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I have wondered if there are any estimates on the number of bullets used in World War 2. I have thought about the question but cannot even get a plausible attack strategy.

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Is there a rationale for this question? While it might be interesting I'm unclear as to the purpose of asking. –  MichaelF Apr 5 '12 at 11:56
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Yeah, I have to agree with @MichaelF, I'm not sure how this has any valid significance or is even answerable. I think its safe to say that the number of bullets fired was in the order of s__t-tons...s__t-tons. A more significant question might be on the order of "how much ammunition was produced by the belligerent nations in WWII". Possibly as a ratio to the number of casualties. –  BrotherJack Apr 5 '12 at 12:04
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You could probably tackle it by figuring out how many bullets a day various combatants produced, then assume pretty much all of them where fired, since if they were not then the combatants would have not wasted resources making more. –  Canageek Apr 5 '12 at 13:20
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Lol, I think is a good question. I never thought about it :) –  Rodrigo Apr 18 '12 at 13:21
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@quant_dev a good part of that was production stockpiled for use during the invasion of Japan, preparations for which had been underway for a year or so by the time the war ended. –  jwenting Mar 22 '13 at 12:49
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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The following article describes in great detail the production and deployment of munitions by the Army Ordnance Dept. (AOD).

The Great Arsenal of Democracy

...

Lt. Gen. Levin H. Campbell, Jr., Chief of Ordnance from 1942 to 1946, proudly had this to say:

From Pearl Harbor to V-J Day the Industry-Ordnance team furnished to the Army and 43 foreign nations 47 billion rounds of small arms ammunition, approximately 11 million tons of artillery ammunition, more than 12 million rifles and carbines, approximately 750,000 artillery pieces and 3/2 million military vehicles.

...

The Great Arsenal of Democracy 
Posted on May 20, 2003 (nraila.org)

Note:

This is the US production, given the size of the US industry I would have thought it was more than the production of the Axis side, so if you ignore local UK/USSR amounts I would guess it represents more than 50% of the total.


Additional Information:

Lt. Gen. Levin H. Campbell, Jr.

Considered by many to be World War II’s greatest weapons designer and producer, he gained fame by heading the Ordnance Department through the days when the Industry-Ordnance Team began producing overwhelming firepower for World War II.

Lt. Gen. Levin H. Campbell, Jr. authored The Industry-Ordnance Team. The book contained his recounting of the Allied effort to produce and deliver weapons, vehicles and munitions for World War II.

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It's unclear if he's talking about only the US allies or not, maybe because I don't know what the "Industry-Ordnance team" is. –  Lohoris Apr 6 '12 at 11:33
    
@Lohoris - the US govt dept in charge of supply. –  none Apr 6 '12 at 14:39
    
As I remember, U.S. arms production approximated that of Germany, the Soviet Union, and Britain combined, which is to say that the "balance" was held by "smaller" countries like Japan and Italy. Which is to say it was worthwhile going after Germany's ALLIES, in case either Britain or Russia fell. –  Tom Au Apr 6 '12 at 20:51
    
If you ignore Soviet production is about the biggest IF I've ever seen. They had far and away the biggest war and maintained a significant GDP throughout. Great answer, potentially terrible guess. –  Nathan Cooper Mar 22 '13 at 15:13
    
This definitely does not answer how much were used. –  Anixx Mar 22 '13 at 17:35
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It has long been noted that:

Killing a man on the field of battle requires firing a mass of lead almost equal to his weight; wounding him requires somewhat less.

Unknown

Calculating from figures in mgb's answer we get
(assuming 110 grains/round & 7000 grains/pound to yield 0.016 lb./round):

  • 24,000,000 dead * 170 lb./man = about 4.1 billion pounds of man-flesh; and
  • 47 billion small-arms rounds * 0.016 lb./round = 0.75 billion pounds of lead

That is certainly in the ball park, given that artillery rounds have been omitted, and only bullets made in the US counted.

It is worth noting that most shots on the field of battle (probably above 90%) are fired simply to provide the enemy with an excuse to keep his head down, and not with intent to kill, nor to wound, nor even particularly aimed at the enemy but simply fired in his general vicinity.

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I have heard that the US forces fired 20,000 rounds for every casualty they produced. An example of this: Before the Americans entered the European conflict, snipers had been employed by both the Germans and the Russians to stop advances. Typically, snipers could stop an advance while efforts to locate and kill the sniper proceeded. The American forces changed the scenario. When a sniper fired at an American column, the soldiers sprayed the trees with bullets as if they were spraying for insects. Snipers did not slow down American troop movements. The American supply line won World War II.

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A citation or reference would be advantageous. This type of tale seems more apocryphal than not. –  Pieter Geerkens Jan 11 at 22:17
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(A slightly better than pure guess answer) From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II, the total number of military causalities was 24,000,000.

The number of bullets fired per kill varies based on the source from 5k to 50k. Assuming 10k the number of bullets fired would be 24 x 10^10.

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Good suggestion but you need to bear in mind that by far the biggest killer in actual combat was artillery. That doesn't take into account grenades and bombs, I don't have figures for those but I'd guess people killed by bullets would be somewhat less than 30% of the total casualties, perhaps much less than that. answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090427003103AA04lGs –  davidjwest Apr 8 '12 at 18:35
    
Agreed. In fact, that is why I mentioned my answer is only a little better than pure guesswork. :) –  Bharat B Apr 10 '12 at 4:00
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also doesn't take into account the number of munitions employed that were never aimed at killing humans (directly). Think attacks on depots, parked aircraft, ships at anchor, etc. etc. where human deaths if any were not the intent but a side effect. –  jwenting Mar 22 '13 at 12:52
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@BharatB A lot of prisoners of war were starved to death, germans starved as much as 2 million russian soldiers[60% POW's] during the initial campaign. Also the bitter winter of stalingrad claimed hundreds and thousands of german lives without a single bullet fired –  Beagle Bone Mar 22 '13 at 15:50
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@BarathBushan why are you responding to your own earlier comment? :) And do keep in mind that most of those starved POWs were unintentional, the result of the camps simply not getting enough food because there wasn't enough to go around. The civilian population in surrounding areas also had a very hard time late in the war, and I for one don't blame any German (or indeed anyone at all) for feeding his own citizens before POWs. –  jwenting Mar 25 '13 at 7:08
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