Category Archives: Military

The Great Game

This map of the north west frontier of India reveals some fascinating political manoeuvres. Produced in 1889 and titled simply ‘Afghanistan’, it shows the boundaries between British India and Afghanistan. It was made during the period sometimes described as the Great Game, when the imperial ambitions of Russia and Great Britain were fought out in the border regions of Afghanistan. 
The map is accompanied by a letter, dated 1890, from W.J. Cuningham of the Foreign Office in Simla, which makes clear that the map was intended to publicise the British view of the boundaries, but unofficially and in a rather underhand way.
The letter begins by explaining that a new official map of Afghanistan is to be produced, which shows the established boundaries, ‘… to the publication of which exception cannot be taken by other countries.’
The accompanying map – ‘unofficially prepared, for confidential use’ shows the actual situation on the ground, and the territories controlled by Afghanistan, Russia and British India. The map is a Survey of India unpublished proof, and boundaries, some of them complex, are marked by hand in colour.
The third part of the letter is most interesting. Having explained the need for an uncontroversial ‘official’ map, and a more controversial, secret, unofficial one, there follows the clear instruction to give an unofficial briefing to commercial cartographers. They should be given access to this unofficial map, as ‘it may be advisable to communicate to them the approximate boundaries, which … we should prefer to have marked in their maps.’ Commercial publishers were to be encouraged to produce maps showing the situation on the ground; in particular, they were ‘to indicate, as certainly not within Afghanistan, the belt of frontier tribes which intervenes between India and Afghanistan.’
The situation the map shows is a complex and confusing one. There is no key, but Afghanistan is outlined in blue, India in red and Russian territory in green. Between the red and blue lines there are territories enclosed by neither and marked ‘Frontier tribes’ – the Survey’s finely hachured relief making clear that the area is mountainous and inaccessible. The border between Afghanisatan and Pakistan now runs through the region; it was divided by the Durand Line in 1896 and is still disputed today.

A silk escape map

The story of silk escape maps in the second World War is now deservedly well known. The maps, printed on silk as a resilient alternative to paper, were carried by Allied air crews to help them find their way home if they came down in enemy territory. Similar maps continued to be produced after the war, and the Bodleian has a small collection of maps produced in the 1940s and ‘50s. However, the recent arrival of a silk map in the Bodleian Map Room caused a certain amount of interest.  

For one thing, this map appears actually to be on silk. So called ‘silk maps’ were initially printed on silk that had been judged to be below the standard required for parachutes in the early 1940s. But once silk supplies ran out they were made of acrylic material that just isn’t as nice. This one is soft and silky and would make a lovely scarf.

The style of the map is reminiscent of the British silk escape maps of WWII. It has a utilitarian look – it was designed to be functional rather than marketable – with different islands on insets identified by letter codes. The lettering style, layout, and presence of print codes but absence of standard publication information are all typical of WWII era silk maps. It is however in only 2 colours (brown for the hill-shading, black for everything else) –  British silk maps from the same period were more often printed in 3 or more colours.

The map shows ‘Celebes’ – part of Indonesia and known as Sulawesi officially since 1945 – and surrounding islands. The map was made by the RAAF (the Royal Australian Air Force); copies are held in map libraries in Australia and the US, tentatively dated to 1943. It is the first Australian silk map to be acquired by the Bodleian. Its condition shows the resilience of this apparently fragile material – apart from a few loose threads at the edges, it looks as good as new.

Want to know more about the story of silk map production?

This website http://www.silkmaps.com/ gives general background on silk military maps
This article (beginning p.30) explains the role played by MI9 http://www.defencesurveyors.org.uk/Images/Ranger/Ranger%20Volumes/Ranger%20Summer%202009.pdf
The article ‘Wall tiles and Free Parking’ http://www.mapforum.com/04/april.htm tells some of the story behind the silk maps’ production in Britain and their use in a POW camp.

For a more detailed account, the book ‘Great escapes’ by Barbara Bond (Glasgow: Times Books, 2015; ISBN 9780008141301) is a fascinating read.

Clay on the Western front, a German viewpoint

Geological maps are an important part of cartography. Showing underlying soils and rock formations they have been used to illustrate papers in geology, in helping the planning and construction of canals, railways and other structures and in the extraction of minerals from the earth. Their use in times of war is less obvious, though no less important, as the following map shows.

