12 of the Most Daring Air Raids in History
12 of the Most Daring Air Raids in History

12 of the Most Daring Air Raids in History

Khalid Elhassan - October 2, 2017

12 of the Most Daring Air Raids in History
De Havilland Mosquitoes bombing Amiens prison. Military History Tours

Operation Jericho

In 1943, the Gestapo rounded up many members of the French Resistance in northern France and consigned them to the Amiens prison. Word made it out that the Germans planned to liquidate their prisoners, starting with a mass execution of over 100 Resistance and political prisoners on February 19, 1944. A precision airstrike to breach the prison’s walls and allow the inmates an opportunity for a mass jailbreak was requested, and the RAF’s Second Tactical Air Force drew up plans for Operation Jericho.

Finding the prison was easy, as it was a conspicuous building with high walls in an open area adjacent to the long and straight Albert-Amiens road. The difficulty, in pre-smart bomb days, lay in dropping bombs to blast the outer walls and kill many guards, without destroying the prison and killing too many prisoners. It was accepted that some or many prisoners would die in the bombing, but it was reasoned that they were slated for execution anyhow, and the risk of death in a breakout attempt was better odds than the certainty of execution.

Planners determined that the plane most suitable for such precision work was the de Havilland Mosquito. Poor weather kept delaying the mission, but on February 18, 1944, one day before the scheduled mass executions, it was finally now or never. Notwithstanding heavy snow and fog, eighteen Mosquitoes took off from southern England and linked up with escorting Typhoon fighters over the English Channel. Flying low, the attackers took a circuitous route until they reached the town of Albert to the northeast of Amiens, then followed the long and straight Albert-Amiens road to approach the prison from that direction.

The plan was for the leading Mosquitoes to bomb and breach the prison’s outer walls, followed by other Mosquitoes bombing the guard barracks and cafeteria. The raid was timed for lunchtime, to catch as many German guards as possible as they sat dining. The raiders arrived at noon, and dropping 500 lbs bombs with delayed fuses to allow the Mosquitoes to fly out of the blast zone before detonation, successfully breached the outer walls. Then the guardhouse was struck and destroyed, killing its occupants along with collateral damage prisoners in the vicinity. Once prisoners were observed pouring out of the breached walls, the raiders departed and flew back home.

The mission was a tactical success, although the results were mixed: the bombing was pinpoint accurate by the standards of the day, and the walls were successfully breached, allowing the prisoners an opportunity for a jailbreak. At the cost of three Mosquitoes and two Typhoons, 50 Germans were killed, but so were 107 of the 717 prisoners. 258 prisoners did escape, but 182 were recaptured. Controversy erupted after the war when some in the Resistance disputed that they had requested the bombing. Additionally, no evidence emerged that the Germans had planned mass executions of the Amiens prisoners.

12 of the Most Daring Air Raids in History
Operation Focus. Zionism & Israel

Operation Focus

A jet fighter or bomber is among the deadliest weapons ever invented, but on the ground, it is utterly defenseless. Mivtza Moked, or Operation Focus, was the code name given the preemptive airstrikes launched by Israel to destroy the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian air forces on the ground and disable their airbases at the start of the Six-Day War, on June 5, 1967. Israel’s quick victory in that war largely stemmed from the success of Operation Focus in the opening hours of the conflict.

Operation Focus was an all out attack by nearly all of Israel’s 196 warplanes. Maintaining radio silence and flying low beneath the enemy radar, the Israelis headed out westward over the Mediterranean, before turning south towards Egypt, whose air force was surprised by the sudden and simultaneous appearance of Israeli combat aircraft over 11 airfields at 7:45 AM that morning – a time chosen because the Egyptians had fallen into the habit of going on high alert at dawn to guard against surprise attack, but by 7:45 AM the alert was usually over, the airplanes had returned to their airfields, and the pilots disembarked to eat breakfast.

In addition to surprise, success was due to the first wave of attackers concentrating on the runways with a new prototype of penetration bombs that used accelerator rockets to drive the warheads through the pavement before detonation, resulting in a crater atop a sinkhole. Unlike damage caused by normal bombs striking runways, which simply required filling in the bomb crater and paving it over, the sinkhole caused by the prototype bombs necessitated the complete removal of the damaged pavement segment in order to get at and fill in the sinkhole – a far more laborious and time-consuming process. With the runways destroyed, the airplanes on the ground were stranded, sitting ducks for follow-up airstrikes. 197 Egyptian airplanes were destroyed in that first wave, with only 8 planes managing to take to the air.

After striking an initial 11 Egyptian airbases, the Israeli planes returned to base, quickly refueled and rearmed in under 8 minutes, then headed back to strike an additional 14 Egyptian airbases. They returned to Israel for yet another speedy refueling and rearming, and flew out in a third wave, divided between attacking what was left of the Egyptian air force, and striking at the Syrian and Jordanian air forces.

By noon on June 5th, the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian air forces were largely destroyed, having lost about 450 airplanes, while nearly 20 Egyptian airbases and airfields were seriously damaged, which crippled what was left of the Egyptian Air Force and prevented it from intervening for the remainder of the conflict. It was one of the most successful preemptive strikes in history, and left the Israeli air force in complete control of the skies for the remainder of the war.

12 of the Most Daring Air Raids in History
Operation Opera. Defense Aviation

Operation Opera

Alarmed by Saddam Hussein’s construction of the Osirak nuclear reactor on the outskirts of Baghdad, and its potential use in a weapons program that would furnish the Iraqi dictator with nuclear bombs, his enemies sought to nip the problem in the bud. In 1980, early in the Iran-Iraq War, Iranian F-4 Phantoms bombed the reactor, but inflicted minimal damage that did little to derail the Iraqi nuclear program. Israel, also threatened by the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein, made its own plans to take out the reactor.

In preparation for the raid, Israeli pilots studied the power plant’s plans, paying special attention to the reactor building that housed the nuclear core. The most obvious route would have been a straight line from Israel to the reactor, but that would have crossed Jordan, whose radar stations would have detected airplanes approaching from the west. Taking a long curved route farther to the south was another possibility, but American AWACS planes operating from Saudi Arabia could have detected unusual aerial activity.

A third and risky alternative, which was followed, was to fly low, under the radar, while weaving a path between Jordanian and Saudi radar installations. On June 7, 1981, a flight of Israeli warplanes, comprised of bomb-carrying F-16s escorted by F-15s for fighter protection, took off for the Osirak reactor. At some point, the raiders were picked by a Jordanian radar and challenged by ground control, but an Israeli pilot, speaking in Arabic, convinced them that they were Jordanian planes on a training mission.

After 80 minutes in the air, the raiders approached their target and prepared to strike. The F-15s peeled off to provide fighter cover if needed, while the F-16s climbed before diving into the attack. The first F-16 bombs found their mark, as did those of all the following raiders. In less than two minutes, the Osirak reactor was completely destroyed. Israel insists that the pilots dropped simple iron bombs, but the accuracy with which the reactor was hit has led to speculation that the Israeli airplanes had deployed an early generation of smart bombs. Their mission successfully completed, the Israeli airplanes took a direct high speed back home.