Unless you just want to be a tank gunner, being able to read a topographical map is essential in Steel Beasts. A topographical map is a map that depicts the relief, or changes in elevation, of the ground. Relief is depicted by contour lines. Contour lines are drawn on the map at specific contour intervals. If the contour interval on a map is twenty meters, the contour lines will depict a twenty meter change in elevation. Military topographical maps also have grid lines that designate location on the map. For a detailed discussion on map reading and land navigation, we suggest that you look at U.S. Army Field Manual 3-25.26 (2001), from which the following information on terrain features was taken.
The way that the terrain relief is formed is a natural process that results in certain patterns of terrain features. Being able to recognize how these terrain features look on the ground and how they are depicted by topographical maps will help you to quickly visualize how the terrain should appear when you are looking at a map and vice versa.
All terrain features are derived from a complex landmass known as a mountain or ridgeline. The term ridgeline is not interchangeable with the term ridge. A ridgeline is a line of high ground, usually with changes in elevation along its top and low ground on all sides, from which a total of eight terrain features are classified.
A hill is an area of high ground. From a hilltop, the ground slopes down in all directions. A hill is shown on a map by contour lines forming concentric circles. The inside of the smallest closed circle is the hilltop.
A saddle is a dip or low point between two areas of higher ground. A saddle is not necessarily the lower ground between two hilltops; it may simply be a dip or break along a level ridge crest. If you are in a saddle, there is high ground in two opposite directions and lower ground in the other two directions. A saddle is normally represented as an hourglass.
A valley is a stretched-out groove in the land, usually formed by streams or rivers. A valley begins with high ground on three sides, and usually has a course of running water through it. If standing in a valley, the three directions offer high ground, while the fourth direction offers low ground. Depending on its size and where a person is standing, it may not be obvious that there is high ground in the third direction, but water flows from higher to lower ground. Contour lines forming a valley are either U-shaped or V-shaped. To determine the direction the water flows, look at the contour lines. The closed end of the contour line (U or V) always points upstream or toward high ground.
A ridge is a sloping line of high ground. If you are standing on the centerline of a ridge, you will normally have low ground in three directions and high ground in one direction with varying degrees of slope. If you cross a ridge at right angles, you will climb steeply to the crest and then descend steeply to the base. When you move along the path of the ridge, depending on the geographic location, there may be either an almost unnoticeable slope or a very obvious incline. Contour lines forming a ridge tend to be U-shaped or V-shaped. The closed end of the contour line points away from high ground.
A depression is a low point in the ground or a a sinkhole. It could be described as an area of low ground surrounded by higher ground in all directions, or simply a hole in the ground. Usually only depression that are equal to or greater than the contour interval will be shown. On maps, depressions are represented by closed contour lines that have tick marks pointing toward low ground.
A draw is a less developed stream course than a valley. In a draw, there is essentially no level ground and, therefore, little or no maneuver room within its confines. If you are standing in a draw, the ground slopes upward in three directions and downward in the other direction. A draw could be considered as the initial formation of a valley. The contour lines depicting a draw are U-shaped or V-shaped, pointing toward high ground.
A spur is a short, continuous sloping line of higher ground, normally jutting out from the side of a ridge. A spur is often formed by two roughly parallel streams, which cut draws down the side of a ridge. The ground is sloped down in three directions and up in one direction. Contour lines on a map depict a spur with the U or V pointing away from high ground.
A cliff is a vertical or near vertical feature: it is an abrupt change of the land. When a slope is so steep that the contour lines converge into one “carrying” contour of contours, this last contour line has tick marks pointing toward low ground. Cliffs are also shown by contour lines very close together and, in some instances, touching each other.
Military topographical maps have vertical and horizontal grid lines that designate location. The vertical lines are referred to as “Eastings”, because they designate how far east a location is on the map. The horizontal lines are referred to as “Northings”, because they designate how far north a location is. On the scale of the maps used in Steel Beasts, the grid lines are 1000 meters apart. Thus, the squares formed by the grid lines are one square kilometer areas. The Eastings and Northings are labeled with two digit numbers. A grid co-ordinate is the designation of a place on the map that combines the easting and northing information. The convention for reading grid co-ordinates is that the easting information comes before the northing information. A rule of thumb for remembering this convention is : “Right and Up.” So, the grid co-ordinate 63 19 designates the square kilometer that has the 63 Easting as its left boundary and the 19 Northing as its lower boundary.
Because a square kilometer is a relatively large piece of real estate as far as tactical considerations are concerned, standard grid co-ordinates have at least six digits. Six digit grid co-ordinates are determined by dividing the space between grid lines into tenths. These smaller lines are not depicted on the map, so you must estimate them visually. While a four digit grid has a precision of thousands of meters, a six digit grid has a precision of hundreds of meters. To the right is a thumbnail of a topographical map of Rasdorf. The village of Rasdorf is located in the 63 19 grid square. If you click on the thumbnail you can see that at the co-ordinate 634 192 there is a small circle with a cross on top of it. This is the map symbol for a church.
The second thumbnail is a screenshot of the same area. You may notice that the Eastings and Northings on the screenshot do not match up perfectly with those on the topo, that is because the topo and the game map file were generated using different projection methods. But this discrepancy doesn't detract from the point here. Looking at Rasdorf, you should see a small red tank turret icon in the village. The co-ordinate indicated in the panel on the right of the screen is for the location of that icon. Normally the coordinate window in that panel indicates the location of the cursor, but because it's too difficult to take a screenshot with a cursor in it, the tank icon was used instead. The co-ordinate in the panel has eight rather than six digits. The fourth and the eighth digits are added just as the third and sixth digits in a six digit co-ordinate. The precision of an eight digit grid is to tens of meters.
If you would like to try a land navigation course to practice reading military grid co-ordinates and using the terrain features depicted on a topographical map to orient yourself to your position on the ground, you can download the land_nav_course scenario here.