British Battle Maps

Mapping for History: How British Battle Maps Shaped the Historical Narrative of the Palestine Campaign by Joel Radunzel

Since before World War I, maps been essential tools for soldiers conducting military operations. Whether at the strategic level of war (Stanford Geographic Society’s 1916 “What Germany wants: Her claims as set forth by leaders of German thought), the operational level of war (illustrated by the 1918 “Taisho Japanese map of the world”), or the tactical level (Ernest Clegg’s 1926 “Great War Map), maps in military operations, as in other arenas, allow the participants to efficiently synthesize and communicate complex data. However, the utility of military maps can evolve over time, changing from immediately useful tools of conflict into academically relevant and influential artifacts that can be powerful forces in shaping historical narratives. These influences can sometimes be benign, as is Clegg’s map, which translated British Expeditionary Force battle maps into a pictorial narrative of a moment on the Western Front for the commemoration of that front’s veterans. At other times, these cartographic narratives can push nationalistic or imperial ambitions, as is the case with Stanford Geographic Establishment map and the Taisho Japanese world map, respectively. Indeed, maps can wield surprisingly enduring influence over even well-researched events in history, as is the case with the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force’s Operation Maps, which continue to shape the narrative of the Palestine campaign into the present day. All of these examples illustrate the changing utility of maps in shaping narratives in a conflict setting.

What Germany wants. Her claims as set forth by leaders of German thought.
What Germany wants: Her claims as set forth by leaders of German thought, Stanford’s Geographical Establishment, London: 1916
During World War I, maps proved to be useful propaganda tools with which to vilify the opposing sides of the conflict. This particular map ties statements by German politicians, military leaders, and intellectuals, to the geographic spaces they address. The map uses red shading to communicate that the German Empire desired control over vast stretches of the world, including much of Europe and Africa, nearly all of South America, and large portions of China, the Ottoman Empire, and Indonesia. Perhaps most concerning to Americans, for whose consumption this map was likely intended, was the apparent German ambitions against Cuba indicated by the map. While this map was perhaps less artistic than other pictorial propaganda maps of the conflict, it’s almost clinical linking of political utterances with geographic claims likely made this map a compelling argument to many regarding Germany’s status as the aggressor in the conflict.
Taisho Japanese map of the world
What Germany wants: Her claims as set forth by leaders of German thought, Stanford’s Geographical Establishment, London: 1916
During World War I, maps proved to be useful propaganda tools with which to vilify the opposing sides of the conflict. This particular map ties statements by German politicians, military leaders, and intellectuals, to the geographic spaces they address. The map uses red shading to communicate that the German Empire desired control over vast stretches of the world, including much of Europe and Africa, nearly all of South America, and large portions of China, the Ottoman Empire, and Indonesia. Perhaps most concerning to Americans, for whose consumption this map was likely intended, was the apparent German ambitions against Cuba indicated by the map. While this map was perhaps less artistic than other pictorial propaganda maps of the conflict, it’s almost clinical linking of political utterances with geographic claims likely made this map a compelling argument to many regarding Germany’s status as the aggressor in the conflict.
The Great War Map of Battle Lines in France and Belgium on the 25th of September 1918. The exact position of the Divisions of the Allies and the Central Powers are taken from a plan compiled for the British War Records under the supervision of Field-Marshall Lord Haig. Designed and Drawn by Ernest Clegg. Copyright 1926
The Great War Map, Ernest Clegg, 1926
After World War I, maps became important vehicles for soldiers and generals to tell their stories of the conflict. This pictorial map by WWI veteran and decorative cartographer Ernest Clegg combines many of the forms of First World War military operation maps with images of iconic weapons and events from the conflict to tell the story of the war on the Western Front. The operation map elements evident in Clegg’s map include the base map, which is a simple line map of major terrain features, as well as the rectangular unit symbols identifying the divisions for the various combatants, and the margin notes indicating which American divisions were absent from the front at the date specified by the map. The pictorial elements of the map include ships of the British Grand Fleet in the North Sea (Clegg, as an army officer, was aboard the dreadnought HMS Revenge at the Battle of Jutland and at the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet), a German Zeppelin, the German army’s infamous “Paris Gun,” and a Mk. IV tank. This interesting composite of operation map and pictorial map gives a simplified picture of the situation on the Western Front on 25 September 1918, while also highlighting some of the more notable weapons and events of the conflict.