Send Out The Map Makers!

It’s 1908.  The Regimental Commander says “Hitch up the mules, we’re going on maneuvers!”

The Adjutant asks “Where, sir?”

The Commander points off to the horizon, “Why, out there of course!”

The Adjutant turns to the Regimental Engineer and asks, “Do we have any maps of ‘out there’?”

The Engineer says, “No, but we soon will!”

The Engineer turns to his assistant and says, “Send out the map makers!” And so it was!

GP Medium tent, duckboard flooring, folding cots, trenches to divert the rainwater and mud everywhere. Looks a lot like the 1st Cav Warfighter, Fort Hood, 1997.
If these guys are west of Yadkin Road without TA-50 there’ll be hell to pay! (Hat tip to old Fort Bragg hands.)
“Are you making fun of our big stick?”
I can’t say for sure where these photos were taken.  Two of the cards were postmarked at Fort Leavenworth so it’s possible the photos document classes taught as part of the Army Service Schools at Fort Leavenworth.  The Engineer portion of these courses included heavy emphasis on field survey and sketching.

The photographer, Waldon Fawcett, did a lot of photography for the US government right after the turn of the 20th century.  The Library of Congress has a number of his photos available online.  The fellow certainly was prolific – he seems to have captured a lot of governmental agencies at work during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, including Teddy himself.  It is possible that Fawcett was contracted to document the activities of the Fort Leavenworth schools and made postcards from some of the photos.

Someone was sweet on Miss Anna Williams.  Two of the cards were addressed to her. Her sweetheart must have decided that sending her pictures of muddy soldiers holding big sticks was the perfect way to win her heart. 2b3db-scan-014


– Brian

The Origins of Army Map Reading – 1938

It’s 1938 and the world is about to erupt in flames.

Having taken all they want in China, the Japanese are making plans to move into Southeast Asia and Indochina in order to secure the raw materials – mainly oil – that their military and civilian economy so desperately needs.  America still supplies much of Japan’s raw material, particularly oil and steel, but the American public has turned against Japan, appalled at its conduct in places like Nanking.  The relationship is getting shaky.

Adolf Hitler rules much of western Europe and his appetite is growing.  He’s reoccupied the Rhineland, annexed Austria and the Czech Sudetenland and he’s now making noises about Danzig and a Polish corridor.  France and England are keeping a nervous watch.  War preparations are underway but each party is hoping negotiations will settle things down.  The classic French offensive spirit so frequently displayed during WWI has been flushed from the psyche of the government and military.  France sets its faith in its defensive strength as demonstrated by the Maginot Line.  A few isolated voices within the French Army, such as a young colonel named Charles DeGaulle, cry ‘attack!’ but to no avail.  In England there is a strong undercurrent of pro-fascist sentiment among the upper class.  Hitler may be a crude chap, but at least he knows how to knock heads together and get things done.  In the salons of London there’s a lot of admiration for how the Nazis have restored order, fixed their economy, eliminated labor problems and unified the German people.  Only Winston Churchill, still in political exile, isn’t fooled.  He knows Hitler can’t be trusted.  Events are about to prove him right.

In the United States the President, his senior military staff and a minority of political and business leaders are increasingly concerned.  America can look out from both shores and see growing threats.  Roosevelt still hopes America can avoid war wherever it starts.  He also knows that after two decades of neglect both the Army and Navy are in sorry shape and if war does come the nation will be unprepared.  The Army Chief of Staff General Malin Craig and his new deputy, the fast rising Brigadier General George C. Marshall, are convinced war is coming.  Marshall can feel it in his bones.  His experience tells him that the US will have at least a peripheral role in events, but more likely will end up leading the effort if France collapses and England finds herself under siege.  If France and England both collapse he knows America will be western civilization’s only hope.  Marshall also knows his Army is not ready for war.  Too few Soldiers, too little equipment, too little training and worst of all, not enough funding. Congress as a group still has its isolationist head buried in the sand.  Most view expanding the Army and the Navy as bellicose actions that will just invite trouble.  Marshall knows we don’t need to invite trouble – it is already headed our way.

Still, the Army does what it can with what it has.  Much of the activity in the Army that takes place in the late 1930s right through 1941 can be categorized as ‘laying the groundwork’.  Under the steady hands of both Malin Craig and then his hand picked successor Marshall the Army is reinventing itself.  It casts off almost a century of old doctrine and force structure and emerges as a more agile, adaptable fighting force that emphasizes speed, firepower and flexibility.  By leveraging modern advances in mechanization, radio communications and weaponry the US Army will step onto the battlefield in North Africa in 1942 as a lethal fighting force and in less than two years will be ready to take on the mighty German Wehrmacht on its home turf.

