Military maps

The National Archives has important holdings of military maps and fortification plans. They illustrate military and naval battles and operations from Tudor times, through Trafalgar and Waterloo, to the D-Day landings and the Korean War.

Trench map of the first day of the Battle of the Somme WO 158/327
Detail from a trench map of the first day of the Battle of the Somme - Catalogue reference WO 158/327.
See this map in context in our First World War exhibition.

First World War

Large holdings of maps relate to the First World War, and these may be used in conjunction with other documents. Trench maps (in WO 297) show the opposing trench systems and enable you to identify places referred to in the British Army Unit War Diaries (in WO 95, some are digitised and available to download).

See the research guide Military maps of the First World War.

Second World War

The Bomb Census maps (HO 193) show where German bombs fell on the United Kingdom in the Second World War. See the research guides Bomb Census survey 1940-1945 and Military Maps of the Second World War .

Sea charts

Chart by Nelson (Survey of St John, Virgin Islands, 1784) - Catalogue reference MPI 1/95
Chart by Nelson (Survey of St John, Virgin Islands, 1784) - Catalogue reference MPI 1/95.
See this map in context in Nelson, Trafalgar and those who served.

The National Archives holds many charts, views and surveys made by naval officers (including Captains Grenvill Collins, Cook, Vancouver, Bligh and Nelson) and many plans of dockyards and naval defences. These date from a 14th century portolan chart of the Mediterranean, and show waters at home and overseas.

The National Archives is not a place of deposit for successive editions of published charts. The best place to look would be the British Library.

See the research guide Admiralty charts (maps)

Overseas

The National Archives holds many maps of places overseas. These include countries which have at one time been British colonies or protectorates, and also areas in which Britain has had a commercial or strategic interest or where there have been diplomatic or military concerns.

Maps record exploration, colonisation and the practicalities of running a global empire.

Empire Marketing Board poster showing trade routes, 1927- Catalogue reference CO 956/537 A
Empire Marketing Board poster showing trade routes, 1927 - Catalogue reference CO 956/537 A.
The National Archives' image library has many more images of maps, available to browse and buy.

On a smaller scale, plans depict the sites and buildings that supported British expansion overseas, such as fortifications, barracks, hospitals, consulates and governors’ residences.

See the research guide Maps and plans of lands abroad.

The following catalogues have been published on overseas mapping in the series Maps and Plans in the Public Record Office:

  • Volume 2. America and West Indies, ed P A Penfold (HMSO, London, 1974)
  • Volume 3. Africa, ed P A Penfold (HMSO, London, 1982)
  • Volume 4. Europe and Turkey, ed G L Beech (Stationery Office, London, 1998)

International boundaries

The National Archives holds maps, surveys and other records relating to international boundaries, principally for areas where British colonial interests were involved. Increasingly the boundaries between British colonies and neighbouring colonies of other European nations were defined by treaty and drawn on a map to be preserved among the archives of the colonial powers concerned.

The National Archives also holds maps and other records of boundary commissions for boundaries in which Britain had no direct territorial interest, where a British commissioner was invited to act as a neutral party. See the research guide International boundaries in maps, surveys and other records.