The Map Every Intelligence Analyst Should Have on His Wall, For Humility

I have been playing around with this DVD, which is a collection of high resolution situation maps from the European theater of war after D-Day in WWII.  The maps are really interesting, though the interface is awful.  Like something from the AOL era.  I would play with this much more but it is just too kludgy.

This is probably my favorite map (click to enlarge)

click to enlarge


Of course, on the very next day, the last great German attack on the Western Front came right out of that empty red circle.

click to enlarge

In the software, one can zoom very deep into these maps, deeper than these images allow.  So it's a shame that the interface is so bad.

PS - The Bulge is deservedly a part of American military mythology but we should remember that in many ways it was a small battle compared to any number in the East.  This is one of those facts that always perplexes this libertarian, because there is no way the Western Democracies could have ever defeated Germany IMO.  Only Stalin's willingness to soak up astounding losses really defeated Germany.  German army casualties on the Eastern Front were nearly three times their combined casualties in Africa, Italy, France, and Benelux.

The flip side of this is that no one else other than the US could have defeated the Japanese, though again the Soviets would have given them real troubles in Manchuria.  That war was more about projecting power across great distances than pure numbers.  We did bravely soak up absurd casualties in short bursts.  But again, the Russians were soaking up Bettio-level casualties every few hours, and sustained it day in and day out for years.


  1. Emil Nicolaie Perhinschi:

    the Soviets already defeated the Japanese once, in Mongolia, and in 1945 were not only "giving trouble", were closing in on Japan from the North

  2. AIG:

    I would disagree.

    1) Higher Soviet casualties reflect two things:

    a) The fact that Soviets fought a far longer ground war than the US or British did (for all intents and purposes, US and Brits did not really engage the Germans in all-out war until June 1944, while the Soviets had been fighting since June 1941.)
    b) The Soviets were far worst prepared for war the the Allies were in 1944. The Soviets were ONLY able to survive because of their large size. Had the Soviets been fighting in a country the size of France, they would have fallen MUCH faster than the French army did (i.e. the Germans advanced far faster in the Soviet Union than in France in the same period of time). So it's size (and climate) that saved the Soviets, not Stalin.

    2) Higher Soviet casualties, or even the fact that the Soviets inflicted higher casualties on the Germans, does not imply that the "Soviets won the war".

    a) Germany's ability to PRODUCE war machines was destroyed by Allied bombings through 1943-45. No matter how many "men" Germany may have had, if it didn't have tanks and planes and trucks and oil, it had already lost.
    b) The Soviets relied very heavily on US military production. More than half of all Soviet logistics were supplied by US factories (as well as close to 20% of their tanks and planes). Without trucks, ammo, food and clothing...the Soviets would never have been able to organize or carry out the offensives they did. They may not have even survived the war.
    c) Since the Allies were able to establish air superiority over the Germans, and would have done so regardless of the Eastern Front, any German advantages on the ground would have not been sufficient to save Germany, in the long run, from an Allied victory.

    3) So from a "libertarian" perspective, this shouldn't be too perplexing. The Soviets survived because of three reasons 1) sheer size and climate, 2) a far greater population than France or Poland, 3) US Lend-Lease aid. The Soviets were able to "win" in the end for two reasons 1) Allied destruction of Germany's industrial base and 2) US Lend-Lease aid.

    Also, US had nuclear bombs by 1945. At that point, the war would have ended no matter what Germany's position looked like. US technology and industry would have been sufficient.

  3. mesocyclone:

    I agree with commenter AIG. Without the west, the Soviets would have lost. They almost did anyway. Beyond that, without the US, eventually Britain would have fallen. We would then have had a German empire from Britain on the West to the Pacific on the East. And... the Germans would have still had the Penemunde scientists and would have gone on to ICBM's. Or, if the Soviets won, *they* would have had the same empire, and the same scientists, and a nuclear weapon also (from their spies in the US and their own competent scientists).

  4. herdgadfly:

    The Russians relied entirely on their army and their artillery. They had no air force and no tanks to speak of - but like the Chinese Commies in Korea, they had soldiers to burn. They stormed German mechanized units, fell back from casualties and stormed again and again. When Patton's forces came in to non-combat contact with German units occupying Prague, they asked the Americans to accept surrender because they feared the Russian brutes - but the higher command would have none of this since Czechoslovakia was already alloted as a spoils of war to the Russians by the Allied tetrarchy - primarily Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill (because the Chiang Kai-shek was busy fighting a civil war).

