I have researched extensively but may not be asking the right question. I am interested in learning how military forces were asked to deal with the death of their comrades immediately after the fact during WWII, with the understanding that answers could (should?) vary by culture. In particular, I am interested in knowing about America/Germany/Russia -- bonus points for info on smaller players that vary by any degree of significance from the others.

My only frame of reference is my own experience through multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. When a member of our company was killed, our Senior NCO or company commander would brief us within 24 hours. We would be given 2 minutes following the announcement to pay respects silently, collect ourselves, and get back to work (so to speak). A ceremony/vigil was usually arranged as early as a week to as late as 3 months later, as mission parameters permitted.

Of course, the garrisoned environment we know/enjoy today varies significantly from the garrisoned battlefront conditions troops knew during WWII. Can anyone offer insight into how different countries/cultures dealt with the death of their comrades within the first 24 hours of their demise?

3 Answers 3


In Once a Patricia, the memoir of Lt. C. Sydney Frost as platoon commander in Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Sicily (July-August 1943), Italy (August-September 1943 & September 1944 - March 1945), and Netherlands (March -May 1945), almost no mention of casualties is made except for the occasional "We lost so-and-so." The three exceptions are:

  • On the unnecessary casualties caused by the desk Captains who came over as replacement company and battalion commanders in preference to the battle-hardened lieutenants already in Italy;
  • During his flight from Italy to Netherlands in March 1944, where he briefly reminisces on the lost friends left behind in Italy; and
  • A recap f casualties suffered in Italy by First Canadian Corps: 5,400 dead, 2,800 wounded of an authorized establishment 45,000 with about 13,000 battle-troops at the sharp end at any given time.

I can only venture from this that the casualties were routine enough, after the initial battle introduction, that the men and officers simply got on with their task at hand.


Death is part of your daily life

At least for the soviet army in WW2, unless you saw the death yourself, you would not be officially informed of the fate of your comrades. Once somebody is out of action, you don't get info on if they die in hospital, or if they're MIA or KIA. Even for official purposes, the records we have complain of 'inadequate accounting of casualties', lack of identification of soldiers (for a period of 1940-1941 soldiers were required to give up their personal documents), and for hundreds of thousands of soldiers their fate was unclear for years after the war ended. Corpses would regularly be buried without identifying them or notifying anyone about the number of those corpses, much information has been found during exhumations after the war.

For the common soldier, disclosing information about your platoon casualties to other platoons (or simply discussing it) would be a breach of secrecy and punishable - casualty information was treated as a state secret and would also be limited for understandable practical reasons such as the effect on morale. E.g., if a whole platoon was eliminated, then the same platoon number would be filled with fresh people and the company would move on as usual.

Things most likely have been different for the Axis and Allied armies, they have much different policies on accounting for people in general.


In all previous wars death of comrades was far more common, from disease even when out of battle and higher by far when in battle. I imagine that the overriding requirement to collect the dead and wounded - which might be up to a third to a half of the units numbers - and then the burial and services would provide the time for reflection.

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