How to use military unit symbols

What are military unit symbols?

Common Military Map Symbols

Military unit symbols are templates placed on maps that indicate military unit type, unit hierarchy, and location. They help intelligence analysts and commanders organize offensive or defensive strategies, evaluate enemy or friendly force strength, and are used to study probable avenues of approach (troop advancement options) and timelines based on terrain features and other factors. The use of distinctive military unit symbols on maps has been documented since the early 16th century. Military symbols have often been hand drawn, or made reusable with templates, or aided through the use of objects (icons) representing military forces and placed directly on the maps themselves. At times, symbols were drawn in dirt or within sand tray mock-ups. Before maps and symbols were utilized efficiently, commanders were often forced to rely solely on memory or other written reports for making crucial decisions. In some cases, individual units were required to carry unit flags or banners in order to identify their dispositions or to convey information on the battlefield through long-range visibility. These were important methods at the time for sizing-up the battlefield. These methods alone rarely provided commanders with a definitive advantage especially in a more complex theater of war. Also, without the use of maps and symbols, it’s difficult for commanders to effectively direct their lower echelon units. Similarly, maps and symbols are useful visual tools for briefing the chain of command by keeping the decision makers abreast of important details and developments in a concise visual format.

Military map unit symbol image icons

More universally recognized military unit symbols didn’t start appearing until after the 1700s. Military units are generally ordered by a hierarchy, specialty, and typically indicate unit size or strength. Below represents a sampling of types of units based on specialty without the size / strength designation or unit identifier. These military icons are loosely based on field experience and APP-6A Military Symbols for Land Based Systems with a few customized military image icons added.

Military symbol, Infantry
Military symbol, Mechanized Infantry
Mechanized Infantry
Military symbol, Motorized Infantry
Motorized Infantry
Military symbol, Amphibious Mech Infantry
Amphibious Mech Infantry
Military symbol, Airborne Infantry
Airborne Infantry
Military symbol, Airborne Special Ops
Airborne Special Ops
Military symbol, Marines
Military symbol, Special Forces
Special Forces
Military symbol, Mechanized Cavalry
Mechanized Cavalry
Military symbol, Armored Unit
Armored Unit
Military symbol, Towed Artillery
Towed Artillery
Military symbol, SP Artillery
SP Artillery
Military symbol, Air Defense
Air Defense
Military symbol, Anti-Armor
Military symbol, Medical Unit
Medical Unit
Military symbol, Military Police
Military Police
Military symbol, Electronic Warfare
Electronic Warfare
Military symbol, Engineers
Military symbol, Military Intelligence
Military Intelligence
Military symbol, Laser Infantry
Laser Infantry
Military symbol, Radar
Military symbol, Jungle Unit
Jungle Unit
Military symbol, Desert Unit
Desert Unit
Military symbol, Maintenance
Military symbol, Airborne
Military symbol, Cavalry Recon
Cavalry / Recon
Military symbol, Anti-Aircraft
Military symbol, NBC Unit
NBC Unit
Military symbol, Mountain Infantry
Mountain Infantry
Military symbol, Ranger
Military symbol, Mortar
Military symbol, Signal Unit
Signal Unit
Military symbol, Transportation
Military symbol, Aviation 2
Military symbol, Psychological Operations
Psychological Operations

The examples below represents commonly used military hierarchy designations. The hierarchy designations get placed on the top of unit symbols/icons.











The example below explains map symbol hierarchy designations.

Military map symbol explained with military hierarchy designation, unit type and unit name

How to place map symbols on a map (location)

I’ve seen several different rules of placing symbols on maps. A good method is to place the location rule in the legend of the map and insure everyone understands the standard procedure. For rectangular unit symbols shown above there are three common ways that have been observed: bottom center, center image, and lower left. The lower left rule is the most precise way of placing symbols at exact locations when dealing with rectangular symbols. The lower left rule also works well because command posts or HQ symbols represented like a flag post (the post always on the left) are placed on a map with the bottom of the flag post marking the exact location. Note: Symbols of other shapes will require their own rules.

How to place map symbols on a map (location) Command Post or HQ


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