At 0016 Hours, on the 6th of June 1944, the First Allied troops from the British 6th Airborne arrived in German occupied France. D-Day had begun.
Two years previously, in 1944, plans were being made for the Invasion of France and many old and new allied Regiments were being formed and trained in preparation. One of these Regiments was the 2nd Ox and Bucks Regiment (Second Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment). Volunteers were called for from all aspects of the British Armed forces, and there was no shortage of them, as most allied regiments were stuck in Britain, bored out of their skulls. There was plenty of fighting in places like Africa, Italy and Burma, there were still plenty of Regiments and units stuck in Blighty. The only troops who had seen any action in or near Britain, were the RAF, the Royal Navy and elite Royal Marine Commando units. Any hints of some exciting training and the chance of fighting interested a great many people.
The British airborne Troops were commanded by General F.A.M. “Boy” Browning, whose wife suggested the now famous ‘Red Beret’ for the Airborne troops and the Bellerophon astride winged Pegasus as the Airborne shoulder patch and symbol.
In the 6th Airborne (Ox and Bucks) Major John Howard was placed in command of D Company. It soon became apparent that D Company were the crème de la crème of the 6th Airborne. They were assigned one of the most important tasks of the whole of D-Day- capturing the bridge West of Sword Beach- Pegasus Bridge.
For two long years Major Howard trained his men until they were one of the best fighting units in the allied forces. They did long forced marches, live and blank firing exercises, Fighting in Built Up Areas, parachute landings and glider missions. So that by the time D-Day came, they were ready for absolutely anything.
At 2256 Hours, 5th June three Horsa Gliders took off from English soil, carrying their precious cargo of D Company, Ox and Bucks 6th Airborne, to their destination. The Horsa gliders had been built specifically for the invasion of Europe. They had the ability to fly at very low levels, and were able to slow down for a quick landing a very high speeds due to very large spoilers on the wings. The pilots in the three gliders had been trained for this exact task; they were to land in a very small triangular field South West of the bridge.
At 0016 Hours the German sentry on the bridge heard a muffled crash behind the woods, he assumed that it was a piece of a bomber that had fallen from the sky (This was not that rare) and landed in the field and that he would check it out the next day. That sound was the first glider crashing home, right in the exact spot that had been planned, breaking down the barbed wire fence surrounding the field. Wallwork and Ainsworth, the two pilots were thrown right out of the cockpit and in front of the glider by the force of the impact. And thus the first allied troops, # 1 Platoon, D Company- 6th Airborne, landed on French soil. They were, however, unconscious. All of them. However they quickly recovered in about 8- 10 seconds and were off on their mission. They ran silently to their first objective a small machine gun armed bunker on the West side of the bridge.
The next sounds the German sentries on the bridge heard was the explosions of the grenades that had been thrown into the bunker. Turning around he saw 30 very determined looking soldiers running at him at a steady trot. Their faces were blacked out, they were heavily laden with gear and their was a fierceness in their eyes that didn’t make him, an 18 year old who had hardly ever fired a rifle, think twice about running away very quickly. One of the other sentries joined him, they hid in a bush, and later surrendered to allied forces, alive but very shaken.
On the East side of the bridge stands a two storey building, owned by the Gondrée family, who were sending information to the British Secret Services as to what was happening on the bridge. They had told them that the bridge had been rigged with explosives, so as soon as they got to the bridge the sappers set to work, but luckily the explosives had not been put in place yet.
The Gondrée family did not know what was going on, and so hid in their cellar. What they didn't know was that they were the first family in occupied Europe to be freed from the Nazi regime.
By this time #2 Platoon had landed at 0017 Hours, with #3 Platoon closely on their heels at 0018 hours. Once the firing got under way each Platoon shouted out their platoon identification word to avoid friendly fire. #1 shouted ‘Able’; #2 shouted Baker and #3 shouted ‘Charlie’. Imagine being one of the young German sentries on, or near the bridge, never been in action before. You are suddenly confronted by nearly 100 very angry, large British troops, armed to the teeth and all screaming at the top of their voices, and it seems like they have emerged from absolutely nowhere. You would have been bloody terrified! Needless to say there was little fighting, most of the German troops surrendered or were quickly killed. Lieutenant Smith, of No. 2 Platoon, was injured in the wrist by a stick grenade, the flesh had been torn away to the bone, but he fought on, as his trigger finger still worked, he did eventually fully recover. Lieutenant Brotheridge was killed by machine gun fire. Lieutenant Wood, of No. 3 platoon, was hit in the leg by three bullets, and had to leave the fighting. This meant that all three of the platoon commanders were down, and the sergeants had to take over command. However all resistance was destroyed by 0021 Hours and the password ‘Ham and Jam’ was sent back to England to indicate that the bridge had been taken intact. A bit earlier, at 0019 hours the first Parachute divisions began landing and went to reinforce and expand the positions that had been taken.
On the Bridge, the men of D- Company rested. They had taken the bridge, killed the Germans, and taken their trenches, their pillboxes, their bunkers and one anti- tank gun emplacement. All of the German troops in the Town of Bénouville (which was next to Pegasus Bridge) had fled and all over Normandy, allied troops were making parachute landings. The Nazi regime was beginning to crumble.
My main source for this node was 'Pegasus Bridge', written by Stephen E. Ambrose, author of Band of Brothers. It's a very good book and I highly reccomend it.