Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's Off To WordPress We Go!

Folks, it's time for a change.

For almost five years I've been running this blog, and a sister blog, using Google's free blogging service. But for the past year or so I felt it was time for an upgrade. I'm not complaining about Google's offering - it has served my needs well and faithfully for many years and I certainly can't gripe about the price. However, 'free' means limited, and in this case limited functionality and options.  I felt I needed more 'elbow room' to expand how I share out information and also to host my blog under a registered domain name.

So starting today this blog will go static (but it won't go away - yet) and my blogging activities will continue on my new site,

Over time much of the important content on this site will migrate over to my new site, but for now I'm just focused on building out the format and functionality. So hop on over, have a look around and let me know what you think!



Saturday, April 5, 2014

William J. Huson's Brunton Pocket Transit History Archives

For a number of years the single best web resource for information about pocket transits was William J. Hudson's excellent website 'Brunton Pocket Transits'.  Mr. Hudson's site was a wonderful compilation of pocket transit history, links and serial number data.  I've provided links to his site a number of times in this blog and I've pointed any number of readers to the site for specific information about pocket transits they have in their possession.

Unfortunately, sometime in late 2012 Mr. Hudson's site went off-line.  I didn't realize it until several readers contacted me to ask if I knew what happened to the site.  After some feverish Google searches I found a few archived pages but was forced to admit that Mr. Hudson's site had gone dark and a wonderful resource was lost forever.  But this is the world-wide web, and nothing is really lost forever!  A few weeks ago one of my readers, Robert Leavesely, was able to find a full backup of the 'Brunton Pocket Transits' web pages on the internet archive site, 'Wayback Machine'.  Thanks Robert!

In the archived pages I found an email for Mr. Hudson and was able to make contact with him.  It appears he's moved on to other interests and he graciously gave me full permission to use any of the data from his site.

So, in addition to providing the link found by Robert I decided to do two things.  First, I've converted the archived web pages to Adobe PDF format and they are available for viewing and download from this link.  The folder contents are a full copy of the archived material, and it appears everything from the original site is included.  Some of the formatting is a little wonky due to the HTML-to-PDF conversion, but the info is all there.

Next, there's been a lot of interest among my readers about determining the age of their particular pocket transit based on Mr. Husdon's serial number listings.  I realized that, more than anything else on the site, the serial number data should really be maintained and expanded.  What I've done is moved all of the serial number data into a spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet (Google Docs) is available for download from this link.  Additionally, I've made the spreadsheet available as a web view for those that just want to look at the data. Click the 'Master List' link to view the serial number data:

This spreadsheet view is a live link to the original spreadsheet, so as I add data to the spreadsheet or modify the layout the changes will be reflected in this web view.

Which brings us to the next step.  If you have a pocket transit that you'd like to see added to this archive please send me the information!  The goal is to develop a detailed listing of manufacturers, dates of manufacture and individual instrument characteristics as a resource for owners, collectors and buyers.  You can forward your information to me at brian.haren (at)


Sunday, March 16, 2014

What's Happening in 1926?

Why, it's the Sesquicentennial International Exposition!

The exposition was a bust, going bankrupt in 1927.  But at least one Federal government agency got in on the celebration.  The General Land Office of the Department of the Interior issued this neat postcard:

I'm guessing the General Land Office had an exhibit in the 'U.S. Gov - Transportation, Machinery, Mines & Metallurgy' exhibit space near the south side of the exposition.

What was the General Land Office (GLO) and what did it do?  The GLO was formed in 1812 with the mission of selling federal lands to private individuals.  But the GLO was more than just a sales agency.  They first had to survey and subdivide federal lands into logical and easy to identify and register parcels.  Using the township & range system first used in 1785 by Thomas Hutchins to lay out the Seven Ranges area of eastern Ohio, the GLO conducted the largest land survey program in history, surveying, registering and selling billions of acres of public land stretching from the Ohio border to Washington State.

In 1946 the GLO was merged with other Department of the Interior agencies to for the Bureau of Land Management.  The BLM still conducts extensive land surveys, but certainly nothing like what took place during the heyday of the General Land Office in the late 1800s.

