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
The Ordnance Survey has recently launched a new initiative aimed at making geographical information more open and accesible. It will enable businesses, communities and individuals to make better use of information. This welcome new initiative brings the Ordnance Survey up to date, at a time when Google Earth and Steet View are very much leading the way in the mapping sphere.
Maps have always been a great resource for historians. Of course archaelogists and geographers find them very useful for mapping buildings and development. You can use maps to great effect for getting a feel for a particular area. For example, looking at 19th Century maps of Old Portsmouth helped me greatly with my dissertaton. And when it comes to looking at how a city such as Portsmouth expanded, and why, and when various suburbs sprang up, maps are the answer. Not only is it interesting to look at old maps, but current maps can tell you an awful lot too.
You can now view a wide range of OS maps on the Open Data website, in a variety of scales, down to street level and even individual buildings. You can also use Open Data to create interactive maps for use on websites. You can now also download a wide range of maps, either straight to your computer or by DVD. This data can be used in Geographical Information systems, and software can be downloaded free from a range of sources. There is even a forum to discuss ideas for projects. I can already see some interesting schemes or mapping walks and bike rides
Already I can see some brilliant uses for these new facilities. I have often wanted to map the locations of Portsmouth’s WW1 and WW2 dead by were they lived; hopefully this is something I will be able to do with OpenData. Or, for example, if I was to write a blog article on a walking tour of Portsmouth – I could use an OS map, and add flags for the various landmarks, with notes. The editing programme allows you to do all of that, and even select certain areas by drawing polygons.
There are plenty of other commercial applications out there that offer similar services, so I think its only right that the UK’s national mapping agency raises its game. We’ve already paid for it through our taxes anyway!