1942 maps of the invasion of the United States
January 3, 2010 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Metafilter's own JF Ptak has an interesting post on the Life magazine issue of March 2nd, 1942, readers of which were confronted by some startling maps detailing possible Axis invasion strategies for North America. There was invasion down the St. Lawrence valley, there was invasion via Trinidad, via Bermuda, full frontal west coast, and down the west coast as well - note the mapping of the large "fifth columns". As Ptak notes, maps such as these with huge arrows pointed menancingly at the American homeland were very much not the norm of the day.

In a second post on his marvellous site, Ptak discusses Life's dioramas of imaginary battles in the United States between Axis and Allied troops, and also outlines the development of the "Amerika" German heavy bomber.
posted by Rumple (44 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
The 5th column thing is pretty crazy. Neat post!
posted by brundlefly at 12:19 PM on January 3, 2010


Fascinating. I don't usually put much thought to battle strategy, nor am I a war buff, but those maps are pretty terrifying infographics to contemplate.

That blog has some other wonderful infographics too with Ptak's delightful savoring of them, like “The Chronological Order of Final Things” or "History of Dots".

Good find Rumple, thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 12:23 PM on January 3, 2010


Operation Seelowe had been cancelled a year and a half before this article. If Germany was incapable of mounting an invasion of a smaller country over a narrower sea, then the idea of some trans Atlantic invasion of the USA looks a little far fetched.
posted by Sova at 12:30 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is interesting that the copy text spells out 'Germans' and 'Italians' but consistently usues the pejorative 'Jap/s'.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but the biggest counter (amongst many) one can put to the "ooh Hitler was evil yes, but he was a military genius" rubbish was forcing Russia into the war. Without that, one of those above plans may have been feasible, St. Lawrence valley one in particular I'd think. Or, if Pearl Harbor had gone horribly wrong I guess the W coast would have been pretty vulnerable as well.
posted by edgeways at 12:36 PM on January 3, 2010


Yeah, I'm with Sova. Prior to the invasion of Normandy, the Allies used the UK as a staging ground for months, training and preparing men and equipment. The idea that the Axis could just hop in a bunch of boats in Europe, steam across the Atlantic & take our shores seems beyond far-fetched, into pure fantasy.
posted by FfejL at 12:39 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


full frontal west coast

DAMN STRAIGHT.
posted by loquacious at 12:57 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


It is interesting that the copy text spells out 'Germans' and 'Italians' but consistently usues the pejorative 'Jap/s'.


World War II was a race war, no doubt about it, which will always put into question the decision to use the atomic bomb.

Though Western allies were clearly headed for victory, pure racism fueled the continuation and intensification of hostilities in the Pacific theater during the final year of World War II, a period that saw as many casualties as in the first five years of the conflict combined.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:01 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The idea that the Axis could just hop in a bunch of boats in Europe, steam across the Atlantic & take our shores seems beyond far-fetched, into pure fantasy.

I'm sure this is stating the obvious, but the intent of these maps surely was to scare the population (only three months after Pearl Harbour) and hence ensure compliance with a war effort focused on Europe as well as the Pacific. Yes they are far-fetched in hindsight but in March 1942, when many things must have seemed possible, I can well imagine them having a profound impact through their visually-powerful simplicity, and casual evocation of fifth columns of internal enemies.
posted by Rumple at 1:11 PM on January 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


I recall reading a book about the "antipodal bomber" as a child. The map I saw had the Empire State Building in NY as the target for a Nazi atomic bomb.

It gave me nightmares even though I was born in 1959. Great post.
posted by Splunge at 1:16 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


"marvellous site" indeed - thanks for that and for a fascinating post, Rumple.
posted by madamjujujive at 1:17 PM on January 3, 2010


U-boats did in fact make it up the St. Lawrence, which never fails to amaze me.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:19 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


"We're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here!"

Sound familiar?
posted by briank at 1:22 PM on January 3, 2010


World War II was a race war

Indeed. The racism of the Japanese was appalling.
posted by rodgerd at 1:22 PM on January 3, 2010 [15 favorites]


Long time lurker, first time poster...

First, great post.

