Mapping the Campaign

From Hugh McNair

I have for some time been impressed by the achievements of Von Lettow-Vorbeck and his schutztruppen in East Africa during the Great War.  It is an extraordinary tale of perseverance, military skill and leadership.  It is also confusing.  It is hard to follow and understand how Von Lettow-Vorbeck commanded and organised his disparate force, brought them together with substantial hostile forces pursing and attempting to surround them, yet time and again evaded those forces in the course of an epic journey.

I have, therefore, an aspiration to produce a comprehensive and interactive digital map and moving display that can be used to portray the whole campaign.  Such a map would have the following features:

  • It can be viewed at any scale, giving an overview of the whole campaign, but zoomable to reveal the detail of particular battles.
  • It moves over time.  It should be capable of being set to play automatically and to be manually shifted to find and display particular dates and periods.
  • It is interrogable.  Selecting units/formations on the map exposes details of the composition of that unit/formation.

The end result would be a software programme and data package that could be used on a tablet/laptop and used to illustrate key features of the campaign and their context.  I see it being usable in the field as well as indoors, and of value to tour operators, tourists and researchers.  It should be capable of producing paper maps, as well as being viewable on a screen, directly or projected.

The required elements of the project are:

  • Mapping.  The map would consist of a base topographic map showing the geographic features and places, holding both modern and early 20thC names.  Overlaid on this would be layers of two types: one layer would deal with time (one per day ideally), the other with detail.  The time layer would be manually navigable or capable of being played automatically at user-selected speeds.  The detail layer would allow greater detail of units to be visible as users zoom in, with only large independent units/formations visible at the smallest scales, but sub-units identified at larger scales.
  • A relational database.  I envisage a data base with two main elements:  One side that maps the organisation of both Allied and German forces against dates.  This would include details of individuals, definitely of leaders, but possibly could include broader nominal rolls where available.  The other side of the database would link map entries to units/formations and dates. This needs designing and data input.
  • Data.  This needs extensive historical research to plot the location and command relationships of individuals, units and formations over time.

I presently am equipped with Map Maker Pro and Global Mapper, and am quite capable of building the base topographic map.  However, neither have a built in system to play successive maps as a moving display.  While one could create images of maps, which can be brought into a moving display, this would lose the interrogability and zoomability of a digital map.  Does anyone know of some software that might be suitable for this?  Can ARC GIS do it?  Once a technological solution is found, then a substantial amount of work will be required to physically plot the action.  Is there anyone who might be prepared to help in this task?

Does anyone have the expertise to help design and build a suitable database?  And to help populate it with data?

Is there anyone who is well placed and willing to research and produce the data for input into the map and database?

Does anyone have any other bright suggestions on how this project might best be taken forward?

3 thoughts on “Mapping the Campaign”

  1. Hugh
    This is a most useful idea. Alas, I do not have the expertise you require, but I did want to communicate my support for the project. The campaign was very much one that was constantly on the move, and mapping these dynamics will most certainly assist all of those interested in understanding exactly what happened, and when.
    Best wishes,

  2. It is a pity that I cannot get any sense from this site —- can someone please help me/ guide me — John Hill whose grandfather (Walter Fryer) joined South African Irish regt very soon after declaration of war in Sept 1914 (captain in this regt) and fought in S.W. Africa (Namibia), then German E.A., and ended up serving in administration of Tanganyika after peace was declared —- I still have one of his diaries — and the original of his invitation to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in 1915 in Swakopmund etc etc —- would someone please e-mail me —I would be very interested to hear more about this organisation — Thanks John Hill

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