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I’m trying to understand the following sentence (the bit in bold is what I’m struggling with):

Schon bei diesem ersten Anprall wären weniger erfahrene und tapfere Seeleute als die der „Argo“ zweifellos zur einen Hälfte über Bord gespült worden und zur anderen in Ohnmacht gefallen.

I think this means (more or less):

Already by this first impact half of a crew that was less experienced and brave than the crew of the ‘Argo’ would undoubtedly have been washed overboard, and the others have fainted.

I don’t really understand the function of the ‘zur’ though.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

The preposition zu can, among many other uses, be employed to restrict a statement to some fraction of the agents being mentioned:

Die Besucher waren schon abgereist. (The visitors had already departed.)
Die Besucher waren zu drei Vierteln schon abgereist. (Three quarters of the visitors had already departed.)

Similarly zur Hälfte, zu 37 Prozent, zu einem großen Teil/zu einem Großteil, etc. I think there is no way to express this in the same way in English; instead, you need to change the subject as in the example above, or to add a suitable adverb: The visitors had mostly ...

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Zur einen / zur anderen Häfte

In German this expression is used for one or the other part of a half, the preposition "zur" being a contraction of "zu der [Gen.]" here.

In your context we may then translate it to

...[one] half of the sailors went overboard whereas the other half fainted.

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