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Soviet military mapping project

Posted July 20, 2015 into Awesome by John Birmingham

Wired has a cool piece on the Soviet Military’s detailed maps of western cities. Wish I’d known about this when I we were designed the cover art for Stalin’s Hammer. How cool would it have been to put a Soviet map on the cover of each instalment, which after all, are based on cities. (Almost as cool as it would be if I could get my publishers to sort out their geographic rights differences, so I could actually publish the rest of the series.)

[Image from Wired: A 1980 Soviet map of San Diego naval facilities (left) compared with a US Geological Survey map of the same area, from 1978 (revised from 1967). KENT LEE/EAST VIEW GEOSPATIAL; USGS]

The Sovs weren’t just translating street names, either. They had detailed tactical information right down to street level. Stuff like whether you could drive your tank down that back alley.

They had mapped nearly the entire world at three scales. The most detailed of these three sets of maps, at a scale of 1:200,000, consisted of regional maps. A single sheet might cover the New York metropolitan area, for example.

But they didn’t stop there. The Soviets made far more detailed maps of some parts of the world. They mapped all of Europe, nearly all of Asia, as well as large parts of North America and northern Africa at 1:100,000 and 1:50,000 scales, which show even more features and fine-grained topography. Another series of still more zoomed-in maps, at 1:25,000 scale, covers all of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as well as hundreds or perhaps thousands of foreign cities. At this scale, city streets and individual buildings are visible.

And even that wasn’t the end of it. The Soviets produced hundreds of remarkably detailed 1:10,000 maps of foreign cities, mostly in Europe, and they may have mapped the entire USSR at this scale, which Watt estimated would take 440,000 sheets.

All in all, Watt estimated that the Soviet military produced more than 1.1 million different maps.

23 Responses to ‘Soviet military mapping project’

Murphy_of_Missouri swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 20, 2015
My childhood best friend, Alex, would have loved this stuff.

I wish he were here to see it.

Lulu puts forth...

Posted July 20, 2015
Security!

Bangar ducks in to say...

Posted July 20, 2015
Jared we have a policy if can't behave you're posts wont last. I'm leaving it for the moment but others may not.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted July 20, 2015
Jared has been dealt with.

Bangar asserts...

Posted July 20, 2015
I'm reluctant to delete comments, but I will and I will highlight those that I think are worth scrutiny. In a way leaving them up for a bit gives people a heads up as too who keep an eye on.

Lulu has opinions thus...

Posted July 20, 2015
Thanks JB.

(Just like to make it clear to others that I was calling security on a troll, not Murphy)

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Aaron mumbles...

Posted July 20, 2015
I don't know if countries left out should feel lucky or crap for not being worthy of wasting

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Peter in the bleaches asserts...

Posted July 20, 2015
Aaron, I think we should feel lucky! Having said that fair chunks of 'stralia were mapped at 1:25,000. Makes calling in artillery a whole heap easier than larger scales. How you use the different scales is also determined by your transport. Armoured units need larger scales otherwise they keep driving off the edge of the map. Walking infantry find 1:25,000 just fine.

HAVOCK21 asserts...

Posted July 20, 2015
25 K works fine for mortars.

\ROUNDS COMPLETE!

Peter in the bleaches has opinions thus...

Posted July 21, 2015
Repeat, repeat

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Dave W reckons...

Posted July 20, 2015
When did this project commence? My guess is that it would have been after their humiliation at the hands of the Czechs in 68, who took down street signs etc to derail the Soviet takeover after the prague spring.

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Murphy_of_Missouri asserts...

Posted July 20, 2015
On a more realistic level, how could this have been of any use to any part of the conventional Soviet Military? Any attempt to get across the Pacific would have been a disaster for them. Coming down through Alaska and Canada? Not much better results. For nuke strikes, why the detail? They didn't have smart weapons of any worth so that isn't the reason.

insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted July 20, 2015
It kept a lot of people employed and out of trouble even if for no good reason?

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted July 20, 2015
Ha, foolish American! They were using tunnels from Mexico.

Murphy_of_Missouri mumbles...

Posted July 20, 2015
And they say only the CIA was involved in running drugs.

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HAVOCK21 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 20, 2015
yeah, murph i'm not sure sure its as simple as "they couldn't do it"you have to look at it from their end, and thats having as much details as possible....and remember, they say do this and there people just went and did it...no questions asked. M9ght have been great for spies, great for special ops and if you are planning the op, in that time line, the last thing you want to do is wait for the fkn mapping department. Have them all done and up date the fkrs fanatically!

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 20, 2015
It doesn't seem practical. They couldn't possibly have ever used the vast majority of these maps.

I suspect it was a jobs creation program with a tangential military connection - the only way to secure government funding.

But it still magnificent.

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Therbs is gonna tell you...

Posted July 20, 2015
Fkn commie bastards!

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Sparty asserts...

Posted July 20, 2015
so the big news in that blog piece is that there are two FINISHED? follow up installments of Stalins hammer! (Cairo and?)

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted July 20, 2015
The Zone.

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HAVOCK21 has opinions thus...

Posted July 20, 2015
CAP the fkn lot and let GOD or whomever fkn sort out the muppets!.
Collateral is all Im gunna sy...shit happen a dn so long as its to some other mthrfkr SO BE IT!

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HAVOCK21 would have you know...

Posted July 20, 2015
CAP the fkn lot and let GOD or whomever fkn sort out the muppets!.
Collateral is all Im gunna sy...shit happen a dn so long as its to some other mthrfkr SO BE IT!

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GhostSwirv swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 21, 2015

Perhaps the level of detail of the Soviet era maps underlines the existence of Fifth Columnists in the target countries/cities or at the least the intention to utilise such clandestine forces in the event of an actual conflict with the West.

It may have been a massive job-creation scheme - then again maybe McCarthy was right and there were a lot more REDs under the bed than previously believed.

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