Category Archives: Military

Mountains and contested borders

This mysterious and beautiful map of Sikkim and Tibet has been in the Bodleian Library for at least 83 years, described briefly in the catalogue as dating from the 19th century and in Hindi. The first of these statements was imprecise and the second completely wrong; the map is almost certainly from the 1880s and is in Tibetan. Who made the map, when, and why? With the help of experts in Tibetan, in Oxford and Princeton, we now have answers to some of these questions.

The map is hand drawn in ink and what appears to be watercolour paint, and is a strange combination of two different styles. The lower half is enclosed within a square border and graticule, as a conventional western style map such as the Survey of India was making in the area at the time. It shows rivers and place names, with roads or tracks joining the settlements; at the very bottom is a tiny stretch of railway running south from the city of Darjeeling, which shows that the map must have been made in or after 1881 when the railway was opened. There is no portrayal of hills or mountains within Sikkim, which is of course a mountainous region.

Along and outside the border of Sikkim, ranges of hills and high mountains are shown pictorially, in a style more commonly found in Tibetan maps. To the north, into Tibet, a river valley leads off between mountain ranges and the furthest mountains become a picture outlined against deep blue sky. The images that look like a bit like windmills are prayer flags on top of Mani stones; these are found on mountain passes in Tibet and people pray at these sites for a safe journey.

International boundaries are shown conspicuously in bold colour. The borders of Sikkim are marked in red, with green for Nepal to the west, orange for Bhutan to the east, and yellow for Tibet. Across the northern part of Sikkim in orange is the old boundary between Tibet and Sikkim; the new one was decided in Calcutta (now Kolkata) between the British and the Chinese in 1890, and imposed on the Tibetans in 1904.

Part of the map strongly resembles one made by the Survey of India in 1890, Skeleton map of Sikkim. The squared area strongly resembles it in scale, content and layout, and most of the placenames correspond (although the Survey of India map is in English); the only exceptions are the old Tibetan border, which is shown on the manuscript map only, and the border between Sikkim and India (then separate countries) which is shown on the published map only. The areas shown pictorially on the manuscript map are not represented on the Survey of India map. This map may have been drawn by the Sikkimese or Tibetans for the British in India; certainly the 1890 Survey of India map of Sikkim far exceeds earlier maps of  the area by the same organisation.

An intriguing pencil note on one corner of the manuscript map adds to the mystery: ‘Map of Sikkim and Tibet, presented to me by … ‘ it is dated Dec 1906 but the names of the donor and the note writer are illegible. The map is on fragile paper and has been backed with cloth; the backing has a Bodleian stamp from 1961. It is hoped that high resolution scanning of this map may cast more light on its origin and provenance.

[Manuscript map of Sikkim and Tibet]. [1881-1890]. MS D10:33 (4)

Skeleton map of Sikkim. Survey of India, 1892. D10:33 (1)

We are very grateful to Charles Manson, Tibetan Subject consultant librarian at the Bodleian Library, and Tsering Wangyal Shawa, GIS and Map Librarian at Princeton, for their help in interpreting this map.

A fiery map for February

This has to be one of the most dramatic items in our collection, a beautifully illustrated manuscript map of a naval engagement during the Napoleonic Wars. The French Republic had persuaded the Ottoman Empire to deny passage to the Dardanelles to the Russian navy, allowing only French warships through the straits. The Russian declaration of war to Turkey brought Britain into the conflict as a Russian ally. British naval vessels were sent into the Dardanelles on the 19th of February 1807 to force a passage into the Sea of Marmara, the action so vividly portrayed in the map.

