When the smoke cleared and the fighting was
over, World War I was the deadliest war in human history, with a staggering ten million
military personnel and seven million civilians dead. Two decades later, World War II would top
this figure, with between seventy and eighty five million people killed. World War II alone would kill off three percent
of the world’s population. But with some of the largest and bloodiest
battles in history, you might wonder what happened after the battle to all those dead
soldiers and civilians? Disposing of the dead is a vital military
task for many reasons. Chief amongst them though is hygienic and
morale concerns. Dead bodies littering a battlefield will very
quickly lead to outbreaks of disease and illness, and a high enough concentration of dead bodies
can even poison local water supplies if a battle took place in the wrong area. With disease being as big a killer in most
wars as enemy action, the world very quickly learned that there needed to be an efficient
and quick way to dispose of bodies after combat, or risk the health of the survivors and local
communities. Another major concern though is the effect
that casualties have on overall morale, after all nobody wants to move through a battlefield
to get to the new front lines and be greeted by the grisly remains of hundreds or even
thousands of soldiers who came before you and died. During the allied invasion of Normandy in
World War II, the removal of battlefield casualties from the landing beaches became a matter of
paramount importance. Men were dispatched to clean up the beaches
of both allied and German corpses, sometimes even having to dive under the water to cut
bodies free from overturned landing craft. It was a grisly business, but one that was
vitally necessary in order to protect the morale of troops landing in subsequent waves. In the past the removal of battlefield casualties
was largely left up to local villagers and, if there was time and resources, perhaps some
military units. In World War I individual units were largely
responsible for seeing to their own dead, and fellow soldiers would search the battlefield
for corpses and deliver them for burial in mass graves. Often military units would enlist the aid
of local villagers to help sort the battlefield for casualties, and the dead of both sides
were buried with their comrades, albeit in different mass graves for the two opposing
armies. Usually after a large battle a local ceasefire
would be negotiated, allowing both sides to send men out to recover their dead. When the situation allowed, the men would
be buried in individual graves, but typically mass graves were the simplest and therefore
preferred option. The location of the graves would be recorded
and later when time allowed, or perhaps after the war, bodies would be exhumed and then
given proper burials. Things improved during World War II somewhat,
and more emphasis was placed on proper burials when possible for both enemy and friendly
dead. The responsibility still lay with individual
units, but both sides had military graves officers whose specific job was burying the
dead. The Germans dictated that mass graves were
the preferred option for burial, and that these graves should be located near railway
lines if possible. The burial site should also include pathways
so that after the war it could be turned into a proper military cemetery. However as the war raged on the practice became
unfeasible and mass graves were dug where they could be conveniently located. Local ceasefires were still common place after
major battles so that both sides could recover their dead. The allies also left the responsibility of
burying their dead largely in the hands of the individual units, who would comb a battlefield
after the fight and gather corpses for burial. The Americans though had a unit known as the
Quartermaster Graves Registration Service, or GRS, who was tasked with the proper burial
of American dead, and the incredible lengths to which these men went to ensure the recovery
and burial of their dead was nothing short of heroic. A much greater emphasis was placed on proper
burial rites for individuals based on their religion, and as often as possible the dead
were buried in individual and proper graves, instead of mass graves. The GRS units would not just bury American
casualties, but any allied casualty they came across, even axis soldiers and civilians killed
in the crossfire. They would often hire local villagers to help
with the task, and even used POWs to help dig graves- who were often terrified believing
that they were digging their own graves. The GRS units were well known to go to extraordinary
lengths not only to recover bodies, but to identify them and give them proper burials
according to the fallen’s religious affiliation. The graves would be well marked and the location
passed along to relevant authorities, with many of the graves exhumed after the war and
the bodies moved to proper military cemeteries across Europe. Identifying the dead could be grisly business,
specially given the efficacy of modern weapons. Often inside a burned-out tank all that could
be discovered was molten rings and other jewelry and teeth. If the GRS men were lucky, they may find a
dog tag intact. Crawling into crashed airplanes though could
lead to the discovery of many dead, most of them dismembered and almost impossible to
identify. Still, the GRS soldiers diligently worked
to pry loose human remains and have them identified any way possible. Dog tags were the primary way of identifying
a soldier, but if those were missing then the men would take prints of all ten fingers
and prepare a dental chart for identification. If the body was in really bad shape though
a special fluid could be injected into the fingers to allow them to get usable prints,
and in severe cases the men would cut the skin off the tips of the fingers directly. Each soldier’s uniform also bore laundry marks
which bore the first letter of the last name and the last four digits of their service
number. Where once looting of personal effects prevailed,
the men of the GRS went to great lengths to protect the personal effects of the dead. Things such as wallets, rings, watches and
photos were all shipped to the Quartermaster Depot in Kansas City, Missouri, and there
they would be cleaned and sent to the next of kin. Bloodstained items and things that could be
embarrassing to the family were destroyed on the battlefield, while perishable items
such as rations, chewing gum, and cigarettes were distributed amongst the troops. Weapons and ammunition were also gathered
up and given to soldiers in need. The GRS men may not have been proper infantry,
but that doesn’t mean that they operated safely behind friendly lines. In fact, GRS soldiers were amongst the first
to land in France during the D-Day invasion, with some of them aboard the gliders that
delivered airborne infantry troops behind enemy lines. Their task was grim, but necessary, as they
were to see to the burial of expected losses amongst the first allied forces to land in
Europe. On the beaches of Normandy, GRS men cut casualties
out of landing craft, and retrieved their soggy and bloated bodies from the surf. As the war moved east, GRS soldiers followed
the front lines, and when winter arrived their job became that much harder. The snow and ice froze corpses in place, and
the men brought bodies into heated morgue tents in order to defrost the bodies up enough
to allow for the recovery of personal effects, and to prepare for proper burials. When the offensive crossed into Germany, the
allied casualties were shipped hundreds of miles back to be buried in France, the Netherlands,
or Belgium, with the GRS men believing that no family back home would want their dead
son to be buried in Germany. At the end of World War II when everybody
else got to go home, the GRS soldiers stayed behind, going back over the battlefields of
Europe looking for hastily dug graves that had been overlooked. In just the European theater alone, bodies
were scattered over 1.5 million miles of territory, and in the Pacific the bodies of dead American
soldiers were spread out across innumerable jungle islands. The GRS men nonetheless diligently scoured
both theaters of war for the dead, and in 1946 the government authorized the return
of bodies at government expense for proper burial at home. The program would eventually cost $191 million
dollars but would allow the families of 170,000 fallen soldiers to bury their loved ones in
home burial plots inside the US. The recovery of the dead after a major battle
is a gruesome, yet necessary affair. The existence of units like the Graves Registration
Service, and the incredible lengths they went to in order to ensure the recovery and proper
burial of so many dead soldiers however speaks to a strange dichotomy of human nature. On one hand, we invest millions of dollars
into weapons that allow us to take life with greater and greater efficacy, and on the other
we also spend millions on the recovery of the dead in order to honor the life they once
had. If aliens ever arrived on earth they’d probably
think we were crazy, and we’d be hard pressed to dispute it. If you had to serve in one of the world wars,
would you rather have been an infantry soldier or a graves registration service soldier? Think you would’ve had the stomach to handle
thousands of dead bodies? Let us know in the comments! And as always if you enjoyed this video don’t
forget to Like, Share, and Subscribe for more great content!

