Introduction to the First Edition

Forty years ago, while I was preparing my Atlas of the First World War, I asked Field Marshal Montgomery, who had been a young officer in that war — seeing action at Mons, the Somme, Arras and Passchendaele — if he would write the introduction. In it he wrote: ‘It was an honour when my friend Martin Gilbert asked me to write an introduction to this atlas. I look forward eagerly to his atlas of the 1939–45 war in which I fought on the battlefields of Africa and Europe — but by then being somewhat more senior in rank than in 1914.’

The Field Marshal, whose grave had been dug on the Western Front in 1914 in expectation of his death — after he had been shot through the lung by a sniper — died in 1976 at the age of eighty-eight. I dedicate this atlas to his memory, and for his encouragement of my work; I trust he would have approved of these maps, on several of which he appears: commanding the Eighth Army in North Africa, from Egypt to Tunisia, and the 21st Army Group in northern Europe, from Normandy to Luneberg Heath, where on 4 May 1945 he received the German offer to surrender.

In the past four decades, my researches have introduced me to many aspects of the Second World War. The 247 maps in this atlas are the fruit of those researches. At the centre of the war were the battles that marked its course and ensured its outcome: battles that were fought in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, on land, on the seas and oceans, and in the skies.

In addition to the maps of the battles, other maps tell the story of prisoners of war who were so often killed after they had surrendered; of millions of victims of racial policies; of millions who lived under the shadow of the bomber; and of individual heroes and heroism in every walk of life: men and women who showed that, even amid horrific evil, some shafts of light and goodness could survive, and be effective.

Every author is influenced by personal experiences and memories. Among the themes I have mapped is that of prisoners of war. As a ten-year-old schoolboy in Britain, I was greatly affected by the distressing experiences of my father’s cousin Simmy Gordon, who had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese. In the 1970s I was influenced by Victor West, who signed his books of poetry for me with the names of the prisoner-of-war camps in which he had been incarcerated in Germany between 1941 and 1945: he had been taken prisoner during the fighting in Greece, when the unit with which he was fighting ran out of ammunition.

In my travels through Europe, I met and befriended men and women who had taken part in the partisan war, choosing the dangerous path of resistance to occupation. They too influenced my work, as did the numerous wall plaques in so many European countries dedicated to those who had been shot down at street corners and in doorways for daring to challenge the occupying power. This atlas has several maps showing the range and nature of the resistance movements: including those in France, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Greece and the Far East.

In the summer of 1940, as a three-and-a-half year old evacuee to Canada, I was on board a Canadian Pacific ocean liner, the Duchess of Bedford, then part of a large convoy, when German U-boats attacked. The Duchess had the speed to hurry away, her captain having ordered the lifeboats to be extended on their davits as he hurried westward. The slower merchant ships had no means of escape, and five were torpedoed. My memories of that voyage, and what I learned about it after the war, influenced me in my determination to give due weight to the merchant seamen who carried food and war supplies across the oceans at such great risk. Their fortitude and plight is an integral part of several of the maps.

Returning to Britain by troopship — the converted ocean liner Mauretania — from New York in April 1944, my seven-year-old eyes were shocked by the sight of the devastation of aerial bombing: the dock area of Liverpool, where the troopship bringing me home had docked. As a London schoolboy a few years later, travelling through Germany and central Europe, I saw the still-pulverised ruins of Cologne. So many of those with whom I later talked in the course of my historical researches recalled being under attack from the air. When, in 1962, I was preparing a volume of interwar political and protest poetry (as yet unpublished), Siegfried Sassoon sent me a copy of his poem — written thirty years earlier, three months before Hitler came to power in Germany — in which he forecast that, in the not too distant future, ‘Fear will be synonymous with Flight.’ Many of the maps relate to the bombing war.

