You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

1). Soviet Map; 1:200,000, Maine


I opted to analyze the 1978 Soviet maps of northern Maine to see what differences lie between them and the USGS maps of similar scale and year.  I found the collection of Soviet Maps in the Harvard Map Collection and utilized the USGS topoview website to find US maps of the same period.

I have encountered some interesting trends in the Soviet maps that I will outline below.

Trend 1: Soviet Maps modeled after the USGS 1:250,000 and 1:24,000 Maps from 1930s- 1960s.

Almost all the nomenclature and labeling on the Soviet maps could overlay on top of the USGS maps from the 1930s to 60s.  Rivers, lakes, roads, and town names are located in almost identical spots on the maps.  Some of the labeling diverges, but usually only when information from a previous USGS map is included on the Soviet version.  The two maps appear almost identical in their place name labeling, with the noteworthy exception of the “Лонгфеллоу шк.” (Longfellow School) that appears below the word “Форт Файрфилд” (Fort Fairfield).

Fort Fairfield from 1977 Soviet Map and 1963 USGS map. Notice the similarities in labeling, particular with “Aroostook River” and “Fort Fairfield”


Trend 2: Labels on Schools and Camps

The USGS stopped labeling the names of schools after the 1930s editions, but the Soviet version in 1978 labeled them individually.  Why label the schools?  It is possible that they thought that they could be useful landmarks.  But they also chose to label more mundane items, with little apparent value to navigation or cultural understanding.  As shown below, the Soviet map of Fish River Lake in Northern Maine captures the names of the owners of fishing and hunting camps.  From the available topographic maps on the USGS website, it appears that USGS stopped depicting this information in 1935.

Soviet map of 1977 showing Camp names and 1935 USGS map

Two justifications for incorporating this information appear plausible: 1). The Soviets possessed earlier versions of the maps, the information was available, so why not include it? 2). Ownership in the eyes of the Soviets denoted wealth and therefore these names represented important figures in the community.

Trend 3: Military Installations on 1:200,000 not annotated

1). Throughout northern Maine, including in the small towns of Limestone, Presque Isle and Bangor, the US military maintained garrisons and Air bases.  While the Presque Isle base went out of commission in the early 60s, the Bangor Air Field, formerly known as Dow Air Force Base, continues to operate.  During the 70s and 80s, it served as an important refueling hub for cross-country military travel.  In the 1963 USGS map, both Dow and another Military Reservation are clearly depicted in the 1:250,000 scale map.  However, the Soviets do not denote that the military affiliation of the airfield, but do depict the runways and more detail inside of the perimeter area.  There is also not mention of the southern military reservation seen on the USGS map.

Soviet map of Bangor from 1978 and USGS 1963 Map depicting Dow AFB and Military Reservation

2) Loring Airforce Base Nomenclature omission

This is perhaps the most shocking omission, given the nature of the former Loring AFB.  At one time, Loring was the largest air base in all of Strategic Command, home to B-52s and nuclear capable weapons.  Located on the far eastern portion of the US, it sat closet to the western Soviet Union than any other US mainland airbase, making it strategically important.

As seen below, the Soviets obviously knew of the base’s existence and likely used satellite imagery to update their map, giving an accurate depiction of the runway system on Loring, along with buildings not depicted on the USGS map.  No other, more detailed maps are available on the USGS site and in a very haphazard google search, I found no maps from the 1940s-1970s of Loring.  This demands further research, particularly if satellite imagery from both the USSR and US could be compared.


1978 Soviet Map compared to 1963 USGS map


Why would the Soviets not label military installations on 1:200,000 maps?  Lack of space may be one explanation, given the small scale.  However, they chose to include minute details, like names of schools and logging camps and in places like rural Maine, the maps are far from overcrowded with other details.  Another explanation could be that the Soviets, given their dictatorial management of their own territory, may not have found the need to label an airfield as “military”.  After all, everything could be militarized in the Soviet Union.

This example does not fully explain the reasoning.  A foreign force would want to know the whereabouts of military personnel, not to mention the equipment and armament stored in these facilities.  The Soviets may have created more secret maps, drawn to a larger scale, and clearly depicting the military nature of these facilities.  If this is the case, who was the target audience for the 1:200,000 maps and why would military installations not be key terrain, clearly labeled?




Hello world!


Welcome to Weblogs at Harvard. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

Log in