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|Part of Second World War|
Dust and smoke from Amiens prison during the raid.
| Royal Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Royal New Zealand Air Force
|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
Operation Jericho was a low-level Second World War bombing raid on 18 February 1944, by Allied aircraft on Amiens Prison in German-occupied France. The objective of the raid was to free French Resistance and political prisoners. The raid is remarkable for the precision and daring of the attack, which was filmed by a camera on one of the aeroplanes. There is debate as to who requested 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.
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 details of the layout, defences and duty rosters.
When two Allied intelligence officers were 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 next to a long straight road and surrounded by high walls. The guards ate in a building adjacent to the main prison building, making lunch the best time to kill the maximum number of guards. The balance of munitions used had to be arranged so that when hitting the main prison walls, they were breached and the cell doors sprung open without the building being destroyed. As well as destroying the guards' mess hall, the outer walls had to be breached 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.
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, DFC), an experienced pilot and leader but who was inexperienced in low level attacks and had 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 was to bomb the main walls if no prisoners were seen escaping. No. 21 Squadron was assigned to bomb the prison and all in it, as requested by those prisoners aware of the proposed mission. The raid was to be led by Air Vice-Marshal Basil Embry and was ready to go from 10 February. Close escort was to be provided by Hawker Typhoons from No. 198 Squadron RAF and No. 174 Squadron RAF.
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 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 and the 18 Mosquitos, plus a PR (photo-reconnaissance) Mosquito ("O" for Orange), were prepared. The crews were briefed at 08:00 under high security, the first time they had been made aware of the target. Pickard, in "F" for Freddie, 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 broadcast the signal instead.
The final decision to carry out the attack was made two 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 one had to turn back due to engine trouble, leaving nine to carry out the main attack with four in reserve.
At one minute past noon they reached the target, three of the 487 Squadron aircraft aiming for the eastern and northern walls of the prison, with bombs fitted with eleven-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 breached but the 464 Squadron Mosquitos were too close behind and had to circle while the bombs detonated.
The eastern wall appeared unbreached at 12:06, when two aircraft from 464 Squadron attacked it from an altitude of 50 feet (15 m), with eight 500 pounds (230 kg) bombs but observers did not see any damage to the prison. Simultaneously, two Mosquitos from 464 Squadron bombed the main building from 100 feet (30 m), also with eight 500 pounds (230 kg) 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 the No. 21 Squadron Mosquitos to return home. As he turned for home, hits from a Fw 190 fighter of JG 26 severed the tail of his Mosquito and the subsequent crash killed him and his navigator. A total of 255 prisoners escaped, though 182 were recaptured. The diversion attack on the railway station delayed German troops by two hours.
In October 1944, RAF announced the raid as a complete success but about 100 prisoners were killed in the bombing and most of those who managed to flee were recaptured within 48 hours. Some prisoners like resistance member Henri Moisan, 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 spent years studying the raid and reached the conclusion that the official motive 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 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 and signed by the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, 'C' implies that SIS were involved. Maurice Buckmaster who was in charge of SOE's branch in France found that plausible, while dismissing entirely that SOE was involved. It has however never been satisfactorily established who did order Operation Jericho.
A 2011 BBC television documentary presented by Martin Shaw, discussed the claims and speculation that the raid may have been a ruse to concentrate the attention of Nazi German military intelligence on the area and away from Normandy, where the D-Day invasion took place a few months later. The documentary did not reach a conclusion on the subject. The documentary has been repeated, most recently on BBC 4 on 29 September 2015.
List of aircraft involved
|Mosquito VI (took off 10:50)|
|HX922/EG-F||G/Capt Percy Charles Pickard (KIA)||F/Lt John Alan Broadley, RNZAF (KIA)||464 RAAF (a/c from 487 sq)||shot down, buried at Amiens|
|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/ 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 R 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|
|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|
A plaque at the prison is dedicated to those who died in the attack and a general airfield memorial is at Hunsdon Airfield, the Mosquito base. On the 60th anniversary in 2004, a Spitfire performed a flypast, as none of the surviving Mosquitos was airworthy.
Notes and references
- The eponym is the biblical event when the Wall of Jericho miraculously fell down (Book of Joshua).
- "Attack on Amiens Prison, 18th February 1944". RAF. 2004. Archived from the original on 1 January 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2007.
- "Fact File: Amiens Prison Raid". www.bbc.co.uk British Broadcasting Corporation.
- Martin, Jonathan, dir. "Prison Busters." Great Raids of WWII. BBC. 2006. Television.
- Birtles, Philip (2006). Mosquito Fighter Squadrons in Focus. Red Kite/Air Research. ISBN 0-9546201-3-5.
- Lax, Mark (2005). The Gestapo Hunters. Banner Books. ISBN 1875593195
- 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
- Key Publishing (2009). Mosquito Flypast Special. Key Publishing. ISBN 978-0-946219-18-6
- Franks, Norman L (2000). RAF Fighter Command Losses of the Second World War - Volume 3. Midland Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 1-85780-093-1.
- Aarhus Air Raid, a similar attack on Gestapo headquarters in Aarhus, Denmark
- Operation Carthage, a similar attack on Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark
- Oslo Mosquito raid, a similar attack on Gestapo headquarters in Oslo, Norway
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Operation Jericho.|
|downloadable film clip|