BARNS, Philip Edmund, Sergeant (564117) - No.21 Squadron - Distinguished Flying Medal - awarded as per London Gazette dated 9 July 1940. Born 30 April 1914. Enlisted 1930 as Apprentice Aero Engine Fitter/ Trained as aircrew, 1938. Reported in Glendinning Auction Catalogue of 18 September 1985 as having flown on a photo reconnaissance sortie over Germany 27 September 1939, and concluded his wartime career with a sortie on 24/25 April 1945 (search for road and rail traffic). Commissioned 19 August 1941. Flying Officer, 19 August 1942. Flight Lieutenant. 19 August 1943. Transferred to Equipment Branch, 1952. Retired 14 March 1956 “retaining the rank of Squadron Leader.” Died April 1980 in Nottingham. No citation in Gazette. Recommendation drafted 30 May 1940.

Sergeant Barns has carried out numerous operational flights since the outbreak of the war as Observer to Sqn. Ldr. [Robert David] Gibson. As Observer in the leading aircraft, he has been responsible for accurate navigation of the formation on many operations over the North Sea and North West Germany in all kinds of weather and his outstanding ability as a Navigator has been largely responsible for the success of these operations. During recent operations against enemy columns in Belgium and France, he has at all times displayed great courage and coolness when under fire and his ability as a Bomb Aimer has contributed largely to the success of many of these attacks. Recommended for the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.

BARNS, Philip Edmund, F/L, DFM (46455, Royal Air Force) - No.21 Squadron - Distinguished Flying Cross - awarded as per London Gazette dated 14 September 1945. Citation from Air Ministry Bulletin.

Flight Lieutenant Barns has completed three tours of operational duty and since the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal he has participated in attacks against a variety of enemy targets, often in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire. A navigator of outstanding ability, this officer has consistently displayed a fine fighting spirit, courage and steadfast devotion to duty.

Auction Catalogue, 22 September 2006, Dix Noonan Webb, reads in part as follows:

The Second World War 2nd T.A.F. precision bombing operations D.F.C., 1939-40 operations D.F.M. group of six awarded to Squadron Leader P. E. Barns, Royal Air Force, who acted as Lead Navigator in the famous strike on Amiens Prison in February 1944, when his Mosquito was first to “go in” at tree-top height - 10 feet to be precise - an astonished witness breaking radio silence to exclaim “Bloody hell! From here it looked like the buggers were going to land!”

Philip Edmund Barns entered the Royal Air Force as an Apprentice Aero Fitter in 1930 and qualified for aircrew duties at the Air Observer’s School at North Coates in the summer of 1938.

By the outbreak of hostilities he was serving in No. 21 (Norwich’s Own) Squadron, a Blenheim unit based at Watton, Norfolk, and between then and July 1940 he completed 29 operational sorties, a photo-reconnaissance of Wilhelmshaven on 17 November 1939 being the War’s first operational flight carried out over Germany. But it would not be until March 1940 that No. 21 set about more regular missions, Barns participating in three attacks against enemy flak ships west of Heligoland, in one of which his Blenheim was damaged by an enemy fighter. He was also heavily engaged in operations in support of the B.E.F., his aircraft attacking targets in such areas as St. Omer, Arras and Courtrai. Tour expired, he was awarded the D.F.M.

Posted to No. 17 O.T.U. at Upwood, where he served until joining No. 1 A.A.S. at Manby in February 1941, Barns returned to the operational scene in December 1943, after being commissioned while employed at Bomber Command H.Q., when he joined No. 487 (R.N.Z.A.F.) Squadron, a Mosquito unit of 138 Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force, based at Hunsdon, Hertfordshire (and later at Gravesend, Kent). Between then and July 1944, he flew 41 sorties, most of them as Navigator to either Wing Commander Wilson or Squadron Leader Lucas, but on 18 February 1944, in the famous strike against Amiens Prison (a.k.a. “Operation Jericho”), he flew in Wing Commander I. S. “Black” Smith’s Mosquito as Lead Navigator - he had already flown a dozen or so sorties.

“Operation Jericho”

At 11 a.m. on 18 February 1944, 19 Mosquitoes departed Hunsdon in a swirling snowstorm, six of them from 487 Squadron and the others drawn from the strength of 21 and 464 Squadrons, the whole under the command of R.A.F. legend Group Captain P. C. “Pick” Pickard, D.S.O., D.F.C., but guided by the navigation of Barns in Wing Commander “Black” Smith’s aircraft. In addition, the attacking force was accompanied by a Mosquito of the R.A.F’s Film Production Unit, an aircraft that would capture spectacular footage of the raid and bring back evidence of its success. The force’s target, of course, was Amiens Prison, where it was hoped a low-level precision attack would breach the walls and enable several hundred members of the French Resistance - many of them awaiting execution - to escape, thereby assisting the prospects of the pending Allied invasion at Normandy. Security in the lead up to the operation was consequently tight. Mosquito by C. Martin Sharp and Michael J. F. Bowyer, takes up the story:

‘Detail planning of the raid, on the prison situated alongside the Amiens-Albert road, had been conducted in the greatest secrecy, and at the briefing a model of the cruciform building was revealed and closely studied. Strict security precautions were in force in the operations block, each man being carefully checked as he entered. Crews experienced unusual emotions, for they were now to attack to save life rather than to destroy. Recalling the briefing an R.A.A.F. officer said, “It was not a time for long speeches, but there is no mistaking the air of determination that was about that morning.”

