readers' comments

***, 1 Nov 2017
An interesting look at Soviet mapping. I was expecting more of a "how they did it" with stories of secret measurements, dead drops, and the stealing of city plans. Instead it's more of a comparison between maps (the British map says the water depth was 4 meters while the Soviet map says it was 4.1 meters). While it wasn't as thrilling as I hoped, it was an interesting piece of cold war history.

***** on Goodreads, 12 Oct, 2017
A treasure of data for scholars and a feast of amazing images for lay people. I will caveat slightly that this, for me, is not totally a reading book per se but more one to experience. Creepy and cool to see Cold War depictions of places I have lived in and visited. Seeing the letters for Potomac in Cyrillic is particularly unnerving. The level of detail that they had globally was just incredible.

Charles Aylmer, emails 24 Oct and 25 Oct, 2017
I've checked the Beijing 1:25,000 town plan and objective 181 is listed as "Sobranie narodnykh predstavitelei vsekitaiskoe" i.e. National People's Congress, which is the body that convenes in the Great Hall of the People. I don't know where the alleged misattribution you cite has come from.
p. 49: Schischova > Shishova, Olienikova > Oleinikova, Schlyago > Shlyago
p. 89: Flughaven > Flughafen
p. 127: Lomondsov > Lomonosov
p. 138: Militärtopographicgraphischer > Militärtopographischer
p. 215: [a] > a

Bernard Anderson, email 23 Oct
I fully appreciate the particular interest there is in the City plans, so I would not quibble too much about the decision to focus on larger scale mapping in preference to the 1:50 000 and 1:100 0000, although personally I think these are equally fascinating. Like the large scale plans these also include items which were deleted for security reasons from OS maps – the two naval depots on the Stour Estuary in North Essex for instance.
One possible error, plate A1.14. I have a copy of the Liverpool Sheets and these were among those rapidly extracted for further inspection. You are correct about the date for the closure of the Liverpool Overhead Railway, however, directly beneath this and running for almost the entire length of the dock estate was another set of tracks belonging to the Mersey Dock Board, these remained in situ and in some places in use into the early 1970s. They were far less prominent and as they only carried freight traffic were less well known. When I moved to Liverpool in 1975 they were no longer in use but still there, the parallel road was crossed at numerous points by links between them and the national network as is shown on the plan. Not on your chosen extract but on the original, there is an error at the northern end as it does show the original Seaforth Station of the Overhead but that had certainly gone by the time I lived in the area. Interestingly, the same error is present on my A-Z streetmap.

Media coverage

National Geographic 'All over the Map', October 2017 carries a feature by Greg Miller about the book. Read the full story

Londonist, 17 October 2017 carries a feature by Will Noble. Read the full story

Sunday Times, 22 October 2017 carries a feature by Jonathan Leake. Read the full story

Alex White's tweet of 26 Oct invoked a huge response ...
... including a story by Patryk Strzałkowski in (in Polish) here
... another in Mail Online by Paddy Dinham
... in Metro
... and The Times

The Scotsman has this story by David McLean published online on 31 October.

Alex Kent interview by Dominic King on BBC Radio Kent 31 October 2017 (radio clip, about 4 minutes)

National Geographic, 31 October: Secret Soviet Posters Demystify Map Symbols by Greg Miller

Edinburgh Evening News 4 November

Yorkshire Post 9 November

BBC TV Russian Service, London blog, 6 November 2017. In Russsian and English, about 4 minutes

City Lab, November 2017, The Soviet Military Secretly Mapped the Entire World by Mimi Kirk

Mail Online, 22 November 2017. Stunningly detailed Soviet maps created in secret show the likes of Washington DC and New York City - to be used when communism conquered the world by Iain Burns

Sputnik Česká republik, 23 November 2017. dávno před Google byly v SSSR vytvořeny vysoce přesné mapy USA (in Czech) (Long before Google, highly accurate US maps were created in the USSR)

New York Daily News, 23 November 2017. Maps of major cities provide window into secret Soviet Union plan for world domination, by Megan Cerullo

San Francisco Chronicle, 27 November 2017. These 'chilling' Soviet maps of San Francisco, Bay Area likely intended for the Communist takeover, by Michelle Robertson, SFGATE

National Geographic, 1 December 2017. 10 Awesome Holiday Gifts for Map Lovers

Latvijas Avize, 8 December 2107. PSRS militārās kartes - pamats tūrisma ceļvežiem Soviet military maps - the basis for tourist guides (In Latvian). Translation

Contact the authors


London Launch: 21 November 2017
6.30pm at Daunt Books, Hampstead.
(left: Alex Kent signing books at Daunts)

Talk : 23 November 2017
6.30pm at Stanfords, Long Acre, London.

