Mosquito and crew of the 487 (NZ) Squadron, February 1944
On 18 February 1944, a force of Mosquito bombers, escorted by Typhoon fighters, launched a daring raid on Amiens prison in German-occupied northern France.
Amiens prison housed hundreds of captured French resistance fighters and the objective of the mission was to allow as many prisoners as possible to escape by destroying the prison walls and guard barracks in a surprise attack.
The New Zealand contribution to the raid was six Mosquitos of no. 487 (NZ) Squadron, led by Wing Commander Irving Smith.
The plan called for surprise and precision that would have been impossible for a regular bombing raid. The Mosquitos were required to evade German radar by flying at high speed at altitudes as low as thirty feet across the English channel and northern France and deliver the first bombs to two points on the outer walls of the prison, with the second group of bombers striking the guard barracks and guard mess hall in the main prison buildings three minutes after the attack on the walls.
The role of destroying the outer walls was won by 487 Squadron, with the Australian 464 squadron responsible for bombing the guard facilities with the British 21 squadron kept in reserve. Despite terrible weather conditions and the attacks of German fighters and air defences the bombers were successful in hitting their targets and 258 prisoners were able to escape in the aftermath of the strike. Most of the escapees were subsequently recaptured. Four of the attacking aircraft (two Mosquitos and two Typhoons) were lost to the German fighters and air defences. While none of the 487 squadron aircraft failed to return RNZAF Flight Lieutenant Richard Webb Sampson, serving with the Australian 464 squadron, was killed in action.
Controversy has surrounded the aims of the raid on Amiens prison since the operation was publicly revealed in October 1944. Despite initial claims that the raid had been at the request of the resistance in order to save imprisoned fighters from imminent execution, no evidence of either a request or planned executions has ever been located. Alternate theories point to the involvement of British intelligence services.
Archives New Zealand references: AIR 170/2 10 (R18288568)
Material from Archives New Zealand