Page last updated at 12:05 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

WWII veteran recalls Jericho raid

By Liz Lewis
BBC News, Bristol

Cecil Dunlop now aged 92
Mr Dunlop's aircraft was one of the first to drop its payload

On the 65th anniversary of an audacious World War II bombing raid on a Gestapo prison, one of the few survivors has spoken of his part in the dangerous mission.

Operation Jericho was devised to give 100 French patriots the chance to escape the firing squad, scheduled for 19 February 1944, at Amiens Prison in occupied Northern France.

Mosquitos of the 2nd Tactical Air Force were detailed to fly as low as possible over the Channel and then on to Amiens.

You never knew whether you were going to come back or not but you never thought that you wouldn't
Cecil Dunlop
Once there they were to to dive-bomb the high prison walls.

Pilot Officer Cecil Dunlop, 92, from Bath, was on one of the first bombers to fly over the prison and drop his payload.

The planes flew so low - below the level of the prison roof - the crews could see the prisoners running out.

"It was exciting," recalled Mr Dunlop.

The blast breached the walls of the prison and, while the explosion unfortunately killed 102 prisoners, 258 escaped, including 79 political prisoners.

Cecil Dunlop as a navigator during WWII
Flight Officer Dunlop's plane was hit on the way back to Britain
Mr Dunlop's son David said: "There was snow on the ground when they flew over and they looked down and they could see the prisoners escaping - all these black dots running around."

The mission was completed with the loss of only two aircraft and Operation Jericho proved that the Mosquito was able to perform precision bombing raids.

Years later Mr Dunlop and his son met one of the prisoners the raid freed.

"He told us he'd been in solitary confinement and he'd got a rat for company," said David Dunlop.

On the way back to Britain the plane was hit by anti-aircraft guns.

"You never knew whether you were going to come back or not but you never thought that you wouldn't," said Cecil Dunlop.

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