From Russia with maps

From Russia with maps
Russian city plans of five Australian cities
22 June 2010

Russia has long recognized the strategic importance of maps. The body in charge of its military mapping dates back to 1812, just after Napoleon's French troops failed in their invasion of that country. During the Soviet period (1917-1991) tens of thousands of cartographers were employed by the military to produce detailed maps of the Soviet Union and all other parts of the globe. Ordinary Russians had no access to the maps, which were highly secret and restricted to senior military use. At the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, millions of Soviet military map sheets were formally declassified and made commercially available in the West. Among these were city plans designed for the detailed study of cities around the world. The Library has acquired a DVD of city plans in Russian of five Australian cities: Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth and Sydney. The DVD was produced in the United States by a commercial cartographic company, East View Cartographic. The large-scale coloured maps were originally produced by the Soviet military between 1981 and 1985. At the Library's request, East View has also supplied hard copies of the Canberra and Sydney maps. It is thought that the Soviet city plans of Australia and other nations were based on various sources. These would have included existing maps and directories from the countries concerned, supplemented by investigation on the ground as well as satellite or other high-altitude images. The Australian city plans include an area of lengthy descriptive text and we translated the text for the map sheet of Canberra. It is perhaps no surprise that the description focuses on features which would be important during an armed conflict. For example, the analysis of Canberra's transportation infrastructure includes details of roadway widths, carrying capacity and pavement type. This information would have enabled the Soviets to calculate allowable speeds of troop columns on Canberra's roads depending on pavement type, or the allowable speeds of two-way truck traffic depending on the width of roadways. An analysis of Canberra's forest terrain includes details of tree species and width of cut-throughs in order to determine passability and camouflage for troops. Water approaches from the west of Canberra via the Murrumbidgee River include details of the river's width, depth, flow velocity and soil type to calculate vehicular passability. The hard copy maps of Canberra and Sydney are on display in the Maps Reading Room.

Detail from Canberra city plan in Russian showing Parliamentary Triangle

Detail from Canberra city plan in Russian showing Parliamentary Triangle

The DVD is one of thousands of map products catalogued by the Map Acquisitions and Cataloguing Unit each year. Here is the online link to the catalogue record: Australia, Soviet city plans