The Pegasus and Orne Bridges

The Pegasus and Orne Bridges Book Cover The Pegasus and Orne Bridges
Neil Barber
Pen and Sword
May 31, 2014

This book tells the story of the glider-borne operation to capture Pegasus Bridge conducted by Major John Howard and his company of Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and  the seizure of the Orne bridges by British airborne forces and the defense against German counter attacks.prolonged period. The book covers events and operations from Ranville in the East to Benouville in the West and the fighting by 7th, 12th and 13th Parachute Battalions and reinforcements such as the Commandos, seaborne engineers and the Warwicks. Lots of solid, specific details that I am using in a small hobby of mine.

A stick of parachutists covers a considerable area: under operational conditions twenty men could expect to cover over one thousand yards.

while 6 Airlanding Brigade had the 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (The 52nd Light Infantry), the 2nd Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles and 12th Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment.

Gliderborne battalions had four companies, each comprising four platoons, ‘D’ Company’s being numbered 22, 23, 24 and 25. A platoon consisted of a Scout section, two Rifle sections and a HQ section.

Horsa, a huge aircraft with a wing span of eighty-eight feet which had space to carry thirty-one men or such things as a jeep towing a 6-pounder anti-tank gun.

General Gale’s subsequent written orders to him about the tasks for 5 Parachute Brigade stated that for the Ranville task: It is imperative that you should hold this area. The framework of your defensive plan must rest on the anti-tank and MMG layout. This layout must cover the open ground to the south and the open ground which forms the Landing Zone to the north. The more enclosed country nearer the banks of the river and the orchards to the east must be covered by infantry in depth and PIATs. You will wire and mine the belt of orchards between Herouvillette and Le Mariquet to a depth of 100 yards. This minefield will be well signposted and covered by fire from infantry posts.9 The orders also explained the Coup de Main method for capturing the bridges and the need to expand the subsequent bridge positions to the west as quickly as possible, before any counter-attack could drive the small Oxf and Bucks force away. This expansion and defence was a battalion-size task.

The Americans were to land on the two most westerly beaches, code-named UTAH and OMAHA, while to the east the Canadian beach, JUNO, was sandwiched between two British areas, GOLD and SWORD.

Dropping and Landing Zones were duly chosen, DZ/LZ ‘K’ being to the south of Escoville, DZ/LZ ‘N’ between Ranville and Breville, DZ/LZ ‘V’ at Varaville and LZ ‘W’ just to the west of the Caen Canal.

A fortified gun battery at Merville, which had the capability of firing on SWORD Beach, also had to be silenced.

The first task was the capture, intact, of the two bridges.

But we must reckon on the possibility of the enemy blowing the bridges before or even as we got to them. The 1st Corps might be delayed and in the area of the bridges indefinitely held up.

716 Infantry Division’s 736 Grenadier Regiment and Ost Battalion 642, plus elements of the 21st Panzer Division. Ost Battalions consisted mainly of Poles and Russians who had been recruited or forced into service by the Germans. There were also miscellaneous troops on the northern outskirts and in the village of Ranville, but little was known about their strength.

From the south-east the line of the villages, orchards, gardens and walls leading up through Herouvillette to the bridges would lend itself admirably to defence.

The 13th Battalion was to take and defend Ranville itself. The Brigade also had to clear and protect LZ ‘N’ for the initial glider force of some seventy Horsa gliders carrying Divisional HQ, anti-tank guns and further heavy machine guns to strengthen the Division’s capability to resist the expected armoured attacks from the south.

Commander Royal Engineers,

Hamilcar gliders carrying 17-pounder antitank guns, the strips would have to be increased to 90 yards in width. This would involve the demolition and removal of two complete rows of poles in each 1,000 yard strip.

With one RE Troop working on each strip, target timings were ninety minutes to clear each night strip and two hours each day strip. The two night strips had to be ready by 0320hours, when the glider force was due to land.

This force was bringing in sixteen 6-pounder anti-tank guns belonging to the four Troops of 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, and four 17-pounders of ‘A’ Troop, 3rd Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery.

