Operation Jericho is considered by some as one of the most controversial and daring bombing raids of World War two.
It can also be considered as one of the first “precision” bombing raids ever carried out.
The aircraft chosen for this particular, and maybe, impossible raid was the de Havilland Mosquito bomber. The now legendary Mosquito possessed speed, agility and accuracy; perfect for what was going to be a low level, daylight mission. A warplane that was so exceptional it is hard to believe that cabinet makers constructed it out of plywood. Being made from plywood, the Mosquito was very light, and thus, very fast, in fact the fastest aircraft from 1941 – 1944. Its speed was its greatest defense.
On February 18, 1944 the crews of eighteen Mosquito bombers prepared to take off from RAF Hunsdon, Hertfordshire in appalling weather conditions. The attack force was made up of planes from No. 140 Wing, RAF Second Tactical Air Force, No. 21 Squadron RAF, No. 464 Squadron RAAF and No. 487 Squadron RNZAF. Their target was Amiens Prison in Northern France where around 700 French Resistance fighters were being held. The objective of the mission was to bomb and destroy the perimeter wall along with the German guard quarters that were situated on each side of the main prison block.
After taking off into what turned out be even worse weather conditions than anyone expected four of the Mosquitos lost communication with the rest of the attack force and had to turn back. A fifth aircraft developed engine problems and also had to abort the mission. The remaining thirteen aircraft, led by Captain Charles Pickard, continued, low-level and at speed, across the English Channel, just 50ft above the waves. The attack force was now made up of nine attack aircraft and four in reserve.
At one minute past midday the Mosquitos reached Amiens Prison and the attack commenced with three aircraft targeting the perimeter walls with delayed fused bombs. Two planes broke away and bombed a nearby railway station before rejoining the attack on the prison. The aim of the raid on the railway station was to distract a German garrison and hopefully buy the escaping prisoners’ valuable time.
Five minutes after the first bombs were dropped two Mosquitos ingress to target at an altitude of 50ft, but Pickard who was piloting the observation aircraft and circling at 500ft did not see any damage. At the same time two planes scored direct hits on the guardhouse, completely destroying it, killing the occupants and number of inmates.
Still circling above, Pickard observed prisoners escaping through the breeched walls and gave the order to return home. As he began his egress his plane came under attack from a German FW 190 fighter. Rounds from the German machine guns severed the tail of Pickard’s Mosquito and he and his navigator, Flight Lieutenant J. A. “Bill” Broadley when the stricken aircraft crashed.
The daring daylight raid was hailed a success. Over 250 prisoners escaped, although 102 were killed in the raid. German forces subsequently re-captured around 180. The attack on the railway station delayed the Germans by two hours.