Soviet General Staff Map (1960-66)

The history of Russian state land surveying begins with Peter the Great (1672-1725), who initiated various steps to enable the surveying of his country. However, the results of these efforts for the survey, which was carried out by the army, could not be published until about 20 years after his death in the form of an atlas at the scale of 1:1.5 million (European Russia), or 1:3.7 million (Asian Russia). For decades, this atlas represented the best and most accurate cartographic representation of the Russian Empire. In the 19th century, cartography in Russia developed similarly to the rest of Europe. It was characterized by the introduction of new mathematical techniques and instruments and the possibility of increasingly accurate measurements based on them.

From the beginning of the 19th century, international exchange among surveyors increased, particularly circulating the knowledge on techniques and procedures. Between 1832 and 1835, a connective measurement was carried out between the maps of the Russian Empire and those of Prussia. This measurement made it possible to use the maps collaboratively. On the Prussian side, the cartographic basis for this was a simultaneous survey of the East Prussian territories. One of the results of this survey is the so-called Müffling map (1834), which is also presented on this website.

Russian land surveying in the 19th century was also affected by many problems. The most important of them concerned sheet cut, projection and coverage. It was not possible to introduce a uniform sheet cut or a uniform projection throughout the country. As a result, many maps were not compatible with each other or had to be adapted to each other at great expense. In addition, many maps were inaccurate. At the same time, cartographic coverage of the state's territory was limited: by 1917, only about 10 percent of Russia's territory was mapped at a scale of 1:420,000 or smaller.

After the Russian Revolution, Lenin established the Chief Administration of Geodesy and Cartography as a civil authority by decree in 1919. This became the central coordinating, administrative and organizational body for all surveying and cartographic activities in the Soviet Union. It thus replaced the military authorities that had been responsible for map production and land surveying in the tsarist empire. Thereafter, in 1938, the Main Administration of Geodesy and Cartography (Russian. Главное управление по геодезии и картографии, translit.: Glavnoe upravlenie po geodesisi i kartografii) was established, which was responsible for all map-making activities until the dissolution of the USSR. It was responsible for both the public maps and the secret maps. The only exceptions were the areas around specially protected objects, such as military bases, borders or special districts. These were managed by the Military Topography Administration (Russian. Военно-топографическое управление, translit.: Voenno-topografičeskoe upravlenie), which in turn was assigned to the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces. The Military Geography Administration was also responsible for the production and provision of maps for the armed forces of the Soviet Union.

The maps presented on this page have also been produced by the Military Geography Administration. The present maps belong to the series of Topographic maps of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the USSR (Топографические карты Генерального штаба Воружённых сил СССР, translit. : Topografičeskie karty generel'nogo štaba vooružennykh sil SSSR). These cover the entire territory of the former USSR at scales of 1:1 000 000 to 1:25 000. Selected territories were also covered at the scale of 1:10 000. In the USSR, on the other hand, it was often only possible to purchase maps that had been elaborately distorted, so that they are not suitable for displaying the Curonian Spit. The General Staff maps are thus the preferred resource as a basis for the representation of the situation in the period between 1945 and 1991, since they are not distorted and are among the best records of Soviet cartography.

However, to this day it is difficult to obtain these general staff maps, since the undistorted and small-scale maps were subject to a high degree of secrecy in the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, there are many map collections today that hold map series, atlases, and individual maps from the former USSR. However, in many cases these collections have not been archivally processed or digitized. Thus, it is difficult to find specific maps of certain regions or periods. This observation also applies to the map sheets used here.

The map, taken from the 1960s General Staff map series, could be made available only for the northern (Lithuanian) part of the Curonian Spit. However, even this part is not completely covered here. Hence, a map sheet covering the eastern shore of the Curonian Spit opposite Klaipėda is not available. It was therefore supplemented by a map from the 1980 series of the General Staff Map in order to obtain an overall picture. The southern part, due to the lack of maps, was supplemented with a scientific but inaccurate natural land survey from the University of Kaliningrad. This shows a much simplified coastline and focuses on selected landscape features of the Curonian Spit, especially the landscape form. It omits a lot of other information, such as terrain elevation or other landscape features, which are included in the General Staff map.

The analysis of the map regarding the previous state of the Curonian Spit is only possible to a limited extent due to the different way of cartographic recording. It is only possible to compare the rough distribution of the individual landscape components - and that with caution. The coastline of the Curonian Spit does not show any major deviations, and the location and basic structure of the settlements have not changed significantly compared to the pre-war period.

Works Cited

Davies, John; Kent, Alexander James; Risen, James (2017): The red atlas. How the Soviet Union secretly mapped the world. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press. 

Schittenhelm, Roland (2011): Die topographische Kartographie in der Sowjetunion und in Russland. In: j. Cartogr. Geogr. inf. 61 (6), pp. 313–320.

Torge, Wolfgang (2009): Geschichte der Geodäsie in Deutschland. 2., durchges. und korrigierte Aufl. Berlin: de Gruyter.