Russian Cold War Maps of the UK

I’ve just discovered a site that shows old Russian military maps of Britain during the Cold War. Its a commercial site, but you can still look at sections for free.

Its amazing just how detailed they are. My street is all there, and you can make out my streets name in the cyrillic script. My old school is there too, complete with running track. Where I work is even labelled as what clearly translates to ‘Museum’. As far as I can see they didn’t get anything wrong at all. If only I could read Russian I could see just how accurately they managed to identify the buildings in the Dockyard and on Portsdown Hill.

Of course, its not surprising that the Russians had such detailed maps – this was the space age after all, and there were plenty of satellites in the sky. But even with detailed photographs, how did they get to know what every building was? Every wharf and dry-dock in the Dockyard is correctly named and numbered. It was either from material that leaked out, such as Navy Days guides, or from ‘other sources’…..

Its incredible to think of just how much information each side knew about the other. Relatives in the armed forces at the time tell me that they were told exactly how many nuclear ballistic missiles the Soviet Union had readily aimed at their home towns. Perhaps it was this mutually assured destruction and familiarity that prevented it ever becoming hot? Maybe if there had been more unknowns, things might have been more dicey?

But back to the maps… a lot of this run-of-the-mill information would have been in the standard Ordnance Survey map, available in all good bookshops!

Take a look at Russian Maps here



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12 responses to “Russian Cold War Maps of the UK

  1. x

    Being an open society is a two edged weapon. Yes the opposition can wander freely and buy maps etc. But the trouble is what they can’t see. Or should that be what they can’t see, but believe they should see?

    What used to upset the Soviets and their friends during the Cold War wasn’t the dockyards, army bases, and airfields they could see, but the fact that couldn’t find where the governments of the West kept their war reserves. The more they looked the less they found. The Soviets were well aware that the West wasn’t able to sustain a war much beyond a few weeks. Of course this meant that the West intended to go nuclear very quickly.

    I have a passing interest in Cold War bunkers and I have few books on the subject. Near the end of my gran’s field there was a ROC post. And I worked in local government towards the end of the Cold War so I was aware of “hidden” side of local administration. The bunker in the civic centre used to freak me out with it bunks, telex and stuff. The conurbation to my east was a nuclear free zone and they got fined for not having a bunker. And the place where the bunker supposedly was also happened to be ground zero for if memory services two x 1 megaton the Soviets had allotted. Though with Crewe junction and ROF Radway Green visible from front window I would have a pretty good view of WWIII.

    The Sunterranea Britannica people have a lot of stuff for Portsmouth.

  2. James Daly

    Hi x, interesting thoughts as always. There are a few ROC posts in and around Portsmouth. Portsdown Hill is positively riddled with bunkers and tunnels of various kinds underneath the Forts, some known and some rumoured.

    In terms of war reserves, I did a bit of research at Kew when I was writing an article about BAOR. Essentially, we didnt really have any – pretty much the Airborne Brigade, the TA SAS Regiments and then the TA, which would take time to mobilise and fly/ship in. Of course after 1969 a sizeable part of the British Army, including units from BAOR, was in Ulster too. That might well be why the Soviets couldnt find out war reserves.

  3. x

    I am on about a different kind of reserves. I am on about stocks of ammunition, food, etc. etc. needed to sustain a long campaign. Remember that the Soviets had a different out look on things compared to us Brits and the US. The Soviets planned for a long conventional war. All though with overwhelming numbers they had this seemed unrealistic to me!!! Of course under Marxist system jobs had to be found for everybody so building tank after tank after tank probably, well did, keep thousands in work. Though this is also a critique of the capitalist system in that some thinkers believe the capitalist system needs weapons production to soak up money and jobs. There would be too much “slack” in the system without it. Perhaps that is what we are seeing now in the banking crisis? Of course the Soviets fell into a trap in that as well as sustaining their large conventional forces they had to provide for a nuclear, biological, and chemical forces too. Of course providing the latter too squeezes out the consumer or private market. All this is known to uni’ lecturers but they still like to peddle the nuclear weapons are bad message to middle class kids who thanks to nukes never had to wear a uniform and had plenty of money at home.

    Just in case here’s the link to Subterranea Britannica,

  4. James Daly

    The point about nuclear weapons is well made. I don’t think it takes too much to notice the coincidence that pre-nuclear age = bloody conventional fighting, conscription, et, while nuclear age = tacit peace, smaller professional forces. If it wasn’t for the revolution in warfare that the nuclear age heralded, the majority of us would have seen some kind of military service.

    If we were to expand on Theodore Roosevelt’s quote about a big stick, the cold war was like two big blokes each with a big stick.

  5. The CNDers will not take kindly to that argument.

  6. x

    WEBF said “The CNDers will not take kindly to that argument.”

    Yes but there are parallels here are there not with 19th Romanticism where the idle sons of the rich were allowed time to think?

    Socialism and communism are wonderful ideologies if you are rich enough to avoid the deprivations of the collective life.

  7. James Daly

    I do think that a lot of the CNDer stuff comes from the more trendy champagne socialism – people who have the time and money to think up these things. I think most ‘working class’ people (and we’re opening a can there, talking about class) are generally more pragmatic. I guess if I had to thats the bracket I would put myself in.

  8. x

    Perhaps my use of the word rich was too rich.

    As I have said on here before it isn’t middle class kids that chasing around Helmand, it is kids from council estates and terraces. (I know about officers, but lets do as the rank and file do and ignore them for the moment….. 😉 )

    Look at who was driving CND in the 50s and 60s. Yes there were ordinary people involved. But look who was driving it. Look at their back ground.

  9. “Look at who was driving CND in the 50s and 60s. Yes there were ordinary people involved. But look who was driving it. Look at their back ground.”

    The KGB?

  10. x

    Well yes they were! But I was meaning the left leaning middle class intellectuals.

    Funnily enough the BBC Radio 4 Archive Hour this week was about working class Tories………

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