Relief for the bridge defenders was to come in the shape of the 3rd Division’s 8 Infantry Brigade, which would advance from SWORD Beach in a systematic fashion, and was not expected to arrive until H-Hour plus five at the earliest, H-Hour being the commencement of the seaborne invasion at 0725 hours. However, after landing behind the initial assault waves, Commandos of Lord Lovat’s 1 Special Service Brigade comprising Numbers 3, 4 and 6 Army Commandos and 45 Royal Marines Commando, had the task of punching through the German defences, fighting their way to the bridges and advancing north on to the high ground of the Breville ridge.

There were also to be various Engineers employed to satisfy another contingency plan, whether the bridges had been destroyed or not.

Travelling in a White’s Scout Car, 17 Field Company’s advance party comprised two officers,

the area of Caen the seeds of French resistance were sown as soon as the Germans arrived. Acts of minor sabotage and anti-German propaganda activities had been carried out by a group that called itself L’Armée des Volontaires. This had evolved into the region’s most successful intelligence gathering organization, Le Réseau Centurie, the Century Network, part of L’Organization Civile et Militaire (OCM).

His name was Eugene Meslin. Meslin was the Ingénieur en Chef des Ponts et Chausées, responsible for the canal, river and port of Caen itself.

The Canal Bridge was not the only reason that Benouville was so important. The main Caen to Ouistreham road passed through it, making it vital to the Germans for direct access to the coast.

The switch to blow the bridge was situated in the pillbox on the opposite bank. This information had been duly ‘passed on’.

‘If all else failed, we’ll forget about the River Bridge, let the Germans have that, but let’s hold the Canal Bridge because that is the way the seaborne troops are coming and that is the one bridge we must capture and hold, or rebuild first of all.’

Major Howard emphasized that the most important task in the initial assault was putting the pillbox out of action.

Scout Section consisted of Jack Bailey the Section Commander, Paddy O’Donnell, sniper, myself, sniper and Private Parr. We could have a Bren gunner allotted to us and that was Gus Gardner.

The second platoon would go for the trenches and machine guns beyond the pillbox, along the east bank, while the third platoon would cross the bridge to support the first platoon.

Communication would be maintained by type ‘38’ radio sets carried by each platoon and Company HQ. Brigadier Poett, who had decided to jump early with his small Command Post party, also had a set.

We had a jeep and trailer to lay telephone line which was supposed to come down by glider and the rest

It was felt essential that Airborne units should have surgeons embedded within them because they were inevitably going to be isolated and therefore devoid of any immediate possibility of evacuation. Therefore, three Field Ambulances were attached to the Division.

The distinctive Ranville Church, which had a detached tower, was to be an orientation point.

thirty J-Type dinghies and twelve recce boats were to be taken, together with the necessary ropes to make the

A Forward Observer Bombardment party of two Royal Artillery spotters and two Royal Navy telegraphists known as ‘sparkers’, all parachute-qualified, would be accompanying them.

The standard equipment for a British platoon is three Bren guns, three section commanders, three Sten guns, plus the platoon commander’s got a Sten gun. The platoon sergeant for some reason carries a rifle and then the rest of the platoon is made up of riflemen plus two snipers. We had to carry four

There was our final, unexpected, hazard; no one had mentioned that there would be a herd of cows. I am sure we hit a cow, which knocked off our nose wheel.

I heard bugles going, then a noise, and I froze for a second or two.

and down the road came in fact not a tank, but a half-track, open, officer’s vehicle … followed by a motorcyclist.

Thornton, who moved up the left-hand side of the road with Corporal Lally’s Section, had two bombs. He crawled forward, alongside a hedge:

PIAT is a load of rubbish really … the range is about fifty yards and no more … even fifty yards is stretching it. It was indoctrinated into your brain, you must never, never, miss. If you do, you’ve had it. So

German staff car carrying two very surprised German officers drove into our midst. The German officers had to walk to the Brigade POW cage: one of our Brigade officers was delighted with the car.

noticed a large building and there was a German car, a Simca Eight, with a flag on the front of it, and I said to him,

21st Panzer Division which had been moved close to Caen just before D-Day.

most of which were small Citroen trucks in various states of disrepair.

