Marty O'Brien's Casualty Book

Chapter Two - The Korean War: A Terrible Toll

Forty three years after the war, it still is difficult to get a reliable accounting of overall casualties—due to both the insufficiency of recorded data and a plethora of political obstacles. But we have to keep digging. The following information has been selected from a number of different sources. Due to variances in the reporting, however, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of the numbers.

It has been estimated that some four million men, women and children were killed, wounded, or otherwise incapacitated on the Korean peninsula during the three-year plus struggle; two million of whom were civilians. One source put the toll of Communist combatants killed, wounded or missing at about 1.5 million; the total for North Korea was 214,899 killed, 303,685 wounded and 101,680 missing.

Patrick Brogan in "The Fighting Never Stopped," 1989, cited early UNC estimates which put North Korean "KIA" at 316,579. Another source puts Chinese losses at 401,401 killed, 486,995 wounded and 21,211 missing; after the war, the UNC put Chinese casualties for KIA at 422,612.

Marine Colonel W.S. Brown, Commanding, 1st Marines, had this to say in a June 14, 1951 regimental memo: "You have counted many hundreds of dead in the various positions taken in spite of the enemy’s propensity for burying his own dead, so that is most probably only a small part of his casualties. His wounded will probably die, ours won’t."

Whatever the true numbers, the PRC refused to release casualty numbers and they remain a state secret. In his "Korean War Almanac," Col. Harry G. Summers, Jr. Said that from 1950 to 1953: "Using the Korean War as an excuse to eliminate all those who might challenge his newly won power, Mao unleashed his "Resist America and Aid Korea" campaign. During the three years in which it was waged, estimates are that as many as 10 to 15 million victims perished. Even sympathetic observers report that at least two million people were slaughtered in cold blood by the Chinese Communist Party—four times as many as died on the Korean battlefield."

On the United Nations side, the Republic of Korea, by far, provided the largest number of troops throughout the war and suffered the largest number of casualties. Brogan cited South Korean losses at 103,248 KIA and 159,727 WIA, according to the UNC; but, the government of the REPUBLIC OF KOREA itself reported that 113,248 South Korean soldiers died in the war and 159,727 were wounded; it has been estimated by the ROK that altogether 1,312,836 South Korean soldiers and civilians died during the three-year conflict. By war’s end in 1953, South Korea had 590,911 personnel under arms.

U.S. Losses

UNITED STATES forces in the war zone suffered the second highest number of casualties among the UN forces. According to updated statistics provided by the Department of Defense (DoD) in October 1995, approximately 5,720,000 Americans served worldwide during the Korean War era (1950-55); of whom some 1,500,000 served in the Korean War theater of operations.

During the Korean War era (1950-55), there were 54,268 American deaths worldwide. Deaths attributed solely to the Korean Operation (Korea and surrounding waters), as reported by the service branches, were significant:

(a) According to the DoD, between June 25, 1950 and January 31, 1955, 33,651 U.S. personnel died from "hostile" causes; 23,835 were killed in action, 2,535 died of wounds, 4,845 died while missing, and 2,436 died as prisoners of war. [Of the 33,651 personnel who died in the Korean War, 8,135 remains officially have not been identified or recovered though 1996.]

(b) In addition, 3,262 U.S. personnel died of "Non-battle" causes, including a high incidence of hemorrhagic fever in 1951-52.

(c) Elsewhere in the world, 17,355 personnel died in "Other" operations [Korea-related and "Cold War"] from a variety of causes, including combat and combat-related deaths.

Of 105,785 personnel who were wounded in-theater in Korea and who were hospitalized for wounds, 103,284 survived. No record was maintained of non-hospitalized wounded in Korea which may have quadrupled the number of WIA; a high percentage of the wounds were caused by fragmentary weapons mortars, grenades, etc.

The United States, the major supporting participant in the war, committed seven army divisions; 1 marine division; army and corps headquarters; almost all logistical and support forces; one tactical air force and supporting elements. In addition, 1 combat cargo air command; two medium bombardment wings; 1 complete naval fleet, including a fast carrier task group, blockade and escort forces, reconnaisance and antisubmarine units; supply and repair units; and military sea transportation services.

Other UN Losses

Personnel totals are shown at peak strength and unit contributions do not include augmentations:

  • AUSTRALIA - two infantry battalions; 1 fighter squadron; one air transport squadron; one carrier; two destroyers; one frigate – 2,282 personnel; 291 dead, 1,240 wounded.
  • BELGIUM - one infantry battalion, including Luxembourg unit of 44 men—944 personnel; 97 dead, 350 wounded.
  • CANADA - one army brigade of three infantry battalions, one artillery regiment, one armored regiment, three destroyers and one air squadron—6,146 personnel; 291 dead, 1,072 wounded.
  • COLOMBIA - one infantry battalion and one frigate—1,068 personnel; 140 dead, 452 wounded.
  • ETHIOPIA - one infantry battalion—1,271 personnel; 120 dead, 536 wounded.
  • FRANCE - one infantry battalion and one gunboat—1,185 personnel; 288 dead, 818 wounded.
  • GREECE - one infantry battalion and one gunboat—1,263 personnel; 169 dead, 543 wounded.
  • LUXEMBOURG - one infantry unit of 44 personnel, combined with Belgian battalion.
  • NETHERLANDS - one infantry battalion and one destroyer—819 personnel; 111 dead, 589 wounded.
  • NEW ZEALAND - one artillery regiment and two forgets—1,389 personnel; 34 dead, 80 wounded.
  • PHILIPPINES - one regimental combat team—1,496 personnel; 92 dead, 299 wounded.
  • SOUTH AFRICA - one fighter squadron; 20 dead.
  • THAILAND - one regimental combat team; two corvettes, and one air transport squadron—2,174 personnel; 114 dead, 794 wounded.
  • TURKEY - one army brigade—5,455 personnel; 717 dead, 2,246 wounded.
  • UNITED KINGDOM - two army brigades of five infantry battalions with support armor and artillery; 1 carrier, 2 cruisers, 2 destroyers, and 3 frigates with accompanying marine and support units—14,198 personnel; 710 dead, 2,278 wounded.
  • DENMARK, INDIA, ITALY, NORWAY and SWEDEN each sent a medical contingent; none reported casualties.

Sources for Other than US Losses

The source for the above peak strength is the "Korean War Almanac," 1990. The sources for the above casualty data are "World Almanac" and the "Korean Overseas Information Service." See "Korean War," 1990, by Stephen Badsey as an additional source for Turkish losses. A number of sources, including "Korean War Almanac," were used for the unit contributions data.


Back to O'Brien Table of Contents
Chapter 3 - The Korean War: A Statistical Inquiry


View and/or Sign Our Guestbook
Note, Guestbook entries prior to August, 2008
have been archived to PDF, and can be viewed here:

Your donation helps to
keep this web site FREE.


| Contact | What's New | About Us | Korean War Topics | Support | Links | Memoirs | Buddy Search |

2002-2016 Korean War Educator. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use of material is prohibited.

- Contact Webmaster with questions or comments related to web site layout.
- Contact Lynnita for Korean War questions or similar informational issues.
- Website address: 
Problems with or Questions about PDF Files - Click HERE for more PDF information.

Hit Counter