This very rare and fascinating map depicts all of Ukraine and its road system and was made by the General Staff of the German Army in May 1941, the month before the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa, their ‘blitzkrieg’ invasion of the Soviet Union. Their plan called for the swift conquest of Ukraine, not only as the Nazis coveted its fertile plains for ‘lebensraum’, but also because it provided the easiest route to the Baku Oil Fields, which could provide the Third Reich with the vast petroleum resources they desperately needed.
Importantly, this particular example of the map comes from an original archive of the 11th Panzer Division and was clearly used by a Wehrmacht officer in theatre, as it features manuscript tank itineraries leading all across Ukraine.
The present map was prepared by the War Maps & Surveying Department of the German General Staff from the very best intelligence. It is marked as a ‘Sonderausgab nur für den Dienstgebrauch’ [Special Issue for official use only] and would have been classified for the exclusive use of senior officers and tank and armoured vehicle commanders. Given that the success of the German invasion of the USSR relied upon speed, a sophisticated knowledge of the routes fit for tanks and armoured vehicles was especially important. Thus, the present map would not have been merely helpful, but rather a vital necessity.
The ‘Zeichenerklärung’ (Explanation of Symbols) describes the various types of transport routes featured on the map (often with the German terms accompanied by the corresponding Ukrainian terms transliterated into Latin), including: ‘Autostraße’ (Motorways); ‘Hauptstraßen’ (Major Roads); ‘Fahrwege’ (Provincial Routes); ‘Hauptstraßen, parallel dazu zweite Fahrbahn im Bau’ (Main Roads parallel to a second carriageway under construction); ‘Hauptstraßen im Bau im Zuge eines bisherigen Fahrweges’ (Main Roads under construction along the route of an existing road); and ‘Hauptstraßen im Bau, Verlauf unsicher’ (Main Roads under construction, route not secure). The map also delineates railways (primary and secondary), electrified railroads, as well as railways under construction. Additionally, the distances in kilometres are marked between key points along major routes, while the ‘Bemerkungen…’ (Comments) notes on the qualities of the thouroughfares in each category.
Of note, the ‘Autostraße Be Kiew-Brjansk-Moskva’ (Kiev-Bryansk-Moscow Motorway) is marked as a straight, bold route and is described as ‘Genauer Verlauf unbekannt’ (exact route unknown), while the key major road leading east-southeast from of Kiev is described as ‘verlauf unsicher’ (route not secure).
The Manuscript Additions to the Present Map
The present map comes from a larger archive of maps and documents regarding the 11th Panzer (Tank) Division. This corps was formed in August 1940 and served during the German invasion of Yugoslavia. The division joined the German Army Group South during Operation Barbarossa, and took part in the invasion of Ukraine, before moving up into Russia to participate in the unsuccessful attack upon Moscow, although the division fought with great skill and success in its own right. The 11th avoided capture at the Battle of Stalingrad (August 23, 1942 – February 2, 1943) and aided the German retreat from the Volga and Donbass regions. As the Wehrmacht was progressively rolled back out of Ukraine in 1943-44, the 11th Panzer Division was almost completely destroyed at the Battle of the Korsun–Cherkasy Pocket (January 24 – February 16, 1944); what remained of the force was deployed to the Western Front for the remainder of the conflict.
Upon the present map, the supposed routes of a group of 11th Panzer Division tanks is expressed by very neat lines made of baby blue and green dots. The dots seem to refer to an amalgam of various itineraries conducted in the summer of 1941, during Operation Barbarossa, as well as the division’s operations during the gradual German retreat from Ukraine in the wake of the Battle of Stalingrad.
Additionally, several towns, presumably of strategic interest, are distinguished in manuscript pink highlighting; the boundary lines of some of Ukraine’s western oblasts are traced in green crayon; while some distances between key points in Eastern Ukraine are added in kilometres. Finally, the lower margin, is a pencil sketch of a junction in the Perekop area, on the isthmus that connects Crimea to the mainland.
A Note on Rarity
The present map is very rare. It was made in only a very small print run for the classified use of senior German military planners and Wehrmacht officers commanding tanks and armoured vehicles. Extensive field use would have ensured that examples would have had a very low survival rate.
We can trace only 4 institutional examples, held by the Bayerische Staatsbibliotek and the Hungarian Institute and Museum of Military History (Budapest); plus, 2 examples held by unspecified Russian and Polish libraries. Moreover, we cannot trace any sales records for any other examples.
Blitzkrieg and Operation Barbarossa
The Third Reich’s stunning success during the first two years of the World War II was largely due to their successful prosecution of Blitzkrieg (‘Lightning War’), by which massive forces of tanks and armoured vehicles moved with great speed and precision to ruthlessly take out enemy target, after enemy target before the opposition had time to respond, with the goal of overwhelming entire countries, or at least large coherent theatres. This merciless form of war relied upon a nearly perfect marshalling, distribution and deployment of resources; all activities of the army had to be perfectly choreographed, and any mistakes in organization or delays in one place could cause ripple effects that could upset an entire campaign. Naturally realtime access to accurate maps of the battle theatre was of paramount importance. Due to its extreme discipline and immense resources, the Wehrmacht was perfectly suited to Blitzkrieg, at least until Germany over-extended itself on the frozen plains of Russia and Ukraine.
On the eve of World War II, the Third Reich had developed the world’s greatest military-industrial complex. While the rest of the world slumbered in the Great Depression, Germany’s massive civilian industrial conglomerates retooled their expertise for military applications in a ‘corporatist’ union with the new Nazi state. One of the most conspicuous achievements of this arrangement was the Autobahn network, the world’s first modern expressways that crisscrossed Germany.
