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War Maps from the National Geographic


The National Geographic Society has a rich history of providing its members up-to-date information on the human condition.  This, unfortunately, includes war.  The Society’s cartography department is no exception to this effort, and its war maps date back almost to its beginning.  In December 1899, less than twelve years after its founding, the Society issued its first war map: “The Seat of War in Africa.”  It shows the region of southern Africa where the British were engaged in a series of wars – the Boer Wars against the Dutch settlers, and the Zulu Wars against the indigenous population.

Less than twenty years later, America was involved in its own war, World War I.  The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was sent to bolster the British and French troops along the Western Front in France and Belgium, and the National Geographic took its members there with one of the most detailed maps of the region ever published: “The Western Theater of War.”  Printed in May 1918, the map was designed to be cut and taped to show the entire Western Front to scale.

Then came the big war, World War II.  The cartography department was in high gear by then and the Society made good use of it.  The series of maps produced in the early and mid-forties were combined and referred to as “Maps for Victory.”  They were used extensively by our military, and by those of our allies.  I will not attempt to present all of them, just a select few.  In February and July of 1942, the Society issues a pair of maps entitled “Theater of War in the Pacific Ocean” and “Theater of War Europe, Africa and Western Asia” respectively.

Toward the end of the conflict, the cartography department issues another pair of maps zeroing in on the enemy strongholds.  In April 1944 the map of “Japan and Adjacent Regions of Asia and the Pacific Ocean” was published followed shortly, in July 1944 by the map of “Germany and Its Approaches.”  With these maps members could follow the news all the way to victory.

Then came the Korean War.  The Society did not print a war map for this “police action” and members had to rely on the most recent map of the area.  Fortunately, the cartography department had issued a map in December 1945, shortly after Japan’s surrender.  The map, entitled “Japan and Korea,” showed enough detail to follow the war, but Korea was only a small part of the map.

Fifty years after the Korean war ended the Society finally issued its war map in July 2003.  It is two-sided with an Atlas style map entitled "The Two Koreas" and an infographic entitled "The Forgotten War."

The next undeclared war was in the Sixties, the Vietnam War.  The Society printed not one but two map for this conflict.  In January 1965 it published the map of “Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Eastern Thailand” and in February 1967 it printed a larger, more detailed map of “Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.”

The next war map was issued in February 1991 for the First Gulf War.  It is a two-sided map showing the Middle East.  One side is an atlas-style map: “Middle East” and the other is an infographic map: “States in Turmoil, the Middle East.”  The infographic shows troop strengths and other military data for all the counties in the area.  50,000 copies of this map were provided to the armed forces of the U. S., much like they did during World War II.

Then came 9/11 and not one but two wars as a result.  First up, the Afghanistan War.  In the December 2001 issue of National Geographic, a two-sided map was issued.  One side is an atlas-style map of “Afghanistan and Pakistan” and the other side is a physical map/infographic entitled “Afghanistan, Land in Crisis.”

And in October 2002 the Society published a two-sided map for the Second Iraq War.  One side is an atlas-styled map entitled “Heart of the Middle East” and the other side is a physical map/infographic entitled “Middle East, Crossroads of Faith and Conflict.”

In April 2005, one-hundred forty years after the fact, the Society issued a retro war map entitled “Battles of the Civil War.” On the flip side is an infographic entitled “A Nation Transformed by Civil War.”

And finally, in June 2023, the Society issued a two-sided map for the war of our time, the Ukraine War.  The first side is an atlas-style map entitled “Ukraine – A Year of War: February 2022-February 2023” and the other side is a regional map of Europe entitled “NATO, Geopolitics, and the Fight to Fuel Europe” showing the politics involved in the war.


Tom Wilson

Views: 77

Replies to This Discussion

Many thanks for posting.Very interesting


Good job Tom! You got them all. There was one after the fact: "'The 2 Koreas / The Forgotten War" in July 2003. I would like to have seen the Ukraine map near when the war started, but at least they finally got it.

Harold W.

Thanks Harold, I just added it for you.

Yours in Collecting,




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