Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Great Fire of London: 29th December 1940

Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the worst air raid of the London Blitz. On 29th December 1940, a first wave of German bombers raided London each carrying 180 of small incendiary bombs packed with magnesium. Around 100,000 incendiaries were dropped creating 1,500 fires and the destruction of hundreds of buildings. 163 people died in the raids, including 16 firemen, with a further 503 were injured.

28 incendiary bombs landed on St Paul's Cathedral. One bomb melted the lead on the dome. However the bomb fell through the roof and was extinguished and St Paul's thereby saved.

The fire damage appeared to be of such magnitude that it is referred to as "The Second Great Fire of London", the first referring to the fire of 1666.

130 sorties were made by the Luftwaffe bomber forces on the December 29th. However the raid was intended to be much larger; deteriorating weather limited bombing operations to only two hours of attacks which ended prematurely at 10pm. The use of incendiaries in a concentrated area of the City of London NW of St Paul's created the large number of fires.

British 4.5-inch anti-aircraft gun and crew, of 52nd Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery

My father, Sydney William Davis, 891332,  served in the 154th Battery, 52nd (London) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, during this period. His 4.5" battery was posted on Primrose Hill, the Isle of Dogs (in London's former docklands) and the Hackney marshes. In his memoirs, he does not indicate exactly where he was on specific dates but would have had a very good view of the events of December 29th wherever he was stationed. In his own words "The Isle of Dogs was definitely the worst as it is of course in the middle of the Dock areas and we were frequently ringed by fire".

The 52nd HAA was assigned to 26 A.A Brigade in the 1st AA Division. Bombardier Davis recounts that "Initially firing at night was more of a boost to civilian morale than to bring down German bombers". With the introduction of radar direction, the AA defense became much more effective. My father's troop was credited with 13 bombers in the first month of its introduction. However I think this was in 1941.

4.5-inch anti-aircraft battery

Today in London,  an air raid siren marked the 75th Anniversary.


  1. I often visit the area around St Pauls , it's certainly possible to imagine the destruction by the replacement buildings. One of the buildings destroyed was the Central Telegraph Office where I stop and pay a nod to casualties recorded in the memorial in the new building .. A fitting post

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