This cartographic poster, made in mid-August 1941, is a bold piece of Nazi propaganda proclaiming the success of Operation Barbarossa (June 22 to December 5, 1941), the ongoing German invasion of the Soviet Union. Involving 3.8 million Wehrmacht troops (initially facing 2.9 million Soviet Red Army soldiers), it was the largest military campaign in world history. While the Nazi’s ‘blitzkrieg’ operation had by the time that the poster was issued so far met with considerable success, the Germans were suffering very high casualties, a reality that Goebel’s propaganda machine could not entirely conceal (even though the Soviets suffered much higher casualties). Stoked by Allied news, this was leading to a sense of unease amongst the German public, who seemed to have expected (albeit naively) the Wehrmacht to effortlessly roll over Russia, as they had rapidly crushed France in the spring of 1940.
This poster seeks to convince the German volk that Operation Barbarossa was going great, and was proceeding even better and faster that the German effort against the Russians during World War I (today many forget that while the Germans lost WWI on the Western Front, they always had the upper hand on the Eastern Front).
Entitled Unser Vormarsch im Osten / Tatsaschen gegen Lüge. [Our Advance in the East / Facts against Lies], the poster showcases a map of Central and Eastern Europe, extending from Western Germany over into Russia past Moscow, and taking in all of Scandinavia, in the north, while reaching as far south as Bucharest. The map is colour-coded and features various lines which explain the current military situation, comparing the German gains from June-August 1941 with their progress during World War I, with all the details explained in the legend in the upper right corner.
The line at the top of the legend reads: Moskau und London logen das Blaue von Himmel herunter über Sowjet-Erfolge und deutsche Niederlagen oder wenigstens Stillstand unserer Operationen. [Moscow and London lied to the Blue of the Sky about Soviet successes and German defeats, or at least the Standstill of our Operations].
The narrative then continues by using the details of the map to explain the argument, defiantly proclaiming: Hier unsere Antwort: [Here is our answer:].
Black dotted lines – so standen wir 1915 sechs Wochen nach Beginn der Frühjarsoffensive [In 1915 we were here six weeks after the beginning of the spring offensive].
Bold black line – so standen wir 1917 bei Beginn der Waffenstillstandsverhandlungen [So we stood in 1917 at the beginning of the ceasefire negotiations].
Territory coloured in horizontal striped lines – und so stehen wir diesmal / sechs Wochen nach Beginn des Ostfeldzuges [And so we stand this time six weeks after the beginning of the Eastern campaign].
Black dashed line – Deutschland bis 1914 [Germany until 1914].
Territory coloured orange – Deutsches Reichsgebiet, Gebiet derver-bündeten Staaten u. die besetzten Gebiete [German Reich territory, the territory of the allied states and occupied territories].
Territory coloured yellow – Neutrale Staaten [Neutral States].
Territory coloured green – Sowjet-Union [Soviet Union].
The present work while separately issued, was part of series of large-format cartographic posters issued by the Nazi ‘Reichspropaganda-Leitung’ (State Propaganda Directorate) and is the 16th issue of the series (in the bottom left margin a line reads: ‘Plakat Nr. 16 der R.P.L.’). The posters of the series were all issued in two sizes with identical content: being a ‘Large Size’, measuring 84 x 59 cm, or there abouts (like the present example), and ‘Very Large Size’, measuring 120 x 85 cm, or thereabouts. The posters would have bene displayed in schools, government offices and newsboards all over Germany. While the posters in the series were designed by the Reichspropaganda-Leitung, they were printed by various publishers throughout the country, to the Leitung’s specifications; the present work was issued in Leipzig by Die Güntz-Stiftung, a pillar of the printing establishment founded in 1856.
The Nazi Invasion of the Soviet Union: The Largest Military Showdown in World History
At the end of the Spring of 1941, 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. On June 22, 1941, the Wehrmacht mounted Operation Barbarossa, the full-scale invasion of the European USSR. The Wehrmacht juggernaut was the largest military campaign in world history, involving almost 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 Hitler believed, on the back of the German experience in France, that this was quite achievable. That being said, many top Wehrmacht 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. German logistical planning 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, and 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: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington, D.C.): 2018.236.1; Stadtarchivs Duderstadt (Niedersachsen): P1/024.