Europe in 1915 – German perspectives on the war through two sets of satirical propaganda maps

Two pairs of German satirical propaganda maps of Europe published in Hamburg in 1915

Exactly one hundred years ago, at the end of July 1915, after the successes of the preceding Gorlice-Tarnow campaign and the recapture by Austrian forces of the Galician capital Lvov (Lviv) in late June, the German Military High Command initiated the Triple offensive across the entire Eastern Front in an attempt to conclusively overrun and defeat the land armies of Russia. In the final week of July, in the face of the combined onslaught of thirteen well-equipped German armies advancing against critically undermanned and poorly reinforced units of just nine defending Russian armies, to avoid potential encirclement, the Russian High Command (Stavka) ordered the “Great Retreat”, withdrawing troops from the Galicia-Poland salient with as much equipment and hardware as they could manage. In the ensuing days, the southern section of the front was pushed back, the Russians losing some 100 miles of territory. By the 22nd July, German forces had crossed the Vistula river and by early August, the German 12th Army had captured Warsaw. By late August, Brest Litovsk had been captured and by mid-September, von Hindenburg’s forces in the North had also taken the Lithuanian city of Vilna (modern-day Vilnius).

For Germany, the successes on the Eastern Front offered an enormous boost to morale and a potential propaganda coup which they were quick to exploit. Indeed these unravelling events are highlighted in two satirical maps, both published in Hamburg. Both maps were in fact newly revised and updated from earlier editions which taken together, enable us to compare and contrast German perspectives on the political & military situation in Europe at the end of 1914/beginning of 1915 with that a few months later, in the high Summer of 1915, following these heady German successes on the Eastern front.

The first pair of maps was published by the long-established Hamburg firm of Lucas Gräfe. The artist for both signs each work in the lower corner with the initials “AK” (by which some authorities attribute the maps to illustrator, Arthur Kampf [1864-1950], who from 1915-1925, was Director of the School of Pictorial Art at Charlottenburg). The printers were the Gebrüder Lüdeking of Hamburg. Both maps are usually found as separate broadsheets, folding down with a pink printed paper covers to their respective versos:

22580B - Lucas Grafe - Gedrangte Frujahrsubersicht Europa - 1915
Gedrängte Früjahrsübersicht von Europa im Jahre 1915

This first map, A Concise Spring Overview of Europe in the year 1915, evidently dates from the early New Year, prior to Italy’s entry into the War on the side of the Allies in May (note the scale: 3 to 7 (until further notice)!). The second comparative map depicts the war situation in the Summer of 1915, when the military situation became increasingly complex and the Austrians now faced additional hostilities on the Italian front as well (note the newly revised scale of this map: 3 to 8!).

The simple, child-like pictorial style, reminiscent of a traditional nursery-rhyme story, is embellished by short snatches of rhyming verse which highlight the perceived status & position of each of the assorted European neutrals and combatants.

John Bull sits atop a giant money sack, a single golden goose continuing to lay its golden eggs below, as coins rapidly spill from a widening fissure in its side. The rest of the flock of golden geese take flight across the Atlantic “much to Uncle Sam’s delight”! “Once upon a time John Bull could sit in all his fatness, now he’ll become slimmer thanks to U(-Boat) and Z(eppelin)”, notes the adjacent verse, a reference perhaps to the first Zeppelin raid on Britain’s East coast in January 1915 and the declaration by Germany of unrestricted submarine warfare and  a naval blockade around British territorial waters in February 1915.

Image 01

In France, warlike Marianne rides a wheeled hobby-horse into battle. The combined strength of Sir John French, President Poincaré & Minister Delcassé, fails to turn the gears of the horse to propel Marianne forward.

Image 02

The allegorical female figures representing Germania and Austro-Hungary are supported by ranks of armed soldiers to West & East, with the note “Deutschland Ost’reich über alles – alles andre hat den Dalles”(Germany and Austria everywhere – all the others are “on the rocks”). The neutral Italian swings on an unstable rocking chair, softly dazzled by rosy dreams. Albania is “for hire”, so can offer little peace & quiet. The “Dardanelles door” is now firmly locked, the Turkish key-holder observing the arrival of 6 German ships, symbol of the new alliance.