Latvia Launch: 7 December 2017
6.30pm at Jana Seta map shop, Riga, Latvia
For booking and information Contact the organiser

Talk : Travel Writers Festival, 4 February 2018
London Olympia
Booking essential BOOKING NOT YET OPEN

'Living Maps' seminar, King's College London, 14 February, 6pm

Newham Bookshop event, Wanstead Tap, London E7, 15 February, 7.30pm
Booking essential BOOK NOW

Examples of Topographic maps

SK-42 Topos

London, east of Greenwich Meridian 1:1,000,000 sheet M-31 : 1975 edition, 1939 editon
1:500,000 sheet M31-A : 1985
1:200,000 sheet M-31-01 : 1986
1:100,000 sheet M-31-013 : 1982 edition, 1964 edition
1:50,000 sheet M-31-013-1: 1981
1:25,000 plans covering the same area are London sheets 2 and 4 at City plans

Former USSR
1:50,000 sheet O-35-073-4 : 1990 edition, 1983 edition
1:25,000 sheet O-41-110-1-3 : 1988
1:10,000 sheet O-35-087-4-1-1: 1988

SK-63 Topos

1:100,000 sheet W-18-31 : 1984
1:25,000 sheet W-18-31-A-a : 1972
1:10,000 sheet F-36-31-B-g-2 : 1981

1:1,000,000 Rectangular Topos
14-00-68 London-Paris : 1974
44-111 Chicago : 1969
44-113 St Louis : 1969

1:1,000,000 Aeronavigation maps
B-11 Berlin : 1983
B-111 Moscow : 1985


The book is available from all usual book trade outlets
or you can buy direct from the publishers here

The authors signed several books at Daunt Books. To order one, email

University of Chicago Press catalog

Contact the authors


Joe Weisberg, creator and executive producer of “The Americans” : “When money and technology weren’t an issue—when it was just about brainpower and hard work—the Soviets could compete with anyone. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that their mapmakers, like their athletes, were among the best in the world. Many of the maps in this collection were made to guide Soviet soldiers in potential wars against enemies abroad. But like the best socialist-realist propaganda posters, they transcend their original purpose. Decades after they were created, they are now unique works of art, offering the viewer what can only be called a kind of emotional-cartographic-political experience.”

Marina Lewycka, author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian : “Utterly fascinating. A must-read for anyone interested in the former Soviet Union or in maps and mapping in general.”

Mark Monmonier, author of How to Lie with Maps : “The Red Atlas is an amazing book, especially if you’ve ever pondered the power of satellite imagery as a surveillance tool. Military mapping has two modes: mapping one’s own territory so you can better defend it, and mapping an opponent’s territory so you can attack or take control. Focusing on the latter, The Red Atlas shows the impressive and frightening detail of maps of Western Europe and North American prepared by Soviet cartographers during the Cold War. Overhead imaging with satellites and high-resolution cameras provided the basic geographic canvass and ground intelligence—spies, tourists, and maps sold freely by commercial firms and government surveys—filled in local details such as street names, the height and width of railway overpasses, and the load capacity of bridges. Map collector John Davies collaborated with academic cartographer Alex Kent to tell the story of how the USSR systematically mapped the West’s cities, ports, highways, railways, and military targets, and how these maps fell into the hands of map dealers following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their examination of selected examples from Britain and the United States also highlights errors that are revealing in some cases and puzzling in others. The Red Atlas belongs in the collection of every map enthusiast and military historian—carefully researched, well-written, and exquisitely designed and printed, it’s perhaps the only recent map history that can be called a real eye-opener.”

Vitali Vitaliev, Geographical Journal Oct 2017 : For anyone interested in maps, this book is a sheer delight. It also carries huge educational and historical value by introducing the inner workings of the Soviet military topography – a little-known and rather fascinating side of the Cold War in its own right. Read the full review

Barbara Kiser, Nature October 2017 ... As John Davies and Alexander Kent reveal in this glorious homage embellished with 350 map extracts, the gargantuan project might have been groundwork for a cold-war coup. Read the full review

Elizabeth Elliot, American Historical Association, Perspectives on History, November 2017. Paper Plans: Inside the Mysteries of Soviet Mapmaking

Jonathan Crowe, The Map Room Blog, 20 November 2017.

