Worst night of The Blitz
The horrific air raids that began with the bombing of the Port of London on September 7 1940 intensified through the autumn of that year and into the winter. Four days after Christmas, on Sunday December 29 1940, with the aim of destroying civilian morale in the capital and the wider country, Hitler’s bombers focused their efforts on the City of London.
The City would have huge propaganda value for the Nazis if destroyed, and it was to a certain extent an easy target, its venerable buildings crowded into a small area, ripe for fire-bombing. On December 29 the Germans dropped more incendiary bombs than on any other night, creating what has gone down in history as the Second Great Fire of London. This was early in the war, and the British defenders still had search lights that were ineffective as regards pinpointing high altitude planes; ack-ack guns were cruder than the versions being rapidly developed for later defence of the nation; and fire-fighters were ill-equipped – many put out incendiary devices with buckets of sand as they scuttled from shelter to attack the flames.
But the flames came close to winning. One of the most iconic photos of the conflict shows St Pauls bathed in the light of the blazing buildings surrounding it. With a skill borne of desperation this image was turned into a propaganda victory for the British, the great Cathedral a symbol of British strength and rectitude in the face of enormous but eventually insufficient German firepower.
During the Blitz one in three London houses was damaged or destroyed by bombing. Over a million incendiary bombs were dropped on the capital during the onslaught. As the great US reporter Ernie Pyle wrote of the December 29 raid: “There was something inspiring just in the awful savagery of it.”
Somehow London held on, though there was far more looting and other crime covered by the Blitz than was reported at the time. But in the end the inspiration was for the British, not their Nazi foes. By May the following year the Blitz ended, its aim of crushing British resistance never achieved.