Maps of the Western Front
During the war mapping the battlefields and strategic positions became more sophisticated as aerial surveillance and survey work were introduced.
The Ordnance Survey in Britain produced base maps to send to the Field Survey Companies that were near the front. The Field Survey Companies would print "trenches and tactical information such as the location of machine guns, trench mortars and barbed wire" onto the maps to be distributed to the units on the front line. As trench and tactical information were always changing, units on the front line needed to be updated quickly of the changes. Base maps made this possible as well as they could be reused. Specialty maps were created for most functions such as situation maps, positions maps, enemy organisation maps, enemy order of battle maps and hostile battery maps.
Distribution of enemy forces opposite 1st ANZAC Corp's front
Digital order number: a6919001
“The Topography of Golgotha”: Mapping the Trenches of the First World War. <http://pw20c.mcmaster.ca/pw20c/case-study/topography-golgotha-mapping-trenches-first-world-war>. [5 November 2013].
Situation maps showed front line trenches, shell holes and craters, networks of ammunition dumps and railway lines. Some examples from our collection:
- Collection of maps and views drawn by Captain Brian Gaynor during World War I
Situation maps of Albert, area between Bapaume and Gueudecourt, XIV Corps (No Y, 17A. Situation 9 am 4.11.16).
- Combined situation map from information received up to 9:30 pm 11-8-18
British military manuscript overprint situation map from region west of Corbie, in the Picardy region of northern France, produced on the 11th of August, 1918. Shows line before attack 4 am, 8.8.18, to the line reached at 9.30 pm, 11.8.18.
- Situation map 6 p.m. 6-5-18: Corbie, Picardy, France
Overprint military situation map showing approximate British Front Line on the 6 May 1918, after the Second Battle for Villers-Bretonneux. Shows boundaries of German divisions with dates shown of last identifications.
Positions maps show all enemy battery positions located by aerial photography. Some examples from our collection:
- Hostile batteries smoke screens & place names
Shows locations of German batteries, places to be smoke screened and bombed, French cemetery, aerodrome, named towns and villages in the region near Harbonnieres in Picardy, France.
- 1st Aus. Div., disposition of battalions as at 6 a.m. 23-9-18
Shows divisional boundaries, battalion head quarters and location of German trenches.
- World War I German message map of the Somme, Northern France centred around the village of Villers-Bretonneux
German military overprint map hows British and German front lines and positions near the village of Villers-Bretonneux, Somme, in the Picardy region of northern France.
These maps (1:10,000) were developed after the Battle of the Somme, covering 10 to 15 miles of the Western Front. Some examples from our collection:
- Becelaere: secret, army barrage map (second phase), September 1917
Shows the British Front, German trench system, Australian Corps and divisional boundaries, jumping off line, first and final objectives and barrage lines with timing.
- Field artillery barrage map: issued with Aust. Corps battle instructions, Series 'C', No. 2, dated 19th Aug. '18
The overprint barrage map shows infantry and artillery lines and division boundaries.
- World War I barrage maps of France and Belgium
Shows the approximate British front line, artillery barrage and machine guns, enemy machine guns, wire, dugouts and trenches.
- Heavy artillery bombardment map
Overprint military map shows artillery bombardment and projected movement at the Somme, Picardy region of northern France by the Australian Corps, 1918.
"Corps Front" maps
These maps (1:20,000) show the assumed identity of enemy units and their placement opposite Allied units. Some examples from our collection:
- Distribution of enemy forces opposite 1st ANZAC Corp's front: from information received to 1/9/17
Overprint map of region around Passchendaele [i.e. Passendale] in the Flanders region of Belgium, showing the known positions of the German Army, facing the 1st ANZAC Corps. This map was compiled before the 3rd Battle of Ypres, Belgium, launched on 31st of July, 1917.
- Map shewing principal tracks used by the enemy and all locations shewing signs of occupation at 1.9.17
Military overprint map of German and British, including Australian Corps, positions, front line in the region around Polygon Wood and Zonnebeke, West Flanders, Belgium in 1917.
Aerial photography was one of the technological innovations to come out of World War I. Unlike observation balloons, aeroplanes could provide a vertical and therefore three dimensional, 360 degree view of enemy territory. Aerial photographs were compiled into photo-mosaics which would then be used to form base maps.
We have a small collection of aerial photographs taken of various segments of the Western Front such as:
- Sans Souci-Polygon Wood, Belgium
- Examples of concrete dug-outs and machine gun emplacements
- Aerial photographs of the Front in Flanders and northwestern France
Examples of concrete dug-outs and machine gun emplacements, Polygon Wood area, Belgium.
Digital order number: a9033001
Searching for maps
Search the Library's catalogue to find maps of the Western Front using the battle field location and the keyword 'cartographic'. For example, Ypres cartographic.
Copying, publishing or purchasing digital copies
You can make copies of pictures for research and study purposes by:
- using a digital camera
- using our microfilm reader printers
- ordering paper or electronic copies
- ordering high quality digital scans
- purchasing microfilm
You need to contact us for permission to publish our original materials. You must also acknowledge the Library and provide the correct location details.