Everybody loves a good rescue story – there’s a reason why they form the basis for so many novels and movies. After all, they have everything: peril, suspense, adventure and, if all goes well, a happy ending. And in many cases, real life is far more awe-inspiring than anything a best-selling author or Hollywood scriptwriter […]
In World War II, precision bombing was nowhere near as sophisticated as it was today. While today’s bombs can be dropped almost on a pinhead, in the 1940s it was often a case of “drop and hope for the best”. In Operation Jericho, however, not only did the pilots involved have the courage to attempt to bomb the outer walls of a French prison, in which they knew Resistance fighters were being held by the Nazis, but they also had the skill. Perhaps a slice of good fortune as well to pull it off! The operation has gone down in history as one of the most audacious rescue missions of the whole war.
By mid-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 intelligence determined that more than 100 other prisoners were to be shot on 19 February 1944. French resistance fighter Dominique Penchard began sending information about the prison to London, including details of the layout, defenses, and guard 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 located adjacent to a long straight road and surrounded by high walls. The guards ate in a building next to but distinctly separate from the main prison building. It was determined that the most effective time to attack would be lunchtime in order to eliminate as many of the guards as possible.
The rest of the ordnance to be dropped had to be allocated so that when hitting the main prison walls, they were breached and the cell doors sprung open without the building being destroyed. It would not be enough to simply destroy the guards’ mess hall. The outer walls would have to be breached in order to allow any of the prisoners to escape. With approximately 700 inmates in the prison, loss of life would be inevitable. However it was thought that many of the prisoners had already been condemned to death and the raid would provide at least some chance for escape.