The World During 1942

Recently I discovered some photos I took last year in June. That day, I discovered an old map from 1942 and took some photos. This was a “war-time” map made in 1942 from Ontario, CA, so the emphasis is on battles and territory, but when you look at the map, it’s amazing how different the world looked 71 years ago. Here’s Asia:


and here’s the Western Hemisphere:


Here’s the map legend:


But let’s look more closely. Here’s a map of Africa:


Nearly all of Africa (and the Middle East) is under European control. Different European powers controlled different regions, but it’s amazing how much territory they controlled. Most of Africa was ruled by just two countries: UK (red) and France (orange and white).

Here’s Europe:


You can see that Nazi Germany and Italy (green and grey) already controlled most of Europe at this time. Only the UK and Soviet Union were still independent. Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Ireland were all neutral.

Finally, here’s Asia:


The Empire of Japan started with a smaller territory (green) but conquered all the grey areas:1


Interestingly, Korea and Taiwan are given totally different names in this map. On the map, Korea is called Chosen (朝鮮) which was the Japanese name for Korea, and comes from the Korean word Joseon (조선). Taiwan is called Formosa which was the old English name, though no one uses it now.

Anyhow, by 1942 Japan had captured nearly all of East Asia. Large portions of China are under Japanese control, and all of South East Asia, except for Australia, and the Pacific Islands were also under control:


But what’s interesting is that South East Asia, like Africa, had been dominated by European powers too. The Dutch East Indies were controlled by the Netherlands, Burma and Malaysia by the UK, the Philippines by the United States (and Spain before that), Indochina by the French and so on. So, in the case of South East Asia, the countries were ruled by one power (European) then changed hands to a different one (Japan). Not surprisingly, all of them fought to be independent after World War 2 ended. Clearly they didn’t want to be ruled by either Japan or Europe.

My grandfather fought in World War 2 in the European theater as an airplane engineer,2 but it’s hard to imagine that this was the world he grew up in: a world dominated by 5-6 countries. Both the Allies (US, UK, France, etc) and the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan) divided the world into territories, and all the different people and cultures in the world were organized into racial hierarchies by these powers. Naturally, the home country was at the top of this hierarchy. But during WW2 many of these countries fought for their rulers: African soldiers fought for France, Koreans fought for Japan and Indians for the British and so on. Who do you think their commanders in combat were?

Recently I found this article by the BBC, which said something similar:

The frontiers of the modern Middle East were drawn when Britain and France carved up the assets of the defeated and collapsing Turkish Empire at the end of World War I. You could argue that we are still waiting to find out what the ultimate results of those self-interested manoeuvrings will be.

There’s no guarantee, for example, that Syria, which was created as a nation at that point, will remain a viable unitary state when its current civil war is over. And if it disintegrates, what of Lebanon, another former French colony with close ties to its big, dangerous neighbour?

The same could be said of Iraq, where Britain tacked a Kurdish minority in the north on to the traditionally Arab land of Mesopotamia to create the modern state. It was the sort of shotgun marriage to which colonial administrators were dangerously addicted and it’s possible that in the chaos of the modern Middle East, that Kurdish region is working quietly towards a kind of undeclared independence.

That process, which would spell the end of Iraq as we’ve known it, has taken nearly 100 years, which shows the danger of trying to make strategic and historical judgements after only a decade.

Anyhow, when you look at a map of the world today, there are fewer “empires” and a larger community of nations. We still have many conflicts, and countries still change, but compared to 1942, things seem a lot more peaceful now. In some cases, old enemies become friends, too.

In short, 1942 was really fucked up.

1 If you look carefully, you’ll notice the map often says “Japs“, not Japanese. Interestingly, the map never refers to the Germans as “Krauts“. In college, I remember reading Professor Dower’s book War Without Mercy, which showed propaganda of both Japan and the US. Both sides used a lot of racial propaganda that looks very offensive today, but was almost “normal” at the time. Like I said, 1942 was messed up.

2 Engineers seem to run in the family. I engineer computers, not airplanes. 😀


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

8 thoughts on “The World During 1942”

  1. Incidentally an independent comment on the same subject has been published at the same time:

    > Everybody knows that World War II began when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1,
    > 1939, right? Well, everybody is wrong. (And I say that as a proud Polish-American!)
    > In fact, World War II started on July 7, 1937, with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in northern
    > China. This incident sparked Japan’s all-out invasion of China, commonly called the Second
    > Sino-Japanese War, which continued right through 1945.

    With the discussion by the readers, it can be found at:


  2. Not everything white in Africa is French, only white with blue border. White means “neutral countries) and these were e.g. Spain and Portugal. Two big white bodies in the south of Africa are Portuguese Angola and Mozambique. In the west of Africa there is the Spanish Western Sahara (bordered with blue line from outside), and there is a tiny white spot in the corner of the Guinea Bay, (lower part of the orange belt), which the Spanish Equatorial Guinea.