The British Squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Sr. John Thomas Duckworth, K.B., forcing the passage of the Dardanelles, on the 19th of February 1807.  1807, (MS) D30:24 (12)

There is topographical information along the shore-line and in the lay-out of Turkish defences but the ships have a pictorial feel to them, and the angle of depiction is different for the two elements on show. There is a list of the ships of the line, both British and Turkish as well as information on the strength of defences and description of the damage caused to the Windsor Castle. A note at the bottom states that the ‘Circumference of the Marble Shot which entered the side of the Windsor Castle, and wounded her main mast, is 6 feet 11 inches, Weight Eight Hundred and Four Pounds’, which seems an incredibly large piece of shot. The damage that this type of artillery can cause to the crew isn’t mentioned but you can get an idea when you look into the life of Sir john Thomas Duckworth, K.B, Second in Command of the Mediterranean Fleet’. Born in 1748 Duckworth joined the navy at 11 and had a long and distinguished naval career. During one naval battle he was concussed when hit by the head of a sailor struck off by a cannonball.

The Dardanelles are more famous for another military operation, the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War. The Bodleian holds a large amount of mapping for Gallipoli; British, Turkish and commercial newspaper maps. Shown here are British War Office maps, the first highlighting the forts along the coast while the second is a more detailed map of the area. The opposing towns of Chanak Kale and Kilid Bahir in this map are the castles of Abydos and Sestos in the 1807 map.

Map of the Peninsula of Gallipoli and the Asiatic Shore of the Dardanelles, 1908, D30:3 (20) [283]

Gallipoli – scale 1:20,000 Chanak, 1915, D30:3 (20) [415]

The more detailed map would have been used for observation. There’s an intricate grid over the topographical information shown, each numbered large square is split up into 25 lettered squares (the e not used) and then in each of these smaller squares there are 9 dots, which in the top left of the smaller squares in each large square are numbered, like this.

Using a combination of the three different characters would give a very accurate field position for artillery and other purposes.

Finally one of numerous maps created by newspapers to illustrate news reports on the campaign. This is a particularly fine example of a pictorial map, and shows the area at the entrance to the Dardanelles.

“The Graphic” map of the Dardanelles Operations, c1916, D30:24 (3)

The Duckworth map is similar to another held in the collection, by the diarist John Evelyn. Evelyn was reporting back to his friend Samuel Pepys, who at the time was an administrator in the Navy, about a battle in the River Medway. More on this fascinating story can be found in an earlier blog and more on Gallipoli can be found here

The map’s intention is a mystery. The Bodleian doesn’t hold a printed version so it is unlikely to have been made for publication. The map could, with its accurate depiction of the action and the level of information given, have been made for a report or a record of events. Whatever the reason, we’re left with a dramatic and intriguing document of a relatively unknown part of one of the more famous conflicts in history.

Ephemeral maps

These two albums of cuttings show the progress of the First World War through the essentially ephemeral medium of maps for newspapers; being the method the ordinary person could follow the progress of the war visually.  The maps were small scale and general with a strong basic message which had to overcome the disadvantages of poor quality paper and usually small size. Arrows on the map would have covered miles on the ground!

 

 

These maps were not drawn or published to be kept, they were to describe a short period of time which would soon be superseded. In an era without 24 hour rolling news on screens everywhere, these ephemeral maps and illustrations were very important to provide context.

 

 

See this map of the Battle of Messines (7th-14th June 1917) which is in its infancy so much that the newspaper maps have yet to have a title.

Newspaper illustrators did not confine themselves to just to maps as you can see from the diorama sinking of the Lusitania. The diagram gives circumstances of the disaster which would have resonated as there were 123 Americans out of the total 1,195 lost souls.

Another example is the map Location of Mid-West Men which would have particular relevance to our trans Atlantic allies.

The Bodleian has a rich collection of  trench maps and they have been blogged about before here and here but it is interesting to compare the broad brush newspaper image with an actual published map.

 

By being a snapshot in time they provide researchers a very interesting contemporary view of the ebb and flow of the situation on the ground and not a full historical record with all the benefits of hindsight.

 

Depictions of Europe continue after the Armistice was signed until 1st February 1919.  Maps appeared afterwards concerning the changing political situation and the fate of Germany.

The scrapbooks here was bequeathed by Walter Newton Henry Harding, an interesting character and prodigious collector. The story of his vast collections and how they ended up at the Bodleian is the story for another blog but among the 22 tons of material were these two albums full of maps and diagrams cut from Chicago newspapers offering a uniquely transatlantic view.

