[Soviet General Staff Maps] - Red Sea 1:200,000. General'nyí shtab. (Red Sea 1:200,000).

[Moscow, General Staff], 1975-1991.

A total of 86 topographic maps, colour-printed, ca. 58 x 45 cm. Constant ratio linear horizontal scale. In Russian (Cyrillic).


Nearly all of the Soviet Union's 1:200,000 General Staff map quadrangles showing the Red Sea coast of the Arabian Peninsula: from the Russian series of maps produced during the Cold War, based on high-quality satellite imagery, but usually also ground reconnaissance. While there are a few lacunae in Yemen near the south-western tip of the Peninsula, most of the area is well-covered. Assembled continuously, the quadrangles would form an enormous map spanning ca. 8 x 4 metres.

Products of a massive, clandestine cartographic project begun under Stalin and ultimately encompassing the entire globe, the Soviet General Staff maps are today noted for their extreme precision. Indeed, even in post-Soviet times they provide the most reliable mapping for many remoter parts of the world: "Soviet-era military maps were so good that when the United States first invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, American pilots relied on old Russian maps of Afghanistan. For almost a month after the United States began a bombing campaign to help oust the Taliban government, American pilots were guided by Russian maps dating back to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s" (Davies/Kent, p. xi).

Although the details of the cartographic programme evolved over the decades, its overall system and plan remained remarkably constant. "The basic quadrangle is the 1:1,000,000 sheet spanning 4° latitude by 6° longitude [...] Each 1:1,000,000 sheet is [...] subdivided into 36 1:200,000 sheets in a six-by-six grid [... They] normally contain on the reverse side a detailed written description of the districts (towns, communications, topography, geology, hydrology, vegetation, and climate) together with a geological sketch map" (ibid., p. 19-21). "Printing such large-format plans in so many colors with near-perfect print registration itself testifies to the skill of the printers in the military map printing factories across the former Soviet Union. The quality of printing reflects the level of training and the reliability of humidity-control equipment and the electricity supply at the time" (ibid., p. 6f.).

The 1:200,000-scale maps are specifically labelled "For Offical Use". Indeed, all General Staff maps de facto constituted closely guarded military material, none of which became available in the West before the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

Light traces of folds, occasional wrinkles and a few odd edge flaws, but altogether in excellent condition.

Cf. J. Davies / A. J. Kent, The Red Atlas (Chicago/London, 2017).