 1945. (Source)
      • Roughly, there was more than 3 times the number of fatal work injuries with a workforce ~1/3 the size.
    • 48% of all US military KIA occurred during 1944.
      • The number of KIA in 1945 was lower than in 1944 because most of the fighting ended by June 1945.
      • 1945 casualty rates dropped enormously after the Battle of Okinawa and VE day.
    • The size of the European theater was massive compared to the Pacific theater.
      • Just look at the US Army casualties after D-Day. The US Army in July 1944 had 16.8K soldiers killed, where the US Marines lost 19.7k for the entire war.

    Appendix A: US Marine Casualties By Year

    I was able to find a forum post that summarized the Marines casualties by year using data from the book The US Marine Corps Story (ISBN 0316585580). Table 3 summarizes this information.

    Table 3: Marine World War 2 Killed in Action Statistics.

    Year

    Killed

    Wounded

    Captured

    Missing

    Total Casualties

    1941

    165

    80

    740

    0

    985

    1942

    1,607

    3,336

    1,292

    85

    6,320

    1943

    1,839

    4,996

    0

    27

    6,682

    1944

    5,746

    21,078

    0

    117

    26,941

    1945+

    10,376

    37,717

    238

    0

    48,331

    Totals

    19,733

    67,207

    2,270

    229

    89,439

    Appendix B: Battle and Non-Battle Casualties

    Table 4 shows the total Army, Navy, and Marines casualties during WW2 (Source). Note that there were a significant number of non-battle related casualties. This is true in all conflicts.

    Table 4: US Army, Navy, and Marines WW2 Casualty Summary.
    Service Total Serving Battle Deaths Non-Battle Deaths Total Deaths Wounded
    Army 11,260,000 234,874 83,400 318,274 565,861
    Navy 4,183,466 36,950 25,664 62,614 37,778
    Marines 669,100 19,733 4,778 24,511 67,207
    Totals 16,112,566 291,557 113,842 405,399 670,846

    Appendix C: Industrial Casualty Table.

    Figure 2 is my screen capture of the government’s data on factory deaths (Source).

    Figure M: Screen Capture From Google Books on Industrial Casualties.

    Figure 2: Screen Capture From Google Books on Industrial Casualties.

    Appendix D: Alternate Industrial Casualty Reference.

    Figure 3 is my screen capture from The Cambridge History of the Second World War: Volume 3, Total War: Economy, Society and Culture (Link). The data in this post is consistent with this reference.

    Figure 3: Alternate Reference on Industrial Casualties.

    Figure 3: Alternate Reference on Industrial Casualties.

 
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24 Responses to World War 2 Industrial Casualties

  1. robjford says:

    USA had lowest casualty rate of all major powers. USSR lost 29M total. USA and Canada’s big contribution to WW2 was in military hardware production. Link below gives the non-Hollywood version of WW2 reality.
    http://www.arsenalofdemocracy.org/images/WWIIlibrary/stats.pdf

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      Good data. When I look at the USSR’s casualty totals, I am just stunned — how does a society survive something like that …

      mathscinotes

       
      • Shannon Love says:

        They were used to it. The Tsars killed millions over the 19th century through shear ineptitude. By the time WWII came knocking, the Communist had already drenched the nation in blood and slavery.

        In 1932-33, Stalin killed some 4 million Ukrainians in the Holomador. That’s after the all the bloodshed of the civil war and then the people who starved to death circa 1921 before Herbert Hoover organized a massive US food relief effort. That was followed by the Great Terror where people where rounded up by quoted for slave labor and shipped off to the wilds of Siberia to perform resource extraction on the cheap. Nobody is quite sure how many died but clump of hundreds of thousands here, hundreds of thousands there and pretty soon you’re talking about a lot of people.

        For that matter, the rise of the Nazis, the war itself and the majority of causalities in at least the first year of the war can be laid directly at Stalin’s feet as well. He forced millions of Soviet troops to hold their ground and not retreat even the German literally just drove around them. Later the NKVD machine gunned and even shelled both soldiers and civilians who tried to extricate themselves from the on rushing Nazi juggernaught.

