With the clarity of good design, this striking and colorful World War II flow map captures the strategic conditions of the North African theater of war and the dramatic Allied counter campaign beginning with victory at the Second Battle of el-Alamein. The war in North Africa was fought along a narrow coastal band: a condensed theater dictated by geography. The mapmaker, who remains unknown, uses an effective hillshade technique to illustrate the difficult landscape of the region’s interior hinterland. Both sides battled problems of supply — water, food, oil, ammunition, etc. — as much as they battled each other. The condensed theater ensured that fighting was intense, back and forth over the same terrain, with key coastal cities changing hands more than once.
The mood of the map is decidedly upbeat, but the reality is that the victory it portrays came on the heels of a devastating series of losses for the British Army. The timeline presented on the map begins in October of 1942, but five months earlier General Erwin Rommel, a.k.a. The Desert Fox, launched a crushing offensive that brought his Africa Korps to el-Alamein, the gateway to Alexandria. The Allies were on the brink of a disastrous defeat, but fortunately the Germans were faced with a problem of supply, a challenge exacerbated by the fact that Hitler never truly grasped the importance of the wider Mediterranean theater.
Conversely, it was the British ability to supply forces there, with help from the Americans, that changed the course of the war in North Africa. After Rommel’s successful 1942 offensive, Churchill decided to shake things up, appointing General Bernard Montgomery as Commander of the British Eighth Army. Montgomery was a meticulous military planner, who waited for supplies to build up to an overwhelming superiority before attacking the Axis position, initiating the Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October – 11 November 1942). Widely considered to be the turning point in the regional conflict, the British suffered heavy losses, but managed to push the Germans back into Libya.
This is where the story of our thematic map begins. It uses a combination of weighted lines in the style popularized by Charles Minard and accompanying text boxes to depict the advance of Allied forces to victory, especially that of Montgomery’s Eighth Army from Egypt to Tunisia from October 23rd, 1942 to May 7th, 1943. It portrays British naval and air forces operating out of Malta, protecting advancing Allied forces and shooting down Axis planes off the coast of Sicily. As Montgomery and his men made their way along the coast, a new undertaking brought in thousands of British and American forces: Operation Torch, the first joint Allied operation. Led by General Eisenhower, these troops landed to the west in Morocco and Algeria, eventually helping force the surrender of all remaining Axis troops in Tunisia in May of 1943 and ending the war in North Africa.
The main text box relates the finally tallies: Tunis and Bizerta captured on May 7th, 1943 after the British Eighth Army advanced 1,700 miles in 28 weeks. It lists the number of enemy captured or killed and quotes General Alexander’s statement to Churchill: “Sir, It is my duty to report that the Tunisian campaign is now over. All enemy resistance has ceased. We are masters of the North African shores.”
The overall work represents an effective and attractive achievement of wartime data visualization.