BEF Casualties - 1940

Discussion in '1940' started by ramacal, Oct 11, 2011.

  1. ramacal

    ramacal 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA Patron

    This is a project to try and identify the names of all casualties (lost their lives) of the land forces of the British Expeditionary Force and the places where they lay at rest or where they are commemorated. It does not include men from naval units or those of the airforce, as this needs to be a separate exercise and is more difficult to achieve in identifying who took part.

    The period i have chosen, is the start of the German attacks on the low countries (The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) on 10 May 1940, until the end of June 1940.

    Operation Dynamo covered the bulk of the evacuation and started on the 26th May and concluded on the 4th June. There were many other operations, actions and evacuations taking place before Operation Dynamo and after it.

    I have identified 11,945 casualties of the land forces who lost their lives between 10 May and 30 June. 4508 of them have no known grave and are commemorated on the Dunkirk Memorial in France. (The names include those who died after being captured and died in captivity right up to the time when the war ended). The other 7437 casualties who have a known resting place, are buried in 6 countries and in 478 cemeteries:-

    The Netherlands - 14 cemeteries - 29 men.
    Belgium - 131 cemeteries - 2348 men
    Luxembourg - 1 cemetery - 34 men
    France - 327 cemeteries - 5,012 men
    Poland - 2 cemeteries - 3 men
    Germany - 3 cemeteries - 11 men.

    The men in Poland and Germany died in captivity shortly after being captured.

    The lists do not include men who were successfully evacuated to the UK, but later died of their wounds. It would be difficult to verify this without access to their service records. An impossible task as the records are not in the public domain and when they are eventually available, would probably cost too much to review.

    Attached are pdf’s which list the countries and the cemeteries, but not the men’s names. This will be an ongoing lenghty exercise.

    (The lists may contain the occasional error, or omission. For this i apologise in advance. Please let me know if you find any).
     

    Attached Files:

    Rich Payne and Drew5233 like this.
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  3. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Hello Rob,

    Strangely I have just posted something on a not disimilar theme.

    There is a category of burials - the unidentified - that have a grave, but are only commerated on the Dunkirk Memorial. For example, the Marquise Community Cemetery has 107 identified burials (80 of which are BEF according to your list), but a massive 60 unidentified. I have a hunch, based on research, that my dad's oldest brother may be one of the unidentified's at Marquise.

    I wonder how many unidentified BEF burials there are out of the 4508 on the Dunkirk Memorial?

    Thanks for posting this!

    Best,

    Steve.
     
  4. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Post Removed ...Please ignore..
     
  5. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Thanks Rob, Great work.

    The figure of 12,171 is somewhat higher than most estimates and certainly seems closer to what I would have expected.

    It would indeed be interesting to know how many unidentified graves date from this period but presumably not possible with the CWGC data as it stands ?
     
  6. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    Good stuff- Does the Dunkirk memorial list all people missing in action in the French campaign or just at Dunkirk?
    Craig
     
  7. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    hello Craig info from CWGC
    During the Second World War, Dunkirk was the scene of the historic evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France in May 1940. The DUNKIRK MEMORIAL stands a the entrance to the Commonwealth War Graves section of Dunkirk Town Cemetery. It commemorates more than 4,500 casualties of the British Expeditionary Force who died in the campaign of 1939-40 or who died in captivity who were captured during this campaign and who have no known grave. The memorial was designed by Philip Hepworth and unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 29 June 1957. The engraved glass panel, depicting the evacuation, was designed by John Hutton.
    CWGC :: Cemetery Details

    regards
    Clive
     
  8. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    Thanks Clive.
    Craig
     
  9. sebfrench76

    sebfrench76 Senior Member

    Dear Gentlemen,absolutely no polemic or sarcasm in my question,be sure of that.
    But your are professionals and i'm looking for a replyto my question,even if it may seems naive to you....
    How do you explain the difference beetween the number of french deaths and British deaths?
    Thank you!
     