Then we came to a farm. It was isolated on a piece of high ground in the middle of the swamps, just what I wanted.

The Jerries were passing a farm and an orchard at that time but once past they would be able to see the Paras with their backs

found a very large Nazi flag in there which we immediately commandeered …

The only way into the gun pit was to go down a flight of concrete stairs. The gun pit itself was covered with a large umbrella, a brown and green painted camouflaged corrugated tin. We got in there, the space between the lower part of the lid to the gun pit itself was no more than eighteen inches, so you had to go in down these stairs.

Once back at the section position, H-Hour for the seaborne assault was fast approaching, and my binoculars were focused on a solitary Halifax bomber loitering about in the direction of the coast, when suddenly all hell was let loose. We had been warned of the barrage which was to precede the actual landings, but I had never imagined it would be of such a ferocity, from dead quiet to indescribable bedlam in the matter of seconds.

Lieutenant Atkinson’s battle outpost in the Chateau grounds saw a number of tanks coming up the main road from Caen and begin to form up to attack the village.

Six half-tracks drove up from Troarn and each was hit by a PIAT. The

he noticed two boats coming towards them. He could not quite see what they were and so shouted to Pine-Coffin to take cover.

Each had a pom-pom gun in the bows but these were apparently completely unmanned. It was obvious that they did not know what the situation was and had come down to try and find out. Not a sign were they given however,

One of the boats opened fire with its heavy machine gun on the 7th Battalion HQ,

We loaded the pack gun, aimed it on, fired at the water tower, put a hole completely through the water tower. Fired another one at a very large tree that was in front of the Chateau which we thought the snipers might be up. Being armour-piercing they just whistled straight through the tree, didn’t do anything at all. Fired a third shell, at the water tower again and missed! John Howard shouted out to us, ‘Stop firing that bloody gun!’

was a typical small French village with winding narrow streets, houses and cottages set close together, often in small terraces, nearly all seemed to have high walled gardens, there were plenty of varied trees, hedges and cover all round the place.

The French people were wandering around quite openly and with an air of complete unconcern, as if the war was something between the British and Germans and was nothing to do with them!

A 6-pounder anti-tank gun had also been hauled up and positioned at a distinct right-angled kink in the hedge: It should also have had a 17-pounder anti-tank gun, four PIATs and a ‘38’ wireless set. The flanks were supposed to be covered by medium machine-gun fire.

was a bright sunny morning with wheat or maize fields to the front and rear. In

and its thirty-three waterproofed Austin 3-Ton 4 x 4 trucks were to land at H+6 and move directly to the bridges, taking supplies of food, fuel and ammunition to the Airborne Division’s Maintenance Area in Ranville.

I was going to it I saw a White Scout car and a Bren gun carrier pull up opposite.

Various groups of Commandos were ahead of Lovat.

Two DD tanks of the 13th/18th Hussars, which had attached themselves to the Commandos on their move inland, suddenly reappeared and Millin was ordered to get behind them and start playing. Dennis Edwards:

this stage we got the first inkling of Commandos coming through, some with bicycles, and I thought this was a good time to make some tea.

having lost 3 SP guns and one Mark IV tank in front of Le Bas de Ranville.

He therefore decided to divert a Commando unit towards Ranville, and send a Liaison Officer to find Major-General Tom Rennie, commanding the 3rd British Infantry Division, to request a speed up in the relief of the 6th Airborne.

Royal Marines Commando,

There were also further tanks from the 13th/18th Hussars:

We came out in an American vehicle called a White Scout car.

A Troop of Bofors 40mm guns belonging to 318 Battery, 92nd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, arrived at the eastern end of St Aubin d’Arquenay.

But in a few more moments there was a French Resistance lorry was passing through, the first time I’d seen anything of the French Resistance, and I was put on top of the lorry, an open truck.

1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles went forward to attack the Ring Contour