Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Hot Geospatial Intelligence from a Cold War: The Soviet Military Mapping of Towns and Cities

Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Hot Geospatial Intelligence from a Cold War: The Soviet Military Mapping of Towns and Cities

Article excerpt

Introduction

During the Cold War, the Military Topographic Directorate of the Soviet Army General Staff conducted a secret topographic mapping program at a high level of detail and coverage around the globe. Although the true extent of the Soviet cartographic enterprise is yet to emerge, the increasing availability of map sheets (typically from commercial vendors within former Soviet republics and satellite states) suggests that this was probably the most comprehensive global topographic mapping project ever undertaken. It is impossible to determine exact coverage without access to original production records or cataloges, however, the availability of global and regional map indexes together with map sheets at 1:15,000,000, 1:2,500,000, 1:1,000,000, 1:500,000, and 1:200,000 scales, with further territories (including areas within the British Isles) covered at 1:100,000 and 1:50,000 scales, provide sufficient evidence of its general scope (Watt 2005; Cruickshank 2007, 2010).

Sheet numbering is based on the alphanumeric system adopted by the International Map of the World (IMW), in which the globe is divided into equal-sized zones based upon latitude and longitude. Each zone is further subdivided so that the position of a sheet--at the full range of scales--can be deduced. The maps at each scale were produced to a standard specification and used Cyrillic script, ensuring a high level of consistency across the whole project and around the globe. Users of these maps would have found this standardization particularly helpful, especially as the symbology adopted by different national mapping organizations varies considerably (Kent and Vujakovic 2009). Indeed, the availability of topographic mapping at such a wide range of scales would have been useful in supporting a full range of military activities, from devising regional strategies to reading the "going" (traversability) of terrain for directing land forces.

In addition to the global topographic mapping program mentioned above, a secret cartographic initiative has also come to light--the production of street plans of towns and cities around the world at larger scales, such as 1:25,000, 1:15,000, 1:10,000, and 1:5,000. Examples within Europe include Warsaw, Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tirana, Paris, and London (over 90 towns and cities are known to have been mapped in the British Isles alone), together with many others lying further afield, such as New York, Los Angeles, Dakar, and Luanda. A substantial quantity of military plans were recovered from an abandoned Soviet Army depot in Cesis, Latvia by a local map seller, who advertised this newly acquired stock at the 16th International Cartographic Conference held in Koln, Germany, in 1993. Seizing the opportunity, many Western map dealers quickly began to source their own supplies and followed suit. Although their discovery was soon mentioned in relevant cartographic studies (e.g., Collier et al. 1996) and they have since attracted greater focus (e.g., Davies 2005a, 2005b; Watt 2005; Lee 2009), Soviet military plans have received very little attention from the academic community. This is surprising, considering the gulf between their original circumstances of production and their widespread availability today, but even more so in terms of their historical value as a testament to the level of cartographic achievement that was attained during the Cold War.

This paper aims to provide a general introduction to the Soviet military town and city plans that were produced from the end of the Second World War until the early 1990s. By drawing upon examples from around the globe, it attempts to make some common observations regarding their overall appearance and stylistic evolution. Aspects of their content are examined in comparison with contemporary sources in order to address the questions of how and why the plans were made. Finally, the paper explores the possible strategic value of these Soviet military town and city plans given their historical and political context. …

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