0016: Operation Deadstick – Pegasus Bridge

Vertical aerial photograph of Horsa gliders of 6th Airborne Division’s ‘coup de main’ force (D Company, 2nd Ox & Bucks Light Infantry plus sappers) near the bridge over the Caen Canal at Benouville, subsequently known as ‘Pegasus Bridge’, June 1944. Visible are Glider No. 91 with Lt Den Brotheridge and Major John Howard (top); Glider No. 93 with Lt Smith (centre) and Glider No. 92 with Lt Henry ‘Tod’ Sweeney (bottom).

The first airborne assault group to land in France had a very specific job, to seize the bridges over the Caen canal and the River Orne so that the British could use them to reinforce their airborne forces later in the day.

The job fell to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who had three gliders assigned to the operation. Lieutenant David Woods was in the second glider to land:

Quite suddenly and unexpectedly the pilots said, ‘Christ, there’s the bridge,’ and they put the nose of the glider down very steeply. The next thing I knew was that there were sparks coming from the skids underneath, they didn’t have wheels, and I thought these sparks were actually enemy fire but they were in fact the skids striking the ground.

And then there was an almighty crash and I was thrown out through the side of the glider, landed on the ground, still clutching my canvas bucket of grenades. I had my Sten gun with its bayonet still fixed but wasn’t in any way hurt.

The rest of the platoon got out of the glider. Some were like me thrown out and some got out through the doors. I collected them together, we knew exactly what we were supposed to do, although we didn’t know at that moment whether we were the first glider to land or the second or the third, because three were destined to land at our particular bridge.

I took the platoon forward to where I knew the bridge was and the road running up to it and there, crouching in the ditch, was my company commander, who said, quite simply, ‘David, No 2.’ And I knew that No 2’s job was to cross the road and sort out the enemy on the other side in the inner defences of the bridge.

Private Harry Clarke takes up the story of the attack by 24 Platoon:

David Wood said, ‘Forward,’ and with all his boyish enthusiasm, he was a great leader, he went gallantly into action and we all tore in like a pack of hounds after him.

Suddenly I was brought to an abrupt halt, I was snagged on a load of barbed wire, and to this day I bear the scar on me right knee where a huge barb took a lump of flesh out. Actually I cursed rather loudly and I can still recall David Wood saying to me, ‘Shut up, Clarke’ — and this was in the middle of an attack.

Anyway, we ran forward and there were at least two machine guns firing from the position we were about to attack. Charles Godbold and I were together and as we neared the trenches we could see from the flash there was a gun firing and Charlie said, ‘We’d better sling a grenade.’ I said, ‘We’d better not sling a 36, let’s sling a couple of these stun grenades, otherwise we’ll kill our own blokes.’

So we flung two stun grenades and we saw two people rise out of the trench and run towards the bank of the canal. Charlie let loose a long burst from his Sten gun but I think they got away: we found no bodies there the next day.

And within probably about five minutes, a few skirmishes, there was a bit of firing, it all went quiet. We’d captured our objective. We moved up to the riverbank, my section, and we passed a pillbox, there was smoke coming out of it, and all was quiet on our side.

There was a machine gun firing on the other side and a few bangs so they were obviously still engaged on the west bank of the canal.

In this short sharp firefight they successfully seized the bridges and had reported their success within half an hour. They then had to wait, lightly armed, for the rest of the night, in anticipation of a German counter attack.

For a full illustrated history of D-Day and the Normandy campaign explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

A picture of the bridge over the canal , later named Pegasus bridge. The three glider pilots had demonstrated extraordinary skill in bringing the assault platoons to within yards of their objective.
A picture of the bridge over the canal, later named Pegasus Bridge, taken a few days after the attack. The three glider pilots had demonstrated extraordinary skill in bringing the assault platoons to within yards of their objective.

3 thoughts on “0016: Operation Deadstick – Pegasus Bridge”

  1. I did a walk through the key D-Day sites ten or twelve years ago, over the course of a week. Pegasus bridge was one of the sites which stayed with me the most, particularly as I read the accounts of the gliders’ landing sites and the skirmishes around the bridge.

    Thank your for this page.

  2. Those paratroops and Glider troops were amazing, and they talk about their exploits as if it were a walk in the park. God bless them, survivors and lost.

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