hidden europe 59

Admiralty Handbooks: Baedekers with a Twist

by hidden europe


Some of the best academic minds in Britain spent the Second World War writing guidebooks about far-flung places. We explore a clandestine area of professional geographical endeavour which resulted in the Naval Intelligence Guides – often called the Admiralty Handbooks.

The Second World War saw in Britain a systematic programme to produce guidebooks designed for use by the military. Travel writers who hoped such endeavours might provide a steady source of income were disappointed, for the entire project was entrusted to academic geographers. The School of Geography at the University of Oxford took the lead in a publishing programme which relied not merely upon Oxford-based staff but also upon their counterparts (or rivals) from the University of Cambridge.

The sponsoring agency was the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, and the resulting series of 31 titles, running in total to 58 volumes published in just five years, are often referred to as the Admiralty Handbooks.

From Iceland to Albania, from Corsica to Norway, some of Britain’s leading geographers produced vast quantities of texts and maps in record time. Even diminutive Luxembourg had its own guide, a volume of 355 pages. The geographical net was cast wide with books covering the Asia-Pacific region and many parts of Africa. The final book in the series, not published until 1946, was a 659-page treatise on Western Arabia and the Red Sea.

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