Part of this ‘laying the groundwork’ involves revamping virtually all the training the common Soldier will receive.  General Marshall has great faith in the American fighting man; he knows that the average American youth had the smarts, the initiative and the aggressive spirit necessary to defeat any enemy. He just has to be properly trained. The Army launches on a program of training development that dramatically changes how most topics are presented. The emphasis is on fundamentals and simplification. The Army is developing the new methods necessary to quickly and effectively train up millions of draftees and in less than a year launch them across the oceans ready to fight.  Everything from close order drill to aircraft maintenance gets a revamp.

One of the many topics that gets a dramatic make-over is map reading.  Prior to 1938 map reading and land navigation were viewed as highly technical topics that were best left to officers or exceptionally bright non-commissioned officers.  Surely the average enlisted man was too dull to grasp the complex concepts of magnetic declination, interpreting landforms from contour lines, plotting coordinates and determining scale.  Best to leave these tasks to the better educated officer class.  But the new Army emerging in 1938 is much different.  Newly minted small unit leaders – all the way down to the squad leader level – are entrusted with much greater responsibility and freedom of action.  In the newly mobile, hard hitting modern Army even the lowly Corporal will have the authority to plan operations, call in supporting fires, lead reconnaissance teams and conduct movements to contact. This means that every common Soldier must be taught the map reading skills necessary to get the job done right.

The problem is, the Army has no standardized map reading and land navigation texts.  Prior to 1938 there are no standard Army publications for the common Soldier that deals specifically with these two subjects.  Yes the Army teaches map reading, but the techniques are usually covered in adopted civilian texts, as school publications and lecture notes, or rolled up into more complex topics like field sketching, surveying and reconnaissance.  Map reading and land navigation are considered ‘included’ tasks, not separate skills.  One of the key Engineer publications of the inter-war years, the ‘Engineer Field Manual, Parts I – VII (1917), covers the process of map reading in a single paragraph:

“Map reading is essentially the reverse of map making. In the latter process the ground is measured and studied with a view of forming a mental picture of how a  map of it will look.  In the former – map reading – a map is measured and studied for the purpose of forming a mental purpose of how the ground itself looks.  All rules and principles heretofore stated as to the relations between ground and map are to be used in studying the relations of map to ground.”

That’s it.  That’s all an experienced and educated Engineer officer needs to know.

Starting in the early 1900’s and carrying on right up to just before WWI a number of private publications appear that deal specifically with military map reading, land navigation and field sketching.  In this period field sketching is considered as important as map reading, and for good reason – military maps as we think of them do not yet exist and a unit has to quite literally map its own way to battle.  Titles such as ‘Military Map Reading; Field, Outpost and Road Sketching‘ (1908) by Major William Beach, ‘Elements of Military Sketching and Map Reading‘ (1917) by Captain John Barnes and ‘Military Map Reading‘ (1909) by Captain C.O. Sherrill seem to have filled a recognized need for a dedicated map reading manual.  In fact, Sherrill’s book was adopted by the Army Service Schools at Fort Leavenworth as a standard instructional text. I’m sure copies of these books found their way into the haversacks of hundreds of Regular Army, National Guard and state militia officers.

Between the wars the Infantry School at Fort Benning concludes that map reading is an important skill that needs to be simplified and standardized for presentation to the common Soldier.  In 1934 they publish a map reading pamphlet as part of the Infantry extension course that presents map reading with a level of simplicity and clarity not seen in other map reading texts.  This pamphlet is perhaps as close to a standard map reading manual as the Army develops prior to 1938.

But still, it’s just an Infantry School text and it’s not Army doctrine.

By 1937 the Army realizes it needs to get serious about map reading as a skill for the common Soldier. The impetus comes from the Infantry School, which is the catalyst for much of the change we see in the Army at this time.  The Infantry School realizes a large draftee Army will need standardized map reading and land navigation skills, a standard magnetic compass and standardized maps against which these skills can be taught and implemented.  Even more important, the entire Army operational framework will be built on these skills.

Maps are the fundamental tool for all Army operations.  The success of operations such as plotting friendly locations, calculating movement, calling for fire support, planning river crossing operations, siting field hospitals, locating airfields, establishing unit boundaries, placing communication nodes, reporting enemy locations, etc. all depend on standardized maps and map reading procedures. When a Private in an observation post spots an enemy column approaching he picks up his radio and reports the activity to his platoon leader.  As the two of them discuss coordinates, direction of movement, road intersections and fields of fire they both need to be looking at the same map and speaking the same map reading language.  So it is all the way up the Army organizational structure.