The map is one of a series produced by the German 4th Army in July of 1918, a crucial time in the latter stages of the war. Peace negotiations with the new Soviet Government in Russia released a large number of German forces to the Western Front, strengthening plans to launch a series of attacks before the arrival of American forces. Initially successful – at one point German forces were within 40 miles of Paris – counter-attacks by Allied troops soon stopped and then re-captured German gains.

In this map from Harmsworth’s Atlas of the World (c1922, 2027 c.225) the German advances made in March 1918 can be seen. The thick blue line is the front-line before March, the  green lines show the advances made by the German army from March 1918 and finally the thick red line is the front-line at the Armistice in November.

The front page of the evening edition of the Pall Mall Gazette on the day the German attack was launched. 21st March, 1918. N 2288 b.4.

This geological map shows a cause for one of the  defining features of the War, mud. The areas of grey that start to appear in the bottom right of the map are the beginnings of the clay beds (ton in German) that would lie a metre or so under the surface throughout the Flanders battle grounds. These clay beds stopped any water seeping into the ground and the intricate system of dykes and drainage channels that controlled the flow of water in peace time had long-since been destroyed by the millions of shells fired over the area. The map states in the bottom left ‘Soil easy to handle; stable only in dry weather. After precipitation the water is kept close to the surface. Funnels fill up quickly with water (Boden leicht bearbeitbar…’.

Kriegsgeologische karte von Nord=Frankreich, Blatt Dünkirchen, 1918. C1:3 (295)

Austerlitz, 2nd Dec 1805

The Battle of Austerlitz, fought on the 2nd of December 1805 between the French under Napoleon and a larger, allied, army of Russian and Austrian troops was a decisive victory for the Grand Armée, forcing Austria to give up substantial territory and breaking up existing coalitions, redrawing both the geographical and political borders of Central Europe.

Plan der Schlacht von Austerlitz a m 2 then December 1805, c1805. (E) C1:5 (445)

The map shows the formations of both armies at the start of the battle and then troop movements, including the crucial drive by the combined army into the right-flank of the French, labelled C on the map. This weakness in the French line (A) was a deliberate ruse by Napoleon which left the middle of the Allied Army exposed (B). The French attacked with as much force as available on the Pratzen heights (H), and here the battle turned to the French.

Austerlitz forced Austria into a treaty with the French. Austria also lost land to France, Germany and the Kingdom of Italy. Russia soon declared war in France. Austerlitz is now in the Czech Republic, and has been renamed Slavkov u Brna.

Austerlitz was a crucial battle for the French, not just in the field but also back in France. Facing financial problems news of the victory was greeted with great acclaim, and within a year books were published celebrating the news.

 

The map is an example of a battle plan. Battle plans are tricky things to get right, over a static landscape troop movements over a period of time have to be shown to give a sense of the way a battle develops, the Austerlitz map captures this well.

Map of the battlefield of Gettysburg, July 1st, 2nd, 3rd July 1863. 1876 F6:46 (3)

An example of a  later and more detailed map is shown here. Gettysburg was a major battle of the American Civil War, fought in 1863. This map is part of a set showing each day of the three-day engagement in what was a longer and more complex battle than Austerlitz. Stronger and more separate colours are used to differentiate the two opposing armies and the scale and underlying topographic information are more suitable for showing the terrain and action taking place.

Maps for the 3rd of November

Maps for events taking place of the 3rd of November, with forty-one years separating the two.

The first is a simple plan of a dramatic day’s action, ‘Bombardment & capture of Acre, November the 3rd 1840′.  The map shows both the layout of the citadel of Acre, now a coastal town on the Mediterranean in Israel but at the time part of the Ottoman Empire, and the ships of the British, Turkish and Austrian navies who bombarded the Egyptian forces that had taken control of the Citadel as part of a campaign to gain control of Ottoman territory.

Despite its small size the map is full of detail, giving not just a list of ships with captains and guns but precise timings for the start and end of bombardment and the amount of casualties both sides suffered, the British and Allies with 18 killed and 42 wounded while the Egyptians lost a staggering 2300 killed and 3000 captured.

The large number of casualties resulted from a direct hit to the Citadel magazine, dramatically depicted on the map, which tells us that the explosion killed not only ‘1700 men but also 5 donkeys, 3 camels, 12 cows and some horses’.

Extract from Acre plan showing magazine exploding. Note different amount of unfortunate donkeys.

In contrast to brutalities of war this second map is from a sales catalogue for the auction of farm land near Cropredy in north Oxfordshire, on the 3rd of November 1881.

