For better or worse, the grunts handle the main chunk of the fighting. These are your combat arms troops — infantry, scouts, tankers, artillerymen, etc.
The supply guys in the back can usually get a bit comfy knowing that they probably won’t get called to the front line — except in the case of total war when the front line is so decimated that everyone, back to front, needs to push into the fray.
To quantify the level of suck, we’ve ranked the following battles by a metric that measures the percentage of casualties in relation to troops present on the battlefield and total loss of life from both sides. Thankfully, for today’s troops, full-scale battles aren’t as catastrophic as they were before the advent of modern medicine.
6. Battle of Antietam (Civil War)
Fatality Rate: 3.22%
Starting things off is the single bloodiest day in American military history: Sept. 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam. Within the span of 12 hours, around 25 percent Union troops and 31 percent of Confederate troops were wounded, captured, or killed. Six Generals died as a result of the battle along with 3,454 other troops.
The battle is considered a Union victory strategically and it paved the way for the Emancipation Proclamation, delivered just five days later. But, when the dust settled outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland, no one knew who won. If the Confederacy waited a few more hours, it could have gone in their favor, Lincoln would have never had the confidence to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, and the South would have had stronger European allies, thus drastically changing the course of the war.
5. Battle of Gettysburg (Civil War)
Fatality Rate: 4.75%
The three-day battle between Gen. Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Gen. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would be remembered both as the turning point of the Civil War and for the enormous loss of life.
With between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties on both sides, the Battle of Gettysburg is the costliest battle in U.S. history. The fighting for the “Little Round Top” alone left nearly 1,750 dead.
4. Battle of Tuyuti (Paraguayan War)
Fatality Rate: 8.71%
The Paraguayan War became the bloodiest of all Latin American wars when Paraguay pushed its boundaries on all sides, unifying the previously-uneasy alliances between Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.
While the entire war would cost Paraguay nearly 70 percent of its total adult male population, the Battle of Tuyuti cost the Paraguayans nearly their entire force in a failed surprise attack on the Triple Alliance encampment.
3. Battle of Okinawa (World War II)
Fatality Rate: 35.48%
The battles of the Pacific Theater finally culminated in one of the last major battles of WWII, which saw the deaths of 240,931 troops and Okinawan conscripts. While the American troops suffered over 82,000 casualties with 14,009 deaths, the Japanese lost up to 80% of their defense forces.
The reason for such a high Japanese death toll is two-fold: First, pitting untrained, conscripted Okinawan civilians against the battle-hardened American forces that fought through the Pacific isn’t exactly an even match. Second, the Japanese refused to surrender. After witnessing the horrors of Okinawa, mental fatigue was widespread among American GIs.
2. Battle of the Argonne Forest (World War I)
Fatality Rate: 39.48%
The final Allied offensive of World War I was also its bloodiest. For years, German troops pushed down the French and British troops, but they finally managed to stand up again with the aid of the Americans. When H-Hour finally began on Sept. 26th, the Allies expended more ammunition than both sides of the American Civil War – in just the first three hours.
The loss of life was astounding on both sides. 28,000 Germans, 26,277 Americans, and an estimated 70,000 French soldiers were on the push towards Sedan, France. French forces finally managed to recapture the Sedan railway hub in the final days. Then, it was announced that the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11th, 1918, bringing an end to the war.
1. Battle of Cannae (Second Punic War)
Fatality Rate: 53.42%
This battle is remembered throughout history for many reasons. Hannibal’s impressive march on a Roman Army twice as large, the first recorded use of the “Pincer movement,” but also the overwhelming defeat of that massive Roman army.
The scholar Polybius estimated that, of the 86,400 Romans who fought, only 770 Romans made it out alive. The Carthaginian forces managed to only lose 5,700 of their 50,000 and only 200 out of their 10,000 cavalrymen.