But the Army still considers map reading an Engineer skill.  The Infantry School may have written a crackerjack manual for its own use, but the job of writing a manual for the entire Army falls to the Engineer School.  In 1937 they get the job and the first dedicated Army publication that deals with map reading is issued in April 1938.  It is titled Basic Field Manual, Volume 1, Field Service Pocket Book, Chapter 5, Map and Aerial Photograph Reading‘.

As an initial take on the topic this manual is actually pretty good. Its biggest problem is that it’s an Engineer manual, and the last thing Engineers like to do is simplify things. It incorporates some of the principles and methods laid out in the 1934 Infantry School special text, but in too many cases adds an unnecessary layer of Engineer re-interpretation.  It also includes a number of topics that don’t belong in a basic field manual, like map supply authorizations and the technical characteristics of various aerial cameras.  Some sections read like they were written by a Victorian novelist:

“Accuracy of maps. – Standard maps are prepared with the objective of obtaining no errors which are appreciable at the scale of the maps…”

“Local attraction. – Presence of iron and electric fields of magnetism affect a compass and great care should be taken not to approach them within a distance which will cause the compass needle to deviate while making an observation.”

“Measurement of an azimuth with the prismatic compass in daylight. – …In case the glass cover casing is broken, a horsehair or thread, to serve as a substitute for the etched line, may be passed through the holes drilled for that purpose.”

“To locate on a map a distant or inaccessible object (intersection). – …At each occupied position a straightedge is placed against the pin in the corresponding position on the oriented map; the object C on the terrain whose position is sought is sighted along the straightedge and a direction line drawn thereto.”

In this manual we see reflections of the Army and the nation as it is in 1938; there is absolutely no discussion of foreign maps or possible operations on foreign soil, even references to map problems based on WWI experience in France.  Everything is referenced to the continental US.  Let’s have no discussion of possible operations on foreign soil!

Yet in this manual we also see glimpses of the future.  The new tactical map layout and its use of a standard grid as shown in Figure 1 would be immediately recognizable to every dogface carrying a folded map in his pocket in 1944.  By omitting any discussion of field sketching and spending more time discussing availability of various types of maps the Army seems to be indicating that it understands the need to supply large volumes of standard maps to all levels of the field force – from the Infantry squad right up to Theater Army HQ.  The creation of the Army Map Service and field topographic units won’t happen for almost another two years, but at least the Engineers recognize the problem.

Figure 1 shows a standardized map layout that
remains essentially unchanged even today.
Note the reference to the
Harriman Index System.

Most important, however, is the inclusion of a robust section on how to use aerial photos as map substitutes.  It is clear that the Army sees the relatively new science of aerial photography as the key to ‘filling in the holes’ in areas of the world where good maps don’t exist, if they exist at all.

The presentation is a little complex for a ‘basic’ field manual, but it shows that the Army is serious about incorporating aerial photography into its overall mapping program.

This 1938 manual is best described as a work in progress.  It will stand only until April 1941, when an entirely new manual, FM 21-25 (part of the ‘Basic Soldier’ series) is introduced.  By that time America has moved closer war.  George C. Marshall is now the Army Chief of Staff, Winston Churchill is Prime Minister of Great Britain, Germany has conquered France, Poland and the rest of Czechoslovakia.  The Battle of Britain has been fought and won, the Battle of North Africa still rages and the Japanese are in the final planning stages for an attack on the Hawaiian Islands and a rapid expansion eastward across the Pacific and into Indochina to establish its ‘Co-Prosperity Sphere’.

By 1941 the Army will have the new Army Map Service and corresponding Engineer field topographic units to survey and map entire theaters of operation and supply millions of copies of standard maps directly into the hands of soldiers on the battlefield.  It will have a new standard lensatic compass produced in the hundreds of thousands that will find its way into the pockets of privates and generals.  It will have hundreds of mapping aerial camera systems mounted in aircraft to expose hundreds of millions of linear feet of film over millions of square miles of territory to make maps and map substitutes.

Most important, by 1941 the Army will have the standardized map reading procedures in place and ready to be taught to the over 8 million Soldiers that will be drafted, trained and deployed to battlefields across the globe between 1941 and 1945.