Like the Acre map it focuses on a small area to the exclusion of any surrounding countryside, but while the Acre map is one of death and destruction the listing of plots and fields, along with  decorative corners is a picturesque representation of the English countryside in map form. A large number of auction catalogues for land feature maps such as this example.

This extract is from the first edition of the Ordnance Survey 1:2,500 map of the area. Plots 139, 140 and 141 correspond to lots 1, 2 and 3 on the auction map. The map dates from 1882.

Bombardment & capture of Acre, November 3rd 1840, from a rough sketch taken on the spot by Joseph C Brettell, mining Engineer’. 1840 (E )D26:20 Acre (1)

Plan of an estate at Cropredy, Oxfordshire, for sale by auction by Messrs. Simmons & Sons, atnthe White Horse Hotel, Banbury, on Thursday, 3rd November, 1881. 1881. C17:49 (53)

Beach Map No. 1

Beach landing plans from the latter stages of the Second World War are some of the most evocative of all the maps held in the Bodleian. They are the outcome of information gathering, of the need to record and warn of dangers both geological and military while at the same time with their use of colours to portray a range of different information are often attractive to look at, despite any thought given to the events that would lead on from the need to make the maps in the first place.

The Bodleian holds beach plans for the Normandy campaign that took Allied forces back into mainland Europe on D-Day, for the Italian campaign and now, with a recent donation, of the Burma campaign.

This map shows the town of Akyab (now called Sittwe), an important port on the west coast of Burma that had both a heavily defended airfield but also one of the best deepwater ports on the coast. Allied forces had taken the town by the 3rd of January, just over 20 days after the last of the information was added to the map.

All geological information is in green, while military information is in blue. Black text of the beaches give tide-times information and shows the landing zones for the different troop groups. The red numbers, one to fifteen, are for the beach gradient diagrams off the map on the right.

Cross-section profiling is common in maps, though usually showing hill heights or geological information over a greater distance than shown here, where information is given on the slopes and tides of parts of the beach for Allied landing craft.

The map is compiled and printed by the Survey Department of the Allied Land Forces South East Asia, formerly the 11th Army Group, based in Kandy.

Beach Map No. 1, 1944. D14:25 Akyab (4)

Almost undangerous

When it comes to maps showing paths through minefields you’d presumably, stuck behind the wheel of your boat, hope for something more than a legend that includes’ Almost undangerous influence mine field’.

This map,  the ‘Status of Swept Channel and Influence Minefields in the Japanese Inland Sea (March 18, 1949)’ shows how hazardous life was in the years after the Second World War. Four years since the end of the conflict (which culminated with the Atomic Bomb drop over Hiroshima, which is in the top right of the map) the inland sea between Kyushu and Honshu is still awash with mines with only a narrow safe channel separating the two islands.

An influence mine defers from an ordinary mine in that it can be set off by the actions of a ship nearby, by changes in pressure, electronic signals or magnetic variation. The map shows the danger areas in red, with the clear channels those that have been swept clear of mines. Black-inked areas are safe.

The map is a supplement from the Pilot Chart to the North Pacific Ocean series, a wonderful archive of maps published by the U.S. Hydrographic Office on a monthly basis over a number of years from 1912. The maps show currents and weather patterns and often feature articles on the reverse on such diverse subjects as typhoons, whales and signals.

‘Status of Swept Channel and Influence Minefields in the Japanese Inland Sea (March 18, 1949)’ published by the U.S. Hydrographic Office in 1949. D20 (299)

London and the blitz

This new addition to the collection is a large-scale general tourist map of central London. Almost as an aside the map shades the areas in the city damaged or destroyed by the blitz.

bacon

Bacon’s large scale plan of the City of London, 1947. C17:70 London e.217

This close-up of the area of the City shows how much damage was caused by raids between 1939 and 1945 which hadn’t been re-built by the time of the publication of the map in 1947. The damaged areas are shaded light green.

close-up

By the end of the war nearly 3000 buildings in the City had been destroyed, with 340 killed. In the London region the amount killed was close to 30,000. There is an informative book on the open shelves in the reading room, Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945, by Laurence Ward and published by Thames & Hudson, which reproduces the maps created by the London City Council to show the areas of damage. Using County Series Ordnance Survey maps from 1916 the maps have been shaded in showing the levels of damage caused.

book

Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945. Ward, L. Thames & Hudson. G24 C17.85

Battle of the Somme

July the 1st marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and with it the anniversary of the day of the greatest loss of life in British military history.

