Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Soviet Military Maps

A recent article in Wired details how some western map enthusiasts got a hold of thousands of military maps from the disintegrating Soviet Union. These maps are very detailed and accurate, often showing features not seen on government maps such as those from the USGS or Britain's Ordinance Survey. They are also beautiful and somewhat creepy.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
There are obvious military uses such as describing the materials and carrying capacity of bridges, military installations, and the spacing of trees in forests...
The Pentagon
San Diego naval facilities compared with the less detailed USGS map (right)
...but they also show factories, piers, bus stops and residential subdivisions. The article extensively interviews John Davies who is working on a book about Soviet military mapping. He suspects that they are more for the purposes of occupation than for an actual invasion. There may have also been an interest in  studying the economic systems of the countries through urban layouts. Davies has an impressive website, full of examples of these maps. Below are some images from his pages.
Maps come in various scales from worldwide at 1:2,500,000, to very detailed 1:10,000-scale city plans. I prefer to focus on the larger-scale maps for their level of detail.
Manchester, UK

This is a detail of the Boston map showing the Diamond Middle School in Lexington, Massachusetts. I wonder if Davies included this to add some drama. They mapped the whole area but focusing a school lends a creepy "they're coming for my kids!" aspect to it.
I often ride my bicycle through this school-next time I'll look out for spy planes!

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