A Neat Bit Of Air Force History

I buy a lot of old Army manuals off of eBay.  I’ve found that purchasing these manuals on-line is a good, cheap way to build up a library of publications.  Plus, there’s the thrill of the hunt!  I don’t think I’ve paid more than $10 for a commonly available manual.  Most are well used, some downright raggedy.  A surprising number will contain an individual’s name, unit and occasionally a service number.

One series of manuals I’ve focused on is the Army map reading manual series.  Starting about 1938 the Army realized it needed to develop the standardized procedures necessary to teach map reading and land navigation to millions of young draftees.  The Army introduced map reading manuals (FM 21-25 & 21-26) that received regular updates between 1938 and 1945.  I’ll do a blog post on the evolution of map reading and land navigation during WWII at a later date.  Today want to focus on one specific manual that contains some interesting historical references.
During WWII the Army split map reading and land navigation into two separate manuals – FM 21-25, Elementary Map and Aerial Photograph Reading and FM 21-26, Advanced Map and Aerial Photograph Reading.  FM 21-25 dealt mainly with the skills the common Soldier would need to master – map symbology, map orientation, interpreting contours, locating your position, basic map and compass work, etc.  FM 21-26 dealt with more complex topics, the sort of things NCOs and officers would apply, like advanced coordinate determination, time-distance calculations, determining intervisibility using contours and advanced aerial photo measurements and interpretation techniques.  It is common to find WWII-era copies of FM 21-26 with staff section – S2 or S3 – markings in them.  This was not a manual for the common Soldier.
The manual under discussion today was purchased off of eBay in 2013.  I bought it because it filled a hole in my collection.  September 1941 is, as far as I can tell, the first publication date for this manual.  The seller listed it as a run-of-the-mill manual, noting it’s condition as good and containing the previous owner’s information on the title page.  There was nothing unusual or unique about manual noted in the auction description.

The name was a little difficult to decipher, but I believe this is a George W. Havnar, Jr. who was born in 1918 and enlisted in the Army in January, 1941.  It’s plausible that, in the fast expanding Army of 1941, he could have made the rank of Technical Sergeant after just one year of service.
However, while flipping through the manual I came to the back pages and found something pretty interesting. Tech. Sgt. Havnar obviously used this manual as a travel log of sorts (click on any of the pages to enlarge):
The back pages are a listing of personnel names, units, locations, aircraft and operations that seem to trace the US Army Air Forces march across western Europe.  The chronology is hard to figure out, and it’s clear a lot of this was written down long after WWII ended, but there’s a lot of interesting history recorded in these pages.
Take for example this entry:
The Chuck Yeager?  I don’t believe there was another Charles Yeager serving in the Army Air Forces in WWII, and since Chuck Yeager was a captain when WWII ended this inscription had to have been made post-WWII.
How about this entry:
There’s two interesting names here.  First, Francis Gabreski was the top fighter ace in Europe during WWII. As good a pilot as Yeager was, ‘Gabby’ Gabreski was better, at least when it came to shooting down Germans.
Next is Col. George Bickel.  The Warbird Information Exchange shows Lt. Col. George Bickel as Commanding Officer of the 354th Fighter Group:
Because of the disconnected nature of many of the entries, and the clear discrepancy between some of the personnel entries and their wartime ranks my suspicion is that Tech. Sgt. Havnar used this manual as a place to jot down references and remembrances of his service long after the war ended.  There’s a date of 9/11/63 written on one of the pages, not connected to any other entry.  Perhaps he took the manual to a reunion in 1963 and sat around a table with some wartime buddies and just started jotting down notes as they swapped old war stories.  We’ll probably never know, but it’s certain that Sgt. Havnar had a keen interest and pride in his service and the Army Air Forces squadrons he served in.

Brunton Pocket Transit Brochure

Let’s continue our conversation about the Brunton Pocket Transit.  In the past we’ve talked about how useful the pocket transit is, some of the different models available, and I’ve touched on some Brunton-related web resources.

So today let’s take a look at a small brochure that William Ainsworth & Sons (the manufacturers of Brunton pocket transits for most of the 20th Century) used to make available to pocket transit customers.  This particular little booklet was published in 1929, but the illustrations look somewhat older than the late 20’s, so I’m guessing this is a reprint of an earlier brochure.  The brochure is small – just a bit larger than a 3″ x 5″ index card and it’s only 21 pages.

It’s an extremely useful little book, because it covers in some detail the different ways you can use the pocket transit, whether it’s shooting azimuths, reading horizontal or vertical angles, tracing a mineral vein or using the instrument as a clinometer or a plumb.

