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Der Zweite Weltkrieg im Kartenbild

   Maps and books full of maps play an important role in the study of the Second World War, especially for those of us who cut our teeth on Vincent Esposito's old West Point map volumes many long years ago. So we always keep an eye out for useful maps and atlases.
   Back in about 1990 when we originally saw the first volume of Klaus-Jurgen Thies' Der Zweite Weltkrieg im Kartenbild series in Bob Ruman's Articles of War shop (then in Illinois, nowadays in New Mexico), we weren't very impressed. Who would possibly want to spend such an outrageous sum on thirty-six pages of maps showing day-by-day positions of German units—and only German units—during the invasion of Poland in 1939? Sure, the maps were nicely executed and the volumes were nicely produced, but we already had plenty of other books with perfectly satisfactory little sketch maps showing the course of the campaign in sufficient detail.
   So we slid the book back onto the shelf and pretty much wrote off the whole idea. Even when we learned every few years about the latest releases in the series, we could only remember being completely unimpressed by the coverage of the Polish campaign. The new volumes, we decided, probably weren't even worth a glance.
   Wow. We were way wrong.
   The first one, it's true, is far and away the weakest of the lot. The other four turned out to be hot, hot, hot.
   All five of the books are oversized at 12.25" x 16.5" and they range from the thin Polish volume to more than two hundred pages in volume five. Except for the first volume, which has no text, the page facing each map contains a narrative explanation of the situation and events. Although the text is entirely in German, the maps themselves comprise the heart of all these books, and they completely transcend any language. Every map takes up an entire page, and they are generally provided to show the situation on a day-by-day basis, or at least every other day. The background of terrain, roads, railroads, cities, and other features is rendered entirely in gray. Unlike the Polish volume, the other four volumes include the locations and designations of all forces, not just German units, so everyone is color-coded. The positions and identifications of German units are in blue, enemy forces are in red, and other forces—such as Italian—are green. These color choices mean the underlying map features are always readily visible, but the units are so bright and legible they practically jump off the page. The color reproductions of "Lage Ost" maps occasionally included in some books are not nearly as attractive or useful as these.
   The books also include table of contents, organigrams, lists of abbreviations, legends, tactical symbols, and assorted documents and other materials, although everything is written in German.
   Even for those unable to comprehend a word of the language, a quick glance at any one of these maps tells all there is to know about the course of the action for the day(s) in question. Readers will occasionally run across a cryptic map notation, such as the abbreviation "Ku-Sch" for "coastal guns," but that's by far the exception rather than the rule.
   All in all, since we thumbed through the first volume more than ten years ago, the series has matured tremendously into an incredibly valuable resource for anyone who wants to know the exact location of every unit committed to these battles and campaigns. Although the price remains steep, it's not hard to justify spending so much money to get so much information in return.
   Here's a quick survey of each of the volumes currently available. Vincent Esposito, eat your heart out....

Thies, Klaus-Jurgen. Der Zweite Weltkrieg im Kartenbild, vol 1: Der Polenfeldzug 1939. Osnabruk: Biblio, 1989. 36 maps at daily intervals, but almost no sign whatsoever of Polish forces other than on the first one. Some very general indications of Soviet forces.

Thies, Klaus-Jurgen. Der Zweite Weltkrieg im Kartenbild, vol 2: Weserubung. Osnabruk: Biblio, 1991. 75 maps of various parts of the campaign at various scales, some daily, some hourly, some showing actions over longer durations. Detailed blow-ups of actions in areas such as Oslo. Complete dispositions for Danish and Norwegian forces. Includes British, French, and Polish expeditionary forces. Lots of information on naval forces for both sides. 14 detailed renderings of battles for Narvik.

Thies, Klaus-Jurgen. Der Zweite Weltkrieg im Kartenbild, vol 3: Der Westfeldzug, 10 May to 25 June, 1940. Osnabruk: Biblio, 1994. 58 maps, most showing the Low Countries and northwest corner of France from the sea to Switzerland. Complete dispositions for all divisions and higher formations: Germans in blue, British and French in red, Dutch in green, Belgian in brown. Includes complete mapping of the pursuit into the south of France and the fighting between French and Italian forces.

Thies, Klaus-Jurgen. Der Zweite Weltkrieg im Kartenbild, vol 4: Der Balkanfeldzug und die Eroberung von Kreta, 1941. Osnabruk: Biblio, 1996. 106 maps covering many different sectors of the Balkans at different scales. Complete divisional deployments for Yugoslavia and Greece. Detailed Italian deployment in Albania as of April 1941. Allied expeditionary forces as well as some Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Turkish units. Allied evacuations routes and German occupation of Greek islands. About thirty extremely detailed maps of the invasion of Crete, including air-naval actions and the little-known Italian invasion of the eastern tip of the island. Even shows location (and text describes) the sinking of German transports off Greece while carrying 2nd Panzer Division to Italy in May. In many ways, this is the single most impressive volume in the series to date.

Thies, Klaus-Jurgen. Der Zweite Weltkrieg im Kartenbild, vol 5, part 1: Der Ostfeldzug: Heeresgruppe Mitte. Osnabruk: Biblio, 2002. While the first four campaigns were limited enough to be covered in a single volume, the Russian front will require a heap of new books. This volume covers Army Group Center from June through December 1941. 108 maps. Although covering AGC, adjacent forces included when the map extends beyond army group boundaries. Huge numbers of divisions clearly and legibly displayed on both sides of the front lines. Surprisingly good information on Soviet forces, although some question marks. The final map, dated 6 December and showing the front from Lake Ilmen to just north of Kharkov, is especially spectacular.


Reviewed 30 January 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone


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