 

Where the great battles the war in Europe are being fought. [Chicago: Various publishers], 1914-1919.  C1 b.97

Winter short, but very cold

The end of January marks the eightieth anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, generally regarded amongst military historians as the turning point of the Second World War. German troops in the city surrendered on January 31st, with the encircled troops to the north following on a few days later. For Germany Stalingrad was meant to be a quick battle, a way of cutting off the Volga River supply route before the main objective of the Caucasus oilfields. Instead vicious street fighting bogged down an already extended army, forcing them into another Russian winter.

In preparation for the invasion of Russia in June 1941 the German army produced a large amount of mapping. Most of the topographic at 1:50,000, 1:100,000 and 1:200,000 was based on pre-existing Russian maps but the Germans also produced a large amount of small scale mapping, including thematic maps, to help plan the invasion. Examples here show both the range of maps made and the logistical issues involved in invading a country which had, in the countryside at least, poor transport in place and a winter that could be brutal. Due to the large size of the maps shown here these extracts centre on Stalingrad.

Wehrgeologische Übersichtskarte des Europäischen Russlands, 1941. C40:6 (163)

This extract from a much larger map shows the geological conditions around Stalingrad (which is just north-east of centre, on the bend of the river). The brown indicates a loess soil structure, which makes for finely grained soil. Good for agriculture but not much good for transport or water retention, something which the legend on the map states, ‘wasserversorgung schwierig’ (‘water supply difficult). The map also shows something else that was going to be a major problem for the German troops fighting in the area. The dotted blue lines show areas of frost by months. Stalingrad falls into the zone where there was on average four months of frost which, with extended supply lines and lack of winter-clothing, led to German troops fighting in freezing conditions without appropriate winter gear, many suffering from frostbite and other aliments as a result.

Strassenzustandskarte der besetzten Ostgebiete, 1942. C40:6 (50)

From another large map comes this extract showing the road set-up around Stalingrad. This shows on the surface what the geological map hints at, the dotted red lines of so many of the roads around the Stalingrad area are graded ‘Ungeeignet, d.h. für Mot. Verkehr nicht geeignet’ (‘Unsuitable, i.e. not suitable for motor traffic’) while the lack of knowledge of the area (the map dates from August 1942, when the battle for the city started, and would partly be based on earlier Soviet maps) is shown by the continuous red-lined roads being labelled with a general description of ‘good’. There’s also this text box…

… which asks for the ‘Cooperation of all required! (Mitarbeit…)’  going on to request that any changes in road condition be reported immediately, a hint to the boggy nature of loess ground when the rains come.

And then there are the general topographic maps made by the cartographic branch of the army. Maps such as this example at various scales cover the whole of Europe, most of North Africa and the Middle East. Usually based on pre-existing national sets (the British maps are adapted versions of earlier Ordnance Survey commercial maps) these are often highly detailed and, with added text and town plans on the reverse, specialising in the area shown. Sheet D49 of ‘Mil.- Geo.- Karte Östeuropa 1:300 000′ (1942, C40 (72a)) covers Stalingrad.

The city is shown with a black box surrounding it indicating that there’s a town plan on the verso. Text on the side covers topics such as soil, structure, hydrology, climate (‘winter short, but very cold’) , transport and population. As an example of the confidence the army had in a quick victory at Stalingrad the map also lists 8 locations east of the Volga, beyond the city, to take as well.

Finally, the city itself. This is the city plan from the back of the 1:300,000 sheet, again this features text on the city (population – 445,470 as of 1939 – etc) and a list of objectives.

The city stretches out along the west bank of the Volga, making the key features an easy target for the German artillery that surrounded it and the bombing raids by the Luftwaffe. Vastly outnumbered soon Soviet troops were occupying the factory area to the north of the map (nos. 31-39) the station area (Bhf. just below no. 40) and the important low hill of Mamayev, fought over and won and lost continually throughout the battle (shown by the spot height 100. west of nu.39 and now the site of the ‘Heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad’ memorial).

