Rare top-secret map of Montebourg, France, prepared for the Normandy Campaign

Co. B, 660th Engrs. USA, FRANCE 1:25,000 [:] DEFENCES [:] MONTEBOURG [:] Sheet No. 31/20 S.E. [:] [:] Information as at May 44. [England,] May 1944.
Map printed in colors, 15 ½”h x 23 ¼”w at neat line plus title, legends and margins on a 20 ¾”h x 28”w sheet. Legend printed in blue on verso. Old folds; wrinkling, soiling and discoloration; small areas of loss from abrasion; a few areas of adhesive tape residue; and loss to upper-right corner, not touching image area.

A very rare “Top Secret” map depicting the environs of Montebourg an Quineville on the strategic Cotentin Peninsula, issued in May 1944, just weeks before the D-Day landings. This copy with physical evidence suggesting that it received hard use in the field.

This remarkable map depicts a roughly six-by-nine-mile area around Montebourg, a village on the east side of the Cotentin Peninsula and just 17 miles from Cherbourg, and Quineville, a village on the eastern coast perhaps 10 miles north of Utah Beach. After landing at Utah on June 6th, the U.S. VII Corps was charged with rolling up German forces defending the peninsula and capturing Cherbourg and its port facilities. These were seen as essential to landing the huge volumes of Allied men and materiel necessary to support an advance into France. The VII Corps’ advance was anchored on the right by the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, units of which captured Quineville on June 14th and Montebourg on the 19th. The German forces defending Cherbourg’s harbor and arsenal surrendered on June 29th.

The map offered here gave planners and troops on the ground a staggering amount of information about the natural and man-made landscape of Montebourg, Quineville and their surroundings. There are of course roads, towns and villages, and contour lines at 10-meter intervals (Though a note on a companion map of nearby Quettehou warns that “road classification is based on Michelin and other information… and its reliability is uncertain”, while the contours are to be “accepted with caution”.) But—and this is just a sampling—there are also distinct symbols for hedges, walls and fences; woods, orchards, and brushwood; vineyards, cemeteries and wells; and windmills and windpumps.

Regarding military installations, the legend on the back of the map identifies perhaps a hundred distinct symbols, including for example fixed coast guns, fixed coast howitzers, mobile guns or gun-howitzers, mobile howitzers, antiaircraft guns, and anti-tank guns; not to mention machine guns (light/medium, open/in turrets), mortars, anti-aircraft machine guns, and flamethrowers. Symbols in blue indicate “confirmed” intelligence, while those in purple are “unconfirmed”. For reasons I don’t understand, the military information is relatively dense along the beaches and the coastal highway, but much sparser inland, even along the routes leading more directly to Cherbourg.

The map bears the imprint of Company B of the 660th Engineers, a photo-mapping unit of 300 men plus officers that arrived in England in September 1942 and was based in a London suburb. Its first, daunting assignment was to prepare maps of northwestern France at a scale of 1:25,000. This essentially meant “producing a completely new map”, as the only existing maps were at a scale of 1:50,000 and based on French sources prepared during the Napoleonic era! (Locke, p. 272) For lack of another option, Company B mapmakers settled on a compromise, building their maps from photographic data derived from hundreds (thousands?) of RAF reconnaissance flights, using as control points those established during the Napoleonic triangulation. (Locke, p. 274)

In all, a rare and richly-informative artifact from one of the most significant and dramatic campaigns in American military history.

Not in OCLC or Library Hub Discover. For background on Company B of the 660th Engineers, see Maj. J. W. Locke, “Military Photogrammetry in Action in Europe” in Photogrammetric Engineering, vol. XII no. 3 (Sept. 1946), pp. 272-81 (accessed online Dec. 2023).