Prof Jerry Broton in Times Higher Education writes : Most scholars assumed that JB Harley’s innovation came from reading post-structuralist critical theory, but John Davies and Alexander Kent’s brilliant Red Atlas, on the extraordinary Soviet project to map the world from the 1940s until the empire’s collapse in 1989, suggests that Harley and his disciples were also responding to how state power during this particular confrontational period appropriated cartography to further its political ideology.
Harley would have admired this book for many reasons: its scholarly detail, the light touch of its critical argument, the lavishness of its illustrations, its dry humour and, above all, the remarkable and definitive story it tells of what the authors call “the world’s largest mapping endeavour”, a crucial yet neglected moment in 20th-century cartography due to the Soviet Union’s demise and the strict secrecy surrounding its map-making.
The Red Atlas is the best kind of cartographic history: scrupulously researched across the fields of map-making as well as social history, telling in its detail yet alive to the human act of map-making, and beautifully reproduced by Chicago University Press. It also takes us deftly beyond Harley’s thesis that maps are simply driven by ideology. Read the full review


Links and References


1. Conventional Signs and Abbreviations Used on USSR Military and Geodesy and Cartography Committee Maps, Series GSGS 5861 (Military Survey [UK], 1992).

2. “Copying Maps Costs AA £20m,” Guardian, March 6, 2001.

3. Foreign Maps, US Department of the Army Technical Manual TM 5- 248 (1963). Includes a useful summary of USSR mapping activities, authorities, and map characteristics at that time.

4. Glossary of Soviet Military and Related Abbreviations, US Department of the Army Technical Manual TM 30- 546 (1957).

5. Red Army Maps of UK and Other Countries (catalog) (Kerry, Wales: David Archer Maps, 1996).

6. “Russia Jails ‘Spy’ for Handing Maps to US Intelligence,” BBC News, May 31, 2012.

7. Russian Military Mapping: A Guide to Using the Most Comprehensive Source of Global Geospatial Intelligence (Minneapolis: East View Press, 2005). This is a translation of the 2003 edition of the manual used by the Russian armed forces.

8. “Russian Spy Jailed for Sending Secret Army Maps to US,” BBC News, May 13, 2010.

9. Soviet Topographic Map Symbols, US Department of the Army Technical Manual TM 30- 548 (1958).

10. Specifications for Topographic Map in Scale 1:50 000, 2nd ed. (Riga: State Land Service of the Republic of Latvia Cartography Board, 2000).

11. Symbols on Land Maps, Aeronautical and Special Naval Charts, Standardization Agreement (STANAG) (Military Agency for Standardization, North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], 2000). Unclassified.

12. Terrain Analysis of Afghanistan (Minneapolis: East View Press, 2003). Translations
of the topographic descriptions on the Soviet 1:200,000 sheets.

13. Terrain Analysis of Syria and Lebanon (Minneapolis: East View Press, 2015).

14. Terrain Analysis of Ukraine (Minneapolis: East View Press, 2014).

15. “UK Government’s Secret List of ‘Probable Nuclear Targets’ in 1970s Released,” Guardian, June 5, 2014.

16. “USSR Planned to Invade Sweden,” Pravda Online, February 21, 2003,

17. “Where to Purchase Soviet Military Mapping,” Information Sheet 1C, Cambridge University Library Map Department (UK), first issued September 7, 2001, and updated regularly; latest version dated December 8, 2015

18. P. Collier, D. Fontana, A. Pearson, and A. Ryder, “The State of Mapping in the Former Satellite Countries of Eastern Europe,” Cartographic Journal 33, no. 2 (1996): 131– 39.

19. John L. Cruickshank, “Mapping for a Multi- Lingual Military Alliance: The Case of East Germany,” The Ranger [journal of the Defence Surveyors’ Association, UK] (Winter 2009): 33– 36.

20. John L. Cruickshank, “Military Mapping by Russia and the Soviet Union,” in The History of Cartography, Vol. 6: Cartography in the Twentieth Century, ed. Mark Monmonier (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 932– 42.