As well as the large amount of single and series sheet maps produced the cartographic branch of the army (the ‘Abteilung für Kriegskarten und Vermessungswesen’) produced large numbers of information pamphlets for various countries. The earliest were made out of hard board but as more and more were produced brown paper packages were created. These included maps, books on locations and features (duplicating a lot of the information shown on some of the maps here) and photographs. Here’s the pamphlet package for the area covering Stalingrad

Miltärgeographische Angaben über des Europäische Russland, Die Wolgagebiete, 1941 C40 e1/K

And here are two images from the book of photographs, the first showing the central square and the second the tractor factory  (no. 31 on the town map extract above), sight of some of the heaviest fighting throughout the battle for the city

In contrast to these military maps is a series of maps published in an atlas by the New York Times during the war (2023 d.39). These maps show a history of the war from its origins in treaties after the First World War up to publication of this, the second revised edition in 1943. While German forces were in retreat in the East Western Europe was still firmly in control of the Axis powers and the outcome in the war was still in doubt. Typical of the sort of maps that were common in newspapers during the war here are two maps from the atlas, with an extract from the first at right, covering the Russian campaign before and after Stalingrad (a short blog about maps in newspapers can be found  here ).

Last word (and map) to the victors. On a large map covering four sheets the ‘Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union’ (1956, C40 (427)) shows the advances, retreats and battlegrounds between the German Invasion in 1941 to the end of the war in Berlin in May 1945. Around Stalingrad the thick orange and red tipped arrows can be seen that show how the Soviet advance, codenamed Operation Uranus, encircled and then cut off supplies to the Axis forces (Italian and Romanian divisions also fought at Stalingrad), eventually forcing those trapped to surrender.

The map was published in 1952 by the Glavnoe Upravlenie Geodezii i Kartografii, the official cartographic department for the Soviet Union, and known more commonly by the initials GUGK.

A blog on the changing names of the city on the Volga can be found here

 

 

Maps to justify your existence

Few countries suffered as much as Poland during the Second World War. Historically a country that had undergone numerous border changes, losses of territory (3 forced partitions in 23 years in the late 1700s!)  and caught between two countries with strong ideologues of such differences that an alliance between them would seem absurd if it wasn’t for the conniving geopolitical machinations of German and Russian foreign policies. When German forces invaded on the 1st September 1939, kick-starting the Second World War, Polish forces made a valiant effort to defend their country only for Soviet forces to invade from the east two weeks later. For the Poles there was to be five years of brutal occupation. Here’s a map showing German occupation of Central and Eastern Europe in 1942.  Poland has been swallowed up by the Greater German Reich and the front-line is in Soviet territory with further advances to come before the horrors of Stalingrad and the turning of the war.

Grossdeutsches Reich und angrenzende gebiete, 1942. C1:5 (595)

The reason for this in a map blog? We’ve just started working on some material that’s been at the library for a while, the majority of which are maps of Poland which look at some point to have been removed from an atlas. There’s very little information on the majority of the maps, but some have been published by the Polish Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Shipping, based in London and part of the Polish Government in Exile while others come from the Światowy Związek Polaków z Zagranicy (World Union of Poles from Abroad), an organization set up in the mid 1930s to ensure Poles abroad still felt part of and could help and support the Polish Government. As quite a few of the maps are similar it’s fair to assume that the majority come from these sources. So far so good but the range of themes of the maps is surprising.

As well as maps of contemporary borders and population there are maps covering such diverse subjects as air routes between the wars by Polish Airways, maps on historical borders and territory, maps on the German occupation and maps giving information on industry, agriculture and architecture.

Why the range? It’s hard to be sure but the answer may lie in the fight that the Polish Government had to be recognized in the face of Soviet opposition and British and American Governments willing to give into Stalin’s demands as the cost of keeping the Soviets fighting the Germans before a Second Front could be opened in Western Europe. By creating maps showing changing borders the Government in Exile were hoping to show a legitimate reason for being the rightful possessors of not only a country based on pre-war boundaries but also the legitimate Government to run the country after the defeat of Germany. Take these maps, showing numerous Polish boundaries between 1001 and 1939, thus establishing a long history of a Poland being centred around the immediate pre-war state.

