Heros of Pegasus Bridge

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Whet, May 31, 2009.

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  1. Nice to have the Glider Pilots Regiment recognised for their part in the action.

  2. Just read it , nice to see that the pilot is still around I was a bit slow posting, sorry
  3. Good post.
    To anyone who hasn't, I recommend buying the book 'Pegasus Bridge' by Stephen E.Ambrose, which expertly describes the heroics of these men.
  4. Another article in the Independent from Saturday. LINK

    ...and also an article on the Army Foundation College if anyone is interested. LINK
  5. Marvelous.
  6. And not to forget there were Airbourne Sappers in Operation Deadstick also:

    The capture of the two bridges near Ouistreham was codenamed Operation Deadstick and the task was allocated to the gliderborne troops of the 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. From this regiment, D Company and two platoons of B Company, together with sappers from the Royal Engineers, were selected and placed under the command of Major R. John Howard. The sappers were included in the assault force to secure the bridges and to dismantle demolition charges which the Germans were believed to have set.

    It was estimated that this force of about 170 British soldiers, approaching silently and then grouping together speedily in two sections, would achieve a ‘coup de main’ assault by overcoming the defending Germans, who were thought to number about 50 soldiers in the immediate vicinity of the bridges. Pilots of C Squadron, Glider Pilot Regiment, were detailed for the operation, as were RAF crews of Halifax Vs of 298 Sqn and 644 Sqn. These RAF squadrons were based at Tarrant Rushton, near Blandford in Dorset, and at the end of May 1944 all the men involved in the operation moved to that station, to begin a short but intensive period of training and preparation, both in the air and on the ground. Models of the targets were constructed from aerial photographs and made available for study.

    The final force consisted of 138 men from the infantry regiment and 30 men from the Royal Engineers, in six Horsa gliders. Three of these gliders, towed by Halifax Vs flown by Wg Cdr D.H. Duder, WO A.K. Kerry and WO G.P. Bain of 298 Sqn, were detailed to attack the Caen Canal bridge. The other three gliders towed by Halifax Vs flown by Fg Off W.W. Archibald, Fg Off G. Clapperton and WO J.A Herman of 644 Sqn, were detailed for the River Orne bridge. The RAF also named the assault ‘coup de main’.

    The six Halifaxes took off from Tarrant Rushton at about 2300hrs GMT on June 5, 1944, towing the Horsas. The flight over the Channel was fairly smooth although there was a lot of cloud and travelling in a glider was never comfortable. The troops had blackened their faces and carried so much equipment that the gliders were overloaded. Many of them joked, laughed and sang during the flight, as men often do when they are about to go into battle. The Horsa, made in timber and plywood sections by furniture manufacturers, was known inevitably as ‘the flying coffin’.

    A few minutes before midnight, it was possible to pick out the coastline of France and the estuary of the River Orne at Ouistreham. The Horsas destined for the canal bridge were released from their tows at 6,000ft, while the other three were released at 4,500ft, when both targets were about four miles to the south. As a deception, the Halifaxes continued on course to Caen, where five of them succeeded in bombing a munitions factory.

    One Horsa, flown by Staff Sgt A. Lawrence and intended for the bridge over the River Orne, was mistowed and came down near the River Dives to the east, where the troops captured another bridge, and then fought their way back to the correct landing zone. The first pilots of the other five Horsas glided down to the east of the River Orne, using gyro compasses and altimeters. Their second pilots called off timings from stopwatches and on ETA the gliders turned west, on the next legs to their targets.

    The ground was partially obscured by cloud but the pilots were able to pick out the silvery streaks of the river and canal, as well as the bridges. They lowered flaps, lost height rapidly, and turned in toward their targets. On the final approaches they streamed arrester parachutes, which had been specially fitted for the operation, and steadied up for the landings, warning ‘Hold tight – landing now!’ The troops had already opened the sliding doors and braced themselves, ready for the critical moments of landing.

    As the gliders bumped over the ground, with sparks showering from their skids, the pilots jettisoned the arrester parachutes. At 0016hrs GMT the glider flown by Staff Sgt Jim Wallwork crashed through the perimeter wire at the eastern side of the canal bridge, in the precise spot planned back in England. Fifteen yards behind him, Staff Sgt P. Hobbs’s glider slewed round and broke in half. The third glider, flown by Staff Sgt G. Barkway, landed ten yards away, in some marshy ground. The glider was quite badly damaged and one soldier was drowned, becoming the only casualty of the landings.

    The remaining two gliders also landed exactly as planned, to the west of the bridge over the River Orne. Staff Sgt R. Howard made a careful approach and spotted his target when at 1,200ft. He passed over a line of trees and skidded to a halt about 300yds north of the bridge. Behind him, Staff Sgt S. Pearson put his Horsa down in a field 400yds away.

