Operation Jericho

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Operation Jericho
Part of World War II
Operation Jericho - Amiens Jail During Raid 2.jpg
Dust and smoke from Amiens prison during the raid.
Date 18 February 1944
Location Amiens, German occupied France
Result Successful raid
Belligerents
United Kingdom Royal Air Force
Australia Royal Australian Air Force
New Zealand Royal New Zealand Air Force
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945).svg Gestapo
Strength
9 bombers & 12 fighters Anti-aircraft defences
2 Fw 190
Casualties and losses
3 Mosquitos, 2 Typhoons
aircrew: 3 KIA, 3 POW
inmates: 37 KIA, 260
     reprisal executions
50 KIA

Operation Jericho[1] was a low-level World War II bombing raid by Allied aircraft on Amiens Prison in German-occupied France on 18 February 1944. The stated object of the raid was to free French Resistance and political prisoners.[2] The raid is remarkable for the precision and daring of the attack, which was filmed by an on-board camera on one of the planes. However, controversy persists as to who requested and authorised the attack, and whether it was necessary.

Mosquito bombers succeeded in breaching the walls and buildings of the prison, as well as destroying guards' barracks. Of the 717 prisoners, 102 were killed, 74 wounded, and 258 escaped, including 79 Resistance and political prisoners, although two thirds of the escapees were recaptured.[3]

Background[edit]

In 1943 many members of the French resistance movement in the Amiens area had been caught by the Germans and imprisoned in Amiens prison. Some had been betrayed by collaborators, and the entire movement in the area was at risk. By December 1943, 12 members of the Resistance had been executed at the prison, and it was learned that more than 100 other members were to be shot on 19 February 1944. Dominique Penchard began sending information about the prison to London, including accurate details of the layout, defences, and duty rosters.[citation needed]

When two Allied intelligence officers were also captured and sent to Amiens prison, a precision air attack on the prison was requested, and the mission was allocated to the 2nd Tactical Air Force. The prison was located alongside a long straight road and surrounded by high walls. The guards ate in a block adjacent to the main building, making lunchtime the best time to eliminate the maximum number of guards. The balance of munitions used had to be carefully planned so that when hitting the main prison walls, they were breached and the doors sprung open without the building being destroyed. As well as destroying the guards' mess hall, breaches had to be made in the prison's outer walls to allow the inmates to escape. There were around 700 inmates in the prison and loss of life was inevitable during an air raid, but it was thought that many had already been condemned to death and it would give a chance for some at least to escape.[4]

Attack force[edit]

Low-level aerial photo of Amiens Prison during the raid shows snow-covered buildings and landscape

No. 140 Wing of the RAF Second Tactical Air Force, based at RAF Hunsdon in Hertfordshire, was selected to carry out the raid using Mosquito FB Mk VIs. The Wing comprised 18 Mosquitos from No. 464 Squadron RAAF, No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, and No. 21 Squadron RAF, and was led by Group Captain Percy Charles Pickard (DSO and two bars), an experienced pilot and leader but who was inexperienced in low level attacks and underwent 10 hours' conversion training at Hatfield. The Mosquitos of 487 Squadron were assigned the task of bombing the prison guards' mess hall and breaching the outer prison wall in two places, while 464 Squadron's aircraft were tasked with bombing the prison's main walls if no prisoners were seen escaping. No. 21 Squadron was assigned with the grim alternative of bombing the prison and all in it, as requested by those prisoners aware of the proposed mission. The overall raid was to be led by Air Vice-Marshal Basil Embry, and was ready to go from 10 February. Close support was to be provided by Hawker Typhoons from No. 198 Squadron RAF and No. 174 Squadron RAF.

Attack[edit]

Air Vice Marshall Basil Embry was originally intended to command the attack, but was later forbidden from flying on the mission, as he was involved in the planning of the invasion of Europe. Pickard therefore took his place, despite his limited experience of low-level attack. The mission was delayed by very poor weather, which worsened after 10 February, with low cloud and snow across Europe. By 18 February it was not possible to wait any longer for the weather to improve, and the 18 Mosquitos, plus a PR (photo-reconnaissance) Mosquito, were readied. The crews were briefed at 08:00 under high security, the first time they had been made aware of the target. Pickard was to bring up the rear of the second wave of aircraft, to assess the damage and to call in 21 Squadron if necessary. In the event of anything happening to Pickard's aircraft, the crew of the PR Mosquito would carry out the task instead.