    The Russian Army could barely feed itself so prisoners were out of the question - making eastern front casualties necessarily higher. The German rank-and-file were probably happy to fight and lose to the Americans and British at the Battle of the Bulge.

  5. slocum:

    "This is one of those facts that always perplexes this libertarian, because there is no way the Western Democracies could have ever defeated Germany IMO."

    Aren't you forgetting the bomb? Even if virtually everything else about the war had gone horribly wrong but the Manhattan Project had succeeded, it would still have been game over for Germany and Japan.

  6. max lipton:

    I'm no military historian...but the Soviet Union would have eventually defeated Germany w/o the US ,though at far greater cost AND the US could have defeated Germany alone due to far greater resources of manpower, industry, materiel etc. Not to mention the A-bomb.

  7. max lipton:

    Not quite, The Soviets had a capable air force & the greatest tank army in the world, superior to that of Germany and the US.

  8. MingoV:

    "Russians were soaking up Bettio-level casualties every few hours, and sustained it day in and day out for years."

    That just saved Stalin the trouble of starving them to death after the war.

  9. AIG:

    This isn't particularly true. They had very good air force and tank forces.

    None of that is particularly important, however, when compared with logistics. The Soviets relied for over 50% of their logistics on US production: trucks, ammo, food, clothing etc. Without those, the Soviets wouldn't be going very far.

  10. AIG:

    The Soviets would probably not have been able to defeat the Germans without the US. A stalemate would have been the most likely outcome. The Soviets were able to devote larger % of their industry to aircraft and tank production only because the US industry provided them with Lend-Lease aid for logistics. 70% of the Soviet truck pool was US-made.

    Not to mention steel, oil, food, clothing ammunition etc etc.

    Not only that, but also direct weapons aid to the Soviets was very high. 17% of total Soviet tanks were Allied-made. 13% of Soviet aircraft were Allied-made.

    Ultimately, there is NO WAY Germany would have survived or won a war with the US, with or without the USSR. Not only because the A-bomb would have made that impossible, but also because Germany's GDP was 18% of the US GDP!!!!! (at their respective highest levels of 1944)

  11. HenryBowman419:

    The western democracies would have been able to defeat Germany even if the USSR was not militarily engaged. Notably, Germany would have been bombed to oblivion, even without the use of nuclear weapons. And, the destruction of most of its fuel refining capability (e.g., Ploesti) severely limited the capability of the German military: tanks and trucks, including trucks carrying food, need fuel.

    But, the war effort might have been very, very different.

  12. Handworn:

    This has already been said, but the Soviets almost lost, and would have if not for American Lend-Lease. Without that, numbers was most of what the Soviets had, since their equipment wasn't as good as the Germans' and since Stalin had decapitated the Red Army by executing most of their most experienced officers.

  13. obloodyhell:

    Long after the end of this thread, but the soviets had, at the start of the war, the best TANK in the world, by far. Their TANKMEN, on the other hand, sucked balls at the start of the war.

    They did as well as they did solely because the tank was so much superior that it made up for their failures. The sloped and thicker tank armor on the T34s would actually deflect point blank shots from the German tank guns. When the soviet tanks WERE penetrated, their diesel engines did not instantly catch on fire, allowing the tankmen to live and escape and learn from their errors. The larger, high velocity tank guns on the T34s were also the best in the world. As of 1996 (per wiki) variants on the T34 were STILL in service in at least 27 countries. Not bad for a 50+ yo tank design.

    Again from the wiki entry:

    The F-34 76.2 mm (3 in) gun, equipped on the vast majority of T-34s produced through to the beginning of 1944, was able to penetrate any early German tank's armour at normal combat ranges. When firing APCR shells, it could pierce 92 mm [≈ wavelength of the highest UHF radio frequency, 3 GHz] of armour at 500 m. The best German tanks of 1941, the Panzer III and Panzer IV, had no more than 50 or 60 mm frontal armour. The F-34 also fired an adequate high explosive round.

    The gun sights and range finding for the F-34 main gun (either the TMFD-7 or the PT4-7) were rather crude, especially compared to those of their German adversaries, affecting accuracy and the ability to engage at long ranges. As a result of the T-34's two-man turret, weak optics, and poor vision devices, the Germans noted:

    T-34s operated in a disorganized fashion with little coordination, or else tended to clump together like a hen with its chicks. Individual tank commanders lacked situational awareness due to the poor provision of vision devices and preoccupation with gunnery duties. A tank platoon would seldom be capable of engaging three separate targets, but would tend to focus on a single target selected by the platoon leader. As a result T-34 platoons lost the greater firepower of three independently operating tanks.

