Operation Jericho Part One – The Bombing of Amiens Prison

Blown Periphery, Going Postal


FEBRUARY 18th, 1944
HNO T 140 A/F
V GPB GPB 5/18 ‘O’ FORM ‘B’

FROM 2 GROUP 180940A

AO,241 18th Feb.
Information: Mosquitos of 140 Airfield are to attack the prison at AMIENS in an attempt to assist 120  prisoners to escape. These prisoners are French patriots condemned to death for assisting the Allies.  This air attack is only part of the plan as other assistance will be at hand at the time.
Date and Time: 18th February, 1944.
Zero 1200 hours.
Route: Base – LITTLEHAMPTON – Via appropriate lattice to TOCQUEVILLE – SENARPONT – BOURDON – One mile  South DOULLENS – BOUZINCOURT – 2 miles west south west ALBERT – Target – Turn right – ST. SAVEUR –  SENARPONT – TOCQUEVILLE – HASTINGS – Base.
Bomb Load: 2 x 500lb M C Mk.IV fused T.D. 11 secs.
2 x 500lb S A P fused T.D. 11 secs.
Method of Attack: All aircraft to attack at low level.
1st Attack: Six Mosquitos as detailed by O.C. 140 Airfield.
Intention: To break the outer wall in at least two places.
Method: Leading three aircraft to attack eastern wall using main road as lead in. Second section of  three aircraft when ten miles from target will break away to the right at sufficient height to allow  them to watch leading three aircraft and then attack northern wall on a North-South run, immediately  following the explosion of the bombs of the leading section.
Timing: Attacks to be made at Zero hours.
2nd Attack: Six Mosquitos as detailed by O.C. 140 Airfield.
Intention: To bomb the main prison buildings.
Method: Leading three aircraft to attack south eastern end of main building and second section of  three aircraft to attack the north western end of building. Attacks to be carried out in a similar  manner to first attack above.
Timing: Attack to be made at Zero plus 3 mins.
3rd Attack: Six Mosquitos as detailed by O.C. 140 Airfield.
Intention: This force is a reserve, and will approach the target as in the previous two attacks, one  section from east and one from north, but will only bomb if it is seen that one of the previous  attacks has failed.
Method: As in 1st attack. Target will be decided by leader on approach.
Timing: Attack to be made at Zero plus 13 mins.
Fighter Support: Each formation of six Mosquitos will have one squadron of Typhoons as close escort.  Fighters will rendezvous with Mosquitos as follows:-
1st Attack: 1 mile east of LITTLEHAMPTON at Zero minus 45 mins.
2nd Attack: 1 mile west of LITTLEHAMPTON at Zero minus 42 mins.
3rd Attack: LITTLEHAMPTON at Zero minus 32 mins.
1st Attack: Bomber call sign: D Y P E G.
Ground control call sign: A I L S O M E on 2 Group guard 1.
Bomber leader may call escort direct in emergency on 11 Group guard 1.
2nd Attack: Bomber call sign: C A N O N.
Ground control call sign: B E L L F I E L D on 2 Group guard 1.
Bomber leader may call escort direct in emergency on 11 Group guard 1.
3rd Attack: Bomber call sign: B U C K S H O T.
Ground control call sign: G R E E N S H I P on 2 Group guard 1.
Bomber leader may call escort direct in emergency on 11 Group guard 1.
Fighter call sign: D U N L O P.
General: Emergency homing to FRISTON on 2 Group guard.
A.S.R. on 2 Group guard.
Special V.H.F. codeword: RENOVATE.
Notes: (1) Following each attack sections of three aircraft of each formation are to endeavour to  regain close company as soon as possible.
BT 180940A.

On Friday the 18th February 1944, Raymond Vivant was preparing for lunch in his cell in Amiens  prison.  He was the Sub-Prefect of Abbeville and had been arrested by the Gestapo on 12th February  1944, for suspected Resistance activities.  He heard the drone of aircraft engines, then there was a huge explosion that rocked walls of the prison and he was engulfed with smoke and dust.  There were  further explosions, the wall on the left side of his cell split open and as the dust settled, Vivant  saw that his cell door had been blown open.  Outside of his cell the corridor and opposing wing was  gone and only a heap of smoking rubble remained.  Beyond the debris he saw the snow-covered open  countryside, through a breach in the outer walls.  Along with 258 other prisoners, Vivant ran for his  life.

