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Markus Oehrli and Martin Rickenbacher:

German army map of Switzerland 1:25,000 – a secret map series from World War II

Cartographica Helvetica 26 (2002) 3–12


During World War II the Department of War Maps and Surveying was responsible for the war maps of the German Reich. Not only did this department publish topographic and thematic maps of the actual theaters of war at various scales, but also of neutral countries. The German war maps covering Switzerland were unknown up to this point and are documented in this article for the first time.

During the course of the war, the German Reich elaborated two map series at the 1:25,000 scale:

  • The special edition (Sonderausgabe) is a copy of the official Swiss map series of that time, the 'Siegfried Map', whereby the Swiss coordinate grid was replaced by the Gauss-Krüger grid, and the number of colors was reduced from three to two. A total of 171 sheets were published between September and December 1940.
  • The army map (Heereskarte) is a further development of the special edition. It is of great significance because of the partial revisions of the topographical contents which are based on German aerial photographs taken during the summer of 1943. In addition, the Gauss-Krüger grid was eliminated and replaced by the German army grid. Up to now it was possible to account for 186 sheets that were printed between August 1944 and March 1945.

Apart from a few differences, the sheet indices of these two German war map series have an amazing resemblance to the Swiss National Maps which were published only beginning in 1952. The German 1:25,000 war maps are therefore the first complete map series of Switzerland at this scale! Because of the revisions contained in the army map, this series gains the rank of an important contemporary topographical witness, which merges with the political context of the German strategy in World War II. The German war maps will have to be granted their rightful place in the history of cartography of 20th-century Switzerland.

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