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Hitler’s Firestorm and the Christmastime Salvation of St. Paul’s

December 28th, 2013 - 10:55 pm

Just four days after Christmas 1940, Hitler turned London into earthly hell. December 29 was London’s longest night, the night Hitler tried to burn London down and incinerate the majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral.

At sunrise the dome of St. Paul’s stood, though surrounded by a smoldering warscape of total destruction. The salvation of St. Paul’s Cathedral from the inferno uplifted British spirits and is a Christmas story worth retelling seventy-three years later.

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By December 1940, nearly all the democracies of Europe had fallen to the Nazi menace. Germany itself started the process in 1933 when an enlightened democracy suffered the sudden concentration of power into an ideologically driven central state. Mania followed.  Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, France, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands all fell to Hitler.

By Christmastime 1940, Britain stood alone against the evil which had consumed Europe.

Hitler aimed to break England’s will. He wanted England to be content with Nazi control of continental Europe.

On December 29, 1940, fire was his weapon of choice.

The Luftwaffe’s air war over England had raged for months. Londoners had grown accustomed to the wail of air raid sirens and nights sleeping underground in tube stations. The Blitz first focused on military targets, then strategic targets, and then conventional bombings which affected civilian areas.

But on the night of December 29, Hitler attempted to terrorize and eradicate the civilian population of London with a gruesome deliberateness he would also employ against continental Jews.

London was under blackout orders, so Hitler’s first wave of bombers enjoyed the use of two radio beacons beamed from France. When the beams intersected, the bombers were over their targets – the civilian, publishing, and garment industry neighborhoods of East London.

Instead of explosions, Londoners heard the dull thuds of objects hitting rooftops.

No explosions, just thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

These were incendiaries hitting rooftops then igniting. Over the next few hours, waves of German bombers dropped over 10,000 incendiaries and created a firestorm that destroyed London all around St. Paul’s. Waves of bombers followed through the night, dropping conventional bombs and blasting the firemen battling the firestorm the incendiaries started.

London firefighters, including Leonard Rosoman, battled the fires all around St. Paul’s. Rosoman would later paint images of firefighters he knew dying that night, some of which now hang in the Imperial War Museum.

Falling Wall, Imperial War Museum

Rosoman, Falling Wall, Imperial War Museum

But it was futile. The devious Nazis had timed the attack to coincide with low tide on the Thames, limiting the supply of available water. The fire created wind, and the wind created a firestorm.

Realizing that nothing could extinguish the firestorm, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the order: “Save St. Paul’s!”

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Top Rated Comments   
I read a book recently that described how a large time bomb buried itself in the church yard of St. Paul's. A crew of men spent several days digging it out by hand, then trucking it to the countryside for detonation. Can you imagine the cold, hard courage needed to do that?
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Which is why I don't weep over Dresden.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (19)
All Comments   (19)
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I visited London in 1971 and saw St. Pauls. At that time you could still see empty spaces very near the church where buildings destroyed during WWII had once stood. The fact that St. Pauls escaped almost certain destruction is enough to make one believe in miracles. The strength of character shown by all those who worked to save her can't be praised enough.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
A MESSAGE TO ALL AMERICANS:

p)RESIDENT 0BAMA AND HIS MINIONS WILL BE PUSHING MANY POLITICAL ISSUES THIS COMING YEAR TO TAKE ATTENTION AWAY FROM HIS FAILED TRAIN WRECK, KNOWN AS 0BAMACARE...IRS, NSA, AP SPYING AND BENGHAZI SANDALS...

PLEASE, WE DON'T WAN'T TO TAKE OUR EYE OFF THE BALL...STAY ALERT!

AMERICANS BEWARE! ... ISSUES COMING DOWN THE PIKE FROM THE LIBOCRATS ARE FOR DISTRACTION PURPOSE ONLY...PERIOD

THANK YOU AND HAVE A WONDERFUL 2014...
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
How shameful is it that the President of the United States sent back to England a bust of Winston Churchill. Without Churchill at the helm I doubt if England would have been able to withstand the Nazi onslaught, even if the Germans had been unable to invade England proper they could have made life almost impossible through the bombing and submarine warfare campaigns. Everyone says the Battle of England was England's finest hour; it was guided by England's finest leader who was desperately needed during that hour.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Would President Obama have "reset" his relations with Hitler's Germany? Not only did he show contempt for Winston Churchill, but he also showed contempt for former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He went to the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, but he did not even send a representative of the U.S. government to the funeral of Mrs. Thatcher.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'd like to recommend a novelette by Connie Willis that is an homage to those who defended St. Paul's during the blitz:

FIRE WATCH

It is sci fi. Won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
It was Britain's finest hour indeed.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
J. Christian,
Thanks for writing this article. I am fortunate to have visited St. Paul's on two separate trips over the years. When you see that dome and read about the heroism that saved it, one is most grateful that the church and the dome are still standing today. Tourists are usually made aware of Hitler's attempt to destroy the church so the story that you tell here lives on. There is also a stone tablet (I believe on the floor) that is hard to miss that honors those who died saving the dome and the church so Princess Diana could be married there decades later. :-)
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for re-telling this story. It's tough but necessary to remind ourselves that it always appears to be darkest before the dawn.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you for this beautiful Christmas present, Mr. Adams, by far the best I have received. And for quoting the “Holy Ghost Prayer.”

I had forgotten the second part, and now I can say the whole thing, especially on those occasions when the bill for reading some news of the previous day demands payment around 3:00 a.m. It’s just about the only traditional prayer left to me (along with the Prayer to Saint Michael, the Archangel) that seems even remotely up to the task. Keep up the good work, and peace be with you!
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Jew Paul of Tarsus after whom the Cathedral is named was the one who lit the flame of the Gospel all throughout Europe. What a wonderful victory he attained over the hordes of the mustached rascal who tried to gain Europe for the devil. Make a note EU anti-Christians and others: you are not going to prevail where the Roman Empire, the USSR, the Third Reich, and Napoleon failed so ignominiously. Somewhere the shovels are busy digging your graves. Bring it on! We are ready!
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read a book recently that described how a large time bomb buried itself in the church yard of St. Paul's. A crew of men spent several days digging it out by hand, then trucking it to the countryside for detonation. Can you imagine the cold, hard courage needed to do that?
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
History is clear: most Nazis escaped like rats, committed suicide, or were hanged. Live without honor, die like a rat. Those who died that night left behind an honorable memory. All free men should aspire to such a noble death.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Which is why I don't weep over Dresden.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
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