Image 04

The loyal war hero, Paul von Hindenburg, stands axe raised, having sliced through the right wrist of the Russian giant on the Eastern Front: “The Russian appears as a Colossus, full of “Great Ideas”, now he’s one hand less perhaps he’ll rest a little in the pool (of blood)”, comments the propagandist.

Image 03

Some six or seven months later, the situation appears much changed:

22580A - Lucas Grafe - Sommerschau uber Europa - 1915
Sommerschau über Europa 1915. [Summer Show in Europe 1915.]

 John Bull is now an isolated fisherman, casting lines around the British Isles in the hope of catching some new allies, whom he can then bankroll with the sacks of money in his war chest. “John Bull tries angling, but no little fishes bite any more” notes the verse.

Image 01

In France, Marianne is now reduced to walking on crutches “made & paid (for) by Italia”, her old war (hobby) horse (as featured in the earlier map) now lying wrecked & upturned in the waters of the Mediterranean.

Image 02

In Italy, a newly enlisted bersaglieri receives an Austrian rifle butt in the face: “Italy wants to swallow Austria, but has forgotten its power”, comments the German text. On the Eastern Front, the Russian giant is pushed back by German & Austrian troops, “After a short period, the Russian will flee, back to where he came from”, states the commentator.

Image 04

The Serb seeks a route to the sea through Albania, much to the annoyance of the Italian. The Turk sits devouring Allied warships as neighbours look on in amazement at the Sick Man’s appetite & decide to leave him in peace.  This is clearly a reference to the Dardanelles campaign and ill-starred Gallipoli landings which began in late April and dragged on through the summer months of 1915.

Image 03

Neutral Spain has continuing designs on the British outpost of Gibraltar (as in the previous map),whilst neighbour Portugal’s suicidal tendencies continue without any outside intervention. In Scandinavia & Holland, the neutrals continue to sit vigilantly on the side lines, happily trying to avoid any trouble.

The second pair are much less common than the Gräfe maps, being the designs of Wilhelm Kaspar, who appears to have been both artist and publisher, the principal partner in the Hamburg publishing firm of Graht and Kaspar. Established in 1891, the firm continues to survive in central Hamburg to the present day as a specialist printer and stationer. It was acquired in 1992 by Christian Beintker from Walter Kaspar, the 82 year old grandson (?) of the original founder. Originally founded as Graht, Kaspar & Sillem, we have so far unearthed very little of the firm’s early history, though it is known that in 1917, most likely due to the impact of the war, the existing Graht & Kaspar partnership was dissolved. The business continued under the same name but with Wilhelm F Kaspar assuming all the debts and liabilities of the old partnership. An Eduard Kaspar entered the firm in the immediate post-war period and designed a bright modernist poster advertising Citacira Tabake, published by Graht & Kaspar, which is illustrated in one of the 1920 issues of Das Plakat, seemingly one of many such advertising designs created by him during this post-war period:

Eduard Kaspar - Modernist Poster design - from Das Plakat 1920
Eduard Kaspar – Poster design for Citacira Tabake  – Das Plakat 1920

The wider influence and distribution of the first of the two 1914/15 Kaspar maps is highlighted by the recent discovery of two exceptionally rare and hitherto bibliographically unknown derivatives of this map, one published in German & Arabic, the other in a curious mix of Arabic, French & Greek, both presumably printed in Istanbul and distributed locally in the Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean war theatres.

detail 1 - Lot 37
Photographie der Europaeischen Karte im Weltkriege, Istanbul?, c1915 [Courtesy of Bonhams]
detail 01
Europe en 1914, Istanbul?, c1914-15 [Roderick M. Barron]

These discoveries suggest that the geographical dissemination and distribution of these types of satirical propaganda maps was probably far wider and more extensive & more directly targeted at potentially sympathetic populations (in other non-European war theatres) than has previously been imagined.