Thirty-seven years ago, I went with my father to the Western Front, to visit the battlefields of the First World War. Then, as on each subsequent visit to the war cemeteries there, I was struck by how many graves there were of those killed in action in the Second World War. On a recent visit to Belgium, at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Heverlee, are the graves of twenty-nine soldiers killed in the First World War and more than eight hundred airmen shot down during the Second World War: Australians, Britons, Canadians and Poles among them. In other war cemeteries in Western Europe, I have stood by the graves of Belgians, Czechoslovaks, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Indians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and soldiers, sailors and airmen of many other nationalities, as well as nurses killed as they tended the wounded, or — as in Hong Kong — murdered after capture.

At Pearl Harbor, I have seen the graves and memorials of those killed in that sudden attack on 7 December 1941 that expanded the war to the Pacific. In the Philippines, I have bowed my head at the vast field of American war graves on a hill on the outskirts of Manila. In Hong Kong, I paid my respects at the graves of soldiers and civilians, men, women and children. These graves are a stark reminder of the grim range of war: Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Parsees, Sikhs and Chinese each have their own cemeteries throughout Hong Kong, as do the British and Commonwealth soldiers. In Normandy, I have visited the American, Commonwealth, German and Polish cemeteries that now mark the course of the battle.

No visitor can fail to be deeply affected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, so beautifully maintained, and with so much of the human saga of war incised upon the gravestones and printed in the cemetery registers. Several maps in this atlas show the location of the war graves of all the combatants, in Europe, Asia and the United States.

During one of my journeys through Europe, in 1953, while crossing from the Soviet to the British zone of Austria, at the Semmering Pass, I came across a Displaced Persons’ camp, one of the last still in existence, eight years after the war had ended. Comfortable in my London boarding school, with parents to visit at the weekend, and summer holidays by the sea, I had no idea at that time of the harsh realities of displacement and dispossession. Later in my historical researches, I met many people who had been uprooted during the Second World War, and had become wanderers, until some country took them in. Many of the maps in this atlas relate to the many millions who have been expelled, driven out, and forced to seek a new country in which to live — a new homeland.

Ironically, I had reached that Displaced Persons’ camp in Austria after hitchhiking from Vienna: the man who gave me a lift in his car was a former German soldier who had fought on the Eastern Front and been taken prisoner. Like most of his fellow German prisoners of war, he had remained in captivity in the Soviet Union for five years after the war had ended. I already knew at first hand about Axis prisoners of war, thought not about those in such harsh conditions. When the Second World War ended, I had been evacuated with my parents to the village of North Hinksey, just outside Oxford. Some hundred yards behind the house to which I had been evacuated was a prisoner-of-war camp, mostly with Italian soldiers. As an eight-year-old, I often spoke to them through the fence. We envied the Red Cross rations they received: fresh eggs, while we used powdered eggs. This atlas — which includes the North Hinksey prisoner-of-war camp — reflects the wide range of experience of prisoners of war: including those in German, Japanese, and Soviet captivity.

The war at sea was continuous and relentless. I have drawn maps to show the extent of German submarine sinkings in the Atlantic; German submarine activities in the Pacific; the Arctic convoys; the destruction of three of Germany’s greatest warships, Bismarck, Scharnhorst and Tirpitz; the Pacific naval battles; the Japanese naval attacks in the Indian Ocean and in Australian waters; the deaths of Allied prisoners of war, mostly Americans, on board the Japanese ‘Hellships’ bombed by American warplanes; and the destruction of the Japanese merchant fleet — Japan’s wartime raw material lifeline.

I also map the worst maritime disasters of the Second World War, starting with at least 3,500 Allied soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians drowned on steamship Lancastria as she was bombed while off St Nazaire in 1940; and ending in 1945 with 16,600 German refugees drowned on three ships as they tried to make their way from the approaching Soviet forces in East Prussia to a safer German port further west. I also map the drowning, during a British bombing raid on what were thought to be German troopships in Lübeck harbour, of 2,750 Jewish concentration camp evacuees on board the Thielbeck and 3,500 on the Cap Arcona.