    The Germans also noted the T-34 was very slow to find and engage targets, while their own tanks could typically get off three rounds for every one fired by the T-34.

  14. Henning:

    I'm not getting into the 'who really won the war' discussion. I just want to say that according to the map the Germans were perhaps a little too good at concealing their build-up and shouldn't the appearant absence of troops in it self have rung a few alarm bells?

  15. tmitsss:

    Would the Germans been able to defeat France in 1940 without assurances that there would be no Eastern Front to defend?

  16. Matthew Teague:

    Soviet tanks were easily a match for the German variety, because against Hitler's wishes they had gone with a weaker gone on their main line tank. Russians, once they reorganized were VERY effective in their tactics/strategy - it wasn't just that they had numbers. They CONCENTRATED them into extremely small areas of operation. They did not have 5x the numbers of the Germans, it was closer to 1.8x. However, they frequently got 3-5x local numeric superiority due to good planning and effective deception.

  17. kidmugsy:

    In '45 the Russians did nothing about Japan until the Hiroshima A-bomb had been dropped.

  18. kidmugsy:

    By God, what a remarkable display of denialism.

  19. CT_Yankee:

    Having broken the Inigma code machine reasonably frequently, the allies were spoiled by the masses of intelligence provided, and grew complacent, not noticing the absence of some things, and presence of other indications of a massive buildup. The orders were all handled by sealed documents, so there were no radio intercepts for the code breakers to work with. The allies wanted to believe Germany was exhausted and withering away, and the easily available Ultra (Inigma) "confirming" this, they failed to pursue available evidence that did not fit the narrative. That is the reason Coyote likes this as an example; it is the same failure as this year's election predictions - believe something so strongly you just explain away anything that does not fit as an anomaly.

  20. CT_Yankee:

    I always understood that it was primarily Hitler who defeated the Nazis. In a couple of early encounters he took risks and scored a few sucker punches. Emboldened by his successes, he would override his generals time and again for the rest of the war, even though sucker punches only work when the victim doesn't know it is coming. The high risk moves once the war was really in progress often led to high losses. Hitler also let vanity get in the way of military strategy many times. The almost a thousand tanks that sat out the war surrounding Leningrad could have strengthened the march on Moscow enough to get that last few miles. Moscow was a real rail-hub, with many places unable to ship directly to each other unless goods passed through Moscow on the way (part of Stalin's "centralized control of everything" outlook). Taking Moscow would isolate the resources of major regions - example have guns, but no food, or tanks, but no fuel. Leningrad and Stalingrad just had cute names. Sure taking them had some merit, but certainly not the level of resources poured into them. When your enemy has an amazing combination of manpower, technology, equipment, and military tactics, about the best thing you cold hope for is that some clown would waste all those advantages on a long series of personal ego trips.

  21. Emil Nicolaie Perhinschi:

    yes, you are right, they did nothing except preparing the Manciurian offensive since before April 1945 ;)

  22. Q46:

    "This is one of those facts that always perplexes this libertarian,
    because there is no way the Western Democracies could have ever defeated
    Germany IMO."

    Not so much.

    For one thing Germany ran out of raw materials, oil, rubber, metals. Eventually they would not have been able to continue the war effort materially, Russia or no.

    Do not overlook the Allies had a secret weapon... Hitler.

    It was Hitler who decided at the end of 1940 to leave Britain until later, and against the advice of his generals opened a second front with Russia. It was Hitler who declared war on the USA, not the other way round, believing that the US was not a serious military threat.

    Leaving Britain until later meant that a massive amount of resources were tied up building and manning the Atlantic Wall, a coastal defensive structure from Scandinavia to Spain.

    It was Hitler who stopped the German advance from cutting off and capturing the British Expeditionary Force, allowing 250 000 trained British and 120 000 French troops to be evacuated to Britain from Dunkirk.

    It was Hitler who chopped and changed aircraft production between fighters, medium range, heavy range bombers and later diverted massive resources to his V weapons.

    It was Hitler's insistence that invasion would be at Calais which is where the bulk of German forces were concentrated, and who prevented them being moved South to Normandy on D-Day because he believed it was just a distraction and the main attack would be at Calais.

    There is a long list of Hitler's master-stroke interventions after he took personal control of the war and none of his generals dared argue with him.

    Really Germany was defeated by Hitler.

  23. marque2:

    Mostly because Japan's focus was elsewhere.