By the way, the popular saying 'land office business', which that indicates a flurry of business activity ("He's doing a land-office business!"), popped up in the mid-1800s and refers to the often frenetic activity that surrounded local GLO offices as settlers scrambled to register and pay for their land claims.  Selling land was a booming business in the 1800's, and nobody sold more of it than the GLO!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

March 1st, 1861

On this day in 1861...

Who was David E. Twiggs?  Twiggs was a son of Georgia, born in Richmond County, and a veteran of the Mexican-American War, the Seminole War and the Blackhawk War.  In 1861 he was serving as a brevet Major General in the US Army and in command of the Army's Department of Texas.  On 18 February 1861 Twiggs surrendered his entire command to the Confederates.  This included all military stores kept in the sanctuary of the old mission church in San Antonio - the Alamo.

A talented topographer and lieutenant colonel named Robert E. Lee happened to be part of Twigg's command and was in San Antonio at the time of the surrender.  He is reported to have said, "So it has come so quickly to this?"

In fairness it looks like Twiggs repeatedly asked for guidance from the War Department as to what actions he should take if Texas seceded from the Union, but got no reply from his superior, General Winfield Scott.  Key Federal strongpoints and depots in Texas had been besieged by Confederate militias and Twigg's forces were badly out-numbered at all locations.  General Twiggs apparently felt he had little choice but to negotiate an honorable surrender  He insisted on fair terms for the Union soldiers in his command.  They were afforded safe passage out of Texas and were allowed to retain their personal arms and unit colors.

Twiggs, a long serving soldier of great distinction, was apparently devastated by his dismissal from the US Army.  It's not hard to imagine the shame he felt at seeing the notice of his dismissal published in the War Department's General Orders for March 1st, 1861.  Although over 70 at the time, he accepted a commission as a major general in the Confederate Army.  But his military career was effectively over.  He died in Augusta, Georgia in the summer of 1862.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Survey Problem

Or maybe not.  Here's an interesting postcard I recently picked up -

It's unused, so there's no postmark on the back that I can use to nail down the date, but we can glean a few clues from the photo itself.  First, quite obviously it's a WWII-era photo.  Probably early WWII because the rifles at stack arms are the M1903 Springfield.  Since Camp Roberts opened in March, 1941 and the US Army had effectively replaced the venerable '03 Springfield with the new M1 Garand by early 1942 I'll date this photo to mid-to-late 1941.

Next, I don't think these Soldiers are 'surveying'.  Since Camp Roberts was primarily an Infantry and Artillery training center my guess is that these are soldiers taking a class in Field Artillery plotting using plane tables.  Plane tables were a common item in Field Artillery battery TOEs, intended to be used as a field expedient plotting table.  I have one in my collection with the case stenciled 'HQ FDC' - Headquarters Fire Direction Center.  I have no idea which headquarters or which fire direction center, but clearly it was a piece of Field Artillery equipment (and identical to the plane tables used by Engineer survey units).  Another clue that this is a Field Artillery class is the use of large artillery plotting protractors.  You can just make them out on the plane tables in the foreground - large semi-circular protractors with a rotating plotting ruler mounted at the center.  Plus, there are no alidades visible, a key piece of equipment for any survey plane table work.

Yup, these are Field Artillery soldiers learning how to plot artillery fire.  But I will forgive the publisher's gaffe because it's still a neat picture of Army training in early WWII. The stacked rifles, the ammunition belts with canteens hanging from the tree, the Soldiers working the problems at the plotting boards while their classmates sit behind them studying their manuals.  I love how the plane tables are arrayed in an arc to best utilize the shade from the tree.  Looking at aerial photos of Camp Roberts on Google I'm guessing these guys found one of the very few shade trees available in this part of California.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Send Out The Map Makers!

It's 1908.  The Regimental Commander says "Hitch up the mules, we're going on maneuvers!"

The Adjutant asks "Where, sir?"

The Commander points off to the horizon, "Why, out there of course!"

The Adjutant turns to the Regimental Engineer and asks, "Do we have any maps of 'out there'?"

The Engineer says, "No, but we soon will!"

The Engineer turns to his assistant and says, "Send out the map makers!"

And so it was!

GP Medium tent, duckboard flooring, folding cots, trenches to divert the rainwater and mud everywhere.
Looks a lot like the 1st Cav Warfighter, Fort Hood, 1997.

