These maps are examples of what are commonly referred to as ‘silk’ escape maps. In reality, they were just as likely to be printed on man-made fabrics such as rayon or even tissue paper. These materials were chosen for their ability to be folded into very small sizes for concealment. All aircrew were supplied with such maps in case they were shot down. Many were smuggled into Prisoner of War (POW) camps, through often ingenious methods, in order to aid Allied prisoners in their escape attempts.
British Military Intelligence 9 (MI9) was responsible for their production. Because the information required on the maps was similar to that of a common travel map and not secretive, it was decided by MI9 not to approach the overworked branch of the military responsible for mapmaking—the Geographical Section, General Staff (MI4)—but instead to contact the commercial map publishing firm of John Bartholomew & Son Ltd., in Edinburgh. The Managing Director, Ian Bartholomew, agreed to give MI9 copies of many of their maps of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, which became the basis of their initial escape and evasion map programme. The Bartholomew firm also waived all copyright fees for the duration of the war, which was a considerable financial gesture since MI9 produced a total of 348,570 maps.
Map number K3/H2, depicts northwest Africa (K3) on the front, and the Iberian Peninsula (H2) on the back. Due to the nature of the fabrics used, the ink on these double-sided maps often bled completely through to the reverse of the sheet, making it very difficult for the escapers to decipher the detail. This particular map is printed on rayon and was published in a print run of 15,000 copies on April 27, 1943.
Map number J3, depicts northern Italy with an inset of the Swiss frontier. It is also printed on rayon, but is based on native, Italian mapping rather than a Bartholomew map. It was published in a print run of 5,000 copies on January 7, 1942.
Reference and Recommended Reading:
Bond, Barbara A. Great Escapes: the story of MI9's Second World War escape and evasion maps. Glasgow, Scotland: Times Books, 2015.