The prison stood in a compound surrounded by a wall 20 feet high and 3 feet thick. Six aircraft of 487 Squadron forming the first wave were to breach the wall on its North and East sides. A second wave was to open up either end of the prison, destroying the quarters of the Germans. A third wave was to stand by, and the filming aircraft to take cine and still photographs. To avoid collisions over the target a very exact timetable needed to be adhered to. Fears existed that slight mistiming would cause a collision, as the Mosquitoes swept over the prison at right angles. To ensure maximum benefit from the assault the Resistance was to be informed of the precise time of the attack.’

As it transpired, after crossing the Channel at high speed and an altitude of 15-20 feet, the attacking force lost four of its number, either through mechanical faults, the appalling weather or enemy fire, a case in point being a Mosquito in Barns’ flight, piloted by Flight Lieutenant “Tich” Hanafin - his aircraft was hit by flak near Albert and, badly wounded, he was compelled to head for home on ‘one-engine, one leg and one arm.’ The same flak had burst very near Barns’ aircraft, prompting him to comment to his pilot over the intercom, “Blimey! That was close! I thought we’d had it,” Smith responding, “You and me both.” Before long, however, they were approaching the final run-in down the Albert-Amiens road. Jack Fishman’s colourful account of the raid, And The Walls Came Tumbling Down, continues:

‘They passed the first little row of houses on the far side of the road, the beginning of Amiens’ suburbs.

“One minute to go.”

We’ve got to blow the walls down to let the prisoners out; got to blow the ends of the building to kill the guards who should be eating by now, and we’ve only seconds to do it in - were the uppermost thoughts in “Black” Smith’s mind as his navigator started the final countdown for him, the first Mosquito to go in.

“Open bomb doors.”

“Bomb doors open.”

Final check: course - exact; speed - exact; height - exact; thumbs on the bomb release, aiming for the base corner of the east walls. Navigation was perfect - they’d never done it better. It was like a Hendon or Paris air display demonstration.

“Forty seconds ... Thirty seconds ... Twenty seconds ... ”

The poplars suddenly petered out and there, seconds ahead, was the prison ...

“Black” Smith dropped his bombs from a height of ten feet - less than half the height of their target - pulling hard on the stick. The three Mossies pulled up to hurtle across the gaol buildings, throttles wide open, their deafening roar shattering the midday calm.

When the bombs went, the planes bobbed up violently, lightened by load loss, and after their leap-frogging over the prison, banking in tight blood-draining turns that made their aircraft structure shake, they flattened out almost to street level making passers-by either throw themselves flat, or rush into doorways.

“Bloody hell!” exploded Ian McRitchie, from afar, “From here it looked looked like the buggers were going to land!”

For a split second he was certain “Black” Smith’s plane was going to smash itself against the wall until, gracefully, its nose went up as its underbelly virtually scraped the top of the towering wall.

“Christ!” - Smith cried out - “Our bombs went right through the first wall, across the yard and into the wall at the other end!”

Even if they had wanted to, this was not time to stop and look - the minute-by-minute schedule made this impossible ... ’

Of the 700 Resistance prisoners incarcerated in the prison, around 260 escaped through the breached walls, but another 100 or so were killed during the course of the bombing, or by the fire of German guards. But such risks were always apparent and did nothing to detract from the extraordinary bravery displayed by the attacking force’s pilots and navigators. As one participant put it, “This was the sort of operation that gave you the feeling that if you did nothing else in the war, you had done something.” Tragically, however, the success of “Operation Jericho” was marred by the loss of “Pick” Pickard and his long-served navigator, Alan Broadley. In 1946, prompted by the fact that “Operation Jericho” was undoubtedly one of the most dramatic stories of the War, Sacha Cordine directed a film about the raid, many of the “actors” actually being members of 138 Wing, although it seems Barns was not among them, although he was sent a script to comment on the accuracy of Pickard’s final briefing.

He was, however, still very much in harness with 487 Squadron, 138 Wing in the weeks and months following the raid, completing another 25 sorties before bringing his second tour to a close in July 1944. During that period his Mosquito was largely assigned to road and railway targets, such as an outing on 12 April 1944 when his aircraft returned on one engine. Grounded at No. 2 Group, Barns engineered his return to operations in April 1945, when he commenced his third tour in Mosquitoes of his original wartime unit, No. 21 Squadron, and flew his last sortie on the night of the 24th-25th of that month. He retired from the R.A.F. as a Squadron Leader in February 1956.