The WW2 Raid on Amiens Prison – A Rescue Mission Which Turned Into A Bloodbath

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Damage included a hole in the perimeter wall (right-of-centre).

One minute past noon they stormed the prison. Three of the Mosquitoes were aiming for the walls and using bombs fitted with eleven-second delay-action fuses. In the first attack, they managed to breach the outer walls, but it was necessary to circle around for another run. Two others bombed the railway station which was used to send in reinforcements, thus giving the prisoners a fair chance of escape.

At 12:06 the eastern wall was still not breached. The bombers flew as low as 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground and bombed it once again. In a second run, two of the Mosquitoes dropped 500 pounds (230 kg) of bombs on the main prison facility, killing and wounding many of the prison staff, including some of the inmates. At this point, the prisoners started to escape.

Pickard judged the mission was a success and ordered the squad to head home. On their return, the Germans already had their fighter planes above ground. One of them shot the retreating Mosquito manned by Pickard and he crashed, dying instantly with his navigator.

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Dust and smoke from Amiens prison during the raid.

Out of 717 prisoners, 102 died during the raid, mostly at the hands of the prison guards who were trying to stop the escape. The bombing of the railway station indeed gave the inmates a two-hour head start before the search parties could be organized. About 255 managed to escape, including 79 verified resistance fighters, but 182 were recaptured within the next 48 hours.

A French historian Jean-Pierre Ducellier spent years studying the Amiens Raid, claiming that it was an unnecessary effort and that the RAF’s official motives were not the real reason for the raid. His reasons to think so were based on three verified 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.

Also, it was never publicly established who ordered Operation Jericho since Maurice Buckmaster, who was the head of the SOE department in France objected to the claims that it was the SOE who had ordered the operation to be executed. He suggested that it was the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6, but this claim was also never officially adopted.

Check out the video of the raid below.