Bacon, lamb – the strange and wonderful maps of Operation Clipper

Launched in November 1944 Operation Clipper was a combined British and American attempt to reduce a salient around the German town of Geilenkirchen before the start of a larger operation, Operation Queen, to capture the Ruhr Valley. The operation started with an artillery bombardment, and it’s this phase of the attack that these strange and wonderful maps were for. Some shown here are so lacking in topographic detail that it’s questionable whether they should be called maps at all.

It’s probably better to call them accompaniments to existing maps, in this case the Geographical Section, General Staff (G.S.G.S.) 1:25,000 series 4414. The featured sheets are transparent, and need to be used with the appropriate sheet in the G.S.G.S. series. When overlaid the different sections on the transparency correspond to the areas on the map where different artillery units, in this case the 43rd Division, were to concentrate their fire. Presumably the names are the targets for the different guns in the artillery unit.

Here’s the transparency laid over the map for the area, a specially printed sheet consisting of a number of different maps from the G.S.G.S. 4414 series covering the town of Geilenkirchen (1944? C22 (15e)).

This is for phase 4 of the battle, there are other, similar, maps for the first 3 phases, though as these phases are on one sheet with no information about what accompanying topographic maps they relate to it’s hard to see how they work with existing mapping.

Stranger still is this…,well, a map?

A clue to it’s use might be in the faint title ‘Operation “Clipper”, no fire line’ though this is so faint that there is a small chance this is just a bleed-through from another sheet. As expected a ‘no fire line’ is a line beyond which artillery doesn’t aim for unless specifically instructed.

So, are these maps? in a collection the size of the Bodleian’s it’s inevitable that some of the material held is at the edge of what we would call a traditional map. Items such as this pretend to be a map but turn out to be a warning on current events while this map pretends to be a railway guide but is anything but. And then there’s one of the most famous ‘maps’ of all, Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground.

Map of London’s underground railways, 1933 C17:70 London (579). This is the first pocket edition of Beck’s map of the London Underground.

Is this a diagram more than a map, as it shows the underground stations in order along lines unrelated to their actual topographical actual position and distance relation to other stations? Not only does the ‘map’ show locations and lines not visible on the ground it also famously ignores topographic accuracy to simplify what would make for a messy image if truly represented. But what Beck’s diagram and all the subsequent public transport maps with similar designs lose by ignoring topographic reality they more than make up for with their ease of use. With these diagrams it’s easy to make your way from A to B when using a confusing system easily. Which is surely what we want most from our maps.

Operation Clipper maps from ‘Germany 1:25,000’ various maps of Operations Clipper, Plunder and Shears, 1944-45. C22 (15e)