As a bit of an amateur military historian, I agree with Sova. These "Axis war plans" are wonderful historical ephemera, but as plans they fall into the same category as the hysterical speculations of the Iraqi Republican Guard spraying nerve gas on American suburbs from crop dusters during the Gulf War. Neither Axis power had anywhere near the logistical capability to mount any sort of direct attack on the US. Keep in mind the English Channel proved too much an obstacle for the Kriegsmarine. Regarding the outcome of the war, I think Axis defeat was pretty much baked into the cake given that Germany had to neutralize (i.e. conquer) Russia and Japan had to neutralize (i.e. take out of the war and force them to relinquish their Pacific possessions) the US to achieve their political aims.
posted by einheit at 1:23 PM on January 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


Especially the whole "5th column" thing was centered around irrational fears regarding Americans of Japanese, German, and Italian descent. There was a ton of racebaiting in newsreels and political cartoons of the time. A big chunk of American propaganda from that period has faded into obscurity because it's extremely offensive by current standards.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:54 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sova and einheit for the win. I'll add that invasions of North America were never in any plans for Germany and Japan, both of which were aiming at extending and then consolidating their initial victories. Germany wanted Europe, Japan wanted Asia. They were betting on American isolationism in the former, and a neutralized American navy in the latter. After Pearl Harbor, neither really expected the U.S. to jump in with both feet and the kitchen sink. And neither expected Hitler to get so damn interested in opening up an Eastern front with the USSR.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:05 PM on January 3, 2010


Well put, einheit.

The idea of staging a major military operation through Greenland!!! Even with today's technology, the logistical challenges would be absolutely staggering.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:27 PM on January 3, 2010


Those maps look more like Risk or Axis & Allies strategies than real-world military possibilities.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sova and einheit are probably right. There's a certain sort of alternate-history guilty pleasure at the thought of fighting the Axis in the streets of Peoria; John Barnes' Patton's Spaceship even has a WWII Battle of Gettysburg, but that scenario depends on the Axis getting a technological boost from a parallel dimension where Carthage was dominant and is establishing a transdimensional empire.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


full frontal west coast DAMN STRAIGHT.

No. It's not going straight. It's GAILY FORWARD.
posted by ericb at 3:04 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Though Western allies were clearly headed for victory, pure racism fueled the continuation and intensification of hostilities in the Pacific theater during the final year of World War II, a period that saw as many casualties as in the first five years of the conflict combined.

The "final year of the war" saw Japanese suicidal resistance continue with the capture or recapture of Guam, Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa -- two of which were former US territories and had not fared very well under Japanese Army occupation. The discovery of exactly how badly our friends and our own troops had been mistreated by the new occupiers did, no doubt, bring a lot of primal hatred into further events of the war. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos died from 1942-45, most likely a greater number of Japanese civilians that we killed.

Also, the B-29s only got going in late 1944 and early 1945 so of course the casualties would be stacked higher in the Japanese home islands in the last year of the war. Results were mixed until the USAAF put LeMay in charge in early 1945 and gave him a blank check to get results by any means at his disposal. He switched from inaccurate daylight pinpoint bombing to night-time area bombing, essentially switching the USAAF from its daylight patterns to Bomber Harris' night-time terror bombing/"de-housing" pattern that effected great urban destruction if not overall war result over Germany.

The Japanese had cast their lot in with some bad actors and had managed to match if not out-brutalize even their blood-drenched record of mass killings -- we Americans didn't have much humanity left for them, they were considered something of mad dogs to be put down.

Horrific, but so was the war and I cannot judge while sitting on my couch three generations from the events. I also do not judge the Japanese particularly harshly. People are products of their times and what was, was.

Those maps look more like Risk or Axis & Allies strategies than real-world military possibilities.

I wanted to say that. . . the Japanese never really had the oil or the tankers to transport them to seriously threaten Hawaii with occupation.
posted by tad at 3:09 PM on January 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Interesting indeed; thanks for the post. I did find Ptak's apparent surprise at the fact that media run ads... strange; in a footnote to a remark that the Life article was preceded by ads, he says "This is almost universal SOP for war reporting for almost all media, and which continues today. The Illustrated London News delivered reports of success and disaster sandwiched between ads for socks and trifles, as did the Illustriete Zeitung (Leipzig and Berlin), the New York Times, and so on." Uh, yeah, newspapers and magazines have ads. What exactly is the point of belaboring this obvious observation?
posted by languagehat at 3:17 PM on January 3, 2010


Interesting indeed; thanks for the post. I did find Ptak's apparent surprise at the fact that media run ads... strange; in a footnote to a remark that the Life article was preceded by ads, he says "This is almost universal SOP for war reporting for almost all media, and which continues today. The Illustrated London News delivered reports of success and disaster sandwiched between ads for socks and trifles, as did the Illustriete Zeitung (Leipzig and Berlin), the New York Times, and so on." Uh, yeah, newspapers and magazines have ads. What exactly is the point of belaboring this obvious observation?

