Soviet General Staff Map (1984-87)

For information on the broader history of the Soviet General Staff maps, see the page "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 However, the results of these efforts for the survey, which was carried out by the army, could not be published until about 20 years after his death in the form of an atlas at the scale of 1:1.5 million (European Russia), or 1:3.7 million (Asian Russia).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 of the Spit in the 1980s was created on the basis of map sheets from the General Staff Map series from that decade. Compared to the 1960s General Staff Map sheets, the sheets from the 1980s are more archivally accessible. Various websites and archives contain the map sheets in varying condition and resolution. This variety of sources is also reflected in the map's presentation, which appears very inconsistent. It has two causes in particular: On the one hand, map sheets with different scales were used, which was due to the immediate availability of the sheets. On the other hand, the different sheets were digitized in different quality and with different settings, resulting in a generally inconsistent image of the individual sheets.

Comparing the map with the previous map sheets from German times, no fundamental differences are initially noticeable. The Curonian Spit is defined by the same mosaic of forested areas, gray dunes and free dunes as before 1945. However, if one looks more closely, it is noticeable that the forested areas on the Curonian Spit are significantly more expanded and the areas with free sand have decreased. In addition, the traffic infrastructure in the form of a continuous spit road is clearly visible. A curious detail here is the course of the road north of Juodkrantė, where at one bay it looks as if the road runs directly through the Curonian Lagoon. Regarding the settlements, it is noticeable that the northern settlements are all referred to as "Neringa" (Неринга) and the Lithuanian names of the places are given only in parentheses below. This is the result of a municipal reform in which the places on the Curonian Spit were combined into one municipality in 1961. Just south of Nida, approximately in the middle of the Curonian Spit, the border between the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic is also indicated on this map.

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.