Today August 19, 2020 marks an historic anniversary in the life of Pembroke Dock – and Pembrokeshire as a whole.

Eighty years ago, at the height of the Second World War, three German Junkers 88 aircraft made a low-level attack against the Admiralty oil fuel depot at Llanreath, setting off one of the most vicious fires ever encountered.

The fire raged for three weeks and 650 men from 22 fire brigades fought the flames using nine miles of hose and 2,000 gallons of water per minute. Tragically five sacrificed their lives and 38 were seriously injured.

In the town of Pembroke Dock the story is the stuff of legend – carefully documented by former Western Telegraph reporter Vernon Scott, who was born and raised in Milford Haven, in his book Inferno 1940.

The book has been reprinted by the Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre and copies can be purchased from its headquarters in the Old Dockyard Chapel, in Pembroke Dock, which has recently reopened to visitors.

Some 650 firemen were involved at various times in fighting the Llanreath fire. They came from all over south Wales and from five English cities and towns.

Brigades that sent firemen and equipment included Pembroke Dock, Pembroke, Milford Haven, Haverfordwest, Narberth, Tenby, Fishguard, RN Mines Depot (Milford Haven), Dockyard Boom Defence, Cardiff, Newport, Neath, Rhondda Valley, Barry, Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil. Caerphilly, Gelligaer (Bargoed), and, from across the border, Birmingham, Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud.

It is estimated there were over 1,100 injuries – both minor and major – with 35 serious cases.

Four times the Luftwaffe returned with single aircraft to harass the firefighting efforts – once at night – and even when resting firemen were not safe. In early September off-duty firemen were injured when the Temperance Hall in Lewis Street was bombed and extensively damaged. Eighteen were injured, two seriously. Miraculously no-one was killed as the hall was reduced to four walls and had to be demolished later.

Fire firemen from the Cardiff Brigade died in one horrific incident when the wall of a burning tank suddenly collapsed, enveloping them, on August 22.

Those who died were: Frederick George Davis (31); Clifford Miles (31); Ivor John Kilby (29), Trevor Charles Morgan (31) and John Frederick Thomas (30).

With the fire still raging the inquest was held on August 30, the coroner recording a verdict that death was due to asphyxia and burning, accidentally caused.

“The nation owes these brave men, a debt of gratitude” the Coroner added.

Two days into the fire fighting Milford Haven firemen were returning home in the very early hours of the morning when they were confronted by gun toting Home Guardsmen.

They were travelling in a truck along Slebech Flats, five miles to the east of Haverfordwest, when several shots rang out and bullets struck the vehicle.

Wisely stopping, the firemen were surrounded by Home Guardsmen who were operating a road block which in the pitch black night had not been seen. No one was, thankfully, injured.

With thanks to the Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre and to Adrian James