British airborne landings

airborne badgeThe river Orne ran down to the Channel on the east side of the landing area, at the bathing resort Ouistreham. The British 6th Airborne Divison would land on the East side of the landing area, along the Orne river. The Airborne division had several missions that needed to be completed in the night before the sheduled landings from the sea. At Merville, east of the Orne the Germans had build a costal battery. Allied intelligence believed that the battery contained 4 guns of 155 mm. These guns where directly aimed at Sword beach, where the 3rd British Infantry Division would land. The bunkers could be blown by airial bombartment, so it was up to the 9th Parachute battalion of the 6th Airborne division, to storm the defense lines around the battery and disable the guns.

Secondly the airborne division had to prevent German reinforments from reaching the beaches while the men on the beaches where in a vulnerable position, namely during the landing. For this aim they had to blow up five bridges over the river Dives, which lay 8 kilometres east of the river Orne.

The two bridges over the river Orne near Benouville could not be destroyed because these where vital for a quick expanding of the beachhead shortly after the first landings. General Major Richard Gale desided that special assault sections had to fly towards the bridges in gliders. They where sheduled to land at eleven-fortyfive a few minutes before the pathfinders of the division landed. These pathfinders would set out lights to mark the landing areas on which the main force had to land.

Pegasus bridge in 1991, the original bridge was still in place at that time.Six horsa gliders and their towplanes left England at 23.00 on June 5. They arried the 2nd battalion of the Oxford and Bucks light infantry and men of the Royal Engineers. Their target were the bridge across the orne at Ranville and the bridge across the Cean Channel. Five of the six gliders landed right on target, they rammed the barbed wire defenseline and landed almost agains the pillars of the bride. The men kicked and cut their way out of the glider, through the thin canvas sides almost before the glider had come to a full stop. It took a short fire fight but the German defenders of the bridge where soon overwhelmed by the British that ran firing from the hip across the bridges. The bridge at Benuoville would later become known as Pegasus Bridge, after the symbol of the British paratroopers. The engineers discovered the charges that the Germans had attached to the bridge and dismantled them.

Two of the sixty pathfinders of the 6th airborne division had the misfortune to land inside the headquarters of the 711st division. They apollogished to the German commander for landing there by mistake. All the pathfinders had driven more to the east than was initially intended by the planners. This brought them dangerously close to the inundated areas and a large swamp. The pathfinders didn't have the time to walk to the right landing areas before the main force would arrive so they had t to place their signals where they where.

The landing of the british main force would eventually be a little easier than the American landing on the western side of the beachhead, but losses would still be very high on the landing due to the fact that most paratroopers that landed in the inundated areas with their heavy harnasess and all the equipment couldn't cut themselves loose in time and drowned. They sometimes drowned in water of a half metre deep simply because the heavy equipment and the parachute dragged them under water.

A horsa glider, photographed by the germans.The 5th parachute brigade had to reinforce the men that had seized the bridges by that time. The 8th battalion of the 3rd brigade received the assignment to destroy the bridges across the Dives near Troarn and Bures. The 1st Canadian battalion of the 3rd brigade had to blow the bridges at Robehomme and Vareville. At Troarn  a small group of paratroopers gathered in one single jeep and drove into Troarn towards the bridge, firing to all sides. The drove right through the German held town and blew the bridge and then drove on in one spectacular action. At Robehomme the bridge was blown by one single sergeant that had happened to have landed in the area.  The forces that had the mission to blow the bridges had been widely spread and sometimes they had landed miles from their objective. However by the brave acts of very small groups of men all the five bridges over the Dives where destroyed that night.

The gliders brought the reinforcements in that would be necessary to hold the bridges at Ranville against a German counterattack. with the gliders came the first ten anti tank guns. Out of the 72 gliders, 49 landed in the right areas that had been cleared from obstacles. Casualties among the men that landed by glider where light.

<< BACK      The battery at Merville >>

What is new | Gallery | Museums | Monuments | Links