        WWII was horrific, even by Russian standards, but it wasn’t completely unprecedented either, the way the Holocaust was in Germany. The people of the Russian/Soviet Empire had long adapted to the idea that their government would murder them because they were in the way or would let or invaders would kill staggering numbers of them out shear incompetence. It was more like someone who lives in a flood plain encountering a thousand year flood, that it was someone who lived in a desert being flooded out.

        The survivors just learned to shrug and carrying on.

         
  2. Shannon Love says:

    I’ve read that the majority of mesothelioma (cancer) deaths attributed to asbestos where actually caused by exposures in the crash building program in the WWII shipyards. Asbestos was spayed on internal steel spaces for fireproofing in virtually all ships up until the 1960s. In the rush to build ships, workers often spontaneously decided to disregard asbestos safety rules (chronic exposure risk being discovered in by the early 1930s) and instead ran the risk of serious illness years down the road to keep the overseas logistics train going. That happened a lot cutting corners e.g. lot of people wrecked their vision welding without proper vision protection because it was faster.

    We generally don’t value those who build and grow even though they run the greatest risk in our society as a result of work. Anyone who works with physical forces day in and day out runs the risk those forces will kill them.

    Every road, affordable housing project, school etc comes with it a certain statistical risk that someone will die in its construction. Usually, on the insurance companies seem to notice.

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      I completely agree. I have watched many people who were worn out years too early by their jobs. The odd thing to me is how surprised people are when they find out that their work is damaging their future. For example, I know a saturation diver for an oil exploration company who was surprised when he started to lose his eyesight because of his exposure to high pressure air (he was 25 at the time). I am floored that football players appear to be shocked that years of banging their heads together affects their cognitive abilities.

      mathscinotes

       
      • Shannon Love says:

        Now that most of us work with out minds, we’ve forgotten that 50+ years ago, work for most men meant constant discomfort, pain, injury and the constant risk of death.

        I think that the majority of people who still do risky and damaging physical work nonetheless absorb the risk assumptions of the larger population of non-physical workers. When get injured or their bodies give out at 40 when they still have another 20 years before retirement because that doesn’t happen to desk jockeys.

        50+ years ago most men worked in manual labor and they just assumed they would take a lot of damage and die years before their wives. My grandfather came of age circa 1929 in New Mexico and spent his life as a rancher, farmer, pilot, truck driver, roughneck, you name it. His hands were massive but his fingernails almost comically tiny because he had smashed his fingers so many times he’d destroyed the nail beds. The backs of his hands and forearms where tanned to color of leather and crisscrossed with faint white scars. When he entered his final years and began to lose muscle mass, the backs of his hands and forearms didn’t shrink but bulged out. I realized that the unshrunken areas were a solid mass of keloid tissue, 70 years of scars upon scars building up like a sedimentation of pain. He loved to fly all his life but his vision degraded 10 years early in his mid 60s because of the accumulated accidental UV damage from 50 years of welding. He couldn’t fly anymore even though he was still otherwise capable of physically piloting a plane.

        My father was killed in the oil fields back in the 60s suffocated by a freak pocket of carbon monoxide. My father-in-law was very nearly killed in the oil fields when a hydraulic pump exploded, spent two years in the hospital and was permanently maimed.

        Yet what choice did they have? They had to work and the work needed to be done. Somebody was going to have to take the risk.

        In the end, real work is the work of physics, i.e. moving matter. In a big civilization, all work comes down to moving a lot of matter and all that moving matter is dangerous. Those of us who work with our minds are really just ultimately providing information about moving things. Our purpose is to facilitate those who lay hands on the physical world.

        We can have sit in comfort and safety and get paid for doing interesting mental work only because out there somewhere, someone else bleeds and dies.

         
  3. Vance Shaw says:

    TY for this. FASCINATING. I think the most interesting point though is that the number of factory/ mining deaths in USA actually DROPPED during the war.. And looked at from an injury per hours worked perspective it dropped quite a bit (using Source provided). One would have thought that the huge gear-up of production, munitions production and new workers it would have been far worse. On the military losses in WW2 I think it’s unfair to relate a nations contribution to the war effort by looking at human casualties alone. The idea is to make the other poor SOB die for his country while you live for yours (Patton). Usually the nation that takes the most casualties loses the war.

     
  4. Pat terKuile says:

    I’m curious as to whether or not the number of industrial deaths includes the high numbers lost when the Merchant Marine ships were torpedoed. I tried to use the site you gave for references but two of those were dead. Regards, Pat terKu (I create history displays for a local high school and like my facts and figures to be accurate.)

