The Army Map Service prepared excellent maps of Vietnam in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. They were consolidated into the Defense Mapping Agency after that, but the generation of incredibly detailed maps continued. These maps have been declassified since then and many are still available today.
The maps used most often were in the 1:250,000 scale and the 1:50,000 scale. And these are still the ones that are most readily available. You can request copies of the indexes for these from the Geograpy and Map Division of the Library of Congress. They will send the indexes to you free of charge, along with their ordering instructions, within a few days.
As detailed below, there are several different ways to obtain copies of the maps. Some are the real deal, either in full color or in Marine green, while others are black-and-white photocopies. The key to obtaining the ones you need is to know the precise series number and sheet number for each.
1:250,000 SCALE: At 1 inch = 3.95 miles, these topographic maps cover a fair amount of territory, but without foregoing a lot of the detail that makes them useful. For example, the sheet for northern I Corps covers the area from the DMZ almost down to DaNang in a space of 18″ x 25.75″. Jim Henthorn has a copy of this map online, so you can take a look at Map NE 48-16 to get a sense of the detail level involved.
There were several different series of maps at this scale which were produced over the years. The Army Map Service prepared Series L509 into the mid-1960’s. As detailed in the instructions which they will send to you, the Library of Congress will prepare oversize black-and-white reproductions of these on 24″ x 36″ paper.
When the Defense Mapping Agency took over, they began preparing the Series 1501 Joint Operations Graphic charts in both Ground and Air series. There are only minor differences between the two series. Both identify airfields by name, for example, but the Air charts also show the length of the runways and highlight the maximum elevation figures for each large grid.
Online indexes for the Series 1501 charts are available at the Maps of South East Asia site. The Defense Mapping Agency became part of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) in 1996. Color copies of the NIMA maps may now be purchased from the U.S. Geological Survey.
1:50,000 SCALE: These topographic maps were the standard tactical ones used in-country, with grid squares shown at 1,000 meter intervals. When you estimated to one-tenth of a square, that put you within 100 meters. This was “close enough for government work”, as they said. See the excellent Map Reading 101 for a refresher on how to find map coordinate locations.
At 1 inch = 0.79 miles, a significant amount of detail could be shown on these maps. For example, the primary map for DaNang covers a 21″ x 22″ area and runs only from the north end of the Hai Van Pass down to the city. The 7th Marines’ web site has a copy of this map, Sheet 6641 III, online. Take a look at it and see how much more detail is available, when you zoom in at this level.
Earlier maps at this scale were produced by the Army Map Service in Series L701. These were later replaced by the Defense Mapping Agency’s Series L7014. If you call 1-888-ASK-USGS, they will send you a list of all 507 maps in the latter series, showing the compilation dates for each that are currently available. Unfortunately, more than 10% of these have already been replaced by maps from the 1980’s, so there may be some differences noted from those that were used in 1965 – 1972.
Color copies of these maps can also be purchased from the U.S. Geological Survey. If they are out of stock there, then, as above, ask the Library of Congress to prepare oversize black-and-white reproductions.
OTHER MAPS: There have been many other maps produced which cover all or part of Vietnam. As detailed below, those at 1:1,000,000 scale (ONC) and 1:500,000 scale (TPC) are still available today. The ONC map (e.g., K-10) is split into 4 quarters for the TPC ones (e.g., K-10-A). See the online index at omnimap.com.
1:1,000,000 Scale (1 inch = 15.78 miles): Operational Navigational Charts
- ONC J-11: RVN north of DaNang, plus North Vietnam
- ONC K-10: RVN south of DaNang, plus Cambodia and parts of Thailand and Laos
1:500,000 Scale (1 inch = 7.89 miles): Tactical Pilotage Charts
- TPC J-11-A: Northern half of North Vietnam
- TPC J-11-D: RVN north of DaNang, plus southern half of North Vietnam
- TPC K-10-A: I Corps south of DaNang plus almost all of II Corps
- TPC K-10-B: II Corps eastern edge
- TPC K-10-D: III Corps and IV Corps
Map series at other scales were also produced at various times. Updated versions of them may also be available at omnimap.com. The different levels which we have identified include:
1:100,000 Scale (1 inch = 1.58 miles): Series L607
1:25,000 Scale (1 inch = 0.39 miles): Series L8020
1:12,500 Scale (1 inch = 0.20 miles): Series L909 City Graphic