Post-raid damage included a hole in the perimeter wall (right-of-centre).

The final decision to carry out the attack was made just 2 hours before the deadline for striking the target, and the Mosquitos took off from Hunsdon into weather worse than many of the crews had previously experienced. Four Mosquitos lost contact with the formation and had to return to base, and an additional one had to turn back due to engine problems, leaving 9 to carry out the main attack with 4 in reserve.

At one minute past noon they reached the target, three of No. 487 Squadron's aircraft aiming for the eastern and northern walls of the prison with bombs fitted with 11 second delayed-action fuzes, while the other two made a diversion attack on the local railway station before returning to the prison. The outer walls were successfully breached, but No. 464 Squadron's Mosquitos were too close behind and had to circle the target while the initial bombs detonated.

The eastern wall appeared unbreached at 12:06, when two planes from 464 Squadron attacked it from an altitude of 50 feet, with eight 500 lb bombs. However, observers did not identify any damage to the prison, caused by this bombing run. Simultaneously, two Mosquitos from 464 Squadron bombed the main building from 100 feet, also with eight 500 lb bombs. A direct hit on the guardhouse killed or disabled the occupants and a number of prisoners were killed or wounded, while many were able to escape.

Pickard, circling at 500 ft (150 m), saw prisoners escape and signalled No. 21 Squadron's Mosquitos to return home. As he turned for home, a Fw 190 fighter of JG 26 severed the tail of his Mosquito; the Mosquito's crash killed him and his navigator.

In total 255 prisoners escaped, though 182 were recaptured.[2] The diversion attack on the railway station delayed German troops by two hours.[4]

Controversy[edit]

In October 1944, RAF announced the raid as a complete success. However, not only were around 100 of the prisoners sought to be liberated killed by bombs hitting the main prison building, most of those who managed to flee were recaptured within 48 hours. Furthermore, several prisoners - resistance member Henri Moisan being one of them - refused to leave out of fear for retaliation towards their relatives. According to Moisan, the whole operation was an unnecessary bloodbath which served little to no purpose. French historian Jean-Pierre Ducellier who spent years studying the raid reached the conclusion that the whole official motivation for it was “sheer lies”. This was based on several facts:

  • The French resistance did not request the bombing, nor did they transmit any information about the prison until asked for it by the British.
  • There were no executions scheduled, nor expected. After the liberation of Amiens, the RAF Squadron Leader Edwin Houghton was sent there with the specific task to find the cause for Jericho, but he failed to find even the alleged list of executions to be carried out.
  • Several of the prisoners to be liberated had not been captured when the operation was ordered.

A letter thanking RAF for its involvement in the raid signed by the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, 'C' implies that SIS were involved. Maurice Buckmaster who was in charge of SOEs branch in France found that plausible while dismissing entirely that SOE was involved. It has however never been satisfactorily established who in fact did order operation Jericho. [5][6]

List of aircraft involved[edit]