--. Martin Davis and A.J. Kent 'Improving User Access to Soviet Military Mapping: Current Issues in Libraries and Collections around the Globe', Journal of Map & Geography Libraries, Vol 13, 2017, Issue 2

--. Martin Davis and A.J. Kent 'Identifying Metadata on Soviet Military Maps: An Illustrated Guide'

21. A. J. Kent and P. Vujakovic, “Stylistic Diversity in European State 1:50,000 Topographic Maps,” Cartographic Journal 46, no. 3 (2000): 179– 213.

22. Nikolay N. Komedchikov [Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow], “Copyright on Cartographic Works in the Russian Federation,’ ACTA Scientiarum Polonorum, Geodesia et Descriptio Terrarum 6, no. 3 (2007): 15–18.

23. Nikolay N. Komedchikov, “The General Theory of Cartography Under the Aspect of Semiotics,” Trans Internet Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften
[Trans Internet journal for cultural studies], no. 16 (2005),

24. Greg Miller, Inside the Secret World of Russia’s Cold War Map Makers,, 2015

25. Clifford J. Mugnier, “Grids & Datums: Republic of Estonia,” Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing (August 2007): 869– 70. Describes the 1963 Projection of Soviet maps for civil use.

26. Béla Pokoly, ed., Cartography in Hungary 2003– 2007 (Moscow: Proceedings of 14th General Assembly, August 4– 9, 2007).
See also:

27. Alexey V. Postnikov, “Maps for Ordinary Consumers versus Maps for the Military: Double Standards of Map Accuracy in Soviet Cartography, 1917– 1991,” Cartography and Geographic Information Science 29, no. 3 (2002): 243– 60.

28. Alexey V. Postnikov, Russia in Maps: A History of the Geographical Study and Cartography of the Country (Moscow: Nash Dom– L’Age D’Homme, 1996). Part of the Russia’s Cultural Heritage series from the Russian State Library Collection.

29. Roskartografia (Russian State Mapping Service), Toponymic Data Files: Automated Data Processing Systems: Development of Russia’s National Catalogue of Geographic Names (New York: United Nations Economic and Social Council, Seventh United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, 1998).

30. Michael Stankiewicz et al., The Evolution of Mathematical Bases of Polish Topographic Maps During the Recent 80 Years (Moscow: Proceedings of 23rd International Cartographic Conference, August 4–10, 2007).

31. Desmond Travers, Soviet Military Mapping of Ireland During the Cold War
(Zurich: Parallel History Project on Co-operative Security [PHP], [n.d.]),

32. Dagmar Unverhau, ed., State Security and Mapping in the German Democratic Republic: Map Falsification as a Consequence of Excessive Secrecy? (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2006).

33. Erkki-Sakari Harju, Suomen sotilaskartoitus, 400 vuotta [Finnish military mapping, 400 years] (Helsinki: AtlasArt Oy, 2016).

34. Militärtopographie Lehrbuch für Offiziere [Military topography textbook for officers] (Berlin: Verlag Des Ministeriums Für Nationale Verteidigung, 1960). Includes examples and symbology of DDR maps and those of West Germany, NATO, France, Britain, and the United States.

35. Gerhard L. Fasching, ed., Militärisches Geowesen der DDR von den Anfängen bis zur Wiedervereinigung [East German military- topographic service from inception to unification] (Wien: Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung, 2006).
A history of the service with illustrations and map extracts.
English translation by John L Cruickshank of list of contents, list of diagrams and maps, appendices

36. Wokowach Radzieckiej Doktryny Politycznej [In the shackles of Soviet political doctrine] (Warsaw: Wydawca Geodeta, 2010). The history of the Polish Military- Topographic Service, 1945– 90.

37. Fundamental Regulations for the Making of Topographic Maps at the Scales of 1:10,000, 1:25,000, 1:50,000 and 1:100,000 (Moscow: Head of the Military Topographic Directorate of the General Staff and the Head of the Main Administration for Geodesy and Cartography of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MVD] of the USSR, Editorial- Publishing Department of the Military Topographic Service Moscow, 1956). There is also a 1984 edition.
English translation of 1956 edition by John L Cruickshank

38. Handbook on Cartographic and Map-Issuing Works; Part 4: Compilation and Preparation for Printing of Plans of Towns (Moscow: Chief of the Military-Topographic Directorate of the General Staff and by the Chief of the Main Administration of Geodesy and Cartography under the Council of Ministers of the USSR, 1978).
English translation by John L Cruickshank

39. Карта Офицера [Map officer] (Moscow: General Directorate of Combat Training of the Ground Forces, 1985).

