London Fire Brigade

The Second Great Fire of London

29 December 2016

On the night of 29 December 1940, around 100,000 bombs were dropped onto the capital by Luftwaffe aircraft causing a blaze so ferocious it became known as the Second Great Fire of London.

Although the Blitz had started a few months earlier and continued for 57 nights, an eerie lull in bombing had fallen over the capital during the festive period. However, this ended abruptly on the Sunday evening.

Air raid sirens began to wail across London as the enemy bombers approached. Within a few hours a deadly firestorm had engulfed much of the capital's 'Square Mile'.  

Firefighters survey the devastation caused by the air raid (Wood Street).

Almost every fire engine in the City of London was mobilised in an effort to control the blaze but firefighters simply couldn't contain the numerous fires and were forced back until the whole area was one large blaze. 

Firefighters battled to prevent the fire from engulfing the Cathedral, helped by a group of volunteers including architects, civil engineers, and builders. Their knowledge of the structure meant they could move around the building quickly to tackle incendiary bombs as soon as they landed.

During the course of the evening, Deputy Chief Officer Major Frank W Jackson, received a telephone call from the Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructing him to save the Cathedral at all costs.

As the night wore on, more and more fire engines were called in from the outskirts of London and beyond, some travelling 60 miles or more.

The fires in the north of the City were now joining up to form another blaze and firefighters were forced to run for their lives as buildings collapsed at both ends of the streets they were in.

By midnight, just as things were becoming desperate for firefighters, their luck began to change.

View of the destruction from St Paul's Cathedral.

The weather across the Channel deteriorated and the German bombers could not take off to return to London. The tide was rapidly rising on the Thames, allowing more fireboats to be used. Water supplies began to improve and the lesser fires began to be extinguished. The majority of reinforcements had arrived and were able to back up the thousands of weary firefighters.

By dawn a foggy pall of smoke had settled over the City.

Firefighters were in almost every street of the square mile, many pouring water into smouldering heaps of rubble where once well known buildings had stood.

Fire engines caught int he Blitz in Whitecross Street.

Tragically 14 firefighters were killed that night and more than 250 injured. Those that had come through the night were exhausted, many having worked non-stop for more than 18 hours.

However, among all the devastation, rising through the smoke, stood Sir Christopher Wren's creation.