A British historian naturally sees events through the prism of a British education and British experiences, but I have done my utmost in this atlas, as in all my historical writing, to give as wide a perspective as the narrative demands. The maps take the reader into many lands and episodes. Maps on the war in the Far East and the Pacific include the Bataan ‘March of Death’, the first United States bombing raid on Tokyo — the ‘Doolittle Raid’, the Kamikaze pilots, the ‘Comfort Women’ forced into prostitution in lands under Japanese occupation, and the firebombing of Japanese cities. There are maps on Latin America’s contribution to the Allied war effort, on India’s contribution, on Australia’s contribution, and on Poland’s contribution. Several maps relate to the fate and fortitude of Greece.

Those who left their countries and fought with the British forces are represented here, among them the Czechoslovak airmen, their bases in Britain, and their contribution to the war long after Czechoslovakia had been dismembered in March 1939. Another map shows the French forces in action in Europe and Africa after the fall of France in June 1940. There are two maps portraying Norway’s contribution to the Allied war effort after Norway had been overrun by Germany. There are maps of the German and American quests to build an atom bomb. There are maps of Christians throughout Europe who saved the lives of Jews at the risk of their own; of the fate of the Gypsies (Roma and Sinti); and of the liberation of the concentration camps.

I have mapped Hitler’s headquarters, and the bomb plots against him; and the conferences that Churchill attended, in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, at which war policy was determined.

Canada, alone of the nations at war, had an entirely volunteer army from the beginning to the final month of the war. Maps show the Canadians in action in Europe, the Canadians at Dieppe, the British Commonwealth air training facilities set up throughout Canada, Japanese-Canadians interned during the war, and German and Italian prisoner-of-war camps in Canada.

Plans that were made but never came to pass are also part of the story of the Second World War. As well as a map on the German plan to invade Britain, there are maps in this atlas on the German plan to partition and virtually eliminate the Soviet Union, the Soviet plan to liberate Denmark in the last weeks of the war in Europe, and the United States plan — before the atom bomb became a reality — to defeat Japan by invading the Japanese mainland.

In 1959, I made the first of many visits to Poland: visits that helped me understand the different national perspectives on the war, and Polish suspicions of Germany, just as a visit to Shanghai forty-five years later showed me the extent of Chinese bitterness against the Japanese. My first Polish visit began on 1 September, in Poznan. The city was illuminated with lights and torches, as a sombre procession made its way through the streets. It was the twentieth anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, an act of aggression that had led Britain and France to declare war on Germany two days later, making it more than a two-nation conflict.

Poland’s suffering under German occupation was intense. The bravery of her soldiers, sailors and airmen was remarkable, first in the battles in Poland, and then — after Poland had been overrun and partitioned between Germany and the Soviet Union — as part of the Allied forces. My maps include the contribution of Poles to the Allied war effort after the German conquest; the Polish forces in action in Europe and Africa, the Polish contribution to the war of Signals Intelligence; the Soviet massacre of Polish prisoners of war in April and May 1940, more than six months after they had been captured; Polish civilian victims of German atrocities; and the Warsaw uprising in the summer of 1944.

As many as half of the maps relate to the Soviet Union and the United States. As well as the battles in which they both fought, diverse aspects of their respective wars are an integral part of the story. The Soviet-related maps include Soviet factories dismantled and sent eastward to Siberia and the Urals for safety, the Soviet deportation of Soviet national groups, the routes of Allied aid, the epic battles of Moscow and Stalingrad, the siege of Leningrad, the partisan war, Soviet women snipers, and the massive Soviet fighting efforts on the Eastern Front, drawing steadily closer to Germany, and to Berlin; and the Soviet invasion of Japanese-held Manchuria, two days after the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima.

American-related maps show the Destroyers-for-Bases deal with Britain; the struggle for the Aleutian Islands; Japanese-Americans interned in the United States; German submarine sinkings off the East Coast of the United States; the Liberty Ships built in American shipyards on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts to enable Britain to maintain its Atlantic lifeline for food and war supplies; landing craft built in the United States for the Italian, Normandy and South of France landings; American air bases in Britain; American air raids against Germany and Japan; and Japanese, German and Italian prisoner-of-war camps in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the United States.

