Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge is a bascule bridge (a type of movable bridge) over the Caen Canal, near Ouistreham, France. The bridge, also known as the Bénouville Bridge after the neighbouring village, was a major objective of Operation Tonga. Units landed by glider near it during the Normandy Invasion on the 5th/6th of June 1944. It was given the permanent name of Pegasus Bridge in honour of the operation. This name derives from the shoulder emblem worn by the attacking British, which is the flying horse Pegasus.

This particular bridge is an example of a distinct subtype of bascule bridge (a "rolling bascule bridge" or "rolling bridge") in that it does not pivot about a hinge point, instead utilising a rack and pinion mechanism to maintain support and alignment.

The battle for the bridge

On the night of 5/6 June 1944, a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard, landed in 6 Horsa gliders to capture Pegasus Bridge, and also "Horsa Bridge", a few hundred yards to the east, over the Orne River. The force included elements of B and D Companies, 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, a platoon of B Company, Royal Engineers, and men of the Glider Pilot Regiment. This object of this action was to prevent German armour from crossing the bridges and attacking the eastern flank of the landings at Sword Beach.

Five of the Ox and Bucks's gliders landed 40 yards from their objectives at 16 minutes past midnight. The attackers poured out of their battered gliders, completely surprising the German defenders, and took the bridges within 10 minutes. They lost two men in the process, Lieutenant Denholm Brotheridge and Lance-Corporal Fred Greenhalgh.

Lieutenant Brotheridge thus became the first member of the invading Allied armies to die in combat on D-Day.

One glider, assigned to the capture of Horsa Bridge, landed at the bridge over the River Dives, some 7 miles off. Most of the soldiers in this glider moved through German lines towards the village of Ranville where they eventually rejoined the British forces. The Ox & Bucks were reinforced half-an-hour after the landings by 7th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment and linked up with the beach landing forces with the arrival of the Commandos of Lord Lovat's 1st Special Service Brigade.

Location now

The soldiers killed in these actions are mostly buried in the cemetery at nearby Ranville. Lt. Brotheridge's grave, which is located in the churchyard next to the cemetery, has a commemorative plaque that was installed by the family Gondrée, whose house near Pegasus Bridge was the first to be liberated during D-Day. It still exists and nowadays contains a café and a small museum shop that sells Pegasus Bridge related material. The lady who runs this café was a small child living in the home when it was liberated.

Project 65

Project 65 has been created to honour the memory of the men of the Coup de Main force that captured the bridges on the Caen Canal and River Orne on D-Day 65 years ago. A team of volunteers will leave Tarrant Rushton Airfield on June 5th 2009 and run 65 miles to arrive at Pegasus Bridge to celebrate the 65th Anniversary of D-Day June 6th 2009. The aim is to raise £100,000 part of which will be used to erect a simple but lasting memorial to the men of the Coup de Main force and those directly associated with that operation 65 years ago. The money raised will be divided between: The Royal British Legion, RAF Benevolent Fund, Army Benevolent Fund, BLESMA, and St Dunstan's, so that they may be able to continue helping the disabled and wounded men and women of today’s Armed Forces.

More details and donation information is available on their website.

Further reading

  • Ambrose, Stephen E. (1985). Pegasus Bridge. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780671523749
  • Denis Edwards, "The Devil's Own Luck : Pegasus Bridge to the Baltic 1945-45", Published by Leo Cooper / Pen & Sword. ISBN~0-85052-869-0
  • Barry Parr,"What d'ya Do in the War, Dad?"

External links

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