Second Great Fire of London

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The "Second Great Fire of London" is a name used at the time to refer to one of the most destructive air raids of the London Blitz, over the night of 29/30 December 1940. Between 6 pm and the early hours of the morning, more than 24,000 high explosive bombs and 100,000 incendiary bombs were dropped.[1] The raid and the subsequent fire destroyed many Livery Halls and City churches and gutted the medieval Great Hall of the City's Guildhall.

The largest continuous area of Blitz destruction anywhere in Britain occurred on this night, stretching south from Islington to the very edge of St Paul's Churchyard. The area destroyed was greater than that of the Great Fire of London in 1666. The raid was timed to coincide with a particularly low tide on the River Thames, making water difficult to obtain for fire fighting. Over 1500 fires were started, with many joining up to form three major conflagrations which in turn caused a firestorm that spread the flames further, towards St Paul's Cathedral.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged that the Cathedral be saved at all costs. It was saved only by the dedication of the London firemen who kept the fire that was raging in St Paul's Churchyard away from the Cathedral, and of the volunteer firewatchers of the St Paul's Watch who fought to put out the incendiaries or firebombs on its roof. The 200 members of the St Paul's Watch were mainly recruited from the Royal Institute of British Architects who knew the vulnerabilities of the structure and where to target firefighting efforts.

More than 160 civilians died during that night, with many more dying of their injuries sustained in this raid in the days that followed; 14 firemen died fighting the fires and 250 were injured.[1] Buildings completely destroyed in the fire storm included 19 churches, 31 guild halls and all of Paternoster Row. Paternoster Row was the centre of the London publishing trade and an estimated 5 million books were lost in the fire.[2]

The front page of Daily Mail on 31 December 1940, Mason's photo captioned as "WAR'S GREATEST PICTURE". The image was cropped to omit many of the damaged buildings.

A famous photograph, St Paul's Survives, taken from the roof of the Daily Mail building by Herbert Mason shows the dome of St Paul's Cathedral rising above clouds of black smoke. The photograph was cropped for publication, with the original showing many more destroyed buildings in the foreground.

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Gaskin, M.J. (2005). Blitz: The Story of 29 December 1940 (2005 ed.). Faber, London. ISBN 057121794X. 
  • Cyril Demarne The London Blitz, A Fireman's Story (After the Battle, 1991)

Coordinates: 51°30′57″N 0°05′32″W / 51.5157°N 0.0921°W / 51.5157; -0.0921