World War II Map by Map
“World War II Map by Map is a delight to leaf through and is highly recommended for those desiring a pictorial introduction to World War II.”
There is nothing more frustrating for an historian or history buff and especially a military historian and buff to read history without maps. Often one feels while reading that one needs even more maps. When we read about the fierce battles of Guadalcanal in 1942, or the epic tank battles at Kursk between the Russians and Germans in 1943 or where, exactly, Omaha Beach is, it helps enormously to visualize the strategic and tactical issues facing the battlefield commanders by the use of maps, just as they used maps.
World War II Map by Map, produced by a team of historians in association with the Smithsonian Institution, is a most useful answer to this desire of a book with maps to supplement other reading or simply to enjoy the excellence of production. The book has plenty of maps but is as much an introduction to the history of World War II.
Beginning with the pre-war setting from 1918, the end of World War I until Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, we are introduced both through text, photos, and maps, the seemingly unrelated but important Sino-Japanese War, the Spanish Civil War, and the League of Nations and its failures. Between 1939 and 1942 Germany was triumphant and in 1942 the war widened with America’s entry into the war. The turning of tide defined 1943 and 1944 and the endgame, the final section covers the period from 1944 to 1955, the aftermath of the world war.
There are probably as many photographs as maps in the book and this plethora of illustration makes for very enjoyable reading and leafing through. The maps are drawn and colored well and can easily be read by non-map readers. However, the maps and the book itself is truly for beginners. It’s an introduction.
Many of the photos are famous ones you’ve seen before—nothing wrong with that. This is not meant as a negative comment because it remains useful and enjoyable for the expert as well, who might, though, have wished for less text and photos and more maps or greater detail.
The detail that exists is very good though. For instance, the map of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, is quite clear as is the map of the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944. There are a few highly interesting period maps, maps made at the time for battlefield commanders, such as the 1941 siege of Leningrad map, in Cyrillic, that beg for more explanation.
The maps of the Russian front are a bit frustrating because the front itself and the multitude of military battles and maneuvers makes it difficult to show on the one-and-a-quarter page map showing a 1,000 mile front. There was too much happening on too many fronts between December 5, 1941 to April 30, 1942 when the relief of Moscow from Nazi pressure occurred.
The six-page, three-map story of the German advance on Stalingrad, the siege of that city, the final victory of the Russians at Stalingrad and the capture of the German 6th Army is excellently told.
There’s a lot of bang for the buck out of these three maps. One reads the maps in steps: boxes are numbered and to be read in order which gives order to how to read the maps. Many battle maps in more sophisticated studies employ a panoply of symbols that automatically provide the detail an expert would desire, but in this book those symbols are dispensed with giving a novice military history reader an easier time.
World War II Map by Map is as thorough as one would expect from a Smithsonian associated publication and leading historians such as the highly respected British historian Richard Overy. World War II Map by Map is a delight to leaf through and is highly recommended for those desiring a pictorial introduction to World War II.