The Special Media Archives Services Division of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. announced on it’s blog, The Unwritten Record, the recent opening of two new series in Record Group 242: National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized. The new series are German Situation Maps of the Western Front, 1944-1945 (NAID 40432392) and Various German World War II Maps, 1939-1945 (NAID 40480105).
The collections contain photographic reproductions of a full map of Germany including how many states in Germany existed at the time, as well as reproductions of various daily situation report maps created by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Armed Forces High Command) and Oberkommando des Heeres (Army High Command) to brief Adolph Hitler and senior German leaders. They show friendly (blue) and enemy (red) forces down to the division and detachment level. The original maps were captured by U.S. forces, which were later duplicated and then returned to the Germans.
Maps. Beautiful Maps
The NARA blog post includes several wonderful, high-quality digital scans in JPG format, although a quick check of the online NARA catalogue shows that these digital maps have yet to be posted online. As the existence of the images in the post show, however, this cannot be too far behind.
The maps themselves are priceless historical records containing truly amazing amounts of information. A portion of the Lage Ost (Situation East) map for 6 December 1941, above, is particularly notable. It depicts the military situation at what can be argued as the high tide of German fortunes in World War II, with its forces closing in on Moscow. However, 6 December was also the beginning of the great Soviet winter counteroffensive that would drive the German Army permanently away from Moscow.
A Map Is Worth At Least A Thousand Words
Several details immediately jump out. The northern prong of the German offensive, led by the Third Panzer Group and Forth Panzer Group, and the southern thrust by the Second Panzer Army can be clearly seen. While Second Panzer Army’s divisions are concentrated for the push from Tula northward, the army’s eastern flank is merely screened by elements of the 10th and 25th Motorized Infantry divisions, the 112th Infantry Division, and a detachment of the 18th Panzer Division. Large-scale, abstract maps of the war on the Eastern Front often depict the battle lines as solid, when in fact, they were thinly-held or gapped.
This is significant because of what this map does not depict: the several dozen divisions the Soviets had amassed around Moscow for their counter-offensive. In fact, the first Red Army counterattacks had started on 5 December, against the LVI Panzer Corps, north of Moscow (at the top of image above). Soviet maskirovka, or military deception efforts, had successfully hidden the build-up from German intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets. Soviet troops infiltrated these gaps, forcing the Germans to halt their attack and then withdraw to avoid encirclement.
This is only a fraction of the story contained in these maps. Hopefully, NARA is diligently digitizing the rest of the collection and will get them online as soon as possible,