As you know, I’m still reading “Price of Glory: Verdun 1916” by Alistair Horne. The cover has a quote: “‘Verdun was the bloodiest battle in history…'” and as I continue to read the book, this quote started me to think “What really was the worst battle?” and the answer is, of course, complicated. So where do I turn? Google!
Here’s what I found out – it really depends on your definition of battle and what you define as “bloodiest battle”. So I made my definition all types of battles and number of casualties.
Classical formation battles (armies meet on a single field and fought each other):
Battle of Baghdad – 1258 A.D.
Total casualties: Over 2,100,000 (including civilians)
Armies: Mongol Empire (victor) vs. Ilkhanate Mongol forces.
When the Mongol army seized the city, they killed everybody, including citizens trying to flee. They looted and then destroyed several important sites of that time period including the library, palaces, mosques, and hospitals. This battle started in January and was finished by the end of February, 1258.
Sieges and Urban Combat (battles fought primarily in urban areas):
Siege of Leningrad – 1941-1944 (WWII)
Total casualties: 1,117,000-4,500,00
Armies: Soviet (victor) vs. Germany, Finland, Italy (Axis Powers)
Germany launched an offensive to take Leningrad (St. Petersburg) on September 8, 1941 and lasted 872 days. It is one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history. Because of the length of the siege, and due to lack of supplies and food for evacuees and soldiers alike, this contributed to the high death toll. Modern estimates show 1,017,881 soldiers killed, captured, or missing; 2,418,185 wounded and sick; 642,000 civilians killed during the siege; and 400,000 civilians killed during evacuation. Keep in mind that the wounded and/or sick were surrounded without medical attention.
Major Operations (prolonged battles/operations fought over a large area and/or for a long time):
Operation Barbarossa – June 22, 1941 – December 5, 1941 (WWII)
Total casualties: over 5,500,000
Armies: Soviet vs. Axis Powers (Germany, Romania, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Finland).
This is the German operation that launched Germany’s invasion of the USSR. This was the largest invasion in history. The numbers are staggering:
Axis Powers: 4 million soldiers – 600k motor vehicles – 750k horses – over 4k aircraft
Soviet: 2.9 million soldiers (frontline strength, overall strength was 5.5 million) – 15k-20k tanks – 35k-40k aircraft
Casualties: Axis: over 1 million (unknown dead from wounds, non-combat deaths)
Soviet: approx. 4.5 million (includes dead from wounds, non-combat deaths (disease, executions, accidents, etc.)).
I don’t know much about this operation but I’m definitely going to track down some books covering this to better understand this operation and these figures which I found shocking.
Have you read any books or know anything about these battles? Any suggestions?