[Polish boundaries and territory changes, 1001 – 1939], 1945? C31 (561)

Polish frontiers in the course of history, C1:4 (204) 1940?

In an unusually colourful example the second map  portrays a Poland that throughout history has grown and been a dominant part of East Europe. Turning the map over reveals it’s actually part of a postcard including defiant text on the role of Poland in Europe, ‘the first country to oppose Hitler’s “New Europe” and goes on to highlight Poland’s perilous situation at the start of the war, ‘the geographical position was, and is, incomparably difficult and dangerous…the map shows how unjust were the Polish frontiers after the last war. This fault is the reason for Poland’s position today. Only a powerful Poland can secure European equilibrium. Our deepest faith will ever be Poland must rise again!’ A postcard is an ideal medium to spread the message included, both in the map and text, a pre-digital age version of a tweet.

Here’s another example, one that combines the current situation in Poland and German aggression with a sense of historical Poland. This map is published by the Min. Informacja i Dokumentacja w Londynie. 

Map of Eastern Poland, Baltic countries and the western part of U.S.S.R. showing German occupation and historic boundaries of Poland, 1943. C1:4 (201)

By creating maps showing such diverse themes shown in this blog the Government were promoting Polish culture, industry and tradition, and leading on from this a Polish identity, putting forward a strong argument for the continuing existence of Poland against Soviet aggression.

Polish airways in 1935, c1945. C1 (1128)

[Poland imposed over British Isles], C31 (562) 1943

To finish, a map that imposes over a map of the British Isles the outline of Poland according to 1938 boundaries.  We have a few maps in the collection here at the Bodleian that does this (an earlier blog featured one of New Zealand). By imposing a country over another like this the cartographer hopes to draw comparisons between the two, in size and in, it’s imagined, a sense of both being long-established nations with traditions and histories, of a country that deserves to be treated equally.

Casablanca

Casablanca is one of those names which is more than a location; how many of us think of the movie before the place? The film features the best use of a map (a globe really) in an opening sequence

With France under Marshal Petain agreeing a neutrality which favoured the Germans after French defeat in the Second World War Casablanca became one of the key points in safe passage of people escaping Fascist rule from Europe. From Casablanca boats and planes would go onto to Lisbon and from there across the Atlantic to America (as explained in the opening sequence). This map of Casablanca is contemporary with the film

Mil.-Geo.-plan von Casablanca, 1941. E23:20 Casablanca (12)

Published by the cartographic department of the German Army (Generalstab des Heeres), this is typical of German town plans from the war. Based on a French map published in 1935 the map has been enhanced by the highlighting of key administrative and military positions in the town. It was common for German military cartographers to make maps of countries and locations which were either neutral, as in this case, or actual allies of the Germans during the war.

Here is another version of the  French map from 1935 the German plan is based on, this time published by the War Office in, like the German plan, 1941 (Plan de Casablanca, 1941. E23:20 Casablanca (14)).

These maps by both Allied and Axis forces shows the importance of Morocco generally and Casablanca in particular in the North African Theatre of War. Comparing the two maps it is evident how much more information the German maps included, as is the case with most of the mapping that the Germans produced throughout the war. By using existing guide books, maps and postcards and gathering information from spies, Embassy staff and the general public the German military were able to map important locations to a level that up until the plans for the D-Day landings Allied forces often weren’t able or attempting to match (a blog on D-Day mapping can be found here)

 

United Nations Memorial Cemetery, Pusan, Korea

Sometimes the simplest maps can often be the most effective. This map shows the boundary line plan of the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Pusan (now Busan), South Korea, containing the graves of 2,300 servicemen who died during the Korean War. The site is set over 35 acres and is the only United Nations cemetery in the World.

The map is at the rather unusual scale of 1:100ft, indicating the small size of the area being mapped. There is a small inset map of the area in the bottom corner which shows the cemetery in a rural setting, 60 years later Busan is now a busy port city and the area is a small green area in a built-up and busy city.