There’s even instruction on how to use the pocket transit in conjunction with the ‘Wilson Magnetometer Attachment’, a real Rube Goldberg device that is intended to be mounted to a plane table to measure large anomalies in magnetic intensity found in mineral bearing rock formations.  I’ve never seen a Wilson Magnetometer in person, but I’m keeping my eye out for one!

There’s a lot of useful info stuffed into these 21 pages and I thought it important to make the booklet available to the collector community.  You can click here to download the pamphlet as a PDF file (about 1.6 mb).  You can also access the individual pages as images by clicking here to access my Picasa site.

So you Brunton fans out there, enjoy!

Update!  Just today I was doing a Google search on a topic related to Brunton pocket transits and I ran across an interesting booklet titled “Enterprise & Innovation In The Pikes Peak Region” published in 2011 by the Pikes Peak Library District.  In the booklet is a very informative article about David W. Brunton, the inventor of the Brunton Pocket Transit.  There’s a very good discussion about the development of the pocket transit.


Orientation – It’s Not Just For College Freshmen!

I came across another neat little Army publication the other day, one I’d never heard of before and initially thought it was an Army Corps of Engineers manual:

This little manual covers a lot of advanced topics such as geodesy, survey, coordinate determination, even astronomical observations using theodolites.  It’s a  pretty intensive manual, chock full of weighty Engineer topics.

Only it’s not an Engineer manual.  I was surprised and bemused to see that it was published in 1941 under the direction of the Chief of Coast Artillery.  Huh?  Coast Artillery?

So what did the Coast Artillery mean when they used the term ‘orientation’?

Definition – The term orientation as used in the Coast Artillery Corps means:
a. The accurate location of datum points and the establishment of ines of known length and direction.
b. The adjustment of the azimuth indicating devices on guns and observing instruments when the axis of the line of sigh is pointed at that azimuth.

Application – In its application to artillery, the term orientation includes the following:
a. The determination of the meridian for the measurement of azimuths.
b. The determination of the coordinates of the directing point, observing stations and spotting stations for a battery.
c. The determination of the length and azimuth of base lines and director offsets.
d. The establishment of such reference and datum points as may be necessary.     

(TM 4-225 Orientation, paragraph 2. a. & b.)

For those not aware, since the founding of our country right up until the mid-20th Century our key harbors and coastline sections have been overwatched by large artillery pieces, designed and situated to destroy enemy vessels intent on entering our harbors and waterways and doing damage.  In fact, one of the earliest jobs of the Corps of Engineers was the construction of harbor and waterway defenses and the siting and preparation of the firing positions for these coastal artillery guns.  However, it wasn’t until 1901 that the Army recognized the key differences between the missions of the coast artillery and field artillery by establishing the Coast Artillery Corps as a separate branch.

Modern field artillery has always had a strong need for surveyors.  As the concepts of indirect artillery fire matured and rifled cannon delivered the ability to fire projectiles far beyond the visual range of the gun crews the need for surveyors to accompany and support field artillery units emerged.  After all, to accurately hit a target you can’t see you first have to know precisely where you are.  Many of the concepts covered in this little manual are directly applicable to field artillery survey.  But we are talking about field artillery –  guns that get towed around the battlefield by trucks, set up, shoot some shells then pack up and move to the next firing position.  Coast Artillery is a different beast.  It operated large, permanently placed guns overlooking harbors and waterways that were already precisely mapped.  Why the need for more advanced surveying and mapping techniques?  The answer is laid out in Section (Chapter) IX of the manual, where it discusses the duties of the Battalion Reconnaissance Officer.

It appears that not all Coast Artillery cannon were permanently mounted.  At the time of publication the Coast Artillery Branch either had or was anticipating use of mobile 155-mm artillery, railway artillery and anti-aircraft guns.  It would be the responsibility of the Reconnaissance Officer and his reconnaissance parties to find new gun locations, work out their proper positioning (orientation) and if necessary map the the new areas of coverage so the gunners knew where they were shooting.

The battery reconnaissance officers, under the supervision of their battery commanders, compute the data necessary for the orientation of the plotting boards and complete the organization of the battery plotting rooms and observing stations.  The battery executives, utilizing the orienting lines supplied them, orient the guns of their batteries.

(TM 4-225, paragraph 49. e.)

While coastal defense was a huge mission during WWII, and the Coast Artillery branch provided a key service to the nation, it quickly became apparent that aircraft were a far more effective coastal defense tool than land-based artillery.  By the end of the war long range bombers and radar made fixed coastal defense sites obsolete. In 1950 the US Army dissolved the Coast Artillery branch and absorbed its officers and enlisted personnel into the regular Field Artillery branch. Today all that remains of a once proud branch of the US Army are some abandoned casements dotted along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and at the Presidio of San Francisco you can still view an original ‘disappearing’ coastal defense gun at Battery Chamberlin.

