Exactly 75 years ago, time was up for the Nazis

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  • These U.S. Army maps detail the progress of the Allied war effort, on both the Eastern and Western Front.
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  • They show the enormous gains by the Red Army, and much slower progress across Italy.
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  • After D-Day, the Germans fought hard to contain Allied advances in the West, but these maps are testament to the hopelessness of their cause.

Exactly three quarters of a century ago, this was the most important map in the world. It showed how, by May 1, 1945, the Western Allies had joined up with their Soviet counterparts at the River Elbe, striking the last, fatal blow to the Nazi war machine. Germany’s unconditional surrender was just a few days away.

Produced by the U.S. Army for the benefit of the Secretary of War, these maps were part of a series of bi-monthly updates of the European and Asian theaters of war, from mid-1943 to the conclusion of the war against Japan. Here are the European maps – half of them: the 1st of the month ones only, not those of the 15th of each month – still giving a good impression of the location and advance of Allied ground offensives against the Germans.

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  • In white: territory held by the Axis powers (Germany and Italy)
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  • In black: territory gained by the Axis powers
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  • In light red: territory held by the Allied powers (U.K., U.S., Soviet Union, e.a.)
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  • In dark red: territory gained by the Allied powers
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  • In grey: neutral countries

Silence before the storm

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

The year 1943 hadn’t started great for the Germans. In January, the Soviets beat them in Stalingrad and in May, the Western Allies defeated them in North Africa. Still, at the start of July, Fortress Europe still seemed solid. But that illusion would be shattered within a few days, on two fronts.

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  • In the east, the giant tank battle at Kursk would prove yet another decisive victory for the Soviets, whose march west would gather momentum.
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  • And the British and Americans landed on Sicily, starting a slow but steady march up the Italian boot.

D-Day and beyond

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

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  • On May 1, the front lines look stable; but the air war is wreaking death and destruction on the German industrial heartlands.
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  • By June 1, Allied forces have broken out of their beachhead at Anzio, forcing the Germans to retreat towards Rome.
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  • By July 1, D-Day had happened; but the Allies were still kettled in at Normandy. However, by now both Germany’s Italian and Russian fronts were collapsing. The Soviets were even diverting forces to move on the Finnish front.

Advance into France

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

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  • By August 1, still no great advances in Normandy, but the Eastern Front continued to collapse. The Soviets reached the Baltic sea near Riga.
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  • By September 1, the Germans were finally on the retreat across France also from a secondary Allied landing in the south. The Soviets seized Romania’s oil fields, depriving Germany of a critical fuel source.
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  • By October 1, almost all of France and Belgium had been liberated, the Soviets continued their drive into the Balkans and Germany faced imminent invasion of the Heimat on both the eastern and western fronts.

Giant strides across Poland

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

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  • By February 1, the Soviets had taken giant strides west through Poland, approaching Berlin. In the west, the other Allies were still not across the Rhine.
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  • By March 1, the Allies were finally surging towards Cologne. The Soviet armies in the east regrouped.
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  • By April 1, the Allies were across the Rhine and advancing deeper into Germany, encircling vast German forces in the Ruhr area. Meanwhile the Soviets took Vienna.

That’s the end of that war…

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

By May 1, 1945, Berlin too had fallen to Soviet forces. Eastern and western forces met on the Elbe River, cutting in two the melting slice of German-controlled Europe. Six days later at Reims, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies.

With the war over, the stage was set for the next phase of history: the Cold War between the world’s two remaining superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

Strange Maps #1025

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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