If these guys are west of Yadkin Road without TA-50 there'll be hell to pay!
(Hat tip to old Fort Bragg hands.)

"Are you making fun of our big stick?"

I can't say for sure where these photos were taken.  Two of the cards were postmarked at Fort Leavenworth so it's possible the photos document classes taught as part of the Army Service Schools at Fort Leavenworth.  The Engineer portion of these courses included heavy emphasis on field survey and sketching.  The photographer, Waldon Fawcett, did a lot of photography for the US government right after the turn of the 20th century.  The Library of Congress has a number of his photos available online.  The fellow certainly was prolific - he seems to have captured a lot of governmental agencies at work during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, including Teddy himself.  It is possible that Fawcett was contracted to document the activities of the Fort Leavenworth schools and made postcards from some of the photos.

Someone was sweet on Miss Anna Williams.  Two of the cards were addressed to her.  Her sweetheart must have decided that sending her pictures of muddy soldiers holding big sticks was the perfect way to win her heart.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Origins of Army Map Reading - 1938

It's 1938 and the world is about to erupt in flames.

Having taken all they want in China, the Japanese are making plans to move into Southeast Asia and Indochina in order to secure the raw materials - mainly oil - that their military and civilian economy so desperately needs.  America still supplies much of Japan's raw material, particularly oil and steel, but the American public has turned against Japan, appalled at its conduct in places like Nanking.  The relationship is getting shaky.

Adolf Hitler rules much of western Europe and his appetite is growing.  He's reoccupied the Rhineland, annexed Austria and the Czech Sudetenland and he's now making noises about Danzig and a Polish corridor.  France and England are keeping a nervous watch.  War preparations are underway but each party is hoping negotiations will settle things down.  The classic French offensive spirit so frequently displayed during WWI has been flushed from the psyche of the government and military.  France sets its faith in its defensive strength as demonstrated by the Maginot Line.  A few isolated voices within the French Army, such as a young colonel named Charles DeGaulle, cry 'attack!' but to no avail.  In England there is a strong undercurrent of pro-fascist sentiment among the upper class.  Hitler may be a crude chap, but at least he knows how to knock heads together and get things done.  In the salons of London there's a lot of admiration for how the Nazis have restored order, fixed their economy, eliminated labor problems and unified the German people.  Only Winston Churchill, still in political exile, isn't fooled.  He knows Hitler can't be trusted.  Events are about to prove him right.

In the United States the President, his senior military staff and a minority of political and business leaders are increasingly concerned.  America can look out from both shores and see growing threats.  Roosevelt still hopes America can avoid war wherever it starts.  He also knows that after two decades of neglect both the Army and Navy are in sorry shape and if war does come the nation will be unprepared.  The Army Chief of Staff General Malin Craig and his new deputy, the fast rising Brigadier General George C. Marshall, are convinced war is coming.  Marshall can feel it in his bones.  His experience tells him that the US will have at least a peripheral role in events, but more likely will end up leading the effort if France collapses and England finds herself under siege.  If France and England both collapse he knows America will be western civilization's only hope.  Marshall also knows his Army is not ready for war.  Too few Soldiers, too little equipment, too little training and worst of all, not enough funding. Congress as a group still has its isolationist head buried in the sand.  Most view expanding the Army and the Navy as bellicose actions that will just invite trouble.  Marshall knows we don't need to invite trouble - it is already headed our way.

Still, the Army does what it can with what it has.  Much of the activity in the Army that takes place in the late 1930s right through 1941 can be categorized as 'laying the groundwork'.  Under the steady hands of both Malin Craig and then his hand picked successor Marshall the Army is reinventing itself.  It casts off almost a century of old doctrine and force structure and emerges as a more agile, adaptable fighting force that emphasizes speed, firepower and flexibility.  By leveraging modern advances in mechanization, radio communications and weaponry the US Army will step onto the battlefield in North Africa in 1942 as a lethal fighting force and in less than two years will be ready to take on the mighty German Wehrmacht on its home turf.

