An historian can find unexpected treasures in an archive. Usually that means a paper trail leading to an unknown event or unsuspected person. But sometimes the unexpected thing involves the actual physical document.

For example, when I was looking for German reports on the arrests of Dutch-Paris agents in the French Archives nationales in Paris, I found a report from the German Security Services (Sicherheitspolizei und SD) in France dated February 1943. Strictly speaking, the report was useless to me because neither it nor any of the other documents in the box mentioned Dutch-Paris.

But as an historian, that report intrigued me because it was typed on the back of cut up maps. And not just any maps, but extremely detailed maps showing every elevation line and every outbuilding, all carefully labeled in German. Not maps of France or Belgium or any occupied territory, but of England. Presumably they had been meant for the German invasion of Great Britain that didn’t happen in 1940.

Although these documents told me nothing about Dutch-Paris, they did tell me that in early 1943 the German command in Paris was recycling maps of England for office supplies.

That suggests that in February 1943 the German command in Paris (if not Hitler) had given up on the idea of invading England. That would have been an entirely rational conclusion to make, given the catastrophic state of affairs for the Wehrmacht on the Russian Front at the time, of course. But the Third Reich, however, did not always operate along strictly rational lines.

In addition to hinting at low morale among the German Occupation Authorities, the recycled maps suggest that the general impoverishment in France was affecting the occupiers as well . Of course the country had been struggling under rationing for three years already, but the Germans had generally been exempt from the shortages. What they needed, they essentially took. If the commanding office of the Nazi security services in Paris had to use recycled paper, there’s a good chance that it was because there was no office paper available in Paris. Or perhaps the German quartermaster had cut the paper budget or diverted paper from the west to the east to support the Russian Front so that the office in Paris ran out of paper before a local quartermaster could organize more from Parisian sources. It’s hard to guess exactly what happened, and it’s not the sort of thing that anyone is likely to have written down.

The point is not why the Germans were using recycled maps as office paper in February 1943 so much as the fact that they were doing so. It means that the cracks in the Nazi war machine were already showing more than a year before the Allied invasion of the continent and more than two years before the war ended.