Today on December 29, 1940, the iconic photo of St Paul's Cathedral was taken during the intense night air raids over London.
St Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican church located in the heart of London, serving as the seat of the Bishop of London. In 1697, the present-day cathedral officially opened and has since become one of the most recognizable tourist sites in the capital. The building itself is situated atop of the Ludgate Hill, the most elevated point within the city. Its impressive architectural design features a large dome in the center, which was the tallest building in London until 1967. However, during World War II, St Paul’s Cathedral was an imminent danger of being destroyed.
In late 1940, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) failed to defeat the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Battle of Britain. As a result, the German High Command decided to switch strategies. They subsequently began hammering the United Kingdom with a series of strategic bombings across military and government targets. Sadly, the attacks escalated into civilian terror bombings as well. Civilian attacks mainly concentrated on the metropolitan areas of London. The Germans treated all buildings and landmarks as “fair game.” The night air raids of December 29, 1940, were particularly brutal. At some point in the evening, the iconic photograph named “St Paul’s Survives” was captured. The air raids were commonly known as the the Blitz, an abbreviation of Blitzkrieg (meaning lightning war).
The photo of St Paul’s Cathedral illuminated by flames and smoke was taken on the 114th night of the Blitz. Herbert Mason shot the photo while on the roof of the Daily Mail building on Tudor Street. It was cleared for publication the next morning and appeared on the front page as the "War's Greatest Picture." It quickly became a symbol of British resilience and courage against the terrifying bombings. Dubbed as the Second Great Fire of London, more than 160 people were killed and 500 injured that night alone. Hundreds of buildings in downtown London were reduced to rubble.
“I focused at intervals as the great dome loomed up through the smoke. Glares of many fires and sweeping clouds of smoke kept hiding the shape. Then a wind sprang up. Suddenly, the shining cross, dome and towers stood out like a symbol in the inferno. The scene was unbelievable. In that moment or two I released my shutter.”