I think he is trying to frame this article in the context that it wasn't meant to be a startlingly discovery that must be of such importance that the entire magazine, from start from the front-inside cover to last page, must cover this vital piece of information. It was merely a sensationalist article using a contemporary event to sell ad space, not to gear up the populous for what to expect to come.
posted by wcfields at 3:46 PM on January 3, 2010


Given that we often referred to our bestest buds as the Brits and their soldiers as Tommys and the rampant racism of the propaganda dejour, calling the term Japs (or even Nips) racism seems like Glen Beck getting all spastic over Xmas.

Sure, it was dismissive - "What, oh, them? We don't even bother to spell their name out." - but I don't have to go back to 1942 (or any other year with a 19 in it) to find an example of the powers that be telling me that the United States itself is in grave peril of imminent attack, but, at the same time, making our foes out to be weak, dumb and generally of little consequence.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:10 PM on January 3, 2010


Among the myriad other improbabilities in Life's entertaining suppositions, is that the Nazis and the Japanese could unite to mount a joint operation against the US, as the US and England did in operations TORCH and OVERLORD. If called upon to collaborate at any but the most superficial level, the Japanese and the Germans would quickly realize that they hated each other's guts (and both regimes were arch haters, not to mention arch racists). The subsequent falling out would have most amusing.
posted by Faze at 4:43 PM on January 3, 2010


^ The Japanese made an anime about that -- Konpeki no kantai -- where as the alternate history evolves, high-tech Japanese subs jump a Kriegsmarine task force debouching from the Red Sea, re-starting WW2 as Axis vs Axis. It's no longer on veoh but it was pretty good video!
posted by tad at 5:44 PM on January 3, 2010


Boy, it's a good thing these plans never came to pass, Plan Four was apparently an invasion of Milwaukee! Whew, can you imagine Milwaukee full of Germans? Oh, wait...nevermind.
posted by MikeMc at 6:40 PM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips."
posted by kirkaracha at 6:55 PM on January 3, 2010


Neat post - thank you!
The 5th column thing is indeed crazy - but may not have seemed quite so crazy at the time. There was actually a certain amount of support for the Nazi party in the US in 1939:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:German_American_Bund_NYWTS.jpg

This may not have amounted to much but it didn't give people in the UK the warm fuzzies in '39.
posted by speug at 7:10 PM on January 3, 2010


It is worth pointing out that there were plenty of ships sunk by u-boats within sight of the US, and particularly Florida. However, the Life Magazine invasion maps are basically a paranoia-fueled fantasy.
posted by lordrunningclam at 7:29 PM on January 3, 2010


Germany really did have plans to invade America even before the Nazis.

There was actually a certain amount of support for the Nazi party in the US in 1939... it didn't give people in the UK the warm fuzzies

At that time the people in the UK had Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts, a not so cuddly bunch themselves.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:47 PM on January 3, 2010


Yes, these are paranoia-fuelled fantasies probably cooked up by some graphic artist in Life's backroom based on a sketch on a napkin from a 3 martini lunch. As military likelihood - low. As token of the 1942 Zeitgeist - high.

Unlike, say, the 1935 US Planning Document on how to Invade Canada.

we forgive you, yankee, we do not forget and will stab you in eye with icicles if you try it
posted by Rumple at 9:42 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


On second thought, the U.S. Armed Forces in the months leading up to and just after Pearl Harbor was much smaller than any of the Axis forces and comparatively poorly equipped. So some of the fear was warranted given that Axis troop strength easily outnumbered American, and the Japanese and Germans had technical superiority starting the war as well.

Of course, a key difference is that once it started to mobilize, the United States had a much larger workforce to tap into.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:35 PM on January 3, 2010


> we forgive you, yankee, we do not forget and will stab you in eye with icicles if you try it

Well, you guys were already planning your own preemptive strikes before we even thought to try to invade you. The difference is, you managed to destroy most of your documents related to those plans, while we kept ours (probably as a training / logistics planning program for new recruits).

And planning for the invasion of Canada was in part it's own form of preemptive strike logistcs, in case relations with Great Britain soured due to conflicts over Pacific expansion. Being that the last time the US got into a war with Great Britain, you guys swooped in on your ice skates and burned down our capitol, it would make sense to be better prepared this time.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:39 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm with Sova. Prior to the invasion of Normandy, the Allies used the UK as a staging ground for months, training and preparing men and equipment. The idea that the Axis could just hop in a bunch of boats in Europe, steam across the Atlantic & take our shores seems beyond far-fetched, into pure fantasy.

i'm pretty much in the 'fantasy' camp here, too ... but would like to point out that the US armed forces weren't that strong then ... and that the st lawrence area was not nearly as heavily defended or fortified as the coast of france.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:01 AM on January 4, 2010


And it's even less heavily defended and fortified today.