Part of this 'laying the groundwork' involves revamping virtually all the training the common Soldier will receive.  General Marshall has great faith in the American fighting man; he knows that the average American youth had the smarts, the initiative and the aggressive spirit necessary to defeat any enemy. He just has to be properly trained. The Army launches on a program of training development that dramatically changes how most topics are presented. The emphasis is on fundamentals and simplification. The Army is developing the new methods necessary to quickly and effectively train up millions of draftees and in less than a year launch them across the oceans ready to fight.  Everything from close order drill to aircraft maintenance gets a revamp.

One of the many topics that gets a dramatic make-over is map reading.  Prior to 1938 map reading and land navigation were viewed as highly technical topics that were best left to officers or exceptionally bright non-commissioned officers.  Surely the average enlisted man was too dull to grasp the complex concepts of magnetic declination, interpreting landforms from contour lines, plotting coordinates and determining scale.  Best to leave these tasks to the better educated officer class.  But the new Army emerging in 1938 is much different.  Newly minted small unit leaders - all the way down to the squad leader level - are entrusted with much greater responsibility and freedom of action.  In the newly mobile, hard hitting modern Army even the lowly Corporal will have the authority to plan operations, call in supporting fires, lead reconnaissance teams and conduct movements to contact. This means that every common Soldier must be taught the map reading skills necessary to get the job done right.

The problem is, the Army has no standardized map reading and land navigation texts.  Prior to 1938 there are no standard Army publications for the common Soldier that deals specifically with these two subjects.  Yes the Army teaches map reading, but the techniques are usually covered in adopted civilian texts, as school publications and lecture notes, or rolled up into more complex topics like field sketching, surveying and reconnaissance.  Map reading and land navigation are considered 'included' tasks, not separate skills.  One of the key Engineer publications of the inter-war years, the 'Engineer Field Manual, Parts I - VII' (1917), covers the process of map reading in a single paragraph:

"Map reading is essentially the reverse of map making. In the latter process the ground is measured and studied with a view of forming a mental picture of how a  map of it will look.  In the former - map reading - a map is measured and studied for the purpose of forming a mental purpose of how the ground itself looks.  All rules and principles heretofore stated as to the relations between ground and map are to be used in studying the relations of map to ground."

That's it.  That's all an experienced and educated Engineer officer needs to know.

Starting in the early 1900's and carrying on right up to just before WWI a number of private publications appear that deal specifically with military map reading, land navigation and field sketching.  In this period field sketching is considered as important as map reading, and for good reason - military maps as we think of them do not yet exist and a unit has to quite literally map its own way to battle.  Titles such as 'Military Map Reading; Field, Outpost and Road Sketching' (1908) by Major William Beach, 'Elements of Military Sketching and Map Reading' (1917) by Captain John Barnes and 'Military Map Reading' (1909) by Captain C.O. Sherrill seem to have filled a recognized need for a dedicated map reading manual.  In fact, Sherrill's book was adopted by the Army Service Schools at Fort Leavenworth as a standard instructional text. I'm sure copies of these books found their way into the haversacks of hundreds of Regular Army, National Guard and state militia officers.

Between the wars the Infantry School at Fort Benning concludes that map reading is an important skill that needs to be simplified and standardized for presentation to the common Soldier.  In 1934 they publish a map reading pamphlet as part of the Infantry extension course that presents map reading with a level of simplicity and clarity not seen in other map reading texts.  This pamphlet is perhaps as close to a standard map reading manual as the Army develops prior to 1938.

But still, it's just an Infantry School text and it's not Army doctrine.

By 1937 the Army realizes it needs to get serious about map reading as a skill for the common Soldier. The impetus comes from the Infantry School, which is the catalyst for much of the change we see in the Army at this time.  The Infantry School realizes a large draftee Army will need standardized map reading and land navigation skills, a standard magnetic compass and standardized maps against which these skills can be taught and implemented.  Even more important, the entire Army operational framework will be built on these skills.

Maps are the fundamental tool for all Army operations.  The success of operations such as plotting friendly locations, calculating movement, calling for fire support, planning river crossing operations, siting field hospitals, locating airfields, establishing unit boundaries, placing communication nodes, reporting enemy locations, etc. all depend on standardized maps and map reading procedures. When a Private in an observation post spots an enemy column approaching he picks up his radio and reports the activity to his platoon leader.  As the two of them discuss coordinates, direction of movement, road intersections and fields of fire they both need to be looking at the same map and speaking the same map reading language.  So it is all the way up the Army organizational structure.

