11 July 2014

Breaking Down Soviet WWII Losses: Conclusion

Losses by Gender

Research conducted by Russian demographers Andreev, Darskii and Kharkova suggests the Soviet population 1941 through 1945 lost 13.5 million more males than females.[46]

In the Soviet-German War the USSR suffered up to 11 million military deaths which would have been overwhelmingly of males. 1941-1945 65,000 Soviet citizens were executed by civil authorities and a further 1,020,000 people died in prisons, camps and colonies of the gulag. These deaths too would have been overwhelmingly of males. Also about 500,000 Soviet prisoners or war, or Soviet citizens in German service successfully avoided repatriation to the USSR at the end of World War II. Thus 12.6 million, or the great majority of the male to female deficit in Soviet population is accounted for by military deaths, judicial executions, deaths in the gulag and emigration of collaborators and prisoners of war. This may attest to at least a rough validity of estimates presented in this paper.

The unaccounted difference between 12.6 and 13.5 million may mean that males were, somewhat counter-intuitively, slightly overrepresented among civilian deaths as well. Possibly particularly due to being overrepresented among victims of German anti-partisan reprisals and other killing policies. It may also mean the number of 500,000 is an under-estimation of how many more males than females managed to emigrate. It may also mean that 11 million is an underestimation of Soviet military deaths in the Soviet-German War. Indeed a noted Russian scholar, S.N. Mihkhalev, estimates the USSR lost 10.9 million Red Amy and NKVD regulars on the front, to military tribunals or in captivity. This would push the combined military casualties from the Soviet population to 11.4 million. Naturally, it may be the 0.9 million difference is a combination of any of the three factors mentioned. 

Migration Deficit

The scale of migration deficit is possibly the most uncertain of all causes of Soviet population losses in the Soviet-German War. The 2.7 million estimate from Ellman and Maksudov used here is twenty years old and is based on only a very rough and preliminary calculation.[47] Even as such, however, it remains seemingly the most-well supported of all such estimates (most of whom are considerably lower). This paper then uses the seemingly best available, but still rather uncertain figure. Hopefully historians and demographers will continue to take a look at this question and eventually produce a more certain estimate, so that the question of how much of the Soviet population deficit in the war may be attributed to emigration may be answered more reliably.

Population of Newly Annexed Territories

Since the Soviet Union conducted a population census in 1937 and then again in 1939 we have a fairly good idea how large the population of the USSR in its 1939 borders was. The much bigger unknown, however, is how many new citizens were added through Soviet territorial expansion in 1939-40. This means the size of the Soviet population on the eve of the war is not fully certain, which makes estimating its losses all the more difficult. Andreev et al, estimate that through annexations the Soviet population  increased by 20.3 million. On the one hand Ellman and Maksudov reckon this is more likely to be an underestimate than an overestimate. Indeed there are other estimates which go up to 23 million. On the other hand there are rival lower estimates as well. S.N. Mihkhalev reckons newly annexed territories were populated by between 17 and 20 million inhabitants.[48]

The interplay between the uncertainty connected to the size of net emigration balance and the size of population added through annexations on the eve of the war makes estimating the likeliest number of Soviet war dead all the more difficult. For example if 2.7 million is actually an overestimate of how many people the USSR lost through migration and 20.3 million is an underestimation of how many lived in the newly added territories then 25.3 million would be considerably less than the actual war dead. On the other hand if 2.7 million is an overestimate of emigration balance and 20.3 million an overestimate of the number of people in the annexed territories then 25.3 million could well be a basically right estimate even though these two inputs were off.


The significance of the breakdown of Soviet WWII losses presented here is in relative rather than absolute terms. It is not anything approaching a definite breakdown, but it does represent an improvement over anything else produced so far. There is a definite limit on how clearly anyone will ever be able to estimate and break down the losses from a war that is even now 70 years old, but more than that much more research still needs to be done. A dramatically more reliable breakdown is possible, but only after historians have done more work on topics such as the partisan war in the USSR, the life under the German occupation, the food supply in wartime USSR and so on. Counter-intuitively despite being so vast the human cost of the Soviet-German War 1941-45 can be said to remain a woefully understudied subject.

Table of Contents

46. E.M. Andreev, L.E. Darskii and T.L. Kharkova, Naselenie Sovetskogo Sojuza 1922-1991, table 35, p. 78.

47. Ellman and Maksudov, "Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War", 678- 679.

48. Mentioned in L.L. Rybakovskij, "Lyudskie poteri SSSR v Velikoj Otechestvennoj vojne", Sotsiologicheskie issiedovaniya, no. 6 (2000): 108-118, citing SN Mikhalev, Ljudskie poteri SSSR v Velikoj Otechestvennoj vojne (St. Petersburg: 1995).

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