70 YEARS COMMEMORATIVE
On 18 February 1944, a force of Mosquito bombers flew from Hertfordshire to France to break the walls of the prison in Amiens with the intention of allowing French political prisoners to escape. Although officially designated RAMROD564, the raid later became known as Operation Jericho, many mysteries still exist as to the exact details and reasons for the raid!
This year the club organised a team of three classic minis and a support vehicle to trace the route of the raid. Tim put the plans and route books together, whilst Will focussed on corporate image, publicity and final details. Once again it was decided to leave the Sat-navs at home and do the run using aviation charts and Michelin road maps. On the day prior to the drive, plans were thrown off track straight away by Dans’ mini blowing its radiator. Luckily this was a fairly quick fix. The cars were readied and the squadron scrambled early the following morning.
The run itself started at RAF Hunsdon airfield in Hertfordshire, the point of the raids departure. After meeting David Gibbs at the airfield memorial, the guys received a full briefing on the background to flying operations at Hunsdon including the infamous prison raid. A remembrance cross was placed at the memorial and the team set off for the short drive to the De Havilland Museum.
The museum houses two Mosquito aircraft and the museum staff were very obliging in allowing the club to position the Minis in front of one of them for a photo-shoot. Hopefully this will form the clubs new print and be as sought after as the one from our Dambusters run in 2013. After a look around, the team drove through persistent rain, drizzle, mist among the M25 traffic and made the Eurotunnel crossing to Calais.
After the crossing, the drive to Amiens was a pleasant cruise down the autoroutes and everyone seemed to relax be using the route book maps without any problems. However the day ended with a moment of carnage, the overnight hotel was quickly located in the middle of busy Amiens but finding the hotel car park proved to be more of a challenge. There were minis going in all directions around the centre amongst the rush hour traffic, until we realised that there was a small gap is some bollards, next to a bus lane, and you had to drive on the pavement to get to a ramp that led underground!
After a well deserved meal and some rest, the following morning saw the minis arrive at the raids target – Amiens Prison. As this is still an active prison, we were careful as to how much time we spent photographing it and but still managed to get some unwanted attention and shouts from the inmates! The repair to the largest breech in the wall could still clearly be seen. Time was also spent paying respects to the French civilians and prisoners killed in the raid. The team moved on to the cemetery where the raid leader Group Captain Pickard and his navigator Flt Lt Broadley were buried, after they were shot down on the raid. Once again crosses were laid in remembrance.
With the Op Jericho element completed, there was an ideal opportunity to visit the nearby World War One Somme battlefields, just 15 minutes drive away. As this is the centenary of The Great War it allowed us to gain an insight into the magnitude of these events. Many historic sites were visited including the crater at Lochnager, the site of the first ever tank battle, some of the larger cemeteries and finally the huge memorial at Thiepval. This really is a fitting tribute that can be seen from miles around, it has the name of all the allied soldiers declared missing during the battles in the region. For once the team fell quite silent in personal contemplation as the scale of WW1 events began to sink in. After time for reflection the cars were refuelled for the homeward journey.
One final event was a visit to preserved V1 Flying Bomb site at Hazebrouck. This was quite fitting as the Mosquito squadrons were involved in destroying these sites prior to being diverted to the prison raid. All was going well until Dan called on the radio, his radiator had started losing coolant again. Luckily we had enough kit in the support vehicle to keep him running and on the planned route. After a walk around the wooded V1 site, it was back onto the autoroutes to Calais with the plucky British Mini raiders being escorted to the coast by the French resistance (our Renault support vehicle!).
So what did we think? Yes- it was another good road trip for the RAF Mini Club, far more relaxing than last years’ event but we still learnt much about another daring RAF raid and gained a superb insight into the Great War. In this centenary year we commend you to visit the Somme area if you get chance. It’s a cracking drive, ideally suited to Minis and only a couple of hours from Calais. Our thanks go to Denis Sharp & David Gibbs of the Hertfordshire Airfield Memorial Group, all the staff at the De Havilland Museum for their involvement in this project and for the exemplary service from Mini Spares with our radiator issue.