The Top 10 Deadliest Battles in Military History

In today’s post, starting from #10, I am going to share an accurate list of the top 10 deadliest battles in military history. Keep in mind, I am NOT a military historian. I have compiled this list to the best of my ability, based upon extensive independent research online. If you think I’m wrong about this ranking, please feel free to leave a comment at the end of the article. Thanks.

When we look back in time at military battles, we discover that the deadliest battles in history had enormous amounts of death and destruction. In these battles, we find that, in the majority, the United States had no involvement.

When you search various sources on the internet, you will find some writers saying that certain battles during the United States Civil War had a place in this, but they did not research the figures closely. While there were large casualty numbers in the Civil War, they are not even close to the number of deaths in the top 10 deadliest battles in military history.

deadliest battles in military history

Top 10 Deadliest Battles in Military History

I’ll start at # 10 and work my way down to # 1. Enjoy.

# 10: Second Guangxi Campaign

While many people know that Japan attacked the U.S. during World War II, numerous individuals don’t realize that the Japanese also invaded China. They had taken control of the Southern Chinese province of Guangxi.

From April to August of 1945, the Chinese committed to a counter-offense to retake the province, and since the United States had dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan, they were successful in taking it back. It is estimated that the death count was approximately 1,000,000.

The Second Guangxi Campaign was a three-front Chinese counter offensive to retake the last major Japanese stronghold in Guangxi province, South China from April to August 1945. The campaign was successful, and plans were being made to mop up the remaining scattered Japanese troops in the vicinity of Shanghai and the east coast when the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to Japan’s surrender and ending the eight-year-long Second Sino-Japanese War. ~ WikiMili

# 9: Battle of Moscow

This took place between October of 1941 and January of 1942. Adolf Hitler and his German forces tried unsuccessfully to take Moscow from the Russians. While there are many debates as to the death counts on both sides, it is evident that there were well over 1,000,000 killed in the results of the Nazi forces going against the Russians.

In the end, it was the lack of strategic planning in terms of logistics that would cause the demise of the Wehrmacht in the East. The diverting of manpower and resources to other fronts instead of perhaps the most important goal, Moscow, simply did not leave enough troops to combat the Soviet troops, already regrouping after escaping the Bryansk and Trubchevsk pockets. One final factor was the lack of constant support from the Luftwaffe, further moving resources and manpower away from where it was really needed. However, it can not be understated the effect of the transport of over eighteen infantry divisions and thousands of tanks and aircraft from Siberia for the Soviet counteroffensive. ~ WW2 History Fandom

# 8: Siege of Leningrad

The Germans, along with Italian and Finnish forces attacked the Russian city of Leningrad. It was a long and devastating siege lasting from September of 1941 until early 1944. Death estimates are anywhere from 1,000,000 up to 4,000,000. Many civilians either evacuated or died.

The siege began on 8 September 1941, when the Wehrmacht severed the last road to the city. Although Soviet forces managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city on 18 January 1943, the Red Army did not lift the siege until 27 January 1944, 872 days after it began. The blockade became one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history, and it was possibly the costliest siege in history due to the number of casualties which were suffered throughout its duration. In the 21st century, some historians have classified it as a genocide due to the systematic starvation and intentional destruction of the city’s civilian population. ~ Wikipedia

# 7: Battle of the Somme

This battle took place during World War I. It lasted from early July to mid November 1916. It was between German forces against French and English forces to control the Somme river in France. Estimates come in that death tolls were around 1,200,000 in this blood bath during World War I.

Despite its failure, the Allied offensive at the Somme did inflict serious damage on German positions in France, spurring the Germans to strategically retreat to the Hindenburg Line in March 1917 rather than continue battling over the same land that spring.

Though the exact number is disputed, German losses by the end of the Battle of the Somme probably exceeded Britain’s, with some 450,000 soldiers lost compared with 420,000 on the British side. The surviving British forces had also gained valuable experience, which would later help them achieve victory on the Western Front. ~

# 6: Battle of Berlin

This was also Russians against Germans from mid April to early May of 1945. It was a turn of revenge for what the Germans had done in Russia. The death count was high as Russian forces overwhelmed the Germans and Adolf Hitler committed suicide. The Russians took control of East Berlin. Death estimates come in at around 1,300,000.

On 15 Apr, artillery pieces began firing a great number of shells on German positions west of the Oder River, attempting to soften the defenses before troops of the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front advanced. There was no answer from German guns. A moment later, still before dawn, a single search light beam shined vertically upwards into the sky, followed by 143 other search lights that followed suit. The lights were Zhukov’s secret weapon. Operated by women, the search lights were dipped low to aim into the eyes of the German defenders as the Soviet infantry and armor charged forward.

