Following the Nazi conquest of Europe, the focus of the Second World War in the West shifted to Africa. Commonwealth forces joined with the Free French under Charles de Gaulle to drive the Italians out of East Africa and Cyrenaica. The war went so poorly for the Italians that Adolf Hitler had to send in Erwin Rommel, who managed to push the British halfway into Egypt before he was stopped.
The front switched back and forth several times, and for a while it seemed that the Axis might reach the Suez Canal, which would have put the British Empire’s supply lines in serious jeopardy. A decisive victory for the British at the Second Battle of El Alamein and American reinforcements in 1942 turned things around. The Axis powers were cornered in Tunisia, which would serve as a springboard for the Allied invasion of Italy.
Continue reading “Mapping the Second World War in Africa”
In late 1949, the Soviet Union claimed to have detonated a nuclear device to blow up a mountain range and start the reversal of two mighty rivers in Siberia: the Ob and the Yenisei.
The goal, Life magazine reported at the time, was to turn the arid desert of what is now Kazakhstan into a “pastoral landscape”.
Continue reading “Reversing the Rivers of Siberia”
World War II started in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war. But the Nazi conquest of Europe started years earlier.
In 1935, the coal-rich Saarland rejoined the Reich. The following year, Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty. Austria and what is now the Czech Republic were annexed in 1938.
At the height of his power, Hitler ruled an empire stretching from the Franco-Spanish border in the southwest to Svalbard (Spitsbergen) in the north to the Caucasus in the east. Here is a short history of how it happened — with maps!
Continue reading “The Nazi Conquest of Europe in Maps”
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, many states were proclaimed in the territory of the former Russian Empire. Some were ethnic minorities looking for autonomy. Others were warlords claiming legitimacy through the veneer of a state. Others yet were proto-Soviet republics that were later incorporated into the USSR.
“PisseGuri82” has created a beautiful map of these ephemeral states of the Russian Civil War.
Continue reading “Ephemeral States of the Russian Civil War”
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand proposed dividing up Belgium between France, Germany and the Netherlands. Heinrich Himmler fantasized about crowning himself regent of an independent Burgundy. The Allies in World War II had multiple plans for Balkan federation. Iraq and Libya both pushed plans for Arab unification.
The only things these schemes have in common is that nothing came of them. Belgium still exists. Burgundy doesn’t. The Balkans and the Arab world are even more divided.
What if history had taken a different turn? Here is a look at the countries that almost existed.
Continue reading “Countries That Almost Existed”
Most World War III scenarios start with a Soviet first strike, but it were the Western Allies who first planned to use nuclear weapons in Europe to offset the Red Army’s numerical superiority.
From Britain’s Operation Unthinkable to America’s Operation Dropshot, these war planes help us imagine a land war in Europe fought only partially with atomic weapons.
When technology progressed in the 1960s — more and bigger atomic bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles — NATO moved away from integrating nuclear weapons in its war planes. It envisaged either a conventional land war or mutually assured destruction with nothing in between.
The Soviets moved in the opposite direction. Joseph Stalin saw little use for nuclear weapons, but the West’s technological edge compelled his successors to integrate them more seriously in their offensive plans. It wasn’t until the 1980s that both sides abandoned the tactical use of nuclear weapons.
Continue reading “World War III Without Missiles”
On the eve of America’s entry into World War II, George Fielding Eliot reported for Life magazine that the country essentially had three ways to defend itself against an Axis invasion.
He rejected the first option, a purely defensive strategy, out of hand. Protecting just the United States, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and Samoa, but not Canada, Greenland, Newfoundland and South America, would allow Germany and Japan to gain footholds in the Americas.
The whole of military history rises up to warn us that this is the inevitable prelude to defeat.
The choice, he argued, was between hemisphere defense and sea command.
Continue reading “Hemisphere Defense or Sea Command: America’s Choice in 1940”
It is debatable when the history of the Japanese Empire began. One can go back to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, but wasn’t the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War, fought over influence in Korea, really the starting point of Japanese imperialism?
Or the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War? Fought for influence in Korea as well as Manchuria.
Or 1910, when Japan annexed Korea?
A watershed moment came in 1931, when Japan occupied Manchuria. There was no doubt at that point the island nation had become a colonial and an expansionist power.
Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Empire in Maps”
The way Germany was divided into Western- and Soviet-aligned republics after the Second World War was hardly a straightforward process. The Allies started thinking about whether and how to dismember Germany in the middle of the war and considered several options.
Some, like the Dutch request for territorial compensation, were ignored. Others, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s suggestion of a north-south split, would morph into the east-west divide of the Cold War.
Continue reading “How Germany Was Divided: A History of Partition Plans”
Many a what-if has been written about a German victory in World War II. Alternate histories of a German victory in World War I are less popular, but they exist. Indeed, people started thinking about the consequences of a German victory during the war itself and feared it might give way to a German empire spanning nearly the whole of Europe.
Here is a look at some of the maps that were produced to show a German victory in what was at the time called simply “the Great War”.
Continue reading “What If Germany Had Won the First World War?”