Civilian Casualties in Gt. Britain caused by enemy action during 1939–45

(Chapter XVI)

Some explanation is necessary to account for the difference between the two sets of figures in Table 3. The figures supplied by the Ministry of Home Security include civil defence personnel, but exclude the National Fire Service, the Police, H.M. Forces, the Home Guard, Observer Corps and men of the Merchant Navy. On the other hand, the Registrar-General's statistics, while excluding H.M. Forces (except for women in the Forces up to mid-1941) do include seamen dying in Great Britain as a result of enemy action of any kind, and civilians killed at sea by enemy action.

The two sets of figures do not, therefore, cover precisely comparable groups of population. Moreover, neither is restricted to casualties caused directly by bombing. In the first place, the Home Security statistics do not include a include a proportion of the deaths of persons who were injured by enemy action and subsequently died. The Registrar-General's returns do, assuming that death certification gives precedence to the initial injury, and insofar as death occurred before the end of the German war. Then again, the former includes civilians killed by cross-channel shelling, by machine-gunning from German aeroplanes, by exploding anti-aircraft shells and as a result of other defending action. But the Registrar-General's figures are wider in scope, for they include in addition civilian casualties caused by sea-mines, crashed Allied aircraft, Army manoeuvres and battle exercises, train and vehicle accidents caused by enemy action and other deaths due to operations of war.

Another reason for the difference between the figures is that death registration could not be carried out until identification was completed. In many instances, bodies—and parts of bodies—were not recovered for a long time, and identification was delayed for weeks or months. Where no remains were found, it was necessary to establish the fact that the missing person had been on the spot at the time of the 'incident' before registration could be effected and satisfactory evidence produced. All this meant delays before death registrations were made. This factor applies particularly to the Scottish data which are tabulated only by date of registration.

The injury statistics in Tables 5 and 6 are only approximate estimates. They are likely to underestimate, rather than exaggerate,


the number of civilians injured by war operations in general and air bombardment in particular. The chief reason would appear to be that an unknown number of seriously injured people (and some whose injuries were first thought to be slight but later were found to be serious, and a large number of slightly injured people, never went to a hospital or first-aid post and were consequently omitted from official records. In addition, numbers of first-aid posts were bomb-ed and records destroyed, while in times of stress injuries were attended and not recorded. The distinction between seriously and slightly injured is somewhat thin, for the method of recording often varied from hospital to hospital, and by no means all hospital cases were, in reality, seriously injured. The figures must simply be accepted as showing the order of magnitude of casualty rates. Tables 5 and 6 exclude injuries to the Police, the National Fire Service, H.M. Forces and certain other categories.

Ministry of Home Security statistics, based chiefly on police notifications, give a total of 149,040 slightly injured civilians for the whole of Britain. This total is smaller than the figure of 165,743 compiled from first-aid post records, but the latter includes a proportion—estimated at one-fifth—who were sent on for hospital treatment. If the estimate of 149,040 is taken to represent the slightly injured, and the 85,504 hospital cases are added, a ratio of 3·9 injured persons to one killed is thus obtained.

The statistics of killed and injured (see Tables 36) when analysed separately for London show the following ratios:

Ratio of killed to all injured

London region 1940–3 (piloted aircraft) 1 : 3·6
London region 1944–5 (flying-bombs and rockets) 1 : 7·0
Rest of Britain 1940–5 1 : 3·2
Scotland 1940–5 1 : 2·5

A study by the Research and Experiments Department of the Ministry of Home Security of the data for a large number of towns during 1940–1 showed that the ratio lay fairly consistently between 1 : 3  and 1 : 4.

A statistical analysis, by the General Register Office, of the sex and age distribution of civilians injured by enemy action and admitted to emergency medical service hospitals was published in 1948.1 The following rations serve to show how the different forms of enemy action affected the injury rates for the sexes, for children and for adults under sixty-five and older people. The figures do not represent annual rates, but the relative incident of injuries resulting in hospital


admission among the six groups of the population can be compared by expressing each series of rates in terms of the corresponding rate for females aged fifteen to sixty-four taken as 100, namely:

Period Boys under 15 Girls under 15 Men aged 15–64 Women aged 15–64 Men 65 and over Women 65 and over
1st January 1940 to 12th June 1944. Air raids 49 41 185 100 177 172
13th June to 31st August 1944. Chiefly flying-bombs 35 35 92 100 162 211
1st September 1944 to the end of the war. Flying-bombs and rockets. 56 61 83 100 106 139


Table 3

Number of civilians in Great Britain killed by enemy action 1939–45.

(1) (2)
Compiled by Ministry of Home Security from police and medical reports2 Classified as due to operations of war by the Registrars-General3
England and Wales4 Scotland5
1939 406
1940 23,767 23,1867 196
1941 19,918 18,4508 1,905
1942 3,236 3,7089 82
1943 2,372 2,97810 132
1944 8,475 9,32910 33
1945 1,860 2,40410 21
59,628 60,095 2,369
Northern Ireland (1941) 967
60,595 62,464


The comparatively low rates among children reflect the results of evacuation. During the period of aircraft bombing civilian men aged under sixty-five suffered nearly twice the rate experience by women of the same ages, but during the flying-bomb and rocket attacks their rate was slightly less than that of women. This contrast is explicable by the greater exposure to risk of men during air raids at night, owing the civil defence and other duties, than was the case during the flying-bomb and rocket attacks. The high rates among old people were probably due to the fact that comparatively few were evacuated, that they found it difficult to take shelter during raids, and to their greater need for hospital care when slightly injured.

Table 4

Number of civilians in London civil defence region killed by enemy action 1939–4511

1940 13,596
1941 6,487
1942 27
1943 542
1944 7,533
1945 1,705

Table 5

Number of civilians in Great Britain injured by enemy action 1939–45

Admitted to hospital (in most cases seriously injured)12 Slightly injured12 Treated at first-aid posts and mobile first-air units (estimated that one-fifth of these were sent to hospital)13
1940 30,529 54,020 54,700
1941 21,165 34,1116 43,775
1942 4,148 7,160 8,719
1943 3,450 5,427 6,598
1944 13,989 39,555 41,116
1945 4,223 8,762 10,835
85,504 149,040 165,743
Northern Ireland (1941–2) 678 1,793
86,182 150,833


Table 6

Number of civilians in London civil defence region injured by enemy action 1939–45

Admitted to hospital (in most cases seriously injured) Slightly injured
1940 18,378 33,756
1941 7,641 13,236
1942 52 63
1943 989 1,015
1944 19,611 33,212
1945 3,836 7,560
50,507 88,842


Contents  *  Previous Chapter (Appendix 7)  *  Next Chapter (Appendix 9)


1 Report of the Ministry of Health for 1947. Cmd. 7441, pp. 97–8. The analysis also includes a study of the kinds of injury responsible for hospital admission.

2 Source: Civil Department of the Home Office.

3 Source: Annual Reviews and tables specially provided for the War History.

4 By date of occurrence or believed occurrence.

5 By date of registration.

6 Thirty-five deaths resulting from previous wars have been deducted.

7 Eighty-two deaths resulting from previous wars have been deducted.

8 Eighty-nine deaths resulting from previous wars have been deducted.

9 .Ninety deaths resulting from previous wars have been deducted

10 Including an unknown number of deaths resulting from previous wars—probably between 70–100 annually.

11 Compiled by Ministry of Home Security from police and medical reports.

12 Source: Civil Defence Department of the Home Office.

13 Source: Report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, 1939–45.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by David Newton, HyperWar Foundation