40. Symbols on Topographic Maps 1:10,000 Scale (Moscow: Head of Geodesy and Cartography under the Council of Ministers and the Head of the Military Topographic Directorate of the General Staff).
1977 edition
1954 edition

41. T. V. Vereshchaka, Топографические Карты, Научные Основы Содержания [Topographic maps: the scientific foundations of their content] (Moscow: MAIK “Nauka/Interperiodika,” 2002).
English translation

42. Walther Blaadh (pseud.), Sovjetisk Invasion av Sverige: Hur planerade Sovjet att invadera Sverige? Vad visste de? Hemliga kartor, planer och förband [Soviet invasion of Sweden: How the Soviet Union planned to invade Sweden? What did they know? Secret maps, plans and formations], ed. Simon Olsson (Stockholm: Swedish Association for Military History, 2015).

43. Joakim von Braun and Lars Gyllenhall, Ryska elitförband [Russian elite forces] (Stockholm: Förlag Fischer, 2013). Includes Soviet military mapping of Sweden.

The following articles have appeared in Sheetlines, the journal of the Charles Close Society for the Study of Ordnance Survey maps, :

44. John Cruickshank, “German-Soviet Friendship and the Warsaw Pact Mapping of Britain and Western Europe,” Sheetlines 79 (August 2007): 23– 43.

45. John Cruickshank, “Виды из Москвы—Views from Moscow,” Sheetlines 82 (August 2008): 37– 49.

46. John Cruickshank, “Khrushchev Preferred Bartholomew’s Maps,” Sheetlines 87 (April 2010): 31– 34.

47. John Cruickshank, “How Big a Map Does It Take to Build Socialism?” Sheetlines 89 (December 2010): 5–12.

48. John Davies, “Uncle Joe Knew Where You Lived: Soviet Mapping of Britain,” Sheetlines 72 (April 2005): 26–38; and Sheetlines 73 (August 2005): 6–20.
part 1:
part 2:

49. John Davies, “Comrade Baranow, the Bouncing Czech, Penkilan Head and the World Map,” Sheetlines 78 (April 2007): 32–33.

50. David Watt, “Soviet Military Mapping,” Sheetlines 74 (December 2005): 9– 12.

51. Ordnance Survey statement of September 1997

52. The following libraries have collections of Soviet maps for inspection on site:
Bodleian Library, Oxford, UK

British Library, London, UK

Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Library of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

National Library of Latvia

53. The following libraries have collections of Soviet maps viewable online:

ICGC Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya:
National Library of Australia:

Stanford University:

54. Original paper copies of Soviet maps are on sale at Jana Seta map shop in Riga, Latvia:

55. Digital images of Soviet maps are available as free download or for purchase from the following: (contact Geoffrey Forbes

Soviet maps of Belgium and Netherlands at:
Polish military maps from 1919-1939 at:
Military and other historic maps, primarily of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia at:
German, Russian and other mapping of World War 2 era and much else at:
Translation of 'spravka' for San Diego in at:
Free online world maps including Soviet military topos
Investigation of Amsterdam city plan by Dirk Kloosterboer



Foreword by James Risen

Note to Readers
Why this book is a detective story

1 War and Peace
The background of the story—from Napoleon’s march on Moscow to the collapse of the Soviet Union

2 Capturing the World—on Paper
Describing the style, content, and symbology of the Red Army’s maps of the world

3 Plots and Plans
The overt and covert methods of the Soviet cartographers

4 Resurrection
The discovery of the maps after the fall of the Soviet Union and their continuing significance today

Appendix 1 Examples of Maps of Various Series and Scales
Appendix 2 References and Resources
Appendix 3 Translation of Typical City Plan Spravka
Appendix 4 Translation of Typical Topographic Map Spravka
Appendix 5 Symbols and Annotation
Appendix 6 Glossary of Common Terms and Abbreviations
Appendix 7 Print Codes
Appendix 8 Secrecy and Control

General Index
Place-Names Index



Subscribe to The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World RSS