The second Great Fire of London

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.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.

 

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The V2 attack on Woolworths

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On Saturday 25th November 1944 at 12.26 pm [only 2 weeks since the first V2 rocket hit London]

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at a busy shopping parade in New Cross a V2 rocket hit without warning destroying most of the parade [including the Woolworths and Co Op stores, now Iceland and New Cross Library] in the massive explosion 168 people lost their lives [24 were never identified] and 122 were injured.

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The parade was bustling with shoppers and included a Woolworths store. The dead included Mothers with their children and the elderly as well as local people many came from outside the Borough.

Saturday 25 November, 1944 was mild. The Allies’ success in Europe had raised peoples’ spirits at home. In New Cross word spread that the local Woolworth’s had 144 tin saucepans. These had been in short supply, so a queue built up quickly. Mums, grandparents and even soldiers on home leave stood in line, hoping to be lucky.

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All of the full-time staff were at work on the busiest trading day. They were assisted by Saturday boys and girls, most of whom were just fourteen years old, and out to earn a little pocket money.

At noon the Council’s manual workers clocked off after collecting their wages from Deptford Town Hall, opposite the store. Many went shopping.

Also at noon, far away on Walcheren Island off the Belgian Coast, a select group of German dignitaries were celebrating.

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They had arranged drinks to mark the 250th launch of a V2 rocket, which was despatched skywards as they watched. A few minutes later it malfunctioned and exploded in the sky above St Paul’s Cray in Kent. No-one was hurt.

At 12.15 second break started at Woolworth’s and the next wave of store staff headed upstairs for a cooked lunch in the canteen. The train cleaners from New Cross Station on the Southern Railway slipped off early, hoping to get a hot drink of Bovril at the Woolies Tea Bar. The pile of saucepans near the back tills was going down. And the 251st rocket was launched.

Suddenly, with no warning, at 12.26 the V2 rocket hit the rear of the flat roof of the Woolworth store. After a moment’s silence the walls bowed, and the building collapsed and exploded. The Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society store next door and the queue of people waiting for a tram in the street outside were caught in the inferno. As the dust settled shards of glass and debris stretched ankle-deep all the way to New Cross Station, half a mile (0.4km) away. It is believed that the station had been the target.

In the hours that followed local people helped the emergency services to lift the rubble by hand. As it was cleared the full horror was evident. 168 people had died, both customers and staff. 122 passers-by were injured. Just one person survived. These terrible losses would have been even worse if traffic problems had not causes a suspension of the tram service along New Cross Road a few minutes before the attack.

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Test Stand VII-V2 launch: October 3rd 1942

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Today marks the 74th anniversary of the first successful launch of a V-2 /A4-rocket from Test Stand VII at Peenemünde, Germany.Making it the 1st official man made object to reach space, making space exploration a fact.

However the Nazi’s weren’t really interested in space exploration for the betterment of humankind.

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Test Stand VII(P-7) was the principal V-2 rocket testing facility at Peenemünde Airfield and was capable of static firing of rocket motors up to 200 tons thrust. Notable events at the site include the first successful V-2 launch on 3 October 1942.

Two distinguishing features of P-7 were the 670-yard-long ,elliptical high-sloped sand wall and the wide concrete-lined trench (flame pit) with a large symmetrical water-cooled flame deflector of molybdenum-steel pipes. The concrete trench, nearly 25 feet (7.6 m) wide with 3 feet (0.91 m) concrete walls, sloped gradually away from each side of the flame deflector to a depth of 20 feet (6.1 m), rising again symmetrically toward the side of the arena. Beside the flame pit was a long underground room where 4 feet (1.2 m) diameter delivery pipes were housed to route cooling water at 120 gallon per second from three huge pumps in the pumphouse to the flame deflector in the pit.

While the elliptical sand wall was for blocking high sea winds and blown sand, concrete structures were integrated into the wall and under the ground to protect equipment and personnel from rocket explosions and enemy bombing (a sand-filled dummy warhead, called “the elephant”, was normally used). A large gap in the wall allowed easy entry by vehicles (particularly rail cars with propellants), and an open tunnel through the ellipse wall at the narrower southern end also allowed entry. Integrated into the ellipse wall next to the tunnel was a massive observation and measuring blockhouse containing the control center. The control center had a double door with a bulletproof glass window from which an observer maintained telephone communication with the Telemetering Building at a remote location from P-7. A receiver in a lighthouse near Koserow provided telemetry from rockets with the Wolman System for Doppler tracking. For rockets that used radio control for V-2 engine cutoff, the Brennschluss(burn-out) equipment included a transmitter on the bank of the Peene about 7.5 miles (12.1 km) from P-7 and the Doppler radar at Lubmin (a motorized Würzburg radar, the “rhinoceros”

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Beginning in September 1944, over 3,000 V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets during the war, first London and later Antwerp and Liège.

