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Would the absence of the Spanish Influenza pandemic have a noticeable impact on World War 1?

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: November 02, 2010 
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Would the absence of the Spanish Influenza pandemic have a noticeable impact on World War 1?


9 Responses to “Would the absence of the Spanish Influenza pandemic have a noticeable impact on World War 1?”


  1. 1
    Mike H. says:

    Probably not. The 1918 Spanish Flu, while a horror in itself, was a side note compared to the Western Front in 1918,. One was a true pandemic. The other was a bloodbath.

    • 1.1
      Cuff Camlin says:

      You are not qualified to give an answer to this question.The Flu Pandemic killed about 12 times as many people as the war itself did.And its effect on the German army Manpower doomed the spring offensive of 1918.What I have said only scratches the surface of its effect on the war.

  2. 2
    Chemerdjb says:

    Not so sure it wouldn't have, I seem to recall a quote about some of the German generals being very concerned about the offensive due to the number of men that were down with the flu. Then again it didn't really hit is peak till late the Oct-Nov time frame by which time the German forces were pretty well exhausted anyway

  3. 3
    Mike W. says:

    It is difficult to make assumptions, but with 1/6 of US forces in Europe suffering from the flu and ~170,000 deaths in 1918 to German forces (with over 1M cases), it is likely that it affected the outcome of the war, even if it was to only shorten the war since the German offensive in July was likely affected by the disease. Effectively attacking with the disease ravaging your army is much more difficult than effectively defending prepared positions, so the influenza would have had a more significant effect on the German Army's offensives.

    This pandemic worldwide caused over 40M deaths (conservative estimate), more than the number of Russian dead from all causes during World War II.

    To address Chemerdjb's comments, the armistice was actually between the second and third outbreaks of the influenza that year, with the second being the worst. The third outbreak has been hypothesized to have been caused or accelerated by the armistice with people all over the world taking to the streets to celebrate, and giving the disease another chance to spread. Additionally, some historians have theorized the influenza was the cause for the "exhaustion" by German forces.

    The deaths of 40M people about five generations ago has likely has an astronomical effect on world population–only doubling each successive generation (likely with higher birth rates during the 20th century), we would have another 1B people on our planet now.

  4. 4
    Carla D. says:

    I agree with Mike W. The impact of the pandemic no doubt has had repercussions that we still have not considered or discovered.

    My Grandmother was pregnant with my Mother through 1918 (until November 15). I don't think she left home the entire year. Luckily they lived on a farm which provided for their food needs.

    My Grandfather had 2 brothers who came from Sweden to America to fight for the US in Europe. Both died of the flu – one in France and the other when he returned to the US..

  5. 5
    Hans Christian Hoff says:

    Andrew Price-Smith, in "Contagion and Chaos, Pandemic Influenza and National Security Implications" argues that it may have turned the scales in Allied favour, as the German and Austrian population suffered more than those of the other belligerents.

  6. 6
    Jenny says:

    The Spanish Influenza has been thought to have began in a farm in the Midwest. It was spread quickly, and hit the army hard. The army was advised to quarentine the troops, but refused. Shipped them overseas.
    The US is directly responsible for the European spread of the virus.
    The war may have had a much different impact, speculation is all we have. There would have been a much greater population in Europe, and many more soldiers gassed. Perhaps with greater troop numbers the Allies would have overwhelmed & shortened the war, we'll never know.
    Science now knows the link from birds (chickens) to pigs, who makes the virus more like humans.
    What many people are not aware of is that many diseases are making a comeback. Oregon, and Arizona still have rare outbreaks of plague. There is a multiple drug resistant tuburculosis growing in London. Whooping cough is re-occuring in the US. Heaven help us if smallpox gets used as a biological weapon.

  7. 7
    James Thompson says:

    More then likely the fighting would have gone on much longer than it did

  8. 8
    Cuff camlin says:

    The spanish Flu outbreak first appeared in Kansas around January 1918. By early February it was epidemic at Camp Funston on what is Now Fort Riley Kansas.Within a month of that it was spreading throughout the United States Military network and being sent over seas with the over 2 million United States Servicemen who fought in World War 1.Somewhere around the time the flu left the United States and Arrived in France with American troops it mutated from a dangerous but mild strain into it's most virulent strain.As they began arriving from March until about JulyThe Germans were Receiving reinforcements that had been fighting in Russia.With Russia out of the war the Germans decided to use the extra manpower to break the deadlock in the Trenches before enough American troops could arrive to even out the numbers or even tip them in the Allies favor.From March until July the German offensive broke out of the trench lines for the first time since 1914.Thousands of American,British and French Troops were captured in March& April.This however spread the flu into German Military just as it morphed into what was historically it's deadliest strain.This meant that the German troops faced a significantly deadlier strain than the American troops faced for the most part.The Death toll for the Flu was much higher in Europe than in the United States as many in the United States faced a less virulent strain.By July The Germans were losing so many troops to the Flu that the offensive petered out.By late July The Allies were able to go back on the offensive.And The Flu became the straw that broke the Camels back in Germany as the people began rioting at a time when a large percentage of German Manpower was sidelined by the flu or taking care of it's victims.This caused the Trench lines to break in most areas and the Allies not only took back most of the German conquests but were entering Germany as the Armistice was signed.Without the Flu the Allies still would likely have won but it might have taken a couple more years to do so.



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