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.

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’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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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].

Fortifications

Renaissance fortifications map well. Clear lines, often in a symmetrical pattern, stand-out amongst any other topographic detail on display. Such beauty of design has come down to us at a cost of necessity though. Plans were born out of the need to counter the threat from a new type of warfare as cannon balls wrecked havoc on the old castle walls.

The radical design change from castle to fort came about in fifteenth century Italy, when French troops involved in the Great Italian Wars used cannon against castles. When older fortifications crumbled against the onslaught Italian engineers, including Michelangelo in Florence, designed new fortifications which soon became the standard across Europe. The sharp angles and triangular bastions of the new design deflected incoming artillery, and gave the new structures their name, Star Forts. With their angled walls and triangular bastions star forts also had the additional benefit of funnelling attacking troops into narrow spaces where enfilading fire rained down on them from within the fort. With these angled walls there was now no longer any place in which defending troops couldn’t direct fire.

Freiburg, in South West Germany, a classic example of a star fort incorporating water from the Dreisam river in its defences. Image from ‘Graphische Beilagen zum…des werkes feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen. C1 a.7

With the new design of the star fort architects and engineers no longer needed to make the best of the landscape. Previously hills were used to build castles on, the steep slopes were hard to attack and with the only weapon available before the cannon  being the arrow shot from a bow the high walls and steep sides made defence easy. Now forts could be placed anywhere, making good use of the commerce and transport that rivers brought. Cities soon grew in and alongside the forts.

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Image of a canon called a Bombenmorser and bomb from Graphische Beilagen zum

One of the main elements to the new design was the use of low walls, giving less of an area for cannon balls to strike. Earthen banks were thrown up in front of the walls to deaden the impact of artillery but this would have, in theory, made it easier for troops to break into the fort. To counteract this ditches were dug in front of the banks, creating a steep slope and thus slowing down any advance. In the picture below, of Graz in Austria shows the ditches and banks used in the construction of a fort (image from Graphische Beilagen…). 

 

Another example of a star fort is that of Neuhausel, originally in the Hungarian Empire but now in Slovakia and named Nove Zamky. The fort was originally built to defend the city against the troops of the Ottoman Empire. This picture, again from the Graphische Beilagen…, shows the fort under bombardment

 

This radical new approach to the construction of defences was supported by a growth in literature about the design of the fortifications. Focusing on the geometry of the design, the engineering of the construction and the military benefits of attack and defence the publications were one of the many sciences which blossomed at the time of the Renaissance. The next two images come from Les Travaux de Mars ou l’art de Guerre’, by Allain Manesson Mallet, published in France in 1696. The first shows the different designs now available to the military engineer, and interestingly compares modern to ancient fortifications. The second is a lesson in geometry, with a timely reminder underneath of what all this abstract paper work leads to.

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This image come from Introduction a’ la Fortification, by Nicolas de Fer in Paris in 1690, again showing designs of fortifications.

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To finish, this beautiful map of Portsmouth, a long established naval port, from circa 1716,

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The ichnography of Portsmouth, c.1716. Gough Maps Hampshire 10

Ichnography is another term for a ground plan. The map is a very good example of a coastal plan of the time, featuring a compass rose and naval scene, and to add to this blog, particularly fine defensive walls.

 

A battle plan from the Second Opium War

Sketch illustrating the action fought on the 18th of September 1860… is an example of a type of map called a Battle Plan. Created by historians to illustrate books on campaigns these types of map have also been used for educational purposes or for items for sale to the general public. The Bodleian holds in its collection a large number of such plans; the Napoleonic wars, the American Civil War and numerous colonial conflicts in Africa are just a few examples available to consult. This plan is of the  battle of Chang-Chia-Wan, fought between French and British forces and the Chinese between 1857 and 1860 during the Second Opium War over trade restrictions, hostility to British settlers and the selling of opium in the West.

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Divisions are indicated by the rectangular blocks and troop and cavalry movements shown by lines of advance. The use of the rectangular box to indicate units of troops is a long established practise which continued up to and past the Second World War, the main difference between the old and the new being that divisions got bigger as the areas of conflict grew, and maps as detailed as this, which has a scale of 2 inches to a mile, become less relevant as whole fronts are depicted.

Judging by the marble design on the verso of the map and the tag (not shown) at the top of the map this is most probably a fold-out from a book. Single sheet maps from the time don’t usually have the elaborate marble pattern on the back that this one has.

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Marbling is created when paints are floated onto a gum solution and then swirled into patterns, paper is then laid on top of the pattern which is transferred on to the paper and then dried.

It is interesting to note that the map is lithographed by Col. Sir Henry James, Director-General of the Ordnance Survey. A second map from the Opium Wars shows the situation between the 1st and 21st of August and the taking of the Taku forts (D5:17 (30)).

Sketch illustrating the action fought on the 18th of September, 1860 by the allied armies in China taken from the road survey made by Lieut: Colonel Wolseley, D.A.Q.M.G. and Lieut: Harrison, Rl. Engineers [1861]. D5:17 (29)