Exactly 75 years ago, time was up for the Nazis

U.S. Army maps show how Western and Eastern Fronts met by May 1, 1945.

The Eastern and Western fronts meet at the River Elbe. War in Europe will be over in a few days.

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain.
  • These U.S. Army maps detail the progress of the Allied war effort, on both the Eastern and Western Front.
  • They show the enormous gains by the Red Army, and much slower progress across Italy.
  • After D-Day, the Germans fought hard to contain Allied advances in the West, but these maps are testament to the hopelessness of their cause.

Exactly three quarters of a century ago, this was the most important map in the world. It showed how, by May 1, 1945, the Western Allies had joined up with their Soviet counterparts at the River Elbe, striking the last, fatal blow to the Nazi war machine. Germany's unconditional surrender was just a few days away.

Produced by the U.S. Army for the benefit of the Secretary of War, these maps were part of a series of bi-monthly updates of the European and Asian theaters of war, from mid-1943 to the conclusion of the war against Japan. Here are the European maps – half of them: the 1st of the month ones only, not those of the 15th of each month – still giving a good impression of the location and advance of Allied ground offensives against the Germans.

  • In white: territory held by the Axis powers (Germany and Italy)
  • In black: territory gained by the Axis powers
  • In light red: territory held by the Allied powers (U.K., U.S., Soviet Union, e.a.)
  • In dark red: territory gained by the Allied powers
  • In grey: neutral countries

Silence before the storm

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

The year 1943 hadn't started great for the Germans. In January, the Soviets beat them in Stalingrad and in May, the Western Allies defeated them in North Africa. Still, at the start of July, Fortress Europe still seemed solid. But that illusion would be shattered within a few days, on two fronts.

  • In the east, the giant tank battle at Kursk would prove yet another decisive victory for the Soviets, whose march west would gather momentum.
  • And the British and Americans landed on Sicily, starting a slow but steady march up the Italian boot.

Soviet counteroffensive

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

  • By August 1, the Western Allies were well on their way to controlling all of Sicily, while on the Eastern Front, the Germans buckled under a Soviet counteroffensive.
  • By September 1, the Allies controlled the entire island of Sicily, while the Soviets broadened their offensive to the Sea of Azov in the south.
  • By October 1, over half the Soviet territory lost since the German invasion of June 1941 had been recovered. In the Mediterranean, the Allies had taken Sardinia and most of Corsica, and were driving up the Italian mainland.

​Slowed to a crawl

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

  • By November 1, the Allied advance in Italy had slowed to a crawl. A Soviet advance cut off and trapped German forces in Crimea.
  • By December 1, with winter closing in, operations on both fronts had slowed down significantly.
  • By January 1, 1944, the Allies had only managed to nibble small bits off Axis territories in Italy and Ukraine.

Pushed away from Leningrad

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

  • By February 1, to outflank German defenses at Cassino, Allies have landed in Anzio. Meanwhile the Soviets pushed the Germans further away from Leningrad.
  • By March 1, the Soviets have eliminated the Cherkassy Pocket, while in Italy German counter-attacks have subsided.
  • By April 1, the Soviets have advanced to the Romanian border. But the Italian front isn't moving.

D-Day and beyond

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

  • On May 1, the front lines look stable; but the air war is wreaking death and destruction on the German industrial heartlands.
  • By June 1, Allied forces have broken out of their beachhead at Anzio, forcing the Germans to retreat towards Rome.
  • By July 1, D-Day had happened; but the Allies were still kettled in at Normandy. However, by now both Germany's Italian and Russian fronts were collapsing. The Soviets were even diverting forces to move on the Finnish front.

Advance into France

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

  • By August 1, still no great advances in Normandy, but the Eastern Front continued to collapse. The Soviets reached the Baltic sea near Riga.
  • By September 1, the Germans were finally on the retreat across France also from a secondary Allied landing in the south. The Soviets seized Romania's oil fields, depriving Germany of a critical fuel source.
  • By October 1, almost all of France and Belgium had been liberated, the Soviets continued their drive into the Balkans and Germany faced imminent invasion of the Heimat on both the eastern and western fronts.

​Hitler's last offensive

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

  • By November 1, Aachen in the west and parts of East Prussia in the east had fallen to Allied control.
  • By December 1, Reims was in Allied hands, as was half of Hungary. Heavy winter weather again hampered Allied advances.
  • By January 1, Hitler had thrown Germany's last reserves into the Ardennes offensive in southern Belgium. In the east the Soviets encircled the German-occupied citadel of Budapest, continuing their advance on Vienna.

Giant strides across Poland

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

  • By February 1, the Soviets had taken giant strides west through Poland, approaching Berlin. In the west, the other Allies were still not across the Rhine.
  • By March 1, the Allies were finally surging towards Cologne. The Soviet armies in the east regrouped.
  • By April 1, the Allies were across the Rhine and advancing deeper into Germany, encircling vast German forces in the Ruhr area. Meanwhile the Soviets took Vienna.

That's the end of that war...

Image: Army Map Service (from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15th 1945), public domain. Graphic treatment: Ruland Kolen.

By May 1, 1945, Berlin too had fallen to Soviet forces. Eastern and western forces met on the Elbe River, cutting in two the melting slice of German-controlled Europe. Six days later at Reims, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies.

With the war over, the stage was set for the next phase of history: the Cold War between the world's two remaining superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

Maps found here at Wikisource.

Strange Maps #1025

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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Reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate in the gut of sleep-deprived fruit flies, one (left), seven (center) and ten (right) days without sleep.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
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We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

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The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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