  24. marque2:

    I had an "uncle" in Germany who was sent to the Russian front at 15 y.o. He won the Iron cross for bravery, but didn't talk about it in public much for obvious reasons. He won it by destroying 7 Russian tanks, and he did it like this. He would dig a ditch and cover himself in leaves and muck and let the tanks roll over them. He would then climb the back of the tank, and drop a grenade somewhere where it would get inside the tank (not sure exactly where, due to language barriers, and the fact that he is dead now of old age). He was caught towards then end of the war and sent to a prison by Leningrad, where 90% of the prisoners died - they would strain their poop to try to find something to eat - but he managed to escape and get back to Germany through Finland.

    Amazing story for a "young kid" to bad for him, he was drafted on the wrong side.

  25. Ike Evans:

    The final paragraph of your statement is the trump card. Producing the world's first nuclear bomb was an enormously difficult task that only the United States could have produced by that time.

  26. joe:

    The russians also had the t34 tank which was much supperior to any other tank of that war

  27. joe:

    the russian T-34 tank was by far the best tank of WWII

  28. Heresiarch:

    I think the key words of yours with regard to my point are "once they reorganized". It was U.S. aid that allowed them to hold the Germans off long enough for the Soviets to reorganize, and for the U.S. to mobilize.

  29. texasjimbo:

    Just as easily as they did historically. Russia had next to no offensive capability when Germany conquered France. Additionally, absent the partition of Poland, the German-Russian common border was so small either side attempting to attack would have had to have gained access to Poland/Hungry/Romania (all Russian enemies) via conquest or alliance. Russian conquest of any of those countries would have resulted in the refusal of the US/Great Britain to offer any material assistance to Russia (Churchill seriously considered declaring war on Russia over its invasion of Finland). The conquest of France only took a month and a half, meaning that Russia would have had to have already been ready to engage in an attack and be confident they could achieve all of the goals and hold them within a few months, best case.

  30. donald:

    what a lively discussion. It does make me wonder the chicken egg issues. The US vs. Germany or USSR vs Germany one without the other. it's hard to argue as it was such a multi variable event. The delay in attacking by the US. The German attack of USSR. The all these events depend on the other. If Hitler didn't attack east and sent those troops to London? Could he have crossed the channel? Who knows. We'll never know. But I do believe that the hawks in the US would have had a better time convincing the country to fight Germany had they successfully crossed the channel. So maybe we get in the war earlier. Maybe that would be too late. Without a nice place to unload our men and equipment, it's hard to cross the ocean. Just look at the pacific theater. To keep playing the game one would have to think that its possible that without the danger from the east and a subdued west, the V2 project perhaps is allowed to blossom into a new project as the needs would change from short range to long range. And perhaps the Me 262 program would not be delayed due to the lack of materials high end metals, that were perhaps used up in the eastern front. Then with a successful Me program and a large mass of troops to defend the land, how would US ever invade or launch operation overlord. A tougher airforce with Me262s would stop the bombing effectiveness. how would that have effected our pacific theater as well? had the Germans even had a slightly better navy due to the resources being diverted away to the eastern front, they may have made it much tougher to get our troops and materials over there. heck, they were even rumors about the panama canal and Texas oil fields being under surveillance. this could go on forever.

    I think that the underlying comment from coyote perhaps is that one could argue that the Germans would have had more materials and men to provide for the fight to the west. Which there is no definitive proof of what would have happened, but it does make for wonderful theories. one of them is that we wouldn't have had the juice to take down a Germany that owned the entire western Europe and subdued England. Lions and Tigers oh my.

  31. NemesisII:

    But how many of them could they produce once the war was under way? The Germans had most of the superior tactical technology, until we destroyed their means of producing it.

  32. NemesisII:

    "Best" in this case seems to depend on what attributes one values. You're favoring raw kinetic force and ability to take hits over the ability to assess, maneuver, and engage in a coordinated fashion. By your analysis of "best," one could conclude that a legally blind drunkard wearing a kevlar suit and carrying a sawed off shotgun loaded with slugs would be a better combatant than a trained specialist with a modern, scoped assault rifle.

  33. PlainBill:

    You missed one: Hitler decided to put the naval shipyards and steel production into building prestigious battleships that weren't very successful, instead of beefing up the U-boat fleet that was successful.
    The threat of the U-boats was the only thing Churchill was worried about for the majority of the early war years, because without the Atlantic convoys, there would have been no lend-lease and resupply to either England or Russia.

