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World War 1 and Detailed Maps

Newcastle 1913 topo

British Forces, aerial photography and more in WW1 …

“British surveyors made a crucial contribution during World War I—an accurate map of the battlefield”

writes Jeffrey S. Murray. His article highlights even more surprising advances in that short 4 year period.

  • Multiple scales for for various purposes.
  • Aerial photography for mapping advancing from handheld to under fuselage fixed cameras.
  • Just 6 hours from aerial photography to an updated printed 4 colour map in the field.
  • 35 million 4 colour maps in 3 years.
  • Maps so accurate, artillery could use them directly.

At the outset of WW1, the British Expeditionary Force’s mapping unit comprised 1 officer and 1 clerk. By war end it had mushroomed to 5,000 officers and men.

WW1 gave rise to National Geographic’s own mapping unit

The prescient president of National Geographic Society in 1913 commissioned a map of Europe ready in case war broke out.

“There was this niche that National Geographic could fit that no one else was fitting,” Poole says. “He began to get favorable responses not only from the public, but [also] from the White House, the Navy.”

Then in 1915, dissatisfied with the performance of firms producing the Society maps, Gilbert S Grosvenor established the Society’s own mapping unit. It is fair to say they never looked back.

Their 1918  “Map of the Western Theatre of War” was so detailed, readers of newspapers could find even villages mentioned in articles on the fighting. By the way, the map zoom method in this digital article is excellent.



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