In early 1944 the French Resistance movement in the Amiens district was in crisis.  Due to  carelessness and the nefarious activities of collaborators, large numbers of French men and women had  been arrested for suspected Resistance activities and it looked as if entire networks had been compromised. Many of the men were being held in Amiens prison and twelve had been shot.  It was  reported that another 100 were to be shot on the 19th February.  When two British intelligence  officers were captured by the Germans and sent to Amiens prison, a precision air attack on the prison  was requested.

The 2nd Tactical Air Force (TAF) was ordered to carry out the task and quick planning was undertaken.   The stated mission was to attack the prison in Amiens in order to allow 120 prisoners to escape  (highlighted in the operational signal).  What exactly the “other assistance at hand at the time,”  has never been ascertained.  The immediate problem for the planners was how to blow holes in the  buildings’ infrastructure without killing everyone inside.  It was decided to use eleven second delay  fuses on the bombs so that the resulting explosion of the bombs didn’t catch the aircraft that had  dropped them.  But it was essential that the mess hall of the prison guards was destroyed, in order  to prevent them from shooting the prisoners as they made their escape.  Lunchtime was chosen for the  time on target as most of the guards would be gathered in the mess hall.

No 140 Wing of 2nd TAF, based at RAF Hunsdon in Hertfordshire, was chosen to mount the operation.  It  was comprised of eighteen aircraft from elements of three squadrons.  The Squadrons were equipped  with Mosquito Mk XI Fighter Bombers.  No 487 Squadron RNZAF was to attack the German mess hall and  breaching the outer walls in two places.  No 464 Squadron RAAF was to bomb the walls if no prisoners  were seen to be escaping.  No 21 Squadron RAF was to be the executioner if there were no escapees and  was ordered to obliterate the prison and everyone in it.

21 Squadron was commanded by Group Captain Percy Charles Pickard, DSO with two bars and a DFC.  He  was a highly experienced pilot, but had only had ten hours conversion training on the Mosquito and  very little experience at flying at low level.  The operation was to be conducted entirely at low  level, 50 feet or less both inbound and homebound below the enemy radar.  Close escort for the  fighter bombers was provided by Hawker Typhoons from 174, 245 and 198 Squadrons RAF.

The operation was to have been led by Air Vice-Marshall Basil Embry the Air Officer Commanding No 2  Group RAF that had been subsumed into the 2nd TAF.  He was an energetic commander who believed in  leading his crews from the front and had been shot down over France in 1940.  Although captured, he  escaped and evaded for two months before being returned to the UK.  Unfortunately Embry was closely  involved in the planning for D-Day and was forbidden from flying.  Pickard took his place despite his  inexperience at low level flying.  Pickard was to fly with the second wave to observe and provide  command and control as the raid progressed.  It was to be his decision to totally destroy the prison  if all else failed.

Bad weather with low cloud and snow across Europe delayed the attack until the 18th February, by  which time the operation had to go ahead.  The eighteen Mosquitos plus O-Orange, a Photo Recce PR  aircraft were armed and fuelled in the freezing darkness.  The fighter bombers were armed with four  500lb bombs, two medium capacity high explosive and two 500lb armour piercing.  Two bombs would be  carried in the internal bomb bay, two on hard points under each wing.  The PR Mosquito only carried  cameras and a cameraman.  The crews received their final briefings at 0800 and this was the first  time they discovered what their target was.  Pickard was ironically flying in “F for Freddie,” the  same call sign as the Wellington bomber he had flown in the 1941 propaganda film: “Target for  Tonight,” and he would give the signal for the success or otherwise of the operation. If Pickard was  lost, the PR Mosquito would broadcast the signal.

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
Flight Lieutenant Broadley helps Pickard into his flying kit


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