(Nearly) a century of circles

Japanese ARP poster - bomber ranges

In my previous post I talked about some Japanese ARP posters from 1938. One in particular (above; click for larger version) is very revealing: it shows exactly whose bombers the Japanese were worried about, by plotting circles on a map of Japan and its neighbours, representing the radius of actionNo more than half the maximum range of an aircraft, assuming they return to the base from which they took off. of bombers from potential enemies. It turns out they were afraid of everybody's, except for the country they were actually at war with (China). The brown circle shows the radius of action of American bombers from the Philippines; black, British bombers from Hong Kong; green, Russian bombers from Vladivostok; yellow, American bombers from Alaska; and blue is in the middle of the ocean -- American carrier-borne bombers, most likely. The circles are marked with a number, probably a distance: 2000 km? That would make some sense, as it was very roughly the radius of action of the B-17s that were just entering service in the US Army in 1938 (though not in substantial numbers until 1941).

This sort of map is quite common these days, particularly in highlighting the danger from rogue states. For example, here's one centred on North Korea, from a website criticising Clinton's foreign policy:

North Korea - missile ranges

The circles here are not the radii of action of bombers, of course, but the ranges of missiles.As missiles don't return to base, their radius of action is equal to their range. But the principle is the same. There's a subtle difference, though: the Japanese one projects a defensive outlook: it shows the circles encroaching on Japanese territory and so emphasizes how vulnerable Japan is. The North Korean map, on the other, does not highlight the threat to any particular country, but instead demonstrates how North Korean missiles threaten all of its neighbours -- that is to say, just how rogueish a state it is.

Here's another missile-era map, this time quite an historic one from the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 (looks like it was drawn up by the CIA). This is more like the Japanese map: though the threat is from Cuba, the centre of the map is shifted towards the United States, to show just how much of the country would fall under the shadow of Soviet missiles (but by the same token, de-emphasising the threat to South America).

Cuba - missile ranges

I haven't come across many other pre-Second World War examples, though I'm sure they exist. The only other one I currently know of is British, and is very early, dating from 1913:

Germany - airship ranges

This time it's not bombers or missiles that are the threat, but Zeppelins. (Love that OTT title!) The map is centred on Heligoland, which another map in the same magazine claimed was the site of an airship station. The caption says that the outer circle (600 miles) represents the radius for Zeppelins; the 300 mile circle is for aeroplanes. It 'should bring home to every patriot the vital necessity of Britain putting her house in order forthwith, by the grant of adequate provision in the nation's Estimates to enable us to make up the heavy leeway from which this country already suffers'. Indeed it should; those circles are very dark, aren't they? Though that might just be the poor quality of my photocopy ...

Image sources: National Archives of Japan; Clinton Foreign Policy Page; John F. Kennedy Library; Flight, 1 March 1913, 248.

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14 thoughts on “(Nearly) a century of circles

  1. That North Korea diagram brought back bad memories for me: we were in Yamaguchi (the southern tip of the main island of Japan) during the 1994-1995 height of the crisis, and I saw a diagram almost exactly like that about a month before we departed. Made me a bit nervous....

  2. Brett Holman

    Post author

    I apologise for any mental anguish I may have caused! But that's interesting; it shows that beyond their pure informational value, these sorts of maps can have a psychological effect, which is why they are useful for propaganda (and why else would such a map be entitled 'The black shadow of the airship'?)

  3. Yes, I think the psychology is quite potent. It's interesting to consider the Japanese perspective in this era -- the poster seems to be building the case that an expansionist Japan is the only alternative to blackmail from foreign powers whose bombers are within range. I'd be curious as to whether there are any German posters like this from the 1938 period. There was considerable talk at the time of the 'threat' from Poland, later used to justify the attack in September of '39.

  4. Brett Holman

    Post author

    Yes, the Japanese poster could definitely be used to suggest that -- though I couldn't be sure without learning Japanese :) The originating website seems to suggest that the posters had something to do with the Japanese Red Cross, so perhaps it was simply meant to convince civilians to take the threat of air attack seriously.

    On the perceived Polish threat to Germany, you might be interested in an earlier post I wrote, though it's about the days just after the war started.

  5. Rick Westera

    The blue circle on the Japanese map is not from a carrier borne plane but presumably outlines the danger a loss of the Bonin Islands would create. The kanji reads "Father Island" (Fudao in Chinese, but I'm uncertain as to the Japanese - something-jima, probably Chichijima (though definitely not Iwo jima!))

  6. Post author

    Thanks, Rick! I think I did look in my atlas for any islands there, but it must be too crappy to show the Bonins. It does undercut the urgency somewhat, since they were Japanese possessions and so couldn't be used immediately to attack Japan.

    Doing some googling, Chichi-jima is indeed "Father Island" and one of the Bonins, which it turns out are also called the Ogasawara Islands, AKA Monster Island!

  7. Christine Keeler

    Well it just goes to show, doesn't it. All that unpleasantness between 1937-45 could have been avoided if only they'd had their eye on the real threats from Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Anguirus, Gorosaurus, Kumonga, Minilla, Baragon, Manda, and Varan.

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  10. Californian

    The Korean missile threat map is grossly distorted. It uses the antiquated Mercator projection, and I cannot help but wonder if the missiles could actually reach the Philippines, and if so, shouldn't the circle encompass the Arctic Ocean coast?

  11. Post author

    I think you're right. From Pyongyang to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei is not far short of 4000km. From Pyongyang to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in the opposite direction is a thousand km shorter, yet both cities are roughly on the edge of the circle. But I'd say ignorance was the cause here -- I can't see any political advantage to be gained from a distortion (since the mapmaker was trying to scare more people rather than less).

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  13. Paul

    Since I do read Japanese (though not pre-war Japanese characters so very well) I will answer the two points that were raised

    1) As far as I can read the writing in the bottom corner of the map is just mentioning the same thing about return ranges of a loaded bomber you mentioned in the text.

    2) Yes, the island is Chichijima.

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