Although the search lights were initially effective in aiding the Soviet attackers, they eventually became a psychological weapon against his own troops: the Soviet troops felt naked as they ran across the battlefield, feeling that they were silhouetted against the light. As the battle waged on, the battlefield soon filled with a fog made of smoke and dust that actually reflected the light back into the eyes of the Soviet soldiers. The offensive soon broke into chaos until the situation of the front lines finally was passed to the rear, and the order to switch off the lights was given. Most soldiers simply waited behind cover for the sun to come up. ~

# 5: Operation Ichi-Go

This was a part of the 2nd Sino – Japanese War during World War II. It lasted from April to December of 1944. The Chinese were trying to keep areas they controlled, but the Japanese were much too powerful. Many Chinese citizens died as a result. Death estimates come in at around 1,300,000.

Operation Ichi-Go (“Number One”) was the largest ground offensive in Japanese history, with 500,000 troops, 800 tanks and massive logistics and artillery support. They used their tanks in armored divisions – the only time in the war they deployed such concentrations.

Ironically, Japanese armies reached the goals that they set, but US airpower prevented them from using their land route to any great extent, and US victories in the Pacific gave the US plenty of other airbases to attack the Japanese mainland. ~ Atom Magazine

# 4: Operation Barbarossa

This was the term the Germans used on their invasion of the Soviet Union from June to December of 1941. Hitler was quite deceptive, as they had signed a non-aggression pact with the Russians not long before this. As detailed in his plans, Hitler had always knew he would invade Russia. Both civilian and military death counts were extremely high in this operation. Estimates are around 1,450,000 deaths.

With some 3.5 million German and nearly 700,000 German-allied troops (Romanians, Finns, Hungarians, Italians, Slovaks, and others) facing off against a Red Army that numbered some 5.5 million men, the opening phase of Barbarossa saw nearly 10 million human beings locked in mortal combat from the outset. And Soviet mobilization wasn’t finished by a long shot—soon there would be more than 14 million men and women called up for the war against the Germans. ~ National WW2 Museum

# 3: Battle of the Dnieper

The Dnieper River was a prime piece of real estate and the Germans had claimed part of it. The Russians knew they had to reclaim it and the Battle occurred from August to December of 1943. The death counts were extremely high, but the Soviets were victorious. Estimates are of more than 1,500,000 killed.

Faced with such a situation, the Soviet commanders had two options. The first would be to give themselves time to regroup their forces, find a weak point or two to exploit (not necessarily in the lower part of the Dnieper), stage a breakthrough and encircle the German defenders, rendering the defence line next to useless (very much like the German Panzers bypassed the Maginot line in 1940). This, however, would give them time to get more reserves and furthermore, would expose the Soviet troops to out-flanking mechanized attacks – every Soviet commander’s nightmare since 1941.

The second option would be to stage a massive assault without waiting, and force the Dnieper on a broad front. This option left no additional time for the German defenders, but would lead to much larger casualties. For political reasons (Stalin wanted Kiev to be retaken on 7 November), the second option was chosen. ~ Info Galactic

man has no moral instinct

# 2: Battle of Stalingrad

Taking place from August of 1942 until February of 1943, the Germans and their allies attempted to capture the Russian city of Stalingrad. The Russians were resilient and held the city despite heavy losses. They saw opportunity in weakened German flanks to make some great battle techniques that many military leaders still study and learn from. Losses by death were around 1,300,000.

The Battle of Stalingrad was a battle between Germany and its Allies and the Soviet Union for the Soviet city of Stalingrad (today known as Volgograd) that took place between August 21, 1942 and February 2, 1943, as part of World War II. It was the turning point of World War II in the European Theater and was arguably the bloodiest battle in human history, with combined casualties estimated above 1.5 million. The battle was marked by brutality and disregard for military and civilian casualties on both sides. ~ New World Encyclopedia

# 1: Brusilov Offensive

The deadliest battle in military history lasted from June to September of 1916. It was World War I and the Russians were fighting against Austria/Hungary, the German empire and the Ottoman empire. General Aleksei Brusilov used military tactics that are still studied today. It was a definitive Russian victory with death tolls reaching nearly 2,000,000.

Where many Russian generals felt an offensive would be futile, Brusilov insisted that—with surprise and adequate preparation—it could succeed. His troops were trained in full-size replicas of the positions they were to attack, artillery was sighted using air reconnaissance, and secrecy was strictly maintained. ~

Suggested Books
  1. WW2 Battle of Berlin
  2. The Brusilov Offensive
  3. Battle of Stalingrad
Final Thoughts

In conclusion, these are the top 10 deadliest battles in military history, that I could find. As we plainly see, the highest death rates seem to always have Russian and German involvement. Only one of these had any American military involvement. During Operation Ichi-Go, we did have some Army Air Force personnel involved.

What are your thoughts on the 10 deadliest battles in military history? Do you agree with my findings? Why or why not? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. Thank you.

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chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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