    What more important, far from “everything red” belonged to the British. Red means “Allied”. Among independent countries you find Liberia, Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) (in 1942 still in war against Italians invading them in 1936, from Somalia and Eritrea, but most of it’s territory was already under the control of the Abyssinians, with the help of the British, but who never stopped considering Abyssinia as an independent country), South African Union (it was not more British than Canada or Australia at that time, just member of the Commonwealth), Egypt (independent since 1922). See the flags attached to the territories. What more – Madagascar, a French colony, is also marked in red – does it mean that it was under the rule of the General de Gaulle? But – if I remember well – that was the situation of the French Central Africa (orange, see the special flag). Or was Madagascar occupied by the British for the time being? (Of course this can be checked elsewhere, but I have no time now to do it).

    So in fact we have the French territories in Africa in 3 colours – white with blue border, orange and red (Madagascar).
    And in Asia, we have independent Iran (Persia) also marked in red.

    It is interesting also to note that the Italian colonies in East Africa are here marked red, contrary to Libya, so were they already under the Allies control?.

    It is also interesting to note that Tibet is marked as an independent country, neutral in fact, as it was.

    And it is interested, that although Portugal was neutral (at least in Europe), its colony in Asia (Eastern Timor) was occupied by the Japanese. And Macau (Portuguese colony in China) is not marked at all.


  3. Doug, what are the handwritten words in the legend next to the red line – the lower seems to be “unknown”, is the upper “known”? Can you tell me where these red lines (the continuous and the dotted one) are found on the map, I cannot spot them.


  4. These maps are very interesting, indeed. They’re worth deeper analysis.

    Another thing that makes me think of, are the borders within Europe. The author(s) of the map certainly had some confusion in their his/her/their head(s).

    (1) in France you can see the border between the area controlled by the Germans and the Vichy controlled area, yet the colour for both is grey, not the white with blue border for the latter, as one would expect.
    (2) Austria (at least the eastern part of it…) and Czech/Bohemia (the Western part of the former Czechoslovakia) are marked grey, as occupied territories – yet they were annexed before the war in a “peaceful” way (the Anschluss of Austria was even highly applauded by the majority of then Austrians), and both acts were accepted and confirmed by the international community.
    It seems however that the “Sudetenland” annexed and confirmed by the Munich Treaty in 1938, are marked in green (the map is very imprecise in this area). It is strange.
    (3) Yet,contrary to the (2), the Free City of Danzig incorporated (annexed) to Germany in 1939 (in a similar way, as Austria), are marked in green.
    (4) Even more strange: the territories of Poland incorporated directly into Germany after the 1st of September 1939, .i.e. as a result of the war, are marked in green – as if they formed part of Germany before 1939. The western borders of “Poland” are therefore those of the “General-Gouvernement”, or the German administration in the areas of Poland not directly incorporated into Germany, but considered a kind of colony. The Allies never recognized this partition of Poland.
    (5) Another very strange point: The eastern part of Poland has two borders, [A] one is the Polish border of 1939, reaching from Latvia to Romania, [B] the other is the German-Soviet border established in October 1939, when both these countries in a friendly collaboration partitioned Poland. of course, the second one is further west than the first one. It is the eastern border of the “General-Gouvernement” 1939-1941, i.e. before the Germans attacked the Soviet Union (after which the Eastern Galicia was joined to the “General-Gouvernement”. The border [B] is approximately where the present day eastern border of Poland is, as the Rosevelt and Churchill accepted in Yalta the partition of Poland made by Stalin in 1939 as ultimate (the main Allies thus betrayed their faithful, yet smaller Ally in order to confirm their tactical co-operation with their former enemy, ally of Hitler, and at the same time future enemy, Soviet Union), and in 1944 it became a sad reality, again as in 1939.
    The shocking element is that in 1942 the Allies have yet not recognized the [B] border as the western border of the Soviet Union, only in 1943 in a secret way in Yalta and in 1945 officially (in Potsdam). How come then that it appeared on the map? The author(s) of the map must have been influenced here, as in (4), by German maps from 1940-1941; but why wasn’t he/she (weren’t they) influenced in the same way as far as Austria and Czechoslovakia concerned?
    (There are some words in blue printed under the words “Poland” near to “Krakow” and “Lwow”, and something is written in the white box east of what seems to have to been “Brest” (illegible), between Bobuysk and Kiev, yet they are all illegible, the pictures are too small. Maybe they could help us solve some mysteries?)
    (6) The borders of Hungary are those of 1939 (after the annexation of southern and eastern Slovakia and Transcarpathia), because they do not show the subsequent (30th of August 1940) annexation of north Transylvania (from Romania).
    (7) The borders of Romania are very strange, indeed, as well. This fact might show the date of the sources on which the present map was founded. They are the borders of a very short period between the 28th of June 1940 and 30th of August 1940. The first date is the day when under the Soviet ultimatum, supported by the pressure from Berlin, Romania had to renounce its two north-eastern parts, Bessarabia and Bukovina (which were retroceded to Romania after 22nd of June 1941, and which were taken back by the Soviet Union, with the Yalta approval, in 1944; now they form in different shares parts of independent Moldova and of western and southern Ukraine). The second date is the day when after the Vienna arbitration Rumania was obliged to renounce southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria (in force till now) and northern Transylvania to Hungary (made void in 1945). They are not the borders of 1942, when Romania has not only regained its Bessarabia and Bukovina, but also annexed Transnistria from the Soviet Union (the latter fact might not have been recognized in the West by anybody).
    (8) Yugoslavia is shown as one country, fullly occupied by the Axis. Yet in fact after the attack of Italy and Germany on Yugoslavia – in 1941 – Yugoslavia was divided and there was an Independent State of Croatia (NDH) formed, which had its power similar to that of Slovakia and of Vichy France, whose borders are clearly marked on the map.
    (9) You can see on the map the borders of Finland from before the 1939 (Winter War), after which Soviet Union annexed the south-eastern, central-eastern and north-eastern strategic parts of Finland (they were restored to Finland in 1941) – yet these areas are marked in grey – so as occupied by the Axis countries, and not in green. Strange (The white box east of Finland is illegible to me again)
    (10) And the most strange of all: Switzerland (or at least the northern part thereof) is shown in grey as occupied by the Axis (there seems to be a white spot covered by some illegible words in the south-western part of Switzerland). Very strange, Switzerland has kept it neutral status all the time and no part of its territory was ever attacked (annexed, occupied) by Germany or Italy.

