The bombing of Café de Paris -London

article-1264532-09084D67000005DC-251_468x362

Café de Paris is a London nightclub, located in the West End, beside Leicester Square on Coventry Street, Piccadilly.

It opened in 1924 and subsequently featured such performers as Dorothy Dandridge, Marlene Dietrich, Harry Gold, Harry Roy, Ken Snakehips Johnson and Maxine Cooper Gomberg.Louise Brooks made history when she worked there in December 1924, introducing the Charleston (dance) to London.

charleston-dance-1920s

 

Much of the early success of the Café de Paris was due to the visit of the then Prince of Wales who became a regular guest, often dining with notables from high society across Europe. Cole Porter was a regular, as was the Aga Khan

a

During World War II, on 8 March 1941, the café was bombed soon after the start of a performance[and at least 34 people were killed and around 80 injured.

 

Two bombs fell into the basement ballroom down a ventilation shaft and exploded in front of the stage.The victims included 26-year-old bandleader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson, his saxophonist Dave “Baba” Williams, other band members, staff and diners.Snakehips’ head was blown from his shoulders.

Bandleader Snake-Hips Johnson on BBC Television

Dancers’ legs were sheered off. The blast, magnified in the confined space, burst the lungs of diners as they sat at their tables and killed them instantly.A rescue worker who arrived in the devastated nightclub tripped over a girl’s head on the floor, looked up and saw her torso still sitting in a chair. The dead and dying were heaped everywhere.Champagne was cracked open to clean wounds.

But there were some narrow escapes too. The high-kicking cabaret dancers, a troupe of ten girls, were due on stage when the bomb struck, but were saved because they were waiting in the wings and therefore protected from the devastation.

Air Raids over Britain during  World War II

The worst of human nature was in evidence that night too – amid the rubble and the chaos, unscrupulous looters were seen cutting off the fingers of the dead to steal their rings.

But, even among the death and destruction, one man retained his sense of humour – as he was carried out on a stretcher, he got a cheer from the watching crowd when he called out, ‘At least I didn’t have to pay for dinner.’

FWP6RJ

 

On the same night that the Café de Paris was hit, so too was another even more famous landmark of London society – Buckingham Palace. And not for the first time.

Advertisements

The second Great Fire of London

german_magazine_showing_famous_blitz_image

Today marks the 76th anniversary of the second Great Fire of London.

fire-around-st-pauls-cathedral-london-136395144108103901-141223163039

On 29 December 1940 around 100,000 bombs fell in just a few hours, causing a firestorm across most of the City’s square mile up to Islington.

14 fire fighters were to lose their lives that night, with over 250 injured.

The largest continuous area of Blitz destruction anywhere in Britain occurred on this night, stretching south from Islington to the very edge of St Paul’s Churchyard. The area destroyed was greater than that of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

greatfire

The raid was timed to coincide with a particularly low tide on the River Thames, making water difficult to obtain for fire fighting. Over 1500 fires were started, with many joining up to form three major conflagrations which in turn caused a firestorm that spread the flames further, towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

1

As the fires raged, Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisted that St Paul’s Cathedral be saved at all costs. The struggle involved fire crews and local volunteers.

667

The German raid planned for the night of the 29th December was to feature an initial attack led by a specialist Pathfinder Squadron, followed by the first wave of bombers with mainly  incendiary bombs and some high explosive to set the City alight, followed much later in the evening by the second wave of bombers with high explosive bombs. The clear intention was to destroy the City with key strategic targets being the bridges over the river, train stations and tracks and communications centres such as the Faraday building on Queen Victoria Street which was a centre for the London Telephony system and also for international telephony circuits.

The role of the Pathfinder squadron was to locate the target using a beam radio system where radio signals transmitted from the Continent would direct a plane to its target with a change in signal where beams crossed indicating a key geographic point to commence the attack.

1219dc4a0b58df8ed7052d1989e32f11

 

The planes of the Pathfinder Squadron flew over the countryside between the coast and south London and on approaching Mitcham the signal changed indicating the point from where a carefully planned course and time would lead the planes directly to the centre of London.

This approach allowed for accurate bombing despite the heavy layers of cloud below. The aim of the Pathfinders was to start fires which the main bomber force could then follow.

At the planned time the bombers released canisters containing the incendiary bombs. On the drop down, the canisters then broke open to shower individual bombs over a wide radius.

The waves of the main bomber force then started to arrive, each loaded with canisters of incendiary bombs and the occasional high explosive bomb.

incendinary-bomb

These were relatively small devices and could be easy to deal with, however when dropped in such large numbers, it only took a few to start fires in hard to reach locations that could very quickly get out of control.

The 1KG incendiary was 34.5cm long and 5cm in diameter. The body was of magnesium alloy with a filling of an incendiary compound (thermite). On hitting the ground, a needle was driven into a percussion cap which ignited the thermite. The heat from this also ignited the magnesium casing causing an intense heat which would ignite any flammable material that the bomb was in contact with.

p02c4tzp

.More than 160 civilians died during that night, with many more dying of their injuries sustained in this raid in the days that followed; 14 firemen died fighting the fires and 250 were injured. Buildings completely destroyed in the fire storm included 19 churches, 31 guild halls and all of Paternoster Row. Paternoster Row was the centre of the London publishing trade and an estimated 5 million books were lost in the fire.