A screaming comes across the sky
December 6, 2012 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Bomb Sight is an interactive map of every bomb dropped on London during the Blitz.
posted by empath (39 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Came for the Gravity's Rainbow reference. Was not disappointed.
posted by brundlefly at 3:04 PM on December 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


There must be a cabal; I tried to post a Slothropian comment and THEY deleted it.

http://everything2.com/user/DrT/writeups/Gravity%2527s+Rainbow

It's WW2. A US army lieutenant, Tyrone Slothrop (sometimes referred to as a 'limey' by the other characters for some reason) sleeps around London. He keeps a chart of his sexual conquests on a map of London, sticking coloured stars at the locations of his fornications. Some bright spark in the government notices that about two to seven days after each of Slothrop's shags, a V-2 rocket hits in the same place. There is a spookily accurate coincidence between Slothrop's map and a map of rocket hits, both governed by the Poisson distribution.
posted by chavenet at 3:08 PM on December 6, 2012


A high explosive bomb fell right across the street from where I'm sitting in Bowes Park, explaining the gap in the Victorian terrace that's filled with a post-war house. There was the same pattern even more densely where I used to live in Plaistow. So strange that such a different London was my grandparents' normal for a while.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:09 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Zooming out step by step is insane.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:09 PM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wow. Does it make me a terrible, terrible person that I never realized the magnitude of the Blitz? At farther zooms it's just a blanket of red. Points stacked on top of points.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by supercres at 3:10 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


There must be a cabal; I tried to post a Slothropian comment and THEY deleted it.

Please be mindful that not everyone here on this international website understands why the first comment in this thread was about your boner.
posted by jessamyn at 3:16 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


The shitty closed pub around the corner from me apparently was hit, with everyone inside killed except one man in the toilets. Also, I note that a ME109 strafed the civilians on my high street west of Shepherds Bush.

And my mother in law got bombed out of her family house/dad's GP practice as a young girl.

This thing really puts it in perspective, though
posted by C.A.S. at 3:19 PM on December 6, 2012


Looked up everywhere I used to live, a bomb was dropped in proximity to every one.

It was a LOT of bombs.

Still, could be worse, could be Hamburg or Dresden.
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Still, could be worse, could be Hamburg or Dresden.

Or Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
posted by chavenet at 3:30 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Also I mainly lived in North London, which was left relatively intact compared with South London which got thoroughly levelled.)
posted by Artw at 3:30 PM on December 6, 2012


Still, could be worse, could be Hamburg or Dresden.

Or Hiroshima or Nagasaki.


Depending on the estimates you believe the conventional bombing of Dresden may actually have killed more people than the Hiroshima nuke. They bombed the shit out of it.
posted by Artw at 3:33 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Site's busted.
posted by zippy at 3:33 PM on December 6, 2012


That's a pretty amazing map. I encourage you to also look up similar maps for other towns, as many had their own "Blitz" too. It's always needful to say a word for Hull when the Blitz is mentioned, as they suffered almost as badly, but in complete obscurity. I remember that even as a child there were undeveloped sites in Hull--plots of land where bombed buildings had been demolished but left empty.

However, it is a little odd to see the Blitz boiled down to individual bomb sites. The whole mythology that surrounds it and which we're so used to doesn't break down in the same way.
posted by Jehan at 3:34 PM on December 6, 2012


Even the "First Night of the Blitz" view is terrifying. 305 bombs in an hour...

(Also, to be pedantic, Gravity's Rainbow concerns the V-2 rockets of 1944-45, while this map shows the bombing only between 1940-41. Some googling finds a (incomplete) map of V-2 rocket sites here.)
posted by eykal at 3:35 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought the historical bomb record wasn't accurate because they fudged the records during the war to mislead German spies and confuse the German bomber command about their accuracy.

I thought about looking for stuff like this at the library in Birmingham when I lived there but my couch was too comfortable (as they all seem to be).
posted by srboisvert at 3:37 PM on December 6, 2012


V2 rockers were flashy weapons that ultimatly failed to deliver much in terms of destruction - more people were killed at Dora-Mittelwerk building the thing. Still, terrifying as for the first time attacks could arrive without warning.
posted by Artw at 3:42 PM on December 6, 2012


even as a child there were undeveloped sites in Hull

I've heard that Hull was more damaged than any other British city. Just completely flattened. As a result Hull is the most transformed by (mostly cruddy) modern building.

