Propaganda Map Promising a Rapid Capture of Moscow, Published a Month After the Soviet Counter-Offensive
Fantastic propaganda piece dating from January 1942, depicting Wehrmarcht gains in Soviet Territory. The map depicts the progress made by the German 5th Infantry Division between the months of June, 1941, and January of the following year. Despite the fact that the German General Staff knew of the failure of Operation Typhoon, the siege of Moscow, at the time of this piece's approval, this map shows only a successful forward-moving campaign.
The map stretches from Warsaw in the west and shows the early offensives and encirclement of western Poland near Bialystok and Grodno. Northwards, the advances of German troops color Lithuania green, and the tracks of the army bypass Vilnius. Action dated to July through October shows repeated advances through Smolensk and all the way to Wjasma, a couple of hundred kilometers from the outskirts of Moscow. The closest Germans ever got to Moscow was in the suburb of Khimki in December of 1941. Throughout, the map includes marvelous, and horrific colorful detail that only gets more informative with closer inspection, such as the marching of prisoners of war westwards to Minsk.
This map was published at a critical point in the history of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Summer and Autumn, 1941, had been a time of rapid eastwards progress for the German army, but they were stopped just outside Moscow starting in October. Several attempts were made to encircle the Soviet capital in November, but December saw the breaking of the first offensive against Moscow. As such, it was especially important for the German home front to be convinced that the war was still a success when this map was approved by propaganda officials in January.
This map appeared several times alongside an eponymous picture book of the successes of the 5th Division. The map is unmentioned in the book, but we have been able to trace several instances where they appear alongside one another, and it may have been included by the publisher. The book and map were reissued in 1944, at a time when the deception on offer was of an even larger magnitude.
The Failure of Operation Typhoon
The Battle of Moscow, while nowhere near as celebrated as the endless sieges of Stalingrad or Leningrad, was one of the defining moments of the Eastern Front. Lasting from October 1941, to January 7, 1942, the battle saw German troops advance close enough to Moscow to discern individual buildings with binoculars.
Following the perhaps fatal strategic decision to advance German troops to the south before continuing the Operation Barbarossa march towards Moscow, Hitler's Panzer armies slowly reached the outskirts of the city in October. Propaganda declared the capital as all but fallen, and the evacuation of the General Staff from Moscow set general panic until the public realized that Stalin refused to leave the city.
The Wehrmacht slowly advanced towards Moscow through November, however, several pincer movements that attempted to encircle the city failed. On November 27th, Panzer troops reached the Moscow tram system, within nineteen miles of the Kremlin. However, December saw the onset of the coldest European winter of the 20th century, and underequipped German troops were pushed back from the city. The Soviet counteroffensive lasted until January 7th, having pushed back German armies far from Moscow.
Unsurprisingly, this bloody and prolonged period of the war is not referenced on the map.