And so to the original Kaspar maps of late 1914 and Summer 1915:

22567 - W Kaspar - Momentaufnahme von Europa und Halbasien -1914
Momentaufnahme von Europa und Halbasien 1914. (A snapshot of Europe and the Near East 1914.)

In the first of Kaspar’s maps, dating from the end of 1914, Germany is portrayed as the striding figure of Deutsche Michel, the symbolic sleepy German farmer in hobnailed boots, spiritual embodiment of the nation, easily identifiable by his familiar tasselled nightcap. Supported by the Imperial German Eagle, he crushes Belgium in his right hand, as bees fly towards Britain from artillery batteries along his back. The bees (first referenced in Karl Lehmann-Dumont’s Humoristische Karte von Europa of a few months earlier):

Bees nest and Zeppelins - detail from Karl-Lehmann Dumont's Humoristische Karte von Europa [Dresden, 1914]
Bees’ nest and Zeppelins – detail from Karl-Lehmann Dumont’s Humoristische Karte von Europa [Dresden, 1914]

….appear to be a symbolic incarnation of Germany’s powerful fleet of Zeppelin airships, which would cause much terror on the British Home front during the numerous air raids of 1915-16.

In France, the banner of “Liberte, Egalite & Fraternite” is embellished with the words “Revenge” & “Disgust”, as her troops flee the German assault. Britain is a soldier seated on a bulldog, an array of ships tied to his tailcoats. A vicious cobra, India, encircles his waist, ready to strike, one of the adjacent coat tails marked with the words “Volkerrecht” (National Rights). Russia is the land of the Great Bear, around which abound scenes of political unrest & abject brutality. The Tsar’s status as the champion of Peace at the 1900 Hague Conference is ironically alluded to in a furled copy of that Treaty visible in the left hand of the giant Russian soldier on the right of the image. Below his army greatcoat, a smoking bomb waits to explode.

Image 01

Austria is the double-headed eagle attacking her southern foes: a Montenegrin louse and Serbian snake. Albania is an unoccupied throne, referencing the departure into exile of its former monarch in early September 1914. Bulgaria tries to slice off a Grecian hand. Switzerland is a hedgehog and Italy, a classical beauty reclining peacefully.

Many of the maritime place names are puns on their original German titles, for example the Nord See (North Sea) becomes the Mord See (Murder Sea).

It is interesting to note that the Imperial War Museum’s example of this first map, appears to be a slightly revised state, with the date in the title amended to “1914/15” but seemingly in all other respects unchanged, excepting the Altona Censor’s imprint (No.44) added in the lower border.

And so to the second map dating from the Summer of 1915, which is of slightly smaller size and scale and also bears the Altona Censor’s imprint in the lower right border:

II. Ausgabe (Sommer 1915) Momentaufnahme von Europa und Halbasien. Neue und verbessserte Auflage von Wilh. Kaspar.
II. Ausgabe (Sommer 1915) Neueste Momentaufnahme von Europa und Halbasien. Neue und verbessserte Auflage von Wilh. Kaspar.

Kaspar provides a completely new explanatory descriptive key to the revised map as well as offering a colour-coded identification of enemy and allied powers. A translation of the key reads roughly as follows:


Germany: Deutsche Michel has woken up and fights bravely in East and West. With his left foot he strikes the Russian violently in the face, his right foot resists fiercely hard against France’s Eastern border, whilst with his right hand he vigorously holds off the French offensive.