I know Liverpool was severely hit. There's an apocryphal story that John Lennon's mother went into labor because of the bombs, but it isn't true, the date is wrong.
posted by Fnarf at 4:02 PM on December 6, 2012


See also: Coventry.

There were undeveloped bomb sites up through the 70s across the country.
posted by Artw at 4:08 PM on December 6, 2012


eykal: "Some googling finds a (incomplete) map of V-2 rocket sites here."
Not without humour. First hit I opened: "Hither Green Cemetery - January 23, 1945. 0 Dead, but lots of bodies."
posted by brokkr at 4:27 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Artw: "Still, could be worse, could be Hamburg or Dresden."

Yeah, when you have the Americans hitting you during the day and the Brits by night, every single day, that has to be really rough. I don't know how anyone survived, nor how any of the survivors kept their sanity. Let's hope humanity has finally learned its lesson regarding industrialized war.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 4:32 PM on December 6, 2012


I don't know how anyone survived...

Some found shelter in slaughterhouses.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 4:46 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


No kidding, Celcius 1414. I can hardly believe London is still standing, never mind flourishing.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:49 PM on December 6, 2012


Just for the pedantic record: The single most devastating bombing attack in history is the fire-bombing of Tokyo March 9-10 1945. It killed more people and destroyed a larger area than either nuke.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:05 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you're interested the recently released book Soldaten contains secretly recorded conversations of German POWs. There are several transcripts where captured airmen describe various bombing operations over London. Absolutely fascinating.
posted by fingerbang at 5:30 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


How was anything even standing after this? It looks like pretty much every major block was hit by at least one bomb. I don't know how big these things were, but I'm assuming they caused significant damage.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:37 PM on December 6, 2012


Joakim, from the pattern you can see in many residential areas of London, you can see that the regular bombs often took out one or two small to medium houses. Once you realize why they're there you really start noticing the newer fill ins. If I wasn't on my phone I'd link a street view example or two.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:04 PM on December 6, 2012


Maybe someone can do one for Baghdad.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:13 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. Does it make me a terrible, terrible person that I never realized the magnitude of the Blitz?

No. I'm no historical ignorant, but the magnitude of this truly stunned me. All those books whose plot device was children being sent to the countryside just all made sense at once.
posted by Panjandrum at 6:14 PM on December 6, 2012


Oy! I can see yer house from 'ere!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:14 PM on December 6, 2012


One of the things I always love to do with visitors to London is point out the signs of bomb damage repair. Once you know what you're looking for you suddenly start seeing it everywhere. The sudden end-of terrace in an illogical place. The lurch to a more modern post-war style in the middle of a Victorian terrace. And so on.
posted by Decani at 1:25 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. Does it make me a terrible, terrible person that I never realized the magnitude of the Blitz? At farther zooms it's just a blanket of red. Points stacked on top of points

Not at all - a lot of people over here don't really appreciate how bad it was. Something like one and a half million incendary bombs fell on London during the blitz, and 50,000 high explosive bombs. Nor, as others have pointed out, do a lot of people know that other places such as Coventry and Hull got bombed badly as well.

Something else that most people (even Londoners) don't realise is that because of the above London has its very own version of the "Iron Harvest" - the WW1 shells that Belgian farmers still unearth when plowing their fields today.

Basically an estimated 10% of all the bombs dropped on London didn't explode. Many of those were retrieved and removed at the time but, in the chaos and damage of the Blitz (particularly at the beginning) it was easy to miss an unexploded bomb amidst the wreckage caused by an earlier bomb dropped in the same stick. Many were thus covered up, and remain buried beneath the streets and soil of London today. Others were identified, but for a variety of reasons it was considered safer just to bury them than try and move them.

This means that if you want to build practically anything of size in the Capital, then you have to plan for the fact that there's a chance you'll unearth a whole bunch of unexploded bombs (UXB).

Back in 2008, for example, Olympic workers unearthed a 1000kg bomb in Bromley-By-Bow, which had to be dealt with. Similarly it's been a serious problem for Crossrail - because not only do they have to worry about the stuff near the surface, but they also have to worry about the possibility of one of their Tunnel Boring Machines running straight into a piece of UXB, which could potentially be catastrophic.

Luckily this:

I thought the historical bomb record wasn't accurate because they fudged the records during the war to mislead German spies and confuse the German bomber command about their accuracy.

Isn't actually the case.