Battery Chamberlin
The Presidio of San Francisco


A Little Plane Table Work

A week ago I picked up some old photographs that are claimed to be of Army surveyors doing some plane table survey work on Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The notations on the back of each photo gives each Soldier’s name and the date – November 1959.  While the location is supposed to be Fort Belvoir there’s no written indication that is the actual location. However, having been assigned to Fort Belvoir a number of times I’ll say that the vegetation certainly has that ‘northern Virginia in the fall’ look about it, so I’ll accept the fact that we are looking at a location on or near Fort Belvoir.

Another clue is the Soldiers, and more specifically their uniforms.  There’s no sleeve rank on any of their field jackets or shirts, indicating to me they are trainees attending advanced individual training at either the Engineer School or the Army Map Service school on Fort Belvoir.  These are most likely young men – probably draftees – who are learning the trade of surveying after graduating from Army basic training.  They simply haven’t been in the Army long enough to earn rank beyond that of Private.

Plane table surveying was once the primary method of developing detailed sketches and surveys of small areas.  The geodetic and topographic surveys would establish he broad framework of survey control and elevation for large areas or regions.  The plane table surveyors would follow behind filling in the details – roads, buildings, fence lines, monuments, prominent topology and geology, etc.  Plane table work was a close meld of surveying and cartography, and plane table sketches done by talented surveyors are true works of art.

Alas, plane table surveying is also a lost art.  It died off back in the 1980s with the introduction of electronic surveying systems – total stations – that can collect data much faster and much more accurately than a surveyor standing at a plane table.  While the output of a total station lacks any sense of artistic composition, the data tends to be more accurate and precise.

But back to our young men.  They had to have scored fairly high on their Army entrance tests to qualify for training as a surveyor, so this was a smart group of guys.  Odds are they all had very good math skills.

My guess is these young fellows all did their two year military obligations, left the service and went on to enjoy life in the civilian world.  A few probably went to college using the generous VA education benefits still in place in the 1950s, a few probably moved on to employment in blue collar jobs.  Odds are none of them stuck with surveying in the civilian world – that’s just the way things went.  However, I’m hoping that their exposure to surveying and mapping enticed at least one of them to pursue a civil engineering-related field once they left the service.

So let’s introduce our hale and hearty young surveyors!

Jim Heichel
Gustafson (no first name given)
McNeely & Robinson (again, no first names)
Robinson (sitting, recording), Gustafson (left)
and McNeeley (right)

These fine fellows are all in their 70s now and hopefully are looking back on long, successful and happy lives. I hope they view their time in the Army with great fondness and the memories of the this beautiful fall day spent in the field learning plane table work brings a smile to their faces.


The Harriman Geographic Index System

A few months back I picked up a packet of US Army training regulations and manuals that were published in the 1920s and deal with mapping and aerial photography.  Army publications from this era don’t often appear on eBay, and those dealing specifically with mapping, surveying and related topographic sciences are even rarer.  In fact, after years of hunting on eBay for historical publications dealing with these topics this was the first time I’d ever seen any from the inter-war period.  My guess is that virtually all outdated documents got heaved into the garbage can in the late 1930s as the Army was ramping up for war and new publications covering map production and map reading were introduced.

I was surprised to find myself in a small bidding war for these documents.  I’m sure it wasn’t against anyone with a specific interest in Army topographic history.  The other bidder(s) were more likely motivated by the relative rarity of the documents.  In the end I paid about $30 for the packet and at the time I thought I’d bid too high.  As it turns out I think I made a good investment.

The packet included five Army Corps of Engineers publications:

  • Training Regulation 190-7, Topography and Surveying, Map Reading – The Harriman Geographic Index System (July 15, 1927)
  • Training Regulation 190-25, Topography and Surveying, Topographic Drafting (June 21, 1923)
  • Training Regulation 190-27, Topography and Surveying, Aerial Photographic Mapping (January 23, 1925)
  • Training Manual 2180-35, Topography and Surveying, Special Methods of Relief Representation (January 3, 1928)
  • Training Manual 2180-45, Topography and Surveying, Meridian Determination (April 16, 1928)

As a group these manuals represent an interesting view into the evolution of Army mapping activities that incorporate the lessons learned and the new technologies that emerged from our experience in WWI, particularly the use of aerial photographs as map substitutes and as base data for topographic map compilation.  In these documents you get the sense that the Corps of Engineers is starting to realize that it now has significant responsibility for providing standard map products to a modern Army with a potential world-wide mission.

Most of these publications cover topics I’m well familiar with, but the Harriman Geographic Index System is something I’d never heard of before.

Click on the photo to enlarge

Once I read through the document I realized that the Harriman system is designed to allow a Soldier to accurately locate himself or any feature on a map to within a few hundred feet anywhere in the world.  In essence it is an early worldwide grid reference system (although it bears no resemblance to the current Military Grid Reference System).

It is also very complex.  While the mechanics of the system were fairly easy for me to figure out, I can’t imagine myself standing in front of a classroom of Soldiers trying to teach this system.  It might have been a useful tool for well educated officers working in the relative comfort and calm of a rear-area command post, but for a tired, cold and scared draftee with a 9th grade education who is sitting in a muddy foxhole trying to call for artillery fire support this system is all but unusable.

The Harriman system uses the South Pole as the origin point and the International Date Line as the meridian.  It successively divides up the Earth into smaller and smaller rectangles based on latitude and longitude.  Each of these rectangles get an index number in the Harriman unit system that, when combined, permit locating features to within about half an acre.

Harriman ‘units’

Since the Harriman system is based on latitude and longitude it is projected onto a spheroid.  This means the land areas defined in this system vary with latitude.  The further away from the equator the smaller the land area encompassed by a Harriman system rectangle.  This also means the Harriman system is not a point identification system like the Military Grid Reference System, but is an area reference system that defines smaller and smaller rectangles on the face of the earth.  The smallest area that can be defined in the Harriman System, the Position Unit, is 2 seconds in latitude and 1 second in longitude.  This equates to about a 4,875 sq. ft. ‘box’ at 49 degrees latitude, or about a 70 ft x 70 ft area on the ground.  The Harriman system has the potential to identify a point feature such as a road intersection with a positional accuracy that is well within the map accuracy standard for a 1:50,000 topographic line map.  From a practical perspective Harriman’s system is accurate enough.

Harriman Index Geograph

But it’s the identification of these units that can get confusing.  The Harriman system requires the user to concatenate an ever longer string of numbers, separated by colons, semicolons and slashes, to identify locations.  The smaller the area the longer and more confusing the string.  For example, according to the manual the Harriman system ID for Battery Byrne at West Point would be designated as 2665:4515; 7792. Users of the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) could argue that this system can be just as confusing. However, I’d counter that the MGRS use of the grid zone designation (ex: 18T) and the 100,000 meter grid zone ID (ex: WL) alpanumeric system takes a lot of confusion out of sending and receiving coordinate locations.  For example, the MGRS coordinate identifier for the same Battery Byrne location is 18T WL 8726 8316.  Perhaps it’s my 30+ years of using MGRS that has me jaded, but I just think MGRS is less confusing.

Now the Harriman system isn’t a bad system.  In fact, it’s quite logical and it works well within its known limitations.  And I have to be honest, before the Harriman system there was… nothing.  The Chief of Engineers was quite clear about what the Harriman system is and is not:

“It should be realized that the Harriman index system is in no sense a method of map making or of chart building; still less is it a new system of projections.  It is merely a simplified system of using an established arrangement.  It may be used on any map or chart, regardless of projection or scale, provided the longitude and latitude of the southwest and northeast corners are available or can be determined by scaling on the map.  Since only arabic numerals are employed in location designation, this system is capable of use in any language.”

In the late 1920s the federal government seemed quite enamored with the system and there are indications that a number of federal agencies had adopted it.  In 1928 Congress actually held hearings to decide whether to purchase an unlimited use license from its developer, George C. Harriman. But other than a few tangential references on the web I can’t find any more discussion about it.  This training regulation is the only full reference I’ve found.  Even more interesting, when reviewing Army topographic references – training and field manuals – published beginning in the late 1930s as the US Army ramped up for war, I find no references to the Harriman system.

It appears Mr. Harriman’s system was a flash in the pan, dropped by the Army in the 1930’s as the Corps of Engineers realized it needed a better map coordinate system to address the exploding world-wide mapping requirements.  The Army needed a coordinate system that was logical, consistent, accurate and easy to teach to the millions of draftees about to be deployed to battlefields around the world.  It was out of this requirement that we got the Military Grid Reference System, a system stood the test of time and war.


William J. Hudson’s Pocket Transit History Site

Several times in this blog I’ve referenced an excellent pocket transit history site established by a gentleman by the name of William J. Hudson.  His site was the resource for historical information on the development of the pocket transit, its many variations and changes down through the years.  I considered it the best resource on pocket transits available anywhere on the web.