  10. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    It would first be necessary to have accurate statistics regarding losses in combat for the French army and as far as I'm aware, they are even harder to come by than for the British but the BEF was a tiny force when compared with total French units deployed (although not all the French divisions saw action and those of the BEF inevitably did).

    At the commencement of hostilities, France had up to eighty-six divisions (twelve of which were on the Italian frontier). The BEF only deployed 13 infantry divisions on 10th May and a very small amount of armour when compared with France.
     
  11. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Dear Gentlemen,absolutely no polemic or sarcasm in my question,be sure of that.
    But your are professionals and i'm looking for a replyto my question,even if it may seems naive to you....
    How do you explain the difference beetween the number of french deaths and British deaths?
    Thank you!

    Hello Seb,

    These numbers are approximate.

    The French Army in May 1940 had 5 million men under arms, the British only .5 million; although this rose sharply in the following month with new recruits. In the northern sector the French Army had 117 Divisions - although some of these were in The Netherlands and others may have been otherwise deployed i.e. reservists -, the British a mere 13 Divisions (3 of which were used as pioneers, but ended up fighting). The French lost just over 85,000 KIA between 10 May and 22 June 1940.

    In proportion to the respective number of men under arms, the British had a higher percentage of deaths - and this included my dad's oldest brother.

    We British have never had a large standing Army and have rarely used conscription/national service to boost numbers. Our Army is essentially a volunteer army and in WWII it took a while - with the aid of conscription - to build up the numbers under arms to make a difference - as we saw on D-Day, Normandy and the Break-out in 1944; ably and predominantly assisted by our Canadian and US cousins.

    Does this help answer your question?

    Best,

    Steve.
     
  12. sebfrench76

    sebfrench76 Senior Member

    Thank you very much to both of you!
    I was amazed,reading war diaries on this forum,concerning the BEF,to find such a number of casualties in the reports,and to find a "slightely poor"(i don't like these words,of course) number at the end,for your KIAs.
    It is still a controversial thema,in France,70 years after.Some say,we died to allow you to reimbark safely,some say we put our hands up everytime a German cooker was to be seen...
    I think you know where's the truth..
     
  13. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    All fascinating facts , the 12,000 BEF KIA sounds a much more realistic figure, one book I read quoted 3000 !
    Many of the British infantry battalions appear to have returned home with less than half their numbers , some were POWs of course. 4th Battalion Green Howards suffered 72 killed between 10th May and 3rd June coincidentally including my fathers eldest brother, over 10% of complement killed plus many more wounded and missing.
     
  14. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Many of us on here have our 'favourite' BEF units for one reason or another and most of them seem to have taken a bit of a hammering.

    I suspect that the poor statistics could stem from the fact that the true totals were not known for months or years and by then, there were other things to think about and also that it wouldn't have done to let high figures be quoted. Would the British public have stood for a casualty figure that may have seemed to be approaching that of the first day of the Battle of the Somme ? (Thankfully, it didn't get that high, although if there had been another 'Lancastria, it could have).

    One of the most useful things about Rob's new statistics is that they do let things fit in much better with the impression that I too have of a proportionately high casualty rate that couldn't be explained by POW totals.

    This sub forum is not just a BEF forum (although it can sometimes seem like that). It could certainly be enhanced by details of principally French actions. It's not the place for tired old clichés, but I don't think that it will happen. :)
     
  15. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Thank you very much to both of you!
    I was amazed,reading war diaries on this forum,concerning the BEF,to find such a number of casualties in the reports,and to find a "slightely poor"(i don't like these words,of course) number at the end,for your KIAs.
    It is still a controversial thema,in France,70 years after.Some say,we died to allow you to reimbark safely,some say we put our hands up everytime a German cooker was to be seen...
    I think you know where's the truth..

    All fascinating facts , the 12,000 BEF KIA sounds a much more realistic figure, one book I read quoted 3000 !
    Many of the British infantry battalions appear to have returned home with less than half their numbers , some were POWs of course. 4th Battalion Green Howards suffered 72 killed between 10th May and 3rd June coincidentally including my fathers eldest brother, over 10% of complement killed plus many more wounded and missing.

    Many of us on here have our 'favourite' BEF units for one reason or another and most of them seem to have taken a bit of a hammering.

    I suspect that the poor statistics could stem from the fact that the true totals were not known for months or years and by then, there were other things to think about and also that it wouldn't have done to let high figures be quoted. Would the British public have stood for a casualty figure that may have seemed to be approaching that of the first day of the Battle of the Somme ? (Thankfully, it didn't get that high, although if there had been another 'Lancastria, it could have).

    One of the most useful things about Rob's new statistics is that they do let things fit in much better with the impression that I too have of a proportionately high casualty rate that couldn't be explained by POW totals.

    This sub forum is not just a BEF forum (although it can sometimes seem like that). It could certainly be enhanced by details of principally French actions. It's not the place for tired old clichés, but I don't think that it will happen. :)

    Hello Seb,

    I think you will find that some French units fought well and hard, and others capitulated too easily i.e. mixed. They had been, as were the BEF, trained to fight the last war - defensive - and then along come the Germans with the Blitzkrieg - a new attacking armour led tactic. We British were lucky we had that well known and insurmountable anti-tank ditch - the English Channel - to retreat behind. The French had nowhere to go.

    The remaining BEF and thousands of French troops were only able to get away from Dunkirk and Bray Dunes because the French Army provided the main rearguard. A lot of people forget that particular French sacrifice.

    JCB,

    Another coincidence is that your dad's oldest brother and my dad's oldest brother (72nd Field Regiment, RA), were both in the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, and the 72nd Field Regiment, RA. were usually allocated to the 150th Infantry Brigade of which the 4th Bn Green Howards were part. :)

    Rich,

    I believe Andy (handle 'Drew5233') echoed something similar a few months back, but I trust I have not misquoted him.

    Best,

    Steve.
     
  16. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    The French had nowhere to go.

    They had Africa - Churchill tried to persuade the French government to continue the war from Africa during/after Op Dynamo. Petain and his supporters stopped that from happening.
     
  17. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Interestingly, I've just this evening picked up French's "Raising Churchill's Army" again and gone back over chapter five 'The Pre-War Army and the BEF 1940' and he starts off by rather trustingly quoting statistics from Ellis which seems quite a departure for a very well thought out book that quotes references and sources to the point of obsession.

    "In retrospect Sir Henry Pownall, the Chief of Staff of the BEF in 1940, thought that Britain's defeat at Dunkirk had the inevitability of 'a Greek tragedy'. It did not. When the BEF was expelled from the Continent in June 1940, it left behind 68,111 casualties of whom only 3,500 were killed and 40,000 were prisoners..."

    It is a book dating from 2000, but Ramacal's work has rather shed a new light on the losses sustained.

    ...Lest we forget the other 8500 unfortunates.:poppy:
     
  18. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    it left behind 68,111 casualties of whom only 3,500 were killed and 40,000 were prisoners

    I take mathematics wasn't a strong point - Does he say what happened to the other 25,000 ish?
     
  19. ramacal

    ramacal 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA Patron

    Thank's to Geoff's wonderful Search engine, this project was made possible.

    I decided to start on 10 May for obvious reasons and put an end date of 30 June 1940, as men were still trying to evade and escape. In the process I found casualties in Bayeux War cemetery and up in Texel in the Netherlands. Quite a few appeared down the French Atlantic coast cemeteries, no doubt those washed up after the sinking of the Lancastria.

    I looked at each single day and every man's CWGC details, which identified a cemetery with others buried within it. A rather tedious way to do it, but a useful exercise. I have a spreadsheet with all of the CWGC cemetery links, but have not sussed out how to put this within a pdf.

    Regards - Rob
     
  20. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I take mathematics wasn't a strong point - Does he say what happened to the other 25,000 ish?

    I noticed that and decided that 'left behind' was a poor choice of phrase and he should have said 'left behind or returned wounded ?'

    It's a shame to find inconsistencies like this as the book is full of well-argued points about the conduct of the British campaign.
     

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