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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Amiens Prison Raid

18 February 1944

Theatre: Western Europe
Location: Amiens, north east France.
Players: Britain: Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham's 2nd Tactical Air Force (2 TAF).
Outcome: The liberation of 258 prisoners held by the Gestapo.

The De Havilland Mosquito was a small, fast, wooden-bodied bomber, initially used primarily as a 'pathfinder' aircraft - dropping flares as target markers for heavy bombers.

Later in the war, the Mosquito's ability to outrun German fighters was seen as an asset outweighing its limited bomb load capacity. Mosquitoes were increasingly used on hit-and-run diversionary raids, complementing large scale area bombing missions, and on small-scale precision bombing missions.

Most of these were carried out not by RAF Bomber Command but by 2 TAF. The force was formed in 1943 with the task of establishing air superiority in support of army operations in North Africa and, ultimately, Europe. In the run-up to the Normandy landings, 2 TAF launched numerous attacks in occupied France and elsewhere, supporting resistance groups and harassing the German occupiers.

An outstanding example of this was the bombing of Amiens prison. The prison's 700 inmates included several activists in the French Resistance, 12 of whom were to be executed on 19 February 1944.

At noon on 18 February, 11 Mosquitoes dive-bombed the prison, dropping time-delay bombs inside the outer wall from a height of 60 feet; the guards' accommodation area was also bombed. A 12th Mosquito repeatedly overflew the area and photographed the entire operation.

The blast breached the wall and blew in the doors of the prison. The explosion killed 102 prisoners, but 258 escaped, including 79 Resistance or political prisoners; sadly, two-thirds of the escapees were later recaptured.

Completed with the loss of two aircraft, including that of the operation's leader Group Captain Percy Pickard, the Amiens prison raid exemplified the costs of precision bombing as well as its advantages.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.


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