In London, at least, the civil records are pretty good - especially the Port of London Authority ones (I've seen some of their bomb maps, as filled in at the time, and they're amazing). Indeed back in 1996 the MOD even made public a list of buried UXB sites that were known to them at the time (If you live at 34 Hazel Grove, Staines, you might think carefully before you dig a pond in your garden). Basically there was no need to mis-record bomb sites, as pretty much every German spy that landed in the UK got captured and turned in weeks, so MI5 just got them to misreport landing sites and successes. Agent ZigZag was the king of this, particularly later with the V2s.

That still leaves the unknown bomb locations as a problem though - hence why Crossrail has its very own team of UXB disposal experts (warning: self link), who not only go around double-checking that all the "known" locations of bombs on the route are accurate, but also actively search for more.

I've been out with them a couple of times and its a real "does not compute" experience sitting next to a bunch of UXB guys, in many cases newly retired ex-British Army and just back from Iraq, who are now doing the exact same job they used to do out in the Middle East on the streets of the East End.

Finally, if you're thinking London has it bad, then really do spare a thought for German cities like Hamburg and Dresden. Not only do they too have to deal with the UXB issue above but, they also have to deal with the fact that American and British bombs were nowhere near as well made as German ones. That means there are far more unexploded, unstable bombs under German cities, proportionately speaking, than there are under British ones.

A real Pyrrhic victory for German engineering that.
posted by garius at 2:09 AM on December 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


Wow, the area I lived in took a few hits, despite being six miles out from the city centre. A bomb landed in the garden of my flats, even.

It blows my mind that such a short span of time separates us from a period when Western European cities were bombed to rubble. I'm only a single generation away from people that remember parachute mines blowing their windows out in rural Ayrshire, never mind the absolute pounding that London and other southern cities took.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:59 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Absolutely fascinating. There is a bit in Balham where about ten bombs fall in a straight line, as if they were just chucking them out of the bottom of the plane, which they probably were.

Also, only six months or so.

Also, as ricochet biscuit says, Baghdad. If this is what the technology was capable of 70 years ago, then...
posted by DanCall at 3:33 AM on December 7, 2012


garius: "Not only do they too have to deal with the UXB issue above but, they also have to deal with the fact that American and British bombs were nowhere near as well made as German ones."
Roughly speaking, 1 out of 6 bombs dropped by the RAF on Germany didn't explode. On the other hand, RAF were very diligent in performing photo recon after their bombing runs, which was used after the war to identify the location of possible duds - for instance, if you could see a gap in the craters where a stick of bombs had fallen there's a good chance an unexploded bomb is lying in the ground there.

Once or twice a year, a bomb goes off by itself somewhere in the German subsoil due to oxidizing of fuses and other external influences. The Kampfmittelräumdienst (UXO disposal service) estimates there are 60,000 bombs left buried in German cities today. There are evacuations in Cologne at least once a month still.

(Between 1949 and 1958, German fishermen on the North Sea ran a lucrative but dangerous business on the side: munition fishing. As part of the demilitarization of Germany after WWII, the Allies had dumped large amounts of German ordnance off the coast. In the Fifties, the Wirtschaftswunder caused a shortage of metal, which made it worthwhile to drag UXO up from the bottom and sail it to shore, where it was sold for scrap. This practice was outlawed after a couple of cutters exploded ...)
posted by brokkr at 6:47 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's unreal. I had no idea how extensive it was. Thanks so much for this.

(And if anyone has recommendations for books - ebooks especially - about the Blitz, please do recommend! I thought I had a fairly good grounding in much of the European theatre, but apparently not.)
posted by rtha at 11:07 AM on December 7, 2012


I recommend picking up The Blitz: The British Under Attack by Juliet Gardiner. She strikes a good balance between historical depth and readability. It's a good read.
posted by garius at 11:54 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The books that most affected my understanding of the blitz were Doris Lessing's Children of Violence series (fiction). I still have nightmares from some of her scenes. When I was growing up it seemed so many movies and documentaries presented Britain in the Blitz as brave, glorious, even romantic ... Lessing sidesteps that. Her characters' perspectives are much like this graphic map -- shockingly bloody.
posted by Surfurrus at 3:02 PM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I didn't understand the blitz either. The first time I visited London I saw a stone wall of the V&A museum that was left unrepaired after shrapnel damage as a memorial, and I had an 'Oh shit' moment realising how much exploding metal was flying through the air.
Seeing this mapped took my breath away.
BBC site on ww2 memories.
posted by bystander at 10:56 PM on December 7, 2012


Judging by the map, it looks like they didn't listen to Betjeman.
posted by pracowity at 1:23 AM on December 10, 2012


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