Well, I was wondering. What are those crosses in the top of the flag when we visualize military battleplans?

For instance, take a look in a map of the Battle for El Alamein: Battle for El Alamein

The Free French division has one cross, and the italian division right on the side, has two crosses. What does it means? We can also see the same in the following map of D-Day operation at Normandy.

enter image description here

If you have some references, better.

2 Answers 2


They identify the size of the formation. That Free French unit you referred to with one X is actually a brigade, not a division. Similarly, the Greek and German unit facing each other German unit both have a single X, and has been explicitly labelled as brigades. All other units, including the Italian one you mentioned, have XX - indicating they are divisions.

The individual X's do not represent "brigades". Instead, each X goes up one level in the hierarchy of formations. See below for what they correspond to (though different services/countries may use their own localisation).

For example, in the Normandy map, you can see Heeresgruppe B next to Paris denoted with XXXXX under the command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

This is all part of the NATO system for designating land units.

  • I wonder if guerrilla warfare has played havoc with classical military markup of unit sizing? Nov 12, 2014 at 2:29
  • @LateralFractal I'm not sure why; wouldn't ø (2), Ø (3-5), • (5-10) etc work just fine?
    – Semaphore
    Nov 12, 2014 at 2:34
  • Considering how fluid guerrilla warfare is and the reduced likelihood of structurally consist unit sizes, use of existing classical markup would run the risk of thinking you know more about the enemy than you do (Clausewitz's map/territory relationship). Indeed you get the impression that many of maps using NATO markup are either retrospective or war gaming. Although I digress, as the markup is quite sufficient for WW2 summaries. Nov 12, 2014 at 2:50
  • 4
    @LateralFractal there are other symbols for other kind of units, including symbols for units of unknown makeup or size.
    – jwenting
    Nov 12, 2014 at 7:38
  • 2
    Since guerrillas aren't formed units unless on an operation, when mapping them usually an area is shaded and labelled as an area of operation. In an actual operation, like a raid, the units can be sized and marked with a position normally, although smaller unit sizes use a I, II, III and even one, two and three filled circles.
    – Oldcat
    Nov 12, 2014 at 18:28

They symbolize the sizes of units (so if the flag represent a division with 10,000 people or an army with 200,000)

On smaller maps you may also see dots or lines.

XXXXX-Army Group

  • I just noticed that in this map the 7th Bersaglieri (Italian, at the top) is III.
    – o0'.
    Mar 23, 2015 at 11:35
  • 2
    Just a minor remark: Usually three dots are used for a platoon, two dots for a squad and a single dot for a patrol. See here: NATO Military Symbols
    – gdir
    Mar 24, 2015 at 9:41
  • that's because the Bersaglieri were an elite unit which operated in low numbers.
    – Jake W
    Apr 20, 2015 at 15:48

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