The Soviet Military’s Eerily Detailed Guide to San Diego


During the Cold War, the Soviet military mapped the entire world in one of the most ambitious mapping projects ever undertaken (see this feature article for more about these amazing maps, and the unlikely group of scholars trying to figure out how they were made—and why). The maps are fascinating to look at, and for those of us who grew up during the paranoid days of the Cold War, seeing your hometown covered in cyrillic text is a bit unsettling.

But the Soviets didn’t stop at just making some of the most accurate and detailed maps of the day. Some of the medium scale maps of include extremely detailed descriptions of the area–everything from the load-bearing capacities of bridges to the paving materials of the roads. (Yes, comrade, they will accommodate your tanks!)

In the US, the Soviets mapped many cities down to the level of individual buildings. In some ways, these maps surpass the ones our own government produced. Soviet maps of US Navy installations in San Diego, for example, include details not shown on maps made by the US Geological Survey around the same time.

The Soviet map of San Diego also comes with a long block of text. Intrigued, we had it translated, and it is published below in English for the first time.

It includes information about the terrain and climate: During the dry season (June to September), almost all rivers dry up, and in spring, during rainfalls, they turn into impetuous impassable torrents. There is information about the transportation and telecommunications grids. The length of airport runways and depth of waterways are noted, as are the products of local farms and factories. There is information about the local Navy and Marine installations (not surprising), as well as information about which are the nice parts of town (somewhat more surprising): The streets and intra-block sites are lined with shrubbery.

The amount of detail suggests the maps were intended for more than just military planning. It seems like information that could come in handy during an occupation. Or, as Alexander Kent, a geographer who’s studied the maps thinks, the Soviets may have used the maps, in an era before computers, as a way to organize what they knew about the world both inside and outside their borders.

English translation of the text from the 1980 Soviet map of San Diego:

As several commenters have noted, this translation is pretty rough. If we get corrections from native Russian speakers, we’ll try to add a corrected version in the future.

GENERAL. San Diego is a city in the south-east of the USA, California. Together with numerous inter-grown suburbs and satellite towns (Coronado, National City, Imperial Beach, etc.), San Diego is a major US defense center and an important industrial hub; it hosts the main national naval and air force base on the Pacific Coast. The City is a transit point for 2 railroads and 4 motor roads (including two transcontinental highways: T6 San Diego – Vancouver and T15 San Diego – Let-Bridge, the latter one is not shown on the map). San Diego is a major seaport and an international airport. It is located on San Diego Bay coast of the Pacific Ocean, 150 km southward from Los Angeles, on the US-Mexican border.

Tijuana, a city in the northwestern part of Mexico on the US border in Baja California, is an industrial and trade center and a junction of motor roads and railroads. The city is approached by 2 railways and 3 highways.

The population of San Diego is 745 thousand people, or 1.6 million people in the metropolitan area (1974); its area is ca. 600 sq. km; the built-up area within the bounds of the city is ca. 400 sq. km. The population of Tijuana is 412 thousand people, or 458 thousand people in the metropolitan area (1976); its area is ca. 70 sq. km.