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      The numbers do not include Merchant Marine losses. I also like to make sure that my numbers are accurate :-). I will look around to see if I can refresh the links. These links move around so much that it is impossible to keep them all up. All I was doing in this post was fact checking some information I had heard on CSPAN.

      mathscinotes

       
    • mathscinotes says:

      I have updated the links and included my spreadsheet where I performed the analysis. I have included backup information so each piece of data is supported by at least two sources. I have also included Merchant Marine data in the spreadsheet. You can easily add that column to the military services data.

      mathscinotes

       
  5. Vance says:

    Well generally you win wars by inflicting more casualties than you took. Equating the degree of human losses with contribution to victory does not make sense. For example Poland suffered by far the highest % casualties in the war. Circa 16% of the population killed. Would one say they made the greatest contribution to victory? I think not. The greatest victim? Probably.

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      I have been gathering information for a post on the percentage casualties by countries. I was stunned by the numbers for Poland and Greece.

      mathscinotes

      P.S. I put out a blog post on this topic.

       
  6. Tazewell says:

    I seriously question the number of factory deaths. These numbers don’t follow natural statistics. The numbers are flat where we know a huge number of people became employed just for the war effort, ie munition plants and ship yards that didn’t exist prior to wwii. Job safety of the time stayed about the same. So as millions more enter work force the same rate per thousand are killed meaning the number must spike the decline as some munition factories began to shutdown in early 1945. Also look at construction deaths during this time as factories, airfields and training bases took 10’s of thousands to build each one so quickly.

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      I have similar questions as well. It appears to come down to how you define “factory deaths”. I am currently looking for data on all areas of the economy so that I generate my own worker death totals. I will update the post when I obtain more data.

      Thanks for the comment.

      mark

       
  7. GTB says:

    Great Job and thanks for sharing.
    Not sure I buy your stats for the “factory”. Many industries didn’t report deaths (nor were they required to); Timber, Oil extraction are two that I know personally.
    So basically I wonder what the definition of “factory” is for your analyses was and what industries were reporting.
    And yes the tragic cost of WWII is staggering, especially when you look past the USA casualties.

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      I have looked all over for casualties in other sectors of civilian employment (e.g. farming) and couldn’t find any records. None. So I focused on the only data the US government maintained at that time. Thanks for taking the time to write.

      mark

       
  8. Deb says:

    I am trying to find the stats used in a documentary on AHC Network (American Heroes Channel) during a Veterans Day special series 11/9/17 – 11/11/17. In that series it was stated that at one point factory deaths outnumbered battlefield and non- battlefield deaths 20 to 1 !! I found that astonishing! I’m attempting to locate the basis for those figures through that network. I’ll list it here if I find it.

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      I would appreciate any information like that. I have seen these sorts of industrial casualty statements before as well, but I have not been able to find objective evidence. This post presented what I could find.

      Thanks for writing.

      mark

       
  9. Lee Coppack says:

    Here is something I found on fatal injuries in shipyards during WWII: https://fraser.stlouisfed.org/files/docs/publications/bls/bls_0839_1945.pdf

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      Thanks for the reference. Clearly, shipyards were a dangerous place.

      mark

       
  10. Cheryl K says:

    I just finished a book that referenced military production deaths, and was curious what the numbers actually were. Thanks so much for pulling this together with such care as to the accuracy; I was thrilled to find this!

     
  11. Douglas j Gray says:

    Another little known fact is that among pilots, accidental deaths exceeded those happening in combat. Landing, taking off, bad maintenance, fuel leaks, bad piloting, unexpected bad weather, you name it.

     
  12. Dan C. says:

    I’ve been trying to find the numbers of those who perished just in the shipyards of the Delaware Valley. Other than Sun Ship and their listings of over 200, there is nothing in the other 30 plus area yards. As a former employee of a Navy yard, we were forbidden to discuss fatalities even up to the late 1980s for “security” reasons. Officially no one died on the job. Had a friend cut in half on a ship and he only “died” at the hospital.

     
  13. martin hogan says:

    The public information broadcast after the Fibber McGee and Molly show said that factoyr deaths during WW2 were greater than military deaths; this was in 1945, not sure why the figures have been revised down so much

     

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