    The first assault troops to land in France on D-Day had arrived. The achievement of the glider pilots and the crews of the Halifaxes who had towed them was later described by Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, the Air C-in-C of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, as ‘one of the finest pieces of airmanship thus far in World War Two’.

    It was the turn of the airborne troops to achieve an equivalent success. The German defenders at the river bridge dropped their weapons and ran away, enabling Lt ‘Todd’ Sweeney to report its capture over the radio to Major Howard at the canal bridge, with the code ‘Ham and Jam’. But the bitter fight was in progress at the canal bridge. From Wallwork’s glider, Lt Den Brotheridge led A platoon through the wire and over the bridge, the men running and firing from their hips, but when they reached the other side Brotheridge was hit in the neck from an enemy machine gun and died soon afterwards. Meanwhile Lt David Wood led B platoon from Hobb’s glider against the enemy trenches and gun pits but both he and his platoon sergeant were wounded before the Germans were overcome. Major Howard ordered Lt R. Smith and his C platoon from Barkways’s glider to cross the bridge to support A platoon and before long the remaining German resistance in the village of Benouville collapsed. The café in the village, owned by Georges Gondree, was the first house in France to be liberated from the Germans.

    The sappers were surprised to find that the demolition charges for the piers of both bridges were not in place, and later it was discovered that these had been kept in a German billet in case they were stolen by the French Resistance. The British troops took up defensive positions and shot four German infantrymen form the 21st Panzer Division who cam along the towpath to the river bridge. Germans in a staff car escorted by a motorcycle which then approached this bridge were either killed or captured. The rumbling of tanks from the 21st Panzer Division was heard but one which came in sight was knocked out by a bomb fired from a ‘Piat’ (Projector, Infantry, Anti-tank). The other tanks did not attack, since they received contrary orders from Army Group B, which by then was in a state of confusion.

    At 0300hrs GMT the defenders were reinforced by paratroops of the 7th Parachute Battalion, who had dropped slightly to the east. A German gunboat which came up the canal from the direction of Ouistreham and opened fire on the British positions was sunk by another Piat bomb and the crew captured. Several German counter attacks were repelled until, at 1330hrs GMT, the skirl of bagpipes was heard and the defenders were further reinforced by seaborne commandos of the 1st special Service Brigade led by Brigadier the Lord Lovat. The commandos came over the canal bridge under enemy fire, with Piper Bill Millin ranting ‘The Black Bear’.

    Major John Howard received the DSO, three of his officers the MC, three sergeants the Croix de Guerre, and all five first pilots who landed at the bridges on Operation Deadstick were awarded DFMs. After the war, the canal bridge at Benouville was named ‘The Pegasus Bridge’ by the French, the winged horse being a symbol of the British airborne forces.
  7. Pegasus Bridge has interested me since I found out my Great Uncle was at D-Day and was in the ox and bucks... Need to find out if he was 2nd battalion who were first to land at D-day to take the bridge, he's still plugging away up north somewhere... I must find out before he calls it a day.
  8. I had the great honour to meet John Howard when Madame mnairb translated his speech for the 40th anniversary into French for him. We went round to his house in Brighton and she coached him on the correct pronunciation (he was very keen not to let himself down and took copious notes). I'd not been out long then and we had a good yarn about the Army then and now. A true gentleman.
  9. I went there a couple of years ago, and it really was an amazingly tight landing ground. They did very well even to get most of them down in one piece, before you even consider the final achievement. A very audacious attack in the finest traditions of the service.
  10. I also had the honour of meeting Major Howard, when I was 12! We were on a week-long school trip to Normandy, we went on a coach trip to pegasus bridge, Major Howard was there visitng the gondres, he was good enough to get on the coach and give us a short talk about his experiences, they played Pegasus Bridge bit from The Longest Day and he explained some of the differences between the film and real life. my only regret was that I was so young, I didn't quite get the significance at the time!
  11. I was their on the D-Day anniversary a few years ago and got talking to a Vet from the actual op, I think it was Wally Parr.

    It was absolutely fantastic talking to someone who was actually their at the time and he managed to bring the whole event to life.

    I have always had immense respect for all the Vets of Overlord and to actually have one of them talk you through what actually happened was an amazing experience.

    Pegasus Bridge is an amazing experience, not commercalised and the ability to see the site virtually as it was is amazing. I also went to the Church to pay my respects To Lt Den Brotheridge .

    Much respect to all the D_Day Vets as well as all Vets from all conflicts
  12. I'm not surprised by that at all. Its entirely consistent with how he is described by Ambrose. They weren't initially selected as "special forces", as we would expect for troops employed in such a task to be today, but became special by applying themselves. Major Howard would naturally have been the main spring of that.