St Paul’s Survives: Iconic Photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral in London surrounded by smoke and destroyed buildings, 29th December 1940

St Paul's Cathedral seen amidst the smoke and fire of destroyed buildings caused by a German air raid on the night of 29th December 1940. The cathedral remains intact
Photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral amidst air raid damage during the Second World War, 29 December 1940.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Beginning at 6:15 pm on 29 December 1940 one of the most destructive air raids of the Blitz caused fires to ravage an area larger than that of the Great Fire of London. This sparked an American correspondent to comment that ‘the second Great Fire of London has begun’. On the night of 29 – 30 December, 100,000 bombs were dropped on London by 136 Luftwaffe bombers. The devastating fire was due to the small incendiary bombs the Germans used and the area they targeted. The area was mostly non-residential, containing businesses and warehouses, along with St Paul’s Cathedral. Compounded by the fact that most of these buildings were also not covered by Fire wardens due to being too small or too unpopulated, 1500 individual fires were able to break out over London. Firefighting efforts were hampered by the low tide of the Thames and the City’s water-main was damaged by the bombing. 12 of the 160 people who died were firefighters. The publishing industry was heavily hit by the fire with multiple wholesaler stores being destroyed. 

St Paul’s Cathedral was stuck by 28 incendiary bombs, having such significance Winston Churchill issued that ‘St Paul’s must be saved at all costs’. St Paul’s Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of London and sits on Ludwig Hill, the highest point in the City of London. While the site has been a significant religious place since AD 604, a dedication to Paul the Apostle, the current building was built in the 17th century as part of a rebuild of London after the first Great Fire. At 365 ft high, St Paul’s Cathedral has dominated London’s skyline as the tallest building from 1710 till 1963. Since its construction the Cathedral has been a significant part of London architecture, hosting the funerals of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and Winston Churchill, the Cathedral continues to hold hourly services open to all to this day.

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