New WWII German Maps At The National Archives

The situation in Army Group Center’s sector of the Eastern Front on 6 December 1941. [National Archives]

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,

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About Shawn Woodford

Shawn Robert Woodford, Ph.D., is a military historian with nearly two decades of research, writing, and analytical experience on operations, strategy, and national security policy. His work has focused on special operations, unconventional and paramilitary warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, naval history, quantitative historical analysis, nineteenth and twentieth century military history, and the history of nuclear weapon development. He has a strong research interest in the relationship between politics and strategy in warfare and the epistemology of wargaming and combat modeling. All views expressed here are his and do not reflect those of any other private or public organization or entity.

13 thoughts on “New WWII German Maps At The National Archives

  1. These maps were off limits at the NARA to researchers for several decades as they wanted to protect them from damage. Researchers had to obtain them through the German archives, even though the U.S. archives were sitting on a collection of them. If my memory serves me correctly, it was due to some budgetary issues. Anyhow, we were able to obtain the Hitler briefing maps on tank strength for the Battle of the Bulge from the German archives thanks to the help of Danny Parker. They were used for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base (ACSDB).

  2. That explains why it has taken so long to open collections they have had for several decades. Hopefully digitizing them will make them easily and widely accessible.

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  4. these maps are truly an excellent piece of history, they should be digitized for everyone to see, are there any of eastern Poland from the same timeframe?

  5. It’s a strange situation – but not unfamiliar: Archives throughout the west are in a crisis because they know that their existence is dependent on exclusiveness – that is, if they go digital – No visitors… & therefore no budget.

    That is why they’re doing their best to postpone as much as they can, using any lame excuse (‘protect them from damage’, ‘budget’) the efforts to digitize their inventory & uploading it.

    BTW, one guy has already scanned most of this inventory & uploaded it –

    Just to show you how it can & should be done. Any reason why it has not yet – is most probably mentioned above.

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