No country is too small to have its place. Luxembourg has a map to itself. The siege of Malta has a map. There is a collective map for the European neutrals. Estonian and Latvian volunteers fighting alongside the German Army on the Eastern Front have their place in the atlas, as they did on the battlefield; so does the Bosnian Muslim volunteer SS division.

Along with the battles, the Second World War abounds in episodes of valour and daring, in which the courage and endurance of soldiers, sailors and airmen in every army were tested, often at the highest cost. Among the episodes that I have mapped are the evacuations from Dunkirk (30 May–6 June 1940), the Lofoten Islands raid (4 March 1941), the St Nazaire raid (28 March 1942), the Dieppe raid (19 August 1942), the Chindit expeditions behind Japanese lines in Burma (February 1943 and March 1944), the ‘Dambusters’ raid on the Ruhr dams (17 May 1943), the ‘Jedburgh’ teams behind German lines in France after the Normandy landings (June–December 1944), the parachute landings at Arnhem (17–26 September 1944), the final German air attack of the war (7 April 1945), and the local partisan movements active behind the lines throughout the Japanese-conquered regions (January 1942–August 1945).

There is a section of maps that examine specific aspects of the global war: the question of oil resources, Germany’s reliance on imported raw material, Japan’s need for steel, United States aid to all its allies, and women at war. The post-war section includes war crimes trials, deportees and refugees, and war graves.

Maps can also address questions that arise after the guns are silent, and when debates and controversy have begun. Several maps in this atlas try to do just that. How and where did Signals Intelligence help the Allies to defeat Germany and Japan? Why was Auschwitz never bombed? Why was Dresden bombed?

The Second World War generated many statistics, all of them disturbing to contemplate. Together with the stories of individuals, and of specific episodes of the war, I have given statistics their place on the maps, culminating in the three final maps, which summarise the number of military and civilian dead in all the countries caught up in the war. The total, if counted up, reaches more than 24 million soldiers, sailors and airmen, and more than 34 million civilians: a combined death toll of more than 58 million men, women and children across the globe.

The war that began with Japan’s renewed attack on China in 1937, and came to Europe two years later with the German invasion of Poland in 1939, spread ruthlessly to many nations and to every continent. It led to the loss of far greater military and civilian life than any previous conflict, exceeding in intensity even the ravages of plague and famine of earlier centuries.

The maps in this atlas reflect the war both in its strategic aspects, and in its inhuman — and human — face.

11 July 2008


Introduction to the Second Edition

The opportunity of a Second Edition has enabled me to prepare ten new maps. These are: Thirteen British Women Agents Executed After Capture, 1944–1945 (map 144); Deceiving the Germans: The Bogus Allied Army in Scotland, May 1944 (146); A United States Bombardment Squadron, January–July 1945 (194); Japanese Balloon-Bomb Attacks on North America, 1944–1945 (196); Japanese-American — Nisei — Soldiers in Action, 1943–1945 (211); African-American Soldiers in Action, 1944–1945 (212); Allied Conferences, 1941–1945 (221); Belgium at War, 1939–1945 (222); Britain’s Art Treasures Evacuated, 1939–1945 (223); and The Channel Islands, 1940–1945 (224). I have updated the map Christians Who Saved Jews from Death, 1939–1945 (map 230), using the most recent figures available on 1 January 2009. I have also been able to revise the map of The German Concentration Camp System, 1939–1945 (map 103), using the comprehensive single-sheet map Mitteleuropa in der ersten Hälfte des Jahres 1945 (Munich, 1968) by Edward Kossoy, who has located 789 concentration camps in Greater Germany. It is my good fortune to have been in correspondence with Edward Kossoy for many years. I would like to dedicate this Second Edition to him.

26 April 2009




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