Maps and Mapping


INTRODUCTION

This page has been split (February 2018) into two parts: MAPS is about the maps in Popski's book, while DIGITAL MAPPING has been added to cover our research for "Operation Lambert", explained below.


MAPS

These are the full-colour fold-out maps from the original hardback edition of Popski's best-selling book "Private Army". Later editions had only black and white versions or no maps at all. They are very useful in understanding the huge distances involved in behind-the-lines operations during the North African Campaign, and for seeing where PPA were in relation to other units and actions, in North Africa and Italy.

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Private Army (Jonathan Cape 1950)

The maps are based upon material by H. A. Bennett, F.R.G.S. Not many people realise that Popski was also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, from 1937 until his death in 1951.

Map of the Western Desert showing PPA's route from Cairo in Egypt to Tozeur in Tunisia
Map of the Western Desert showing PPA's route from Cairo in Egypt to Tozeur in Tunisia (Popski Collection, foPPA Archives)
 
Map of the Jebel El Akhdar showing Popski's activities with his Libyan Arab Force Commando
Map of the Jebel El Akhdar showing Popski's activities with his Libyan Arab Force Commando (Popski Collection, foPPA Archives)
 
Map of Southern Tunisia showing the LRDG and PPA
Map of Southern Tunisia showing the LRDG and PPA "Great Hike" walking route out of the desert (Popski Collection, foPPA Archives)
 
Map of Italy and Southern Austria showing many of the locations where PPA were in action
Map of Italy and Southern Austria showing many of the locations where PPA were in action[1] (Popski Collection, foPPA Archives)

 

DIGITAL MAPPING – OPERATION LAMBERT

Many years ago we acquired from The National Archives at Kew (TNA) a complete copy of the PPA War Diary. This was then transcribed into our "PopskiBase" database so that it could be digitally searched. In comparing the WD entries with the Popski books though, it has often been difficult to reconcile the "official" placenames with the locations described in those books. All of them are also a bit vague about dates, making it difficult again to line everything up with the WD.

In addition to this the WD includes military grid references (which can be accurate to a few metres), but these are very difficult to map onto internet digital maps. This is because the digital maps are generally based on a "Mercator Projection" of Earth's sphere (3D) onto a flat piece of paper (2D), with accurate Latitude and Longitude grids, whereas military maps use a "Lambert Conformal Conical Projection", enabling an accurate square-kilometer grid to be overprinted. There is a useful French website for converting military grid references to conventional LatLongs (Latitude and Longitude references), but only one at a time, which is very tedious. The trigonometry involved in the calculations is horrendous (don't ask), and in the past we have sporadically looked for an automated system that would get us digitally from the WD data into an online Lambert map, using a "Geographical Information System" (GIS). FoPPA's Secretary was for a while the "Tate Geocoder" – mapping the Tate Gallery's artworks onto a customised GoogleMaps system, and there first discovered the KML geocoding markup language.

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North Italy Military Zone Grid (above)

South Italy Military Zone Grid (right)

 

This project has languished for years (as with many foPPA research initiatives), but in the last few months of 2017 got a significant boost. We have now called this "Operation Lambert". Open Source (i.e. free) GISs have moved on immensely in their ease-of-use and sophistication, and we have found a GIS professional who is also a bit of a military historian, having previously been a tank commander. Our chap quickly demonstrated, as a proof-of-concept, how he could use QGIS to map between Mercator and Lambert Projections, and overlay the proper military grid...

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A Lambert military grid on a Mercator map in QGIS The North Italy Zone Grid on a Lambert map in QGIS

The next stage is to set up an online (hosted) Lambert digital map covering the North African and Italian Campaigns, with all the PPA War Diary grid references "pinned" on it, and then perhaps build up layers to show PPA actions, bases and routes, so we can all easily, visually, follow PPA's adventures, book in hand. We are indebted to Dr Barbara Bond, ex-MoD military mapping expert and author of a book all about MI9's silk escape maps. Dr Bond is helping us to find experienced, like-minded people for contributions to our Operation Lambert.

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Dr Barbara Bond "Great Escapes – the story of MI9's escape maps"
(Times Books, 2015)


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Copyright © 2018 foPPA
2 March 2018

Further information
Notes: 
  1. ^ The Italy map shows all of the Allied landings, not just PPA's amphibious operations. This seems to have given rise to the notion, repeated in several publications, that PPA took part in the Anzio landings. It is true that PPA were initially included in the planning by AFHQ at Caserta, but this was cancelled at the last minute, much to the frustration of Popski and his men. PPA were not infrequently underutilised in Italy, due to the political infighting that took place in AFHQ's complex command structure with its associated and competing Allied and Commonwealth objectives and sensitivities.