But the Army still considers map reading an Engineer skill.  The Infantry School may have written a crackerjack manual for its own use, but the job of writing a manual for the entire Army falls to the Engineer School.  In 1937 they get the job and the first dedicated Army publication that deals with map reading is issued in April 1938.  It is titled 'Basic Field Manual, Volume 1, Field Service Pocket Book, Chapter 5, Map and Aerial Photograph Reading'.

As an initial take on the topic this manual is actually pretty good. Its biggest problem is that it's an Engineer manual, and the last thing Engineers like to do is simplify things. It incorporates some of the principles and methods laid out in the 1934 Infantry School special text, but in too many cases adds an unnecessary layer of Engineer re-interpretation.  It also includes a number of topics that don't belong in a basic field manual, like map supply authorizations and the technical characteristics of various aerial cameras.  Some sections read like they were written by a Victorian novelist:

"Accuracy of maps. - Standard maps are prepared with the objective of obtaining no errors which are appreciable at the scale of the maps..."

"Local attraction. - Presence of iron and electric fields of magnetism affect a compass and great care should be taken not to approach them within a distance which will cause the compass needle to deviate while making an observation."

"Measurement of an azimuth with the prismatic compass in daylight. - ...In case the glass cover casing is broken, a horsehair or thread, to serve as a substitute for the etched line, may be passed through the holes drilled for that purpose."

"To locate on a map a distant or inaccessible object (intersection). - ...At each occupied position a straightedge is placed against the pin in the corresponding position on the oriented map; the object C on the terrain whose position is sought is sighted along the straightedge and a direction line drawn thereto."

In this manual we see reflections of the Army and the nation as it is in 1938; there is absolutely no discussion of foreign maps or possible operations on foreign soil, even references to map problems based on WWI experience in France.  Everything is referenced to the continental US.  Let's have no discussion of possible operations on foreign soil!

Yet in this manual we also see glimpses of the future.  The new tactical map layout and its use of a standard grid as shown in Figure 1 would be immediately recognizable to every dogface carrying a folded map in his pocket in 1944.  By omitting any discussion of field sketching and spending more time discussing availability of various types of maps the Army seems to be indicating that it understands the need to supply large volumes of standard maps to all levels of the field force - from the Infantry squad right up to Theater Army HQ.  The creation of the Army Map Service and field topographic units won't happen for almost another two years, but at least the Engineers recognize the problem.

Figure 1 shows a standardized map layout that
remains essentially unchanged even today.
Note the reference to the
Harriman Index System.

Most important, however, is the inclusion of a robust section on how to use aerial photos as map substitutes.  It is clear that the Army sees the relatively new science of aerial photography as the key to 'filling in the holes' in areas of the world where good maps don't exist, if they exist at all.

The presentation is a little complex for a 'basic' field manual, but it shows that the Army is serious about incorporating aerial photography into its overall mapping program.

This 1938 manual is best described as a work in progress.  It will stand only until April 1941, when an entirely new manual, FM 21-25 (part of the 'Basic Soldier' series) is introduced.  By that time America has moved closer war.  George C. Marshall is now the Army Chief of Staff, Winston Churchill is Prime Minister of Great Britain, Germany has conquered France, Poland and the rest of Czechoslovakia.  The Battle of Britain has been fought and won, the Battle of North Africa still rages and the Japanese are in the final planning stages for an attack on the Hawaiian Islands and a rapid expansion eastward across the Pacific and into Indochina to establish its 'Co-Prosperity Sphere'.

By 1941 the Army will have the new Army Map Service and corresponding Engineer field topographic units to survey and map entire theaters of operation and supply millions of copies of standard maps directly into the hands of soldiers on the battlefield.  It will have a new standard lensatic compass produced in the hundreds of thousands that will find its way into the pockets of privates and generals.  It will have hundreds of mapping aerial camera systems mounted in aircraft to expose hundreds of millions of linear feet of film over millions of square miles of territory to make maps and map substitutes.

Most important, by 1941 the Army will have the standardized map reading procedures in place and ready to be taught to the over 8 million Soldiers that will be drafted, trained and deployed to battlefields across the globe between 1941 and 1945.