In 1938, the Third Reich formed the rolled all of Germany’s private and public industrial resources under the administrative umbrella of the Organisation Todt (OT, named after Fritz Todt, the organization’s chief), which became the world’s largest manufacturing, construction and logistics enterprise. Initially, the OT could rely upon 1.75 million conscripted German labourers (who served in lieu of military service), but during wartime the OT enslaved over a million people in occupied territories and in concentration camps, often in barbarously cruel conditions. The organization employed cutting edge technology and ruthless discipline and efficiency to its operations. On the eve of the war, it was able to produce astounding amounts of aircraft, tanks, armoured vehicles, weapons and ammunition, and was able to marshal these resources with incredible foresight and skill.
The OT geared the production and distribution of their martial resources towards supporting Blitztkrieg operations. That the Nazis were able to complete their invasion of France and the Low Countries in only 46 days (from May 10 to June 25, 1940) was in large part due to OT’s amazing efficiency (as well as their brutal exploitation of slave labour) in supporting a mechanized, rapidly moving army. However, this success seemed to have made both Hitler and the OT planners supremely overconfident when mounting a far more ambitious endeavour – the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Germany had two principal motivations for invading the USSR; one was murderous and ideological, the other was quite practical. First, Hitler’s Generalplan Ost envisaged the Third Reich taking over all of the Soviet Union as far east as the Ural Mountains, upon which the local peoples would either be killed, exiled or ‘Germanized’. These lands would then be annexed to Germany to create a massive tract of ‘lebensraum’ (living space) for the ‘master race’, extending from Alsace to the gates of Asia.
Second, while Germany already had access to Romania’s oil fields, the its fuel supply was always tight, at least compared to Britain, which could (albeit with difficulty) ship in oil from its overseas empire which possessed unlimited reserves. While the Wehrmacht had enough oil reserves to sustain its operations until the winter of 1941-42, it needed a massive new source of petroleum if it was to continue its activities, at least at its established ambitious scope and pace. Thus, the Third Reich’s plan was to seize the Baku oil fields in Soviet Azerbaijan, the achievement of which would easily solve their petroleum problem. In this respect, the invasion of Ukraine was key, as it occupied the most direct route from third Reich territory to the Caucuses.
Germany ripped up the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939), the Soviet-German alliance of convenience that had governed their relations for the first two years of the war, and on June 22, 1941 mounted Operation Barbarossa, the full-scale invasion of the European USSR. The Wehrmacht juggernaut was the largest military campaign in world history, involving 4 million Axis troops, over 3,500 tanks (organized into 19 Panzer divisions), 600,000 vehicles and 4,000 aircraft. It was planned as a Bliztkrieg operation that would rely on utterly and rapidly overwhelming the Soviets, with the objective of conquering the entire country west of the ‘A-A line’, a meridian that ran from Archangel down to Astrakhan (so assuming the conquest of Leningrad, Moscow, all of Ukraine and the Baku oil fields) by the winter of 1941-42. This was an incredibly ambitious goal, but both Hitler and the Organisation Todt planners believed that, on the back of their experience in France, this was quite achievable. That being said, many top German generals privately cautioned against the invasion, anticipating what was to transpire.
In the summer and early autumn of 1941, while the Soviets put up a fight (and Leningrad amazingly managed to avoid capture), Operation Barbarossa went relatively well. The OT’s logistical planning, as showcased on the present map held strong, as the tanks and armoured vehicles made good progress.
Yet, by September 1941, some cracks started to develop in the Nazi designs. The vast distances involved, combined with determined Soviet resistance wore down the German advance. The Russian and Ukrainian plains turned rainy and muddy, slowing the progress of the tanks and other vehicles, as the Wehrmacht came to fall well behind their planned progress. While an early lightning strike upon Moscow could perhaps take out the Soviet capital, the Germans found themselves bogged down only a short distance to the west, giving the Red Army time to recharge.
During the Battle of Moscow (October 2, 1941 to January 7, 1942), the Germans failed to break the Soviet lines, and suffered terribly due the severe winter weather. German soldiers lacked proper clothing and shelter, while the engines of many tanks and vehicles froze, rendering them useless. Both the Germans and the Soviets endured astounding casualties and losses of equipment. However, while the Red Army simply kept fighting regardless of its suffering, the OT, for the very first time, proved unable to deliver sufficient equipment, supplies and fuel to the front, and the Nazis confronted defeat. Operation Barbarossa, while having conquered hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of Soviet territory, did not achieve enough. The Wehrmacht failed to reach anywhere near the A-A Line, as Leningrad, Moscow and the Baku oilfields remained in Soviet hands; the Germans were now trapped far from home in an inhospitable land, facing a reinvigorated enemy.
Matters came to head at the Battle of Stalingrad (August 23, 1942 – February 2, 1943), whereupon a large portion of the German Eastern army was encircled and destroyed, in one of the most bloody and horrific military events in world history. From that point onwards, the Germans were on the defensive, with the Red Army constantly pushing them westwards. The Allied invasion of Italy, commencing in August 1943, saw the Third Reich fighting on two fronts, and its fate was sealed upon the Allied landings in France in June 1944. The last year of the war was merely the Third Reich’s attempt to delay the inevitable, as the history’s most evil empire fell in May 1945.
References: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek: Mapp. 93 s-1#5 / OCLC: 164602491; Hungarian Institute and Museum of Military History (Budapest): B XI c 106.