The Red Atlas

Ever wonder what the Soviet Union was doing about mapping during the Cold War? Well think about what they were doing in sports and by comparison you will start to get an idea of the level of sophistication and investment that they were making in a worldwide mapping effort that began with Stalin during World War II. They were way ahead of Google.

I just started reading, “The Red Atlas – How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World”, by John Davies and Alexander Kent. It’s a fascinating detective story that continues to unfold as the classified maps surface in different countries that were part of the old Soviet Union. Not only were these maps of the highest quality, they were literally works of art.

I remember thinking during the late 1990’s when Land Info, the producer of the USGS 1:24,000 DRG (digital raster graphic) topo maps began offering Russian topo maps that who would be interested in those. Now I know why. The Soviet military mapping program is likely to have produced millions of sheets at a variety of scales. The true extent of the Soviet cartographic enterprise has yet to emerge.

But, this is where the story gets even more interesting. not only did the maps contain the data that we are used to seeing on a USGS topo map, but they contained additional information that could only have been obtained through covert activities. Information such as the name of factories, the type of products they produced, the depth of rivers, their speed of flow, John bridge clearances and much more were notated directly on the maps. The origin of this data is a mystery.

And just to make it a little more interesting the maps that were available to the Russian citizens and tourists were of much poorer quality, at a much smaller scale and contained intentional errors so that they could not be relied on.

For map lovers, it’s fascinating and I have only read 20 pages. For more information click here and enjoy.

This entry was posted in cultural heritage, Data, Government, Historic Preservation, Mapping, remote sensing, satellites, Security and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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