    Two more comments

    (12) In Asia we can see the borders of Manchukuo drawn and the words say “Jap, puppet state since 1934”. This is clearly a reflection of the USA’s Stimson Doctrine of “non-recognition of international territorial changes that were executed by force” (which was also adopted later on as the official position of the League of the Nations, resulting in non-recognition of Manchukuo by most of the countries of the world. Paradoxically it is worth mentioning that apart from Japan (and a few countries ruled under Japanese occupation, like Thailand and Philippines), and Japan’s Western allies Italy and Germany (and a bunch of countries occupied or formally independent, yet subdued by the Axis), and two Central American countries of little importance (El Salvador and Dominican), the only countries that diplomatically acknowledged Manchukuo, were the Soviet Union and Spain (under Franco).

    (13) Returning to Europe: the three Baltic states have their borders clearly delimited as they were in 1939, before the forced Soviet annexation in June 1940 (at the same time as the soviet annexation of eastern and northern Romania) and are correctly marked in grey, yet it has to be reminded, that in Yalta and Potsdam the western Allies have betrayed their own position of non-recognition of annexation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union in 1940 (Welles Declaration, following the Stimson Doctrine) and in 1943-45 tacitly agreed to these 3 annexations (and reannexation in 1944).

    Well, enough comments for today.


  5. OK, the last short comment. Of course it is by the printing error that Taiwan (Formosa) is marked blue, as the surrounding sea, and not green. Yet why is Hong Kong marked green, instead of grey?


  6. Hi noychoh,

    This map was a reprint that was posted on a wall mural, so I think that’s where the handwritten marks come from.

    Also, I don’t think this map was intended to be perfectly accurate (hence some coloration issues), but more of a general propaganda map for the war. Or at least that’s how I read it.

    I just found it interesting how different the world was then, the influence of colonial powers, etc.


  7. Hi Dough,
    Yes I understood your intention (and I was worried that you might be upset with my too long comments which are out of the main topic of your blog) but being fascinated with maps and history since my childhood, I just couldn’t resist – and I thought that this might be of interest both for you and for some of your future reader.
    It’s a pity that you cannot answer my question, being too concentrated on the maps themselves, I have somehow overlooked the information that the maps were taken photo of from a mural, I thought that you actually possess the original map somewhere at home. Maybe you remember where this mural actually was (maybe still is)?
    For me it was no surprise how different the world was, as I know many maps since the beginning of the 19th century (I even used to have the war-time German school atlas of 1943, only someone has ‘borrowed’ it from me year ago.
    What was more interesting for me (and new) was the American perspective, as I know mostly the European and the Asian (Chinese/Taiwanese) perspective of these facts.
    Thank you for having posted it. Despite this lack of full information it was very interesting.


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