Today (April 16) in London History – “it was something unprecedented in history”

April 16th, 1941 was the worst raid suffered by London so far. This Today in London History podcast tells the tale.


The hard facts. The statistics. They rain down on us like sticks of bombs.

London in the cement mixer of seven and a half hours of death and destruction. 

685 bombers. Some of them ripping London open twice, because, having made their first run and disgorged their foulness, they flew back to France, refuelled, took on another consignment of bombs, took off, and came back. Came back with more of their evil calling cards for London.

It was London’s deadliest attack of the war so far. In the words of the London Civil Defence Region report, “more bombs and more parachute mines were dropped, more fires were started, more civilian damage done, and more casualties caused than in any previous raid.”

It was April 16th, 1941. Three days after Eastern Sunday. For many years afterward, that night – April 16th and 17th – was known as “the Wednesday.” 66 local authority areas in London were bombed. For once, the West End and central London, north and south of the river, was hit harder than the East End. 

The April 16th raid came toward the end of what was known as The Big Blitz. It had started on September 7th and would go on for nine months. It was something unprecedented in history. The battering London took in those months – no other city had ever experienced anything like that. 95 air raids by day. 166 by night. 261 in total. Nearly 20,000 Londoners were killed. That’s three an hour. For nine months. 25,000 Londoners were badly wounded. That’s one every fifteen sweeps of the second hand. In those nine months the Luftwaffe carried out 85 major night raids. 24,000 tons of bombs they rained down on London in those 85 attacks.

Another metric: bombs per square mile. Holborn, 568. Stepney, 442. The City, 392. Let’s work with that City of London figure for a minute. That works out at one bomb for every eight and a half square feet. How big is eight and a half square feet. Eight and a half square feet is not much more than a couple of cemetery plots. That’s a lot of bombs. A lot of destruction. A lot of suffering. A lot of death. A lot of evil. 

It’s no wonder the desolation around St Paul’s reminded many people of Ypres in the heart of London.

Statistics can only get us so far, though. A great poem can go further, can go where statistics can’t go, can do what statistics can’t do.

Can perform the miracle, express the inexpressible. This poem, for example. It’s called These Are Facts. It was written by Ruthven Todd. In 1942. Goes like this.

Powerful stuff, isn’t it.

And on that note, the tide that flows among the rocks of the Today in London History podcast is now receding. And no, I haven’t forgotten the little thing that matters with this series: the Today in London tip, the London Walks recommendation. And you know something, I’m not going to play the predictable card here, send you off to the Imperial War Museum or such-like. No, it’s a fine spring day. Why don’t you make your way to St. James’ Park. Find a bench. Soak up some rays. Look at the flowers and the trees and the green grass and the birds. And maybe just for a second let it cross your mind that 80 years ago St James’ Park – like other London parks – was a maze of trenches. Where people could go to ground if they were caught in the open in a raid. There’s a lot to be thankful for. St Jame’s Park not being gashed open with trenches is one of them.

You’ve been listening to the daily London Walks podcast. Emanating from – home of London’s only multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company. Award-winning because, uniquely, London Walks fronts its walks with accomplished professionals: barristers, doctors, the former Editor of Independent Television News, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, Museum of London

archaeologists, the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, distinguished academics – a Cambridge University palaeontologist, a University College London geologist, the creme de la creme of elite, professionally qualified Blue Badge guides, etc. Guides who make the new familiar and the familiar new.

See ya tomorrow.

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