Their aim was to capture two bridges. Success would prevent a German counter attack on the eastern flank of the D-Day landings at Sword Beach. Failure would leave the men isolated in enemy territory and make the already risky D-Day landings vulnerable to German Panzers.
At 0016, five of the gliders landed within 50 feet of Bénoville Bridge. When Howard’s glider hit the ground, it jolted the men. Everything went black for Howard and he thought he had gone blind, until one of his men pointed out that his helmet was covering his eyes.
Travelling by glider enabled the British to surprise the German troops defending the bridge. Within 10 minutes of landing, following a fierce gunfight, the British were able to secure not only Bénouville Bridge but also the nearby Orne Bridge. Thus, 90 minutes after taking off, Major Howard was able to send the code words “Ham and Jam” to indicate the successful capture of both bridges. The victory was perhaps the "single most important ten minutes of the war".
The swift victory gave the men two hours to prepare for the German counter attacks and to defuse the explosives that laced the bridge, placed there by the Germans in case of attack or an allied advance.
At 0050hrs the 7th Parachute Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel R.G. Pine-Coffin, landed near Bénouville Bridge. They were widely dispersed but within 40 minutes, Pine-Coffin managed to gather most of his men and set off to help defend the bridges. They split into three companies. "A" Company moved into Bénouville Village, "B" Company into the nearby hamlet of Le Port and "C" Company occupied the Chateau de Bénouville to the south.
"B" Company, in Le Port, were attacked by snipers hiding in the local church. This was ended with a PIAT bomb.
"A" Company were continuously attacked throughout the day by a variety of German forces, including armoured vehicles. They defended themselves with fighting patrols and by 1300hrs they were weary and in need of reinforcement. Unfortunately Lord Lovat's 1 Service Brigade, who arrived at this time, had orders to move on further east so the Paras had to continue to wait for reinforcements. Finally at 2115hrs, the 2nd Batallion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment arrived from Sword Beach. The Paras were down to 20 men when the last of them were withdrawn to the Allied side of the bridge at 0100hrs on June 7th 1944, over 26 hours after they set off from England.
During the whole operation, the British lost 20 men with 50 wounded. Of those the glider bourne troops of "D" Company had 14 men wounded and only two died; Lieutenant Den Brotheridge and Lance Corporal Fred Greenhalgh, the first casualties of D-Day.
In a number of respects the success of the operation was down to sheer luck. The fact that the Germans didn't hear the gliders landing, which enabled a highly effective stealth attack, and the fact that Hitler had decided that the German Panzer divisions should be stationed closer to Paris. Feldmarschall Rommel, who was in charge of troops in northern France, had wanted them nearer the defences he was building on the coast. The final stroke of luck was that Rommel was in Germany visiting his wife at the time of the attacks.
After the war, Bénouville Bridge was renamed Pegasus Bridge in commemoration of the bravery of the men who captured the bridge and were a pivotal point in the success of the Allies on D-Day. The name comes from the cap badge of the 6th Airborne Division. Orne Bridge has more recently been renamed Horsa Bridge.
The daring attacks and bravery of the men involved have featured in many films, books and articles and there is a museum near the site of the bridges dedicated in their honour.
Pegasus Bridge itself was replaced in 1993 but the original can still be visited in the museum.
Mémorial Pégasus - Comité du débarquement
In Part 2 will we talking about the level design and some key areas of the map. You can follow on social media for up to the minute news, teasers of Part 2 and the intervening articles we've got scheduled.