Category Archives: Military

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.

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)