The New York Times casualty reports

Turns out the New York Times, based upon citations of unnamed U.S. officials, is providing the following estimates of losses:

1. Russia: up to 120,000 killed and 170,000 to 180,000 wounded.
2. Ukraine: close to 70,000 killed with 100,000 to 120,000 wounded.

I have lots of heartburn with these figures.

First… wounded-to-killed ratios:

The wounded-to-killed ratio for WWII was 3:1. The wounded-to-killed ratio for Soviets troops at the Battle of Kursk (1943) was around 2.5:1 (2.48-to-1). Specifically, in the Voronezh Front from 4-11 July it was 2.29-to-1 and from 12-18 July 1943 it was 2.68-to-1. For the opposing Germans it was 5.11-to-1 and 4.54-to-1 respectively. See Kursk, page 1374 (not too many people can say “see page 1374 of my book”).

Since World War II, wounded-to-killed ratios have risen to 5-to-1 or higher. It was 10-to-1 for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan (and 13-to-1 for the USMC). The Donets People’s Republic (DPR) reported a wounded-to-killed ratio for 2022 of 4-to-1 (4.16-to-1).

So, they have for the Russians a wounded-to-killed of 1.5-to-1. Really? Read my book War by Numbers, Chapter 15, and then come back with some intellectually valid estimates. These are not!

They have the wounded-to-killed ratios for the Ukrainians at between 1.42 or 1.71 to one. Same ballpark as the Russians. Yet the Soviet Union has a wounded-to-killed ratio at Kursk in 1943 of 2.5-to-1. Are you saying that medical care and evacuation in the Russian and Ukrainian armies now are considerably worse that of the Soviet Union in 1943, when they did not have penicillin? The argument is absurd.

Second… Russian killed:

The only systematic reporting of Russian killed that I am aware is the BBC/Medizona reports by name of people killed. As of 11 August, this was a total of 30,003. These figures are gathered from a mix of obituaries, newspaper reports, formal death certificates, contacts with the families, reviewing graveyards and gravestones, and I gather a number of catch-as-catch-can methods. I have not reviewed their data collections efforts in detail. From my correspondence with them, they believe they are accounting for about half of the dead. This seems like a reasonable assumption, although it is an assumption. This would mean that total Russian dead from the war is perhaps 60,000 or more killed. Not sure how we get from there to 120,000.

Third… Ukrainian killed:

The reporting we have on Ukrainian dead is worse than what we have for Russian dead. Now, I am sure the Ukrainians have a better count, but they have not provided any reporting in a very long time (since summer of last year). My sense is that Ukrainian dead is probably less than Russian dead at this point. Maybe 75% of Russian dead, although this is a guesstimate based upon no solid data. So, their estimate of 70,000 Ukrainains versus 120,000 Russian dead sort of matches. It is 58% of the Russian dead or a casualty exchange ratio of 1.71-to-1. I really don’t buy into that. Ukrainian definitely took some casualties in the Kherson operations August-October 2022, possibly more than the Russians. They are on the offensive now against prepared positions. If they have significant artillery superior it is possible they could have a 2-to-1 exchange ratio, but Russia does have some active artillery, as the 47th Mech Bde videos in June showed. So, I do question the 1.71-to-1 exchange ratio.

So, if Russian killed are 60,000, then Ukrainian killed could be 45,000 or higher. I am still guessing that the wounded-to-killed ratio is 4-to-1 or higher. So maybe for Russian 60K killed and 240K wound for 300K casualties (which actually does match the totals in the New York Times article). For Ukraine maybe 45K killed (or more) and at least 180K wounded for a total of 225K casualties or higher.

Of course, these are estimates based upon little actual data. But, while it is hard to tell what the correct estimate is, it is pretty easy to tell if there is an issue with an estimate if they cannot provide a reasonable wounded-to-killed ratio. If they can’t provide a reasonable interpretation of that fairly well documented relationship (again see War by Numbers or Dupuy’s Attrition), then it does make one wonder what can be trusted in such an estimate.


P.S. If you take the estimate of 120K Russian killed and assume 4-to-1 wounded, then you end up with 600,000 casualties which is hard to explain in an army that has only deployed 300,000+ to Ukraine. It does appear that people keep dicking with the wounded-to-killed figures so they can report more killed without producing outrageously high total casualty figures. 

This entry was posted in Casualty estimation, Eastern Europe, Russia by Christopher A. Lawrence. Bookmark the permalink.

About Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience. Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation. His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) and The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019) Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

9 thoughts on “The New York Times casualty reports

    • In the old 3-to-1 and 4-to-1 reporting for wounded, they all went to the hospital. The U.S. ad UK tradition was that someone only counted as wounded if they spent the night in the hospital. Otherwise, in the U.S. they were carded for record (meaning they could get a purple heart but were not counted as wounded). For the German system they had to spend three nights in the hospital to be counted (which means that the Germans tend to count less wounded than the U.S. and UK).

      Not sure what the Soviet rules were, but it certainly meant hospital care. In the case of Col. Sverdlov when he was wounded in 1944/45, he went back to the hospital area, and his back was sewed back up without anesthetics. He laid in the “hospital bed,” when was on some straw in an open field. After a while, he just went back to his unit. I think because he received medical care, he would was counted as wounded.

      But yes, there is a batch of people in most armies who are wounded but do not receive hospital care. These people are usually not counted as wounded (the exception being the modern U.S. Marine Corps, which is why they report higher wounded-to-killed figures than the U.S. Army).

      So…. I think we are comparing apples to apples here.

  1. Chris, as you know, journalists have a reputation for not understanding statistics (and even not always recognizing the difference between apples and oranges when it comes to counting things). For example, newspaper journalists translated my “retired persons being the modal category for landowners in a particular county” into “the majority of farmers are retired.” That was news to the hardworking farmers! Apples versus oranges, landowners versus farmers, mode versus majority, . . . same difference!

    I suspect that the numbers used by The Washington Post were correct, just not for what they though that they were describing.

    • The study by Meduza seems to count as wounded any Russian who received a state pension for wounds suffered in combat. I expect that many soldiers whom the USSR counted as wounded in 1943 would not meet Meduza’s definition in 2023. States are rarely generous in handing out lifetime pensions to wounded soldiers and many of Putin’s cronies specialize in stealing from the army!

  2. There’s no way Military hospitals today are not 3-4 times better than 80 years ago. At least on the Ukranian side.

    But I do think the Ukranian have limits to their ability to resist – 2 years at most.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *