LONDON, Dec. 30, 1940 (UP) -- German bombers set London's ancient "City" afire last night starting a vast conflagration which wrecked medieval Guildhall, a half dozen of Christopher Wren churches and other hallowed British shrines in what officials today charged was a deliberate Nazi attempt to destroy nonmilitary objectives.
Today, after a night of inferno such as London had not seen since the great fire of 1666, the City's square mile of twisting lanes and time hallowed buildings lay wrecked and smoldering.
The Guildhall was gone -- antiquarians called it Britain's greatest loss since Nazi bombers started their attack. Gone, too, were the Church of St. Bride's, St. Mary Aldermary, St. Andrew's by the Wardrobe, St. Laurence Jewry. Almost as great damage was suffered by the famous Old Baily Court Carlton Club in St. Switihin's lane and a roster of buildings that read like a tourist's guidebook.
St. Stephen's in Coleman street, another Wren church just east of Girdler's Hall, was badly damaged as was St. Vedast's in Cheapside, a Wren church whose history goes back to the 13th century; St. Anne and St. Agnes, a Wren structure in Greshan street, which dates back to the 14th century, and St. Mary Woolnoth, a majestic church on King William street, first mentioned in records of 1191 and often rebuilt.
Almost miraculously, St. Paul's great iron dome towered almost untouched amid the ruins. Worshipers crowded into the church to offer prayers for the escape of the edifice that is known as the "Parish Church" of the empire on which the sun never sets.
There was damage last night in other areas which would have made news on any other night -- bombs crashed into shelters at several points and many persons were killed.
But the assault on the city overshadowed all else. Londoners believed it might have been worse had not the Germans suddenly broke off their attack after three long hours, probably because rain and fog swept over the continent and forced raiding planes to turn back to their bases.
For hours during the night, while President Roosevelt was declaring in Washington that Britain would win the war with America's aid, hundreds of thousands of Londoners were fighting in the "City," the greatest fire in nearly 300 years.
Policemen, firemen, air raid wardens, soldiers, civilian volunteers, worked, seared by licking flames and blinded and choked by smoke, to put out fires started by thousands of incendiary bombs which hundreds of German planes dropped for hours.
Nurses played hoses over the roofs of hospitals. Women and children fought the flames which ate into their homes. Over the city spread a shroud of heavy smoke, through which great tongues of flame roared up.
The Air and Home Security ministries, in their angriest communique of the war, charged that the Germans, in a new form of ruthless warfare, had tried to burn a city in which there is no military objective.
"Last night the enemy dropped a large number of incendiary bombs on the city of London in a deliberate attempt to set fire to it," the ministries said. "Damage was done to many famous buildings, including the Guildhall and several city churches.
"St. Paul's Cathedral itself was endangered but neighboring fires were extinguished in time.
"There was nowhere any attempt to single out targets of military importance.
"Fires were caused in other parts of the London area, where damage was done to commercial buildings.
"The London fire services worked heroically and with success throughout the night.
"Casualties were few."
That was the official story of a night in which Londoners fought the great fire, while fire rained down from the smoke-filled blackened sky upon them, while the silence of cables to foreign countries and radio stations told the world that this historic city was fighting for its life.
When the cables and the wireless resumed service, after hours, it was to say that the city's fight had been won.