Atlas of the Eastern Front
Osprey Publishing, New York, 2016, 272 pages
Book Review published on: July 28, 2017
Atlas of the Eastern Front is a valuable contribution to the study of World War II. Robert Kirchubel has assembled some of the maps from older Osprey books, updated many, and added numerous new maps to provide a great visual representation of the conflict that fills a great void in reference material.
Any scholar of the Eastern Front knows of the frustrations of reading narratives with few or no maps. John Erickson’s The Road to Stalingrad and The Road to Berlin, Albert Seaton’s The Russo-German War, 1941-1945, and Alexander Werth’s Russia at War, and even many newer works are difficult to follow due to the lack of quality maps. Kirchubel’s atlas makes these narratives more understandable. Anyone reading many of the works on the Eastern Front would be well served to have the atlas by their side to help make those military operations more understandable.
The atlas itself, which has matching text for each map, is a good summary of this massive campaign, but it does not replace the standard accounts of the Eastern Front. There are no new conclusions, or new research, which in any case is not the normal intent of an atlas. In some cases, the author overplays the German side of the campaign and repeats old arguments about how Adolf Hitler’s generals were prevented from success by their myopic German leader as well as weather, distances, logistics, and other reasons. The Russians seem to have played almost no role in the German defeat (especially concerning Barbarossa). Even so, the work has footnotes and a good bibliography of secondary sources. The atlas’s coverage is comprehensive—all of the major campaigns are covered in a chronological fashion, and there are tactical maps and descriptions for many crucial fights such as Stalingrad and the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The maps are rendered in great style with clear coloring and excellent unit icons.
There are several errors in the atlas that, while annoying, are not major weaknesses. One problem is that the German focus of the work bleeds into the writing style in the text. For example, German armies are noted in German such as 4. Panzer Armee, as well as the corps (XIV Korps). The Soviet units remain in English (62 Army) instead of a transliterated version (62 Armiya). A quick glance of the legend shows over thirty abbreviations or acronyms for German designations and only five for the Soviets. The maps are generally very accurate, but there are some areas for improvement. For example, the maps for Stalingrad get some details wrong. The position of the Grain Elevator is incorrect (it is not so far north and not on the waterfront). The Red October Factory is incorrectly placed where the workers’ villages were located. This error adds to the false impression in the final Stalingrad map that the Germans captured the entire Red October Factory, and that the Russians had a continuous defensive line south and east of all three of the major factories. Finally, there are times when the maps contain so many units that the frontline is overcrowded, and it is hard to pick out individual units. This last issue is not really the author’s fault, considering the large number of Russian units. Perhaps, some sort of different symbology could reduce this problem, but there is no easy solution. Fortunately, the issue arises in only a few of the maps.
All in all, scholars and casual readers of the Eastern Front will welcome this atlas. As a companion to many of the works on this topic, it provides the maps that are often missing from these other works, and it makes the campaigns much more understandable.
As a final note, this reviewer wishes to honor the memory of his colleague, John McGrath, who passed away over one year ago. John was an excellent writer and a valued member of Army University Press and the Combat Studies Institute. John often looked through the books on the shelves at Military Review to do reviews himself or to help others. As was his generous style, John knew that I had studied the Eastern Front, and it was John who brought Kirchubel’s Atlas of the Eastern Front to my attention, knowing that I would enjoy reviewing it. Thanks John. We continue to miss you.
Book Review written by: Curtis S. King, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas