FirefightersIt was 75 years ago this year – on the night of 10th/11th May, 1941 – that the German Luftwaffe launched an unprecedented attacked on London, an event that has since become known as the ‘Longest Night’ (it’s also been referred to as ‘The Hardest Night’).

Air raid sirens echoed across the city as the first bombs fells at about 11pm and by the following morning, some 1,436 Londoners had been killed and more than that number injured while more than 11,000 houses had been destroyed along and landmark buildings including the Palace of Westminster (the Commons Chamber was entirely destroyed and the roof of Westminster Hall was set alight), Waterloo Station, the British Museum and the Old Bailey were, in some cases substantially, damaged.

The Royal Air Force Museum records that some 571 sorties were flown by German air crews over the course of the night and morning, dropping 711 tons of high explosive bombs and more than 86,000 incendiaries. The planes were helped in their mission – ordered in retaliation for RAF bombings of German cities – by the full moon reflecting off the river below.

The London Fire Brigade recorded more than 2,100 fires in the city and together these caused more than 700 acres of the urban environment, more than double that of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the costs of the destruction were also estimated at more than double that of the Great Fire – some £20 million).

Fighter Command sent some 326 aircraft into the fight that night, not all of them over London, and, according to the RAF Museum, the Luftwaffe officially lost 12 aircraft (although others put the figure at more than 30).

By the time the all-clear siren sounded just before 6am on 11th May, it was clear the raid – which turned out to be the last major raid of The Blitz – had been the most damaging ever undertaken upon the city.

Along with the landmarks mentioned above, other prominent buildings which suffered in the attack include Westminster Abbey, St Clement Danes (the official chapel of the Royal Air Force, it was rebuilt but still bears the scars of the attack), and the Queen’s Hall.

Pictured above is a statue of firefighters in action in London during the Blitz, taken from the National Firefighters Memorial near St Paul’s Cathedral – for more on that, see our earlier post here.

For more on The Longest Night, see Gavin Mortimer’s The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz: The Worst Night of the London Blitz.

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• The London Design Festival is in full swing in London this week with more than 250 events taking place across the city over its 10 days. Launched last Saturday, the festival runs until Sunday and there’s still plenty of time to get involved. Among the highlights is a series of events, workshops and talks being held at the Victoria & Albert Museum (where you can also see 12 specially commissioned installations, one of which sees the museum’s grand entrance transformed with a sculptural form), a series of shows focusing on design in six London “design districts” – Brompton, Pimlico Road, Covent Garden, Fitzrovia, Clerkenwell and Shoreditch, and a broad program of ‘partner’ and ‘international’ events – everything from a festival featuring African-Caribbean design through to an exhibition of experimental chairs by the Danish Cabinetmaker’s Association. To find out more, simply head to www.londondesignfestival.com.

The Museum of London has announced the purchase of a rare 18th century clay figure of London druggist and tea merchant Thomas Todd. The figure, which was acquired with the help of the Art Fund and MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund,  is one of only two known portrait works attributed to the Chinese artists Chitqua on show in Britain. The figure, which is made from unfired clay held together by bamboo and brightly painted, was acquired from Todd’s great, great, great, great grand nephew, Thomas Todd, and will appear shortly in the Expanding City Gallery in the Galleries of Modern London. Based in Fleet Street, Pat Hardy, the museum’s curator of paintings, prints and drawings, says Todd “epitomised the kind of business acumen which ensured the growth of Britain’s industrial, mercantile and commercial empire in the eighteenth century”. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk

The British Museum has opened an exhibition giving the public their first chance to see next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games medals. Medals have been awarded at the Olympic Games since the first modern games were held in 1896. The latest Olympic medals were designed by jeweller David Watkins, for many years Professor of Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery at London’s Royal College of Art, while the latest Paralympic Medals were designed by jeweller Lin Cheung, a senior lecturer for Jewellery Design at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. The exhibition tells how, using minerals mined in the US and Mongolia (Rio Tinto is sponsoring the exhibition), the medals were produced at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales. Mine to medals: the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games medals runs until 9th September next year. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• On Now: Brothers in Arms – Airmen of Poland and Czechoslovakia in the Battle of Britain & Beyond. The Royal Air Force Museum in Colindale, north London, is hosting an exhibition looking at the contribution of Polish, Czech and Slovak airmen in the Battle of Britain and their life afterwards. Curated in association with the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, the exhibition features drawings, archival film footage and sculpture as well as uniforms, diaries and combat reports. Opened by Poland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Radoslaw Sirkorski (who later attended the annual banquet held in honor of the Veterans of the Battle of Britain), it runs until 4th March, 2012. Entry is free. For more, visit  www.rafmuseum.org.uk.