Serial[7] Pilot Navigator Squadron Notes
Mosquito VI (took off 10:50)
HX922/EG-F G/Capt Percy Charles Pickard (KIA) F/Lt John Alan Broadley, RNZAF (KIA) 464 RAAF shot down, buried at Amiens[8]
LR334/SB-F W/Cdr Robert Wilson Iredale, RAAF F/Lt J L McCaul 464 landed 13:00
MM404/SB-T S/Ldr A Ian McRitchie (POW) F/Lt Richard Webb Sampson, RNZAF (KIA) 464 failed to return
MM402/SB-A S/Ldr W R C Sugden F/O A N Bridger 464 landed 13:00
MM410/SB-O F/O K L Monaghan F/O A W Dean 464 landed 12:50
MM403/SB-V F/Lt T McPhee, RNZAF F/Lt G W Atkins 464 landed 12:50
LR333/EG-R W/C I S Smith, DFC F/Lt P E Barns, DFC 487 RNZAF returned
HX892[9]/ EG-T P/O Max Sparks, RNZAF P/O A.C. Dunlop 487 Hit by flak, wheel collapsed on landing, crew safe
HX909/EG-C P/O M L S Darrell P/O F S Stevenson 487 returned
HX856/EG-H F/Sgt S Jennings W/O J M Nichols 487 returned
HX974/EG-J P/O D H Fowler W/O F A Wilkins 487 returned
HX855/EG-Q F/Lt B D Hanafin P/O C F Redgrave 487 Turned back
DZ414/O F/Lt Wickam P/O Howard PRU returned
LR403/YH-U W/C I G Dale F/O E Gabites 21 RAF Instructed not to attack
HX950/YH-C F/Lt A E C Wheeler F/O N M Redington 21 Instructed not to attack
MM398/YH-J F/Lt M J Benn F/O N A Roe 21 Instructed not to attack
LR385/YH-D F/Lt D A Taylor S/Ldr P Livry 21 Instructed not to attack
LR348/YH-P F/Lt E E Hogan F/Sgt D A S Crowfoot 21 Turned back
LR388/YH-F F/Sgt A Steadman P/O E J Reynolds 21 Turned back
Hawker Typhoons[10]
JR133 F/O J E Reynaud (POW) 174 RAF Failed to return
JP793 F/Sgt H S Brown (KIA) 174 Failed to return
JR310 F/Lt F A Grantham 174 Landed at 12.50
JP541 F/Sgt F E Wheeler 174 Landed at 12.50
JP671 F/Lt G I Mallett 174 Landed at 12.50
JP308 F/O W C Vatcher 174 Landed at 12.50
JR303 P/O W D Burton 174 Landed at 12.50
JP535 F/O H V Markby 174 Landed at 12.50
F/Lt R Dell 198 RAF Landed 12.50 at Tangmere due to bad weather at Manston
F/Lt J Scambler 198 Landed 12.50 at Tangmere due to bad weather at Manston
F/Lt R Roper 198 Landed 12.50 at Tangmere due to bad weather at Manston
F/O R Armstrong 198 Separated from main formation in snow-storm and returned to base. Landed at 11.30
F/Lt R Lallemand DFC 198 Separated from main formation in snow-storm and returned to base. Landed at 11.15
F/Lt J Niblett 198 Separated from main formation in snow-storm and returned to base. Landed at 11.15

Memorials[edit]

A plaque at the prison is dedicated to those who died in the attack, and a general airfield memorial[specify] is at Hunsdon Airfield, the Mosquito's base. On the 60th anniversary in 2004, a Spitfire performed a flypast,[where?] as the last airworthy Mosquito had crashed in 1996.

In film[edit]

Mosquito Squadron, a 1969 British war film directed by Boris Sagal and starring David McCallum, was partially inspired by this operation.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The operation's eponym is the biblical event when the Wall of Jericho miraculously fell down (Book of Joshua).
  2. ^ a b "Attack on Amiens Prison, 18th February 1944". RAF. 2004. Archived from the original on 1 January 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2007. 
  3. ^ "Fact File : Amiens Prison Raid". www.bbc.co.uk British Broadcasting Corporation. 
  4. ^ a b Birtles, Philip (2006). Mosquito Fighter Squadrons in Focus. Red Kite / Air Research. pp. 69–72. ISBN 0-9546201-3-5. 
  5. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2220866/
  6. ^ http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/operation_jericho.htm
  7. ^ Lax, Mark (2005). The Gestapo Hunters. Banner Books. ISBN 1875593195
  8. ^ Casualty details—Pickard, Percy Charles, Casualty details—Broadley, John Alan, Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved on 5 November 2008. Archived 13 February 2011 at WebCite
  9. ^ Key Publishing (2009). Mosquito Flypast Special. Key Publishing. ISBN 978-0-946219-18-6
  10. ^ Franks, Norman L (2000). RAF Fighter Command Losses of the Second World War - Volume 3. Midland Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 1-85780-093-1. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]

External video
downloadable film clip