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On This Day: The Second Great Fire of London broke out in 1940 following the worst night of the Blitz

As the fires raged all around it, Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisted that St Paul's Cathedral be saved at all costs

DECEMBER 29, 1940: The Second Great Fire of London broke out on this day in 1940 following the worst night of the Blitz.

The capital blazed with more than 1,500 reported infernos after 100,000 incendiary and 24,000 high explosive bombs were dropped by the German Luftwaffe.

Three major conflagrations almost completely wiped out the City, the mile-square ancient core of London, destroying eight churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

It also destroyed the medieval Great Hall of the Guildhall and almost all of the historic London Walls.

A British Pathe newsreel shows the incredible scale of the attack after filming burning buildings from the air and showing firefighters trying to tackle the firestorm.
The dome of St. Paul's Cathedral is standing out of the flames and smoke of surrounding buildings during heavy …
Their job was made harder as the air raid was timed – after a two-day  Christmas lull – for when the River Thames was at low tide and water was hard to fetch.

As the fires raged all around it, Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisted that St Paul's Cathedral be saved at all costs.

And thanks to the tireless efforts of brave firemen – 14 of whom lost their lives – and 200 architect volunteers, Wren’s crowning achievement did indeed survive.




Herbert Mason’s photo of the 18th century structure shining bright amid menacing plumes of smoke that night remains one of World War II’s most iconic images.

This astonishing symbol of defiance appeared on the front page of the Daily Mail on December 31 with the caption “War's Greatest Picture”.
A fireman atop a long extension ladder directs a stream of water on the ruins of the church of St. Lawrence Jewry …
The upbeat tone belied the fact the newspaper’s former offices in Tudor Street had nearly been destroyed by a bomb that fell on its journalists’ favourite haunt, the White Swan pub next door.

The offices of The Times and the Associated Press agency were also hit, according to London Fire Brigade reports kept at the London Metropolitan Archives.

As well as newspapers on Fleet Street, the nearby publishing industry was also badly hit, with five million books destroyed by the inferno.



Amazingly, the Nazi’s heaviest air raid only killed 160 people – out of  30,000 Londoners who died as a result of bombing during the entire war.

This was mainly due to the fact that the firestorms were largely contained with the City, which due to its use as a financial district had relatively few residents.
This is how the area around London's St. Paul's Cathedral appeared the day after London's
However, bombs were scattered across all of the capital – from Shepherd’s Bush in the West to Shadwell in the East End, which was hit hardest overall in the Blitz.

The December 29 air raid began at 6pm and continued for eight hours.

The inferno, which was quickly dubbed the Second Great Fire of London after the first razed the City – and old St Paul’s - to the ground in 1666.

 


At the end of the Pathé newsreel covering the blaze, the reporter remarks that Londoners were saying: “We can take it, but give it ‘em back!”

And, later in the war, Britain was to take its revenge against Germany following sustained attacks that began in earnest in 1943.

Between the RAF and U.S. 8th Air Force, 1.6million tons of bombs were jettisoned on Germany, compared with the 65,000 tons the Luftwaffe dropped on Britain.
There was also a wide discrepancy between the number of lives lost between the two countries – with almost half a million Germans being killed in air raids.

The total British civilian death toll of 43,000 was less than the number who died in Hamburg alone, where 45,000 had perished by the end of the war.

The bombing of Dresden, where at least 35,000 died on one night, was the worst of all the attacks.

However, there was little British sympathy for the citizens of the Nazi state, which was the first to use heavy bombing during the war.

Sir Arthur Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command, said at the start of the 1943 campaign: “They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”