Trench maps made in preparation for the battle are shown here, as well as editions of sheets made during the battle itself, which lasted from July to mid-November. A trench map, especially one covering an area of heavy and prolonged fighting, gives a false impression of the land it portrays. Farms and woods shown on the maps would have been the ghosts of buildings and trees long since destroyed by bombardment, and only the heaviest of craters left after detonated mines would be shown, not the shell holes of no mans land.

00524_v1_50pct

Apart from a few ‘secret’ maps which included both English and German trenches the majority of maps show only the German trench systems in detail. These maps show the incredible lengths that armies went to the defend ground and supply those in the front-line. German trenches have numerous support and communication trenches, fall-back positions and artillery areas and were of a higher standard than their English equivalent, many of which were but a short distance away.

00526_v1_50pct

Beaumont, 57D S.E. 1 & 2 (parts of). War Office, 1916. These two trench maps are of the Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval areas, both scenes of intense fighting on and after the 1st of July. Comparing the two maps shows how little progress was made in the fighting. The first map has trenches corrected to 28-4-16, the second corrected to 30-7-16. C1 (3) [1490] and [1491].

As German attacks in 1914 and early 1915 came up against stiff opposition they were able to build strong defences behind their front-line, taking advantage of higher ground and then fall back into these positions. Dug-outs were constructed deep into the ground and trenches were lined to prevent flooding. These defences were able to withstand the withering artillery that the British rained down on the German front-line in the days leading up to July the 1st, and as troops went over the top at the given signal German troops were able to lay down a fire which proved fatal to the advancing troops, many of which were from Pals Battalions, formed from towns and cities, sometimes places of work, and fighting for the first time.  The enormous loss of life on the first day, nearly 20,000 killed and many more wounded, meant that many communities back in England shared in a collective grief.

noman

Detail of wire etc in no mans land, June 1916. Map showing trench systems in an area north of Ploegsteert Wood, Belguim. C1 (3) [269]

Trench map development mirrors that of the war. At the out-break of hostilities in 1914 British forces fought an enemy constantly on the move and so less-detailed mapping, French 1:80,000 and Belgian 1:100,000 sheets, were used. It was only when fighting became static with the introduction of trench warfare that more detailed, and more accurate mapping was necessary. These maps were designed for artillery, targets are highlighted in red circles while grids are incorporated into the maps so exact locations can be pinpointed both by Signallers and those manning the guns behind the lines.

The Bodleian has a large number of trench maps from the First World War. As well as maps by the British there are a small number of German and French maps as well as a large number of maps covering he Gallipoli campaign in both English and Turkish. Along with officially produced maps by the combatants cartographic departments, newspapers and commercial map publishers produced maps for the home market.

pall mall

The front page of the Pall Mall Gazette for the 1st of July. N. 2288 b.4

Maps for the Battle of the Somme, 1st July, 1916

In preparation for showing maps here of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st of July 1916, we post a map from the Bodleian’s extensive trench map collection showing the front-line on the Western Front on the 27th of June 1916, 100 years ago today.

trench 1

In a conference between the British and French in December 1915 it was decided to launch joint attacks by French, British and Russian forces against the Central Powers at some stage in 1916. With the attack by German forces on the French forts at Verdun in February 1916 pressure was put on the British to relieve the embattled French troops, and General Sir Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Army in France, reluctantly agreed on a launch date of July the 1st, aware that the majority of his troops were under-prepared and most hadn’t seen action yet.

This map, sheet 4 of North West Europe, is published by the cartographic department at the War Office, the Geographical Section, General Staff, and is a revised reprint of a 1915 map. The scale is 1:250,000, detailed enough to show villages, towns and rivers but not enough to show the details needed for artillery and infantry operations. More detailed mapping at 1:10,000, 1:20,000 and 1:40,000 were produced in their thousands up to the end of the war.

This extract from the map shows the main area of British attacks on the 1st of July, and includes names that were soon to become famous for the fighting that was soon to take place over the often battered and ruined remains  of villages and farms; Beaumnot Hamel, Mametz, Thiepval and Longueval amongst so many others. We will feature maps over the next couple of months that show the progress made by British forces over this area.

trench 2

North West Europe, sheet 4. Geographical Section, General Staff No. 2733. War Office 1915, revised 1916. C1 (3) [2567].