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According to a 2011 BBC documentary, the attacks resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel, while 12,000 forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners died producing the weapons.

“This third day of October, 1942, is the first of a new era in transportation, that of space travel…”

— Speech at Peenemünde, Walter Dornberger, 3 October 1942
Walter Dornberger
The control room  had switchboards, a row of four periscopes, manometers, frequency gauges, voltmeters and ammeters, green/red/white signal lamps, and switches at the propulsion console and guidance panel to dynamically display approximately 15 measurement points within the rocket. Additionally, the control room had a big “X-time” countdown clock that display the time until launch, which was announced via loudspeakers as “X minus four minutes“, etc. In addition to the control room, the blockhouse also contained offices, a conference room, a small dormitory with double bunks and an adjoining shower, a wash room, and a workshop. A long underground corridor led from the measurement blockhouse to a room in the concrete foundation by the flame pit, and multiple rows of measurement cables covered the walls of the tunnel. A different gradually rising tunnel led from the long flame pit room to the exterior of the arena near the pumphouse . Near the pumphouse were high wooden towers to cool the water, and 25 feet (7.6 m) high tanks for the recooling water were integrated into the ellipse wall.
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The prominent tower within the arena was a mobile test frame/crane (Fahrbare Kranbühne)which could be moved over the flame pit to position the rocket nozzle 25 feet above the deflector, and which allowed an entire missile to be gimbaled in two directions up to five degrees from vertical. The tower included an elevator and a German-made Toledo scale for thrust measurements. Actual launches were from a steel table-like structure (firing stand, Brennstand) across the railway from the flame pit on the test stand’s large concrete foundation. Under the concrete foundation were the recorder room, a small shop, an office, compressed nitrogen storage cylinders, and catch tanks. The arena also included an engine cold-calibration pad for conducting flow test measurements by pumping water (instead of Liquid oxygen) and alcohol(which was recovered afterward) via the turbopump through the combustion chamber. Since the V-2 motor had no controller for the turbopump, cold-calibration allowed the determination of “freak cases” of equipment.
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Launch Description

“The heavy missile … rose only 15 feet above the firing table. Then it stood still! It stood upright in the air, showing no desire to turn over or to revolve about its longitudinal axis. It was an unbelievable sight. At any moment the rocket would topple or fall back, crash and explode. … But I still kept my binoculars on the rocket. … There must have been an interruption in the output of the steam generator for the propellant-pump turbine. … The film operator, Kühn, had taken up position facing me on the [elliptical] wall of the test stand. He must have had good nerves. The rocket hung in the air just 100 yards away.[from Kühn] Nothing daunted, … He certainly knew from experience that the moment the projectile fell back he would be in mortal danger. He just went on cranking. … Our exhaust vanes were doing a wonderful job. The rocket stood unsupported in the air, as straight as a ramrod. Only 4 seconds had passed, … The rocket was bound to topple now. The tilt [for trajectory control] would now begin automatically. … The rocket grew lighter owing to the steady fuel consumption. Almost imperceptibly, yard by yard, it began to climb. Its nose turned very gradually eastward. … At a height of 30 to 40 feet it moved slowly, still practically upright, toward the cameraman. He went on cranking. I caught my breath. Just a little more tilt and the rocket would certainly capsize and explode … Now it was over the wall. Kühn knelt down and pointed his camera almost straight upward. It was going to be some film! … I knew what was bound to come. … I saw him get up slowly, still cranking. His camera was now practically horizontal. Then he pointed it diagonally down from the high wall. Boom! … Smoke, flames, fragments of sheet-metal, branches, and sand whirled through the air. The rocket had crashed … 40 yards beyond the wall … The cameraman was still cranking. … I was filled with an immense pride. … only with men like this, could we finish the job that lay before us.”

Walter Dornberger, c. 1943.

It is such a shame that the Nazi’s only had death,destruction and annihilation in mind when they designed both V1 and V2 programs.
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