Operation Exodus (ii)

This was the British air operation to ferry liberated prisoners of war to the UK from airfields near Brussels in liberated Belgium and then from airfields close to other locations close to concentrations of liberated British prisoners of war (3 April/31 May 1945).

By April 1945 many prisoner of war camps in occupied Europe had been liberated. Though free, all the ex-prisoners were hundreds of miles from home and many were suffering from illness, fatigue and starvation. As ex-prisoners flooded into collection points throughout Europe, it was clear that a swift method of repatriation was needed, and RAF bombers were therefore tasked to fly the ex-prisoners home.

The first phase of the undertaking, from bases in Belgium, involved 2,900 missions in 23 days by aircraft (generally Avro Lancaster bombers each adapted for the transport of 25 men) of Air Vice Marshal R. S. Blucke’s No. 1 Group, Air Vice Marshal H. A. Constantine’s No. 5 Group, Air Vice Marshal G. E. Brookes’s No. 6 Group and Air Vice Marshal D. C. T. Bennett’s No. 8 Group of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command. The aircraft embarked the liberated men at Melsbroek airfield outside Brussels and delivered an eventual total of some 72,500 men to repatriation centres including that at Dunsfold in Surrey.

At the height of the operation, the repatriation aircraft were arriving from Europe at a rate of 16 per hour bringing more than 1,000 people a day into British receiving camps. As well as Dunsfold, many passed through Oakfield in Buckinghamshire and Cosford in the West Midlands, and by the end of the operation Allied aircraft had brought home more than 354,000 ex-prisoners.