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Introduction to Map Symbols
The symbols used to depict military units on maps and organization charts are hieroglyphs. Like the hieroglyphs used for millennia to record the various languages spoken in China, these symbols are made by combining standard elements in different ways. These elements, in turn, are pictures that have been simplified for ease of drawing. Thus, the key to learning tactical symbols is to learn the radicals, and the key to learning the radicals is to associate each which the real-world object that it represents.
The system of map symbols adopted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a relatively simple one. It is also in widespread use, not only in countries that belong to NATO, but in other countries as well. For these reasons, the NATO system of tactical symbols provides beginners to the study of tactical symbols with a good place to start.
As might be expected from a linguistic phenomenon, the "language" of NATO map symbols is broken up into a number of "dialects." Some of these dialects are particular to particular armies. Others have developed to meet the needs of war game designers and military historians. (One of the most popular dialects of the standard NATO language is the set of symbols used by Leo Niehorster to depict the orders of battle of formations that fought in World War II.)
This folder contains a PowerPoint file that serves as home to a large collection of NATO map symbols.