Rod's example - detail 03

The German eagle intervenes in combative fashion.
Austria-Hungary: The Lion clamps its claws hard & impulsively into its faithless former Ally (Italy), the Navy shows him her ships, whilst in the background the 32cm mortar sits waiting at the ready. German and Austrian Generals purge Galicia thoroughly and in Poland they empty out the Russians equally thoroughly with an iron broom. In France, the French High Command maintains its unceasing great offensive, in which the English (in self-defence) now give their help, but keeping a hand firmly on Calais. The French leader (Poincaré) makes every effort to provide support for Italian warmongering. England throws wide open his well-known liar-mouth (as does the English bulldog, the symbol of England); he clenches his left hand and receives with his right the shipments from “neutral” America. German bombs (Islands) explode around his head. His ships sit in safe-keeping in Western harbours. Ireland is in a desperate state but dependent upon English support.

Rod's example - detail 02

Russia: The Russian bear now turns around and pulls in its tail, commanded by its glory-less Leader (Grand Duke Nicholas, removed from overall Command of the Russian Armies by the Tsar in September 1915), in the interior and in the south, Revolution ignites in an enormous conflagration. Curses and disease accompany the whole scene. Finland clenches his fists in his pockets over Russian misery but must be obedient. Italy sits on a rickety throne and has become suicidal and with his right hand has destroyed the Triple Alliance Treaty. The “Poet” (Gabriele d’Annuzio) is situated by his ear and receives Judas’ silver; the deluded population blow the war trumpet and carry on playing the barrel organ. The symbols of the Triple Alliance lie broken in pieces in every corner, the volcanos (Mt Etna) are horrified. Corsica and Sardinia are Prisoner of War Camps. Serbia is wedged in the stocks and squints towards Albania over her never-ending bone of contention and question marks. Montenegro is a nest of flees. Greece, biding her time, strikes a threatening attitude towards Italy and Serbia.

Rod's example - 2nd edition - Summer 1915 - lower right section of image - 06
Bulgaria remains very quiet and reads the “Balkanska Tribuna”. Rumania, at the crossroads, receives from all sides important intelligence from the Quadruple Alliance (Entente Powers). Turkey, Germany’s eastern comrade-in-arms, sits on the Golden Horn and energetically closes up both the Dardanelles and Bosphorus with hands and feet; a Holy War now rages in Asia Minor. At Gallipoli can be found a hard nut and, on the coast, a Turkish mousetrap.

Rod's example - detail 04

Spain slowly wakes up and is enraged over the obstruction that is Gibraltar. Portugal is now armed, observes the battlefields and has empty pockets. Switzerland is neutral and tightens the screws powerfully in self-defence against all the firmament. Denmark is indifferent, but elf-like, reads all of the “political” war reports. Sweden and Norway extend a neutral hand towards Michel and offer him sustenance. Holland objects to every assault on her strict neutrality. Belgium is wiped out (vergriffen =literally: out of stock/out of print). The different Oceans and Seas are now changed to: Death Sea (Tod See = Baltic), Murder Sea (Mord See = Nord See = North Sea), English Scandal (engl. Skandal = engl. Kanal = English Channel), the calm Atlantic Ocean (Stiller atlantischer Ozean), the Sea of Influence (Mitleidenschaftliches-Meer = Mittelandisches Meer = Mediterranean), the bitter Adria (die bittere Adria = Adriatic Sea), the Marble Sea (Marmor-Meer = Sea of Marmara), the Fatal Sea (das fatale Meer = Black Sea). The scale of the map can be found in Morocco. The shipping and air routes relating to the current period are new.

The Xs dotted across the map mark the sites of the growing number of enemy losses and disasters.

Numerous examples of the Gräfe maps are held in institutional collections around the World. Several examples of the first of the Graht & Kaspar maps are also recorded (see below). A copy of the Library of Congress’ example is currently featuring in the Boston Public Library’s Norman B Leventhal Map Center Literary Landscapes map exhibition.

We have located only one example of the second issue of the Graht & Kaspar map in the collections of the Landeshauptarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt and currently know of one other example in a private European collection.

Further references:

[Graht & Kaspar Maps]

Imperial War Museum Collections

Library of Congress

Staatsbibliothek Berlin

Kujawsko-Pomorska Digital Library (Poland)

Landeshauptarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt