1. Main map collections
The National Archives holds several very extensive accumulations of maps (including foreign maps) from the period of the First World War.
Many maps showing the progress of the war are in WO 153.
- These maps were used by the authors of the Official Histories of the War (available in The National Archives Library)
- They often have manuscript annotations
- Many were extracted from War Diaries
- Search Discovery, our catalogue, by place or by subject (eg Arras; Italy; trench)
Accumulations of maps for the following theatres of war are also available:
2. Maps among other records
3. Usage of maps on the Western Front
About 34 million maps were produced for the Western Front.
Maps were produced at various scales for different purposes
|Type||Scale||Miles per inch|
The artillery maps were used as a precise locational aid to pinpoint particular targets.
The trench maps 1:10,000 sheets were used by the infantry, along with 1:5,000 maps for patrols and raids at a local level.
'Secret Editions' (S) of trench maps showed not only German trenches and facilities but also those of the British.
Up to July 1918, German positions were shown in red and British in blue. From July 1918 onwards these colours were reversed.
Maps at scales of 1:80,000, 1:100,000 etc were also used.
4. Maps of the Western Front in The National Archives
More than 6,000 maps of the Western Front are in WO 297.
These trench maps are in two distinct sequences:
- Series I Geographical Section, General Staff maps, arranged by sheet number (WO 297/513-1661)
- Series II Named sheets, arranged by place name (WO 297/1662-2460)
Generally access to these maps involves identifying locations on map key sheets. A key sheet is available in the reading rooms at The National Archives and in Peter Chasseaud, Topography of Armageddon (Lewes, 1991). Once you have identified your key sheet enter the number into our catalogue in the form of 57C SW 3, as an example. Searches may not work without this specific spacing and the removal of full stops.
A leaflet giving further guidance is available in the reading rooms at The National Archives.
5. First World War maps available elsewhere
Other libraries and archives hold significant collections of trench maps and other First World War maps. These include:
Reproductions of trench maps in digital form include:
- Imperial War Museum Trench Map Archive (London, 2000) CD-ROM
- British Trench Map Atlas: The Western Front, 1914-18 (London, 2008) DVD-ROM
Facsimile reproductions of some trench maps have been published in paper form. A selection is available from The National Archives' bookshop.
Specific collections of photographs exist for the theatres of war in
Many other photographs exist scattered among the records. For more information see our guide on Photographs.
7. Further reading
A.A. Banks and A. Palmer, A Military Atlas of the First World War (London, 1975
Geraldine Beech: Military Maps of the Western Front in Ancestors, no 8, June/July 2002
P. Chausseaud, Trench Maps. A Collectors Guide. vol 1: British Regular Series. 1:10,000 Trench Maps (GSGS 3062) (Lewes, 1986)
Peter Chasseaud, Topography of Armageddon (Lewes, 1991)
Peter Chasseaud, Artillery's Astrologers (Lewes, 1999)
P. Doyle and M.R. Bennett, 'Military Geography : Terrain Evaluation and the British Western Front, 1914-1918', Geographical Journal 163, 1997, pp. 1-24
J.E. Edmonds, Military Operations in the Western Theatre of War 1914-18 (History of the Great War) (London, HMSO, 1922)
A.R. Hinks, 'German War Maps and Survey', Geographical Journal 53, 1919, pp. 30-44
W.B.R. King, 'Geological Work on the Western Front', Geographical Journal 54, 1919, pp. 201-221
Documentation about military surveying during the First World War is available on the Defence Surveyors' Association website.