100 thoughts on “What Happened To The Millions of Bodies After Huge World War Battles?”

  1. Graves registration soldier, my great grandfather was a mechanic on the Arizona, he didn’t go down with the ship but he was on the pier when the first bomb went off, he jumped on the ship on to a gun and fired at the planes, I would want to recover men like my grandfather and let them stories be know to there family’s. My great grandfather never talked about the war to me so I only have secound hand account from my cousin; but my great grandfather fought and servered in ww2, he killed and was shot a couple times, I could still se the gunpowder in his hands from when he was shot, little bits of metal still in his hands till the day he died, he was the first persons funeral I cried at, he died at 92 three years after my great grandmother passed away.

  2. If they didnt go to war, this would never happen, a waste. They should just settle war with a game or rock paper scissors

  3. Why? Only talk about US. US was just a small part in ww2 the major players were Germany,Russia China,Japan. But not even one word for them except some germans. Stalingrad, Kursk, Moscow, leningrad, Nanking etc: you have the largest graves in the world.

  4. I'm a Marine combat Vietnam veteran. I'm half Chinese and many of my relatives that served there assembled and cleaned bodies to ship back to the US or they were cooks. Mike

  5. They were taken by scp old corpse man, this story was passed down from my predecessor generations to generations and I natirally believe my ancestors as soldiet bloodline flows in my vein

  6. It's wierd that war have rules, you would think anything goes in an invasion.

    It's not like two theives break into my house and I K.O one and then the other one goes like "you're not allowed to do that"

  7. why do people think that human are crazy because of these wars? Its more crazy if theres an intelligent civilization out there that never experienced war and things like this

  8. Some organisations like these even exist today. In Israel, ZAKA, a division of health service, assume the responsibility of identifying terrorist attack victims and deciding how the remains of victims, no matter in how bad shape, should get a proper Jewish burial

  9. The diffrence in the treatment of the dead comes from a simple fact: on the eastern front around 15 million soldiers died. In comperason only ca. 400.000 USA soldiers died in the entire war in both europe and asia. The way of handeling the dead like the US troops did was a luxury not practical on the eastern front or in asia.
    The war in europe was fought mainly between germany and soviet russia. 2 in the scale of things came asia namely japan vs china. And after that the western front. If we take the diffrence in scale into consideration the diffrents in handling the dead seems natural.

  10. 6:50 That’s doubtful, them going through the trouble of shipping them back probably didn’t happen a lot. They most likely buried them in germany anyway and told families they buried them in france

  11. In Russia their still trying to help bury the dead in WW2 and searching for bodies to be put in a military cemetery with a ceremony and proper burial. If they can be identified they notify the other countries that there is remains to be picked up.

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