URBAN TERRITORY. The street layout in the cities is rectangular or similar, oriented in various directions; in some areas, the street pattern is sporadic (matching the landscape). The urban area is densely built-up (downtown San Diego is built-up completely), the suburbs are built-up sparsely. The main streets in both cities are straight and broad (30 to 60 m), the rest of the streets are much narrower (15 to 20 m). The streets and squares have asphalt-concrete and asphalt pavement. The main squares and crossroads are provided with multilevel junctions; there are also overpasses and tunnels. In the suburbs of San Diego situated on the slopes of hills and in the hollows, there are many narrow (up to 10 m wide) and crooked streets, some of them sloping steeply. In the central area of the cities, 3- to 6-storey brick buildings prevail, in San Diego of modern architecture, while in Tijuana of old Spanish architecture; in San Diego, there are many high-rise building built of glass and concrete. Outside the central business districts, the buildings have mostly 2 to 4 storeys, whereas closer to the suburbs and in the suburbs they have 1 to 3 storeys, often of the cottage type. The administrative and business center of San Diego is located to the south-west of Balboa Park (Item 14). Here, the municipality building (Item 47), the seat of San Diego County administration (Item 77), the general post office (Item 52), the court (Item 71), the Chamber of Commerce (Item 49), offices of trade and industrial firms, banks (Item 13-14), shopping malls, places of entertainment and hotels are located. The most comfortable residential quarters in San Diego are located to the north of Balboa Park, while the poor people live in the southern and eastern parts of the city. The industrial facilities are concentrated mainly within the coastal area along San Diego Bay. The administrative and business center of Tijuana is located to the south-west of the checkpoint (Item 54). Here, there is the municipality building (Item 48), the police department (Item 75) and the financial department (Item 76), as well as a number of other establishments. The cities have lots of greenery: there are large areas dedicated to parks, mini-parks and lawns. San Diego incorporates 27 parks of the total area of 9.4 sq. km, where Balboa Park is the largest (5.6 sq. km). The streets and intra-block sites are lined with shrubbery. The City of San Diego hosts two universities (Items 73 & 74), the Institute of Oceanography and a number of higher educational institutions and research centers (including Item 78). There are such training centers there as the Naval Center (Item 80), Marine Corps Center (Item 82), Pacific Navy Air Defense Center (Item 83), and the Navy Electronic Equipment Laboratory (Item 45). San Diego accommodates the headquarters of the 11-th Naval District (Item 84) and the Pacific Navy Surface Forces (Item 85).

INDUSTRY AND TRANSPORTATION FACILITIES. Over 200 industrial facilities are concentrated in San Diego and its suburbs. The leading industries belong to the machinery manufacturing sector. Amongst them, most noteworthy are aerospace manufacturing, electronics, electrical engineering and shipbuilding. Aircraft and missile factories produce jet engines, rocket and space system components and parts, intercontinental ballistic missiles, fighter interceptors and army cargo aircraft. The electronic and electrical engineering factories produce electronic equipment and components for rockets and space systems, special space tracking antennas, electric measuring equipment, etc. The shipyards and ship-repair yards build and repair merchant ships and warships. There are nuclear industry factories, metalworking industry factories, chemical factories, woodworking factories and printing factories. Food industry is also well developed (vegetable-and-fruit processing industry, fishing industry, brewery, etc.). In the southern area of San Diego Bay, there are salt mines. The important military industry facilities include aerospace manufacturing factories (Items 21 to 24, 27-32), a nuclear factory (Item 53), electronic and electrical engineering factories (Items 20, 33 to 36, 44), ship-building yards (Items 40 & 41), a ship-repair yard (Item 39), chemical factories (Items 42 & 43), a metalworking factory (Item 25), and a steelwork factory (Item 38). The industry of Tijuana focuses on processing of the local farm produce. The most developed industries are food industry, tobacco industry, ginnery industry and light industry. Most of the factories are affiliated to US companies.

The cities are major trans-shipment and transit points on the US-Mexican border. There are ca. 10 railway stations. The largest passenger and freight station (Item 69) has a developed rail track network and warehouses, as well as elevated loading and unloading sites.

The main facilities of the naval base (Item 65) are located to the south of the commercial harbor. The total length of the mooring berths of the base is 17.3 km, the depth near the births varies between 6 and 11 m. The base site accommodates barracks, armament depots (Item 63), POL storage facilities (Item 64), as well as the technical and food supplies center (Item 79). There are access rail lines running to the mooring berths and storage facilities.

Naval Amphibious Base Coronado (Items 9 & 10) have mooring berths and a roadstead which admit moorage of small landing ships and other landing craft; there are barracks, training blocks and warehouses. On the western coast of North San Diego Bay, there is a submarine base (Item 11).

Lindbergh Field International Airport (Item 3) has two concrete-paved runways, 2865 m and 1375 m long, and is provided with up-to-date plant and equipment, which ensure round-the-clock safety of flights even under adverse weather conditions. The airport has aircraft maintenance and repair facilities, storage facilities and auxiliary buildings and facilities.

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (Item 7) is provided with three concrete-paved runways, 3048 m, 2438 m and 1828 m long.

Full article: The Soviet Military’s Eerily Detailed Guide to San Diego (Wired)

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