EXACTLY 73 years ago today, a highly-decorated North Yorkshire airman died in one of the most daring and spectacular aerial raids of the Second World War.
Flight-Lieutenant Alan Broadley was killed leading Operation Jericho, which was a bid to free 500 French resistances fighters who were imprisoned in Amiens prison where they were to be executed by the Gestapo.
Broadley was born in Leyburn in 1921. His parents ran a butcher’s shop, although his mother – who had run the Terrace House Hotel in Richmond - died ten days after his birth from complications. He went to Richmond Grammar School and joined the RAF before the war broke out.
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He became a navigator – in fact he became the war’s most decorated navigator – and flew more than 100 missions over enemy territory, once being plunged into the North Sea and becoming renowned for his work with the Special Operations Executive transporting agents and saboteurs.
From the beginning of the war, he teamed up with a Yorkshire pilot, Group Captain Alan Pickard, who was held in equally high esteem, and so, in February 1944, the two men were chosen to lead one of the war’s most audacious, day-time, low level raids.
The objective of Operation Jericho was to bring the prison walls tumbling down and so free the resistance fighters. The two men were to head the initial wave of 24 aircraft in attacking the prison but rather than return home, they had to fly back over the target, assess the damage and, if it wasn’t extensive, call in a second wave of 12 aircraft. It would have been an awful decision to have had to make – rather than just attacking the walls, this second wave had orders to obliterate the whole prison because it was believed that resistance fighters would have preferred to have died by British hands rather than German.
On the day of the raid – February 18, 1944 – the weather was terrible and many of the crews thought the operation would be called off. However, they were slung across the Channel low-level at 300mph, and the first Mosquitoes started their approach to the target as the clock on Amiens cathedral struck noon.
However, they were not alone. A crack Luftwaffe fighter squadron, known as the “Abbeville boys” had been alerted to their presence.
Yet, the first run was successful, Pickard and Broadley being among those crews to score a direct hit – the walls were so broken that at least 200 prisoners were escaping into the nearby woods and 50 guards had been killed.
But as the Yorkshire airmen were returning to the target to assess the damage, they sustained a direct hit. They crash-landed into a wood, and their bodies were quickly buried by local partisans.
Broadley was only 23, and at the time of his death was engaged to the daughter of a Richmond farmer, Kitty Oversby.
With thanks to Philip Sedgwick of Leyburn for his help with this article.