Unfortunately it looks like Mr. Hudson’s site went off-line well over a year ago.  I first noticed it about six months ago while doing some research on a pocket transit I had just added to my collection.  Over the last few months I’ve been contacted several times either directly or through this blog about Mr. Hudson’s site, asking if I knew when it might be available again.  Since I don’t know Mr. Hudson and I’ve never communicated with him I had no way of contacting him to see when or even if he intended to reestablish his website.  It seemed a great resource for those interested in pocket transits was gone from the web forever.

Well, things don’t really disappear from the web.  They just get archived.  I’m happy to report that I’ve stumbled upon an archive of the main page of Mr. Hudson’s site hidden away in a dark corner of the internet.  Unfortunately none of the linked pages such as his serial number breakdown page were archived, so that resource appears lost.  But the main page is still chock full of useful information about the pocket transit’s history, development and features.

I’ve linked to the internet archive for this page from the image below.  When you open the page you’ll have the option to download the page and graphics as a zip file.

Click here to access the site archive

I’m glad to have access again to at least a portion of this great resource.  Mr. Hudson, if you read this, can we have your site back please?  Hundreds a couple of diehard pocket transit collectors really miss the information your site provided!


Where’s The Line?

First Michigan picks on Ohio, now it’s picking on Indiana:

Border Line Project Gets Funds

But any time you can have fun with a lawyer it’s a good day:

Owens remembers a telephone call he got from an attorney representing the victim of a traffic accident along the state border.
“He asked me what state the accident was in,” Owens said.  “I said, ‘I can’t really tell you. We don’t really know where the state line is.’”

Yessir, a very good day!

The Englshman Who Went Up a Hill

…and came down a mountain.

It’s cold and rainy outside, the Mrs. is taking a nap and the dogs are too. I went looking for something quiet to do and stumbled upon my old copy of the quaint English film ‘The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain’

There aren’t many movies made about map makers, surveyors or cartographers. Damned few. The tedious film ‘The English Patient’ usually comes to mind, although the map making connection is just a plot mechanism to explain why a Hungarian count with an impeccable English accent is poking around Egypt and North Africa. I don’t think a map is shown in the entire movie.

In the opening scenes of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ we see Lieutenant T. E. Lawrence helping to color a map in a military office in Egypt. This is a pretty accurate snapshot of Lawrence’s activities before he was sent out to foment revolt among the Arab tribes. Before WWI Lawrence worked extensively as a field archaeologist in the Transjordan region and was a skilled map maker. During WWI he was initially employed in making military maps of the Middle East. Back then cartography and field survey were essential skills for explorers of all types and Lawrence was no exception.

There’s lots of other movies with oblique references to maps, mapping and surveying. The Indiana Jones series comes to mind, as does the 1999 movie ‘The Mummy’, but that’s about all I can t hink of right now.

So back to our movie. ‘The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain’ is the only film I can think of that revolves around surveying and cartography. The movie is loosely based on the true story of a group of Welsh villagers who, during World War I, conspire to have two British Ordnance Survey cartographers designate their local hill a true mountain so they can continue to lay claim to having “the first mountain in Wales.” At its heart the movie is the story of a village, devastated by the loss of its young men on the battlefields of France, that struggles to retain its dignity. There’s also a charming love story woven into the plot between one of the cartographers (Hugh Grant) and a local girl (Tara Fitzgerald). The film is stuffed full of colorful characters who are all in cahoots to keep the cartographers in town while they surreptitiously add 20 feet to the top of their hill so it meets the minimum elevation requirement to be called a mountain. Hence the somewhat long title.

The movie is a charming period piece. Whoever did the costuming did a great job. The scenes of the two cartographers working atop the mountain, kitted out in all sorts of period field gear are fun to freeze frame through (I particularly like Hugh Grant’s leather map case). The one glaring mistake the director made is having the crew use a dumpy level in the place of a surveyors theodolite to measure the angles between adjacent hills, but I’ll forgive that slight hiccup. Everything else looks spot-on, including the scene where Hugh Grant is doing some preliminary cartography work using an adjustable steel tipped pen and bottles of ink.

Here’s the scene where the locals get the word that their mountain is really a hill. Colm Meaney plays the local pub owner, town cad and ringleader of the whole effort, and is a hoot to watch:

The movie is slow and charming. A classic little English gem. It would be a great film without all the mapping and surveying stuff, but having it all in there makes it even better.

Highly recommended for rainy days.