Once we take Akron, it's straight on through to Detroit!
posted by box at 7:23 AM on January 4, 2010


I've rard that the Canadian "Invasion Plan" was part of an exercise where they were planning wars against ANYONE BUT GERMANY (because given the current tensions, that would be a foreign relations train wreck were it ever to see the light of day). This gave the guys in the Pentagon a bunch of practice at planning for a war even if the plans they had made were worthless.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:24 AM on January 4, 2010


> I think he is trying to frame this article in the context that it wasn't meant to be a startlingly discovery that must be of such importance that the entire magazine, from start from the front-inside cover to last page, must cover this vital piece of information.

That would make sense except for the footnote, which appears to indicate an attitude of shock and horror that all reporting on war isn't ad-free.
posted by languagehat at 7:28 AM on January 4, 2010


i'm pretty much in the 'fantasy' camp here, too ... but would like to point out that the US armed forces weren't that strong then ... and that the st lawrence area was not nearly as heavily defended or fortified as the coast of france.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 9:01 AM on January 4 [+] [!]


When you say 'armed forces' do you mean 'army'? The US Navy was doing OK, quite possibly because there were giant tracts of ocean between the US and Japan and Germany, and this meant that the Navy would have to be defeated before anybody started putting troops ashore.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:54 AM on January 4, 2010


Well, as of March 1942 when this was written, the US Navy was forced to sacrifice most of the Allied territory in the Western Pacific and was failing to prevent heavy losses in the Battle of the Atlantic. It wasn't until May and June of that year that the Navy started to turn around what had been a string of defeats.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2010


That devlish scamp Eugen Sanger (dead before he was fifty, 1905-1964), a German rocket designer and engineer for the National Socialists ...

So.... this invasion plan featured zombies?
posted by Killick at 10:10 AM on January 4, 2010


Ptak has a new, related post today:

Lesser known are the U.S. military’s preparation for the invasion of America.

This two-page spread (all that I have of a longer article) appeared in Fortune Magazine for September 1935.

posted by Rumple at 10:46 AM on January 4, 2010


Germany really did have plans to invade America even before the Nazis.

the Canadian "Invasion Plan" was part of an exercise where they were planning wars against ANYONE BUT GERMANY ... This gave the guys in the Pentagon a bunch of practice at planning for a war

To some extent war planning is an ongoing activity and any military has contingency scenarios. The US would be concerned about a socialist coup d'etat in Canada, perhaps, or anything else that could put us at odds despite the famously long undefended border. It's just ... business. The same applies to the sensationalized story about the Imperial Japanese Navy holding a competition at its academy every year for a plan to strike Pearl Harbor. It's a rather obvious thing that they would want their officers thinking about even if we weren't at war. Today the People's Liberation Army Navy I swear that's its official name probably has invasion plans for all sorts of places that aren't called Taiwan, even though they have very little in the way of power projection capability. Just because they don't want the day to come that they need to do something, and there isn't even something gathering dust in a desk drawer to pull out.

It is about strategy, but it's also about training and it's also about logistics and thought exercises to consistently review your own capabilities and weaknesses and equipment and readiness.

I wish people would quit pulling it out as an Aha!, in other words. That's a watered-down version of this LIFE material.

Anyway, I think this is best understood not as paranoia, but as deliberate propaganda. The powers that be were genuinely concerned about the isolationist flank in US domestic politics, and FDR had already spent considerable capital getting by it for things like Lend-Lease. The existence of brownshirts and other German sympathizers was quite high-profile -- many Americans, and Brits before them, saw Germany as the natural European ally in the long run, sometimes in an ethnic sense, and sometimes in simply a grand strategy sense. So something like this was likely very intentionally scare-mongering on the order of "we don't want the first sign to be a mushroom cloud". It didn't matter at all that Germany had no such immediate capability; the idea was to make Americans personally invested in the war.
posted by dhartung at 12:57 PM on January 4, 2010


Interesting indeed; thanks for the post. I did find Ptak's apparent surprise at the fact that media run ads... strange... Uh, yeah, newspapers and magazines have ads. What exactly is the point of belaboring this obvious observation?
I was surprised, actually, when I started to pay attention to the ads and the war coverage and that the amount of war coverage--for quite some time--stayed in the pages allotted for any other story and did not increase. And yes, of course, magazines are vehicles for selling underwear or scotch or Santas smoking cigarettes, but to have them stay in format so much--unlike daily newspapers--was surprising.
posted by JF Ptak at 8:51 PM on January 5, 2010


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