21st Army Group Casualties 23 March to 5 May 1945 and John Russell's 'Theirs the Strife'

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Tom R, Mar 31, 2024.

  1. Tom R

    Tom R Member

    In his generally excellent, 2020 ‘Theirs the Strife: the Forgotten Battles of British Second Army and Armeegruppe Blumentritt, April 1945’, John Russell makes the following statement:

    "..historical coverage has give rise to the perception that the advances through Germany and the Netherlands were uncontested formalities, resulting in the final advance being left in the nation’s memory as a trouble-free ‘swan’. Nothing could be further from the truth and in the six weeks from the crossing of the Rhine on 23 March to the war’s end on 8 May, Montgomery’s 21st Army Group at certain times and places fought an implacable enemy, resulting in some 20,000 casualties, nearly a quarter of the total for the campaign, with 4,009 killed in action, 15,796 wounded and 1,213 missing.” pp.xiii-xiv

    This is essentially the same claim as made in his earlier 1994 ‘No Triumphant Procession’ on page 7 with more precise figures and an archive reference to 21st Army Group’s ‘A’ Sitrep on 8 May 1945 (TNA WO 171/3873) in his more recent work.

    This is the central premise on which the book is based, namely that 21st Army Group's campaign in Northwest Germany in April 1945 has been overlooked and that the fighting was much more intense, almost at the same levels as that experienced in Normandy in June – August 1944. Unfortunately, the figures on which it is based are quite wrong.

    The casualty figures for 21st Army Group’s campaign in North West Europe from June 1944 to May 1945 are available in ‘Notes on the Operations of 21 Army Group: 6 June 1944 – 5 May 1945’ produced by BAOR G (Ops)(Records) on 1 September 1945. Helpfully they are broken down by phase, so it is possible to compare and contrast the different elements of the campaign and determine average daily casualty rates.

    For the Normandy campaign, 6 June to 24 August 1944 21 AG suffered the following casualties:

    Killed 15,679

    Wounded 56,361

    Missing 8,698

    Total 80,738

    This gives an average daily casualty rate of 1,035 and accounted for 41.5% of 21 AG’s casualties over the whole campaign, which were 194,454.

    By contrast the figures for 23 March to 5 May 1945 21 AG suffered the following casualties:

    Killed 6,042

    Wounded 18,303

    Missing 790

    Total 25,135

    This gives an average daily casualty rate of 585 and accounted for 12.9% of 21 AG’s casualties for the whole campaign, almost half what John Russell claims.

    For further comparison the figures from 25 August to 30 September 1944, which saw a mixture of very rapid advances across France and then the bitter fighting in the Low Countries, including Arnhem, saw average daily casualty rates of 830 and accounted for 15.4% of 21 AG’s total casualties.

    I think John Russell’s central premises still stands though, that the campaign is overlooked and the fighting more bitter than generally recognised. It is significant that casualty rates were higher than the fighting during Operation Veritable (503 per day), which is often portrayed as the last major battle that 21 AG fought and where the Germans offered serious resistance. So hyperbole aside, John Russell makes an important point.

    It is possible that it is an honest mistake as well. The infantry casualties (non-motorised) for 21 AG during the whole campaign were 4,723 officers and 78,724 other ranks (see Hansard 25 July 1946). And if you take just the British casualties for 23 March to 5 May which were 4,339 killed, 13,052 wounded and 539 missing for a total of 17,930 then you get 22% of the total, which is remarkably similar to the figure that John Russell gives.
    Rich Payne, mac657, JDKR and 2 others like this.
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I've sent John aka JDKR a link to your thread.
    I'm sure he'll reply to your point next time he visits the forum.
    JimHerriot likes this.
  3. Tom R

    Tom R Member

    Thanks, much appreciated.
    JimHerriot likes this.
  4. JDKR

    JDKR Senior Member

    Tom R - many thanks for your analysis of the casualty figures. It is now some years since I did my research and I would be pushed now to justify my maths. It is entirely possible that I erroneously mixed 2nd Army and 21st Army statistics (thus comparing apples with oranges) and you are very welcome to see if this a possibility. In retrospect I probably should have avoided detailed figures and used a phrase such as ‘a significant proportion’. If Theirs the Strife goes to a second edition this is a change I would make! My thanks again for your interest in the book and for your most generous comments. I am very happy to stand corrected.
  5. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Very interesting figures. It is remarkable that the casualty figures per day for the period are higher than they were in Veritable.
    JimHerriot and stolpi like this.
  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Statistics can be delusive. Keep in mind that Op Veritable did not involve all of 21st Army Group (only 30 Corps & 2nd Cdn Corps). So the casualty figures for this operation were relatively much higher.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2024
  7. Tom R

    Tom R Member

    Very true, the method quoted above is very crude and only indicative. It would require much more detail to get a truly accurate picture and your point re the per capita casualty figures of the troops actually involved in Op Veritable being much higher is well made.

    ps "delusive" is a new word for me - thank you
    stolpi likes this.
  8. Tom R

    Tom R Member

    No problem and I completely understand re the passage of time. Getting the 2nd Army casualty data would require going to the National Archive as it's not easily available online or in the published sources which I have to hand. In the meantime, the only (unsatisfactory) proxy I can come up with is to use the British casualty figures from 21st Army group for the campaign as a whole and for the period 23 March to 5 May 1945, which are 143,984 and 17,930 respectively. The latter figure is 12.5% of the total, so still very similar to the figures given above.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2024

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