Greg Miller’s crackerjack story in the November 2019 issue of Smithsonian magazine is about the quest to capture German geodetic data—and German geographers—during the dying days of the Second World War. Said data was a strategically critical treasure trove, of immense interest to the U.S. War Department, and the team led by Floyd W. Hough was in a race to find it before it was destroyed, carried away by the enemy, or fell into Soviet hands.
Little is publicly known about the true scope of the information that Hough and his team captured, or the ingenuity they displayed in securing it, because their mission was conducted in secret, and the technical material they seized circulated only among military intelligence experts and academics. But it was a vast scientific treasure—likely the largest cache of geographic data the United States ever obtained from an enemy power in wartime.
Opening today at Hughenden Manor: a permanent exhibition on the secret wartime mapping activities that took place at the Buckinghamshire mansion during the Second World War.
In rooms never before opened to the public, the installation features original photographs, records and memories of personnel involved at the time.
In newly accessible spaces used by the mapmakers themselves, the interactive exhibits shed light on how Hillside played such a significant role in shaping the outcome of the war. […]
Codenamed ‘Hillside’, Hughenden played such a critical role supporting the pilots of nearby Bomber Command that it was on Hitler’s list of top targets.
Around 100 personnel were based here, drawing up the maps used for bombing missions during the war, including the ‘Dambusters’ raid and for targeting Hitler’s mountain retreat Eagle’s Nest. Skilled cartographers produced leading-edge maps from aerial photographs delivered by the RAF’s reconnaissance missions.
The BBC News story provides more detail: some 3,500 hand-drawn target maps were produced at Hughenden Manor during the War.
Stanford University Libraries’ collection of Office of Strategic Services Maps: The OSS Map Division, directed by Arthur H. Robinson, produced nearly 6,000 maps before the OSS was disbanded in 1945. Stanford has digitized and posted around 700. These maps focus on wartime theatres of operation and deal with subjects like industrial capacity, ports, railroads and other strategic interests. [Open Geography]
The “President’s Globe” is big—really big and important. Weighing in at a whopping 750 pounds and sized at an impressive 50 inches in diameter, the globe was specially designed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt for use during World War II. The massive representation of the earth helped the president gauge distances over water to allocate personnel and material in support of the war effort against the Axis Powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy. This feat of cartographic history was given as a Christmas present to the president in 1942, and he placed the globe directly behind his office chair, often referring to it during his workday.
I’ve known about escape maps—maps printed on silk to help prisoners of war escape Germany during the Second World War—for a while now, and have blogged about them before, but this Atlas Obscura piece on them taught me a few things I didn’t know, and is a fascinating read besides.
BBC News: “A dress made from silk maps given to RAF soldiers in WW2 to help them find a route out of enemy territory has been sold for an undisclosed sum. The dress, made from ‘escape and evade’ maps, is thought to be from 1945-50.” [NYMS]
A short film from the British Pathé YouTube channel about cloth maps of the countryside made by the Women’s Voluntary Service during the Second World War for the War Office, precise purpose unknown (training, perhaps?). [CityLab]