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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Mapping the Western Front


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Hi guys,

My dad has asked me to look into how the British arm went about making detailed maps of France (ie. contour lines etc), in particular the Somme areas, during the war.

We think it wasn’t as simple as using French made maps as these didn’t contain contour lines, so would they have mapped the area before the war (as a sort of 'just in case' measure) or used captured German maps, or even surveyed the areas during the war?!

Any help would be great,

Thanks, Jonathan

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To be quite honest its something I've often wondered...how did they manage to get such accurate trench maps produced during such mayhem?



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Hello Jonathan.

For a quick intro to british (trench)mapping, CLICK HERE. It should answer most of your questions.

Where did you hear that French maps were uncontoured if you don't mind me asking? If you check out THIS LINK from the same website, you'll see several extracts from French trenchmaps (some more on the page previous to that one too) where you'll see that the French did indeed have contour lines on their maps from 1:5,000 scale to 1:25,000 scale (they were also contoured up to at least 1:50,000 scale). As an aside, they also produced them earlier than the British did.

As for the British utilising captured German maps - only for intelligence purposes. The Germans were eventually in awe of the British survey and actually officially reprinted certain British maps (with minor changes) for field use. I've not heard of this situation ever being the case in reverse.

Hope this helps.


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Of course the need for accurate maps was wider than to record trenches. The ability of the artillery to engage targets without the aid of an observer ordering correction having seen where shots fell thus being able to achieve a measure of surprisewhen supporting an attack depended on, among other things, accurate maps.

Old Tom

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