Allied Military Model Making during World War II
Pearson, Alastair W., Cartography and Geographic Information Science
Use of terrain models to support military operations has a long history and is by no means purely an artifact of the twentieth century. According to Isabell Warmoes (1999), the production of scale models of fortified towns is a European tradition dating from the early sixteenth century. The Musee des plans-reliefs in Paris holds a collection of one hundred models of fortified towns situated along former French frontiers or subject to French rule that represent "portraits in relief" of towns and their surrounding countryside within range of artillery fire and enemy approach works, such as trenches, in case of siege. The levels of craftsmanship and attention to detail have seldom been exceeded.
During the twentieth century the three-dimensional terrain model played a significant role in many theatres of both world wars. According to Archibald Clough (1952), the static nature of World War I (1914-1918) demanded relief models of enemy defense positions for planning offensive assault operations. Campaign maps at a scale of 1:20,000 were made of the Western Front by a new model-making subdivision of the Ordnance Survey for General Headquarters in France. Layers of cardboard were cut to the shape of the contour, then pasted together and covered by a map sheet of the area printed on special paper, with the latest positions of the trenches marked. According to Peter Chasseaud (1999), models were sent to France between December 1916 and April 1917 at a rate of 36 per week. Indeed, by the end of the war, the Ordnance Survey had produced approximately one thousand of these models (War Office 1920).
A model of Zeebrugge, Belgium, at a scale of 1: 2,500, made in 1918 by the Royal Navy, marked both a change in the nature of warfare and, as a consequence, a change in the requirements for terrain models. The famous Zeebrugge Raid of April 23, 1918, a daring attempt to destroy a U-boat base (Keegan 1998), required careful planning and briefing. Use of the terrain model during the preparation and planning stages of the Zeebrugge raid pointed to the future role of models during World War II for combined operations.
Between the wars, however, the utility of models to aid in terrain visualization was not entirely forgotten and was alive immediately prior to World War II. In the second edition of A Key to Maps (1939), Harold Winterbotham added an entire chapter on model making to his earlier edition of 1937. Winterbotham, a brigadier and ex-Director General of the Ordnance Survey, had extensive combat experience in the Boer War and World War I, and had made models himself. Similarly, Frank Debenham's Exercises in Cartography, published in 1937, devotes a chapter to the subject.
Development of Anglo-American Model Making
Establishing the Model-making Section
Though the British Army was not prepared for the demand for model-making at the onset of World War II, a model-making section was formed as early as mid- 1940 (Abrams 1991), after representatives of the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force (RAF), and the Army met to discuss intelligence gathering for the Commandos. Commando operations relied on military personnel acting with a high degree of initiative. This new notion meant officers at all levels had to know exactly what they were doing and be able to pass this information on to their men accurately. Clearly, the success of Commando operations was going to rely heavily on thorough briefings with first-rate intelligence materials presented, so that all personnel would have a clear image of the target and its topographic context.
In this new type of assault, military training and courage alone would not do. Use of military intelligence had changed dramatically, as it was no longer solely the generals who were making tactical decisions in the field. Many assaults were combined operations of land, sea, and air forces. Coordination of such complex operations required detailed and reliable intelligence that could be effectively passed along to those involved in its planning and execution.
The significance of aerial photography as a source for military intelligence was becoming more fully appreciated. As early as 1940 the British had established the Central Interpretation Unit (CIU), and by 1942 the unit had amassed over three million photographs that covered most of Europe (Reed 1946). The Royal Air Force files also contained invaluable information on tides, geology, and photographs of installations and cities collected from newspapers and periodicals. Furthermore, the RAF also had facilities for enlarging contour maps, aerial photographs, and mosaics to the exact size of the proposed terrain models. Aerial photography and terrain modeling were to prove an effective combination later in the war.
The idea of using relief models initially met with some skepticism by military commanders. According to Spooner (1953), the problem of training military personnel to comprehend strategic and tactical briefings through reading topographic maps was both monumental and vital. Officer experience with terrain models was limited to what were called the sand table, basically a table with a raised rim containing a bed of coarse sand used during military training at Sandhurst Military Academy since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Despite this skepticism, a model-making group was formed under the Director of Inspection of Camouflage at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment, Farnborough. Clearly, the group needed skilled model makers with art training and experience. Professional and commercial artists, sculptors, architects, and architectural model makers were invited to volunteer for service within the unit as "Aircrafthands, General Duties." After training in air photo interpretation, work began on making models of airfields in Brittany near Lorient and Vannes, Brest Harbour, Cherbourg Peninsular, Guernsey, and places farther away such as Dakar and Tobruk. Models continued to be made to support combined operations (mainly by the Commandos for targets in Italy and Norway) and, gradually, the significance of the model makers' efforts became more widely recognized. In January 1941, model makers were re-mustered to a new trade as "Pattern-Makers, Architectural."
The model shop now became known as V-Section and was transferred to the RAF's Central Interpretation Unit at Medmenham, Buckinghamshire. The basement of Danesfield House at Medmenham was set aside for model making. All personnel, except one officer, lived in a hut within the grounds of Danesfield (Scott, personal communication 2002). Models were made of Bruneval and St Nazaire--significant combined operations that further proved the worth of the model-making section. As with all modelmaking activities, the Bruneval raid demanded the creation of a highly accurate and realistic three-dimensional model of the site. The success of the operation was timely, as the Allies had recently suffered several severe setbacks, notably the sinking of H.M.S. Prince of Wales and H.M.S. Repulse, the surrender of Singapore, and the embarrassing escape of the heavy cruisers Prince Eugen, Scharnhorst, and Gneisenau through the English Channel. According to Reginald (R.V.) Jones (1998), Assistant Director of Intelligence, few other raids had such clear objectives and benefited from such detailed intelligence. Indeed, the success of the Bruneval raid clinched the future of paratroops in Britain when the First Airborne Division and the First Parachute Brigade were formed immediately afterward.
The planning of the Allied raid on the French port of Dieppe presented a major model-making effort. The importance of accurate models was brought home to the section after the raid. The model makers were told that the sea wall, shown on the model as being high enough to provide cover for the tanks on the beach, did not provide cover, thereby leaving tanks and other armor exposed to German artillery fire (Abrams 1991). But few tanks made it that far, and the sea wall was the only known error in the entire model, which saved many lives.
The work of the model-making section began to gain recognition by all three services. V-Section gained a reputation for integrity and worthwhile contributions to intelligence gathering and use. Consequently the workload in the model-making section increased, and more personnel were required.
Expansion of V-Section
Representatives of the Combined Chiefs of Staff decided as early as February 1942 that terrain models should be employed in the planning and briefing of major operations. When the U.S. Eighth Army Air Force came to Britain, the Air Ministry looked to the Americans to provide additional …
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Publication information: Article title: Allied Military Model Making during World War II. Contributors: Pearson, Alastair W. - Author. Journal title: Cartography and Geographic Information Science. Volume: 29. Issue: 3 Publication date: July 2002. Page number: 227+. © 2008 American Congress on Surveying & Mapping. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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