The boundary map gives distances between the changes in direction of the boundary in feet. This contrast between on the one hand the lack of topographical information shown and the precise measurements given is down to the combined survey work involved in making the map by the joint survey team of the United Nations Command and the Republic of Korea Army.

Pusan, Korea. Boundary line plan, United Nations Memorial Cemetery, 1959. SP 85

D-Day

We’ve blogged about D-Day mapping before, with detailed beach and German defences maps featuring here http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/maps/2015/09/ and http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/maps/2014/06/ but the 75th anniversary of the landings gives us another chance to show some of the items relating to Operation Overlord in the Bodleian. D-Day involved putting onshore over 175,000 troops, 4,500 guns and tanks and another 15,000 vehicles, all transported across the channel by over 11,000 ships. With planning starting in late 1943 maps would play a crucial roll in the organization, movement and attacking abilities of the Allied forces to make the operation a  success. Nearer the time enemy troop deployment and defences were plotted onto existing mapping (see examples in the links at start of this piece) but in the early stages of planning the operation non-military aspects had to be studied and considered. Two examples are shown here from the Office of Strategic Services, the United States Intelligence Agency which after the war became the C.I.A.

The Channel Coast Jan 1944 C2:5 (10) and N.W. Normandy wind conditions June 1943 C21:37 (9)

The first map gives a different perspective of the routes across the Channel and illustrates nicely the different options available, and the distances involved, to Allied Command on where to cross the Channel. The second map is one of a number produced by both the American and British Intelligence Departments dealing with the purely practical information needed to plan the invasion, in this case wind conditions but there are similar maps for tides and inland flooding in Normandy.

The OSS was also involved, along with the British Intelligence Agencies, in a major deception campaign to convince the Germans that the landings would take place anywhere else than on the Normandy beaches. Codenamed Bodyguard, creating new and totally fictitious divisions and artillery, false radio transmissions and leaking information to double-agents meant the Germans were fooled into believing in a build-up of Allied forces in Britain which didn’t exist.

Grossbritannien und Irland mit standorten des engl. Heeres 1944 C15 (468)

This map of Britain made by the German General Staff dates from the 15th of May, 1944 and shows what the Germans thought was the deployment of troops three weeks before D-Day. As well as English Army positions (in red) it also shows American (in black) and French (green).

Defence of Britain, defences as at “D” Day 6 June 1944 and anti “diver” defences 1945 C17 (66B)

This British map shows defences and positions on D-Day itself with divisions and defences (“Diver” was the codename for the  V-1 rocket, first launched by the Luftwaffe in 1944)

One of the earliest actions on the 6th of June was the landing near the bridges over the canal and River Orme near the village of Benouville, the famous glider attack on Pegasus Bridge.

Plan of Ouistreham-Caen Canal 1943, C21:37 (7)

Capturing the bridges were crucial if the advance on Caen was to succeed. The above map is from the British cartographic department, the Geographical Section, General Staff,  while below is a German map of the same area with an extract of the bridge area.

Frankreich 1 : 25 000 Nr XVI-12/1-2 Caen May 1944, C21 (15).

 

Normandy west of the Seine, the Seine Estuary to Avranches, beaches & landings, 1943 C21:37 (12)

Finally a wonderfully simple but hugely informative map from the early stages of planning showing potential landing beaches. Gradients, geological conditions and length of beach are shown by colour and length of markings and direction of lines. This map shows the levels of planning for the invasion that were already in place in 1943. This extract shows the area of the beach landings on the 6th of June 1944.

Sword beach is nu B43, Juno B44, Gold B45, Omaha B46 and Utah B49.

This is the Guardian from the 7th of June. Coverage of the advances made by the Allied Forces through Europe and into Germany continued until the end of the war,

often with maps illustrating the present situation at the time (the main war news on the 6th is on the advance through Italy and the recent Allied capture of Rome. French news is limited to reports on the considerable damage done to the French railway system by Allied bombing). These next three maps are from the few weeks following on from D-Day.

 

These maps and the full page image are from The Manchester Guardian, Jan-June 1944.  N 22891 a.8

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.