  34. tfowler:

    The T-34 was overrated. It had some definite strong points. It could be produced relatively cheaply (probably, costs are distorted in a communist system), and wasn't bad in terms of armor protection and firepower. But it was cramped and wasn't very reliable. Also while its armor was relatively resistant to penetration, if it was penetrated the small fighting compartment and esp. the fuel tanks in the fighting compartment, meant it had very poor survivability. Also I've heard that the very hard armor, while it helped resist penetration, created a greater then normal spalling problem on non-penetrating hits.

    Another point was that until the T-34/85 it had a two man turret with the commander also acting as the gunner, and probably not being able to be 100 percent effective in both roles at the same time. That and you have the lack of radios. I'm not saying it was a bad tank for the time, certainly it helped the Russians win, but "much superior to any other tank" isn't really true.

  35. tfowler:

    The battleships had some benefit to Germany as part of a fleet in being, tying up British resources just to contain them if they did happen to come out to attack. But that benefit was less (most of the time much less) than what they could have done putting the same resources in to submarines, or probably several other possible uses as well.

  36. tfowler:

    Also the Germans kept substantial forces in the West (even if these forces were noticeably smaller then in the east), lost a lot of air power fighting in the west (Invasion of France, Battle of Britain etc), and more eastern countries other then Russia (for example Poland, which never really had a chance to win, but did manage to weaken the Germans in the process of going down) The invasion of Russia delayed because of fighting the British, Greeks, and Yougoslavs. If the invasion wasn't moved back, and all the forces from the West joined in, if the aircraft, fuel and other resources used up in these fights was available, and if the western powers didn't send any supplies, equipment, and weapons to the Russians, then Germany might have won. Most of the weapons used by the Soviets were Soviet weapons (esp. later on), but at the crucial point where Moscow was threatened early on perhaps a third of the heavy and medium tanks the Soviets had available where Western (and even later on and for the whole war a large percent of the trucks were of Western origin. Also western machine tools helped enable some of that Soviet production (again esp. early on)

    Of course without the USSR the west would have had a much harder time of it. Bring back all those units from the East (and remove all the losses there), and D-Day would probably have failed (or more likely have been delayed for a long time). Eventually the west could have built up enough to win, or used nukes, but it would have been a longer war (without the nukes maybe a much longer war). Perhaps only winnable without nukes because of the German shortages of fuel.

  37. tfowler:

    The US and UK were developing jets as well. The British actually used them in WWII (at home, they were short ranged, but with a longer war that could have changed).

    Without the resources sent to the East the Germans could have had a better navy, but except for more subs (and probably not even that by late in the way) they would have been better served by putting the resources in to ground and air forces. If they had built one more battleship and a few more cruisers it just would have been more ships for the British and later the American to sink, or keep bottled up in ports.

    Without nukes even a larger and longer range V-2 wouldn't have been likely to be a very decisive weapon. You can spread terror and cause some damage but not enough to win a war unless your opponent had little resolve (or maybe if you have millions of V-2s but that's fantasy).

    In terms of deterring or defeating an invasion from the west - More important than surface ships or V2s, would have been all the extra men, tanks, artillery etc. they would have had, and all the fuel they wouldn't have burned up or gotten captured by advancing Russian forces. Also if they were not enemies with the USSR that would open up a potential source of oil imports and other materials. That would have been huge since one of Germany's biggest problems was lack of certain resources, esp. oil.

  38. PlainBill:

    It's underlined by the fact that for the same amount of steel and time it took to build, for instance, the Tirpitz they could have built an addition 30-40 U-boats in less than half the build time.
    The additional U-boats added to the fleet in 1939-1940 at the beginning of the "Happy Time" might have been decisive.
    Winston Churchill had it right when he wrote:
    "The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the
    war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air depended ultimately on its outcome."

  39. tfowler:

    I agree it would have been better for the Germans to have put the steel, construction workers and facilities, crew, etc. in to submarines.

  40. OttoMaddox:

    Many other tanks were better, such as the German Panther tank. What is true is the sheer volume of T-34's produced. As the saying goes "Quantity has a quality all its own."

  41. Ray_Van_Dune:

    The Germans would not have been able to build a small enough atomic warhead that their rockets could throw to the United States before the Americans wiped Germany off the map with atomic bombs carried by B-36s.

    The Russians' other big contribution to Allied victory was an passive one - by getting attacked by the Germans, they allowed their thousands of useful fools in the western democracies to support the fight against the Axis, instead of working undercover to achieve Soviet ascendency. A whole lot of people committed treason against America and were spared from a firing squad by the action of a madman.