Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

The Capture of the Orne Bridges

Discussion in 'Pegasus Bridge' started by Jim, Mar 3, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Messages:
    3,324
    Likes Received:
    12
    via War44
    As darkness was falling at 2256hrs on 5 June 1944, six Horsa gliders were pulled airborne from the runway at Tarrant Rushton airfield in England by six Halifax bombers. Inside the wood and canvas gliders were troops from D Company of 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, part of 6th Air landing Brigade of British 6th Airborne Division. The troops were commanded by Major John Howard and were the coup de main party ordered to attack the bridges over the Orne river and Caen canal at Benouville in Normandy. Seven minutes later, 70 miles away to the north-east, more planes from
    No. 38 Group RAF lifted into the sky from Harwell airfield in Berkshire.
    This time, A1bemarle aircraft carried the men of 22nd Independent Parachute Company, whose task was to drop onto and mark out landing zones ready for the main parachute force that were set to arrive 30 minutes after them. The airborne invasion of Hitler's Fortress Europe was at last under way.

    Major-General Richard Gale is given a present of a tin of treacle by the RAF station commander, Group Captain Surplice, as he boards glider number 70 ready for his passage to Normandy to join the main body of 6th Airborne Division.

    [​IMG]

    At 0007hrs (British Double Summer Time) on 6 June, Sergeant Jim Wallwork cast off his glider from the tug aircraft and began the descent to his designated landing zone (LZ 'X') close by the Orne bridges. Behind him, following at one minute intervals, came the other five Horsa’s carrying the remainder of Maj Howard's small force. At 0016hrs Wallwork brought his aircraft to a grinding halt just 60yds from the bridge over the Orne Canal. Howard and his men quickly crashed their way out of the aircraft's flimsy structure and dashed for the bridge. In the lead was Lieutenant Den Brotheridge. He led his men through the barbed wire surrounding the bridge and onto the roadway. Behind them, almost silently, the next two gliders swept in and landed just a few yards from Wallwork's plane. The skill of three glider pilots, Sergeants Wallwork, Boland and Hobbs, had delivered almost 90 men across the Channel to within 100yds of their objective. Howard's men now set about the tasks for which they had spent so many months training. The operation worked like clockwork.
    Lieutenant Brotheridge and No1 Platoon were swiftly onto the road and they began running across the bridge to get among the enemy weapons pits on the far side of the structure. On the bridge, striding aimlessly back and forth, were two German sentries. They had not heard the arrival of the gliders above the noise of aircraft and anti-aircraft fire and were suddenly startled to see the blackened faces of British troops rushing towards them. One sentry turned and ran whilst the other managed to get off a flare to raise the alarm. Almost immediately he was killed by a burst of Sten gunfire from Brotheridge. Next, the lieutenant rushed towards the machine gun, which was positioned in a sandbagged pit at the end of the bridge, throwing a grenade as he went. The now awakened MG42 crew saw him coming and opened fire on the young officer, killing him instantly. However, the gun was quickly silenced by the troops following behind Brotheridge. By now the German defenders were fully roused and fighting back.
    No.1 Platoon began clearing the enemy from the western side of the canal around the bridge, throwing grenades and firing as they went. On the eastern side of the lifting-bridge, Lieutenant Wood and his No. 2 Platoon broke free from the second glider and cleared the German trenches, machine gun positions and a 50mm anti-tank gun on that side of the canal. The third glider contained No. 3 Platoon commanded by Lt Smith, and had a bumpy landing. Six of the platoon remained trapped in the glider when the lieutenant and the others leapt from the aircraft to join up with Howard. The major directed Smith to take his men over the bridge and help o. 1 Platoon to clear the western canal bank and form a defensive perimeter. As this was happening, sappers began checking the underside of the bridge for demolition charges, cutting any wires that they came across, but they found no explosives in position. (It later transpired that the charges allocated for the bridge were stored in a hut nearby and were only to be put in place when directed by higher authority). The enemy had been caught entirely unprepared for the assault.
    Meanwhile, a few hundred yards to the east, Howard's other three platoons were dropping in their gliders towards the bridge over the River Orne. Unfortunately, the leading glider carrying Howard's second in command, Captain Priday had been cast adrift in the wrong place and landed near the River Dives five miles away. The other two, however, made a successful landing within a few hundred yards of their objective and the river bridge was captured with little opposition.

    Private Frank Gardner, Captain Brian Priday and Lance-Corporal B. Lambley of D Company, 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. These men were part of the coup de main party designated to capture the river bridge over the Orne at Benouville, but their glider landed ten miles away from their objective close to the River Dives. It took several days for them to find their way through enemy territory to join up with their battalion.

    [​IMG]

    The initial operation had been a complete success. Within just 15 minutes both bridges had been captured and made secure with a minimum of casualties. When Howard received news of the capture of the river bridge, he ordered the success signal “Ham and Jam” to be transmitted to signify that he had the intact bridges under his control. It now only remained for him and his company to hold them until they were relieved by the paratroopers of Lieutenant-Colonel Pine Coffin’s 7th Parachute Battalion, who were to land on DZ “N” 30 minutes later.
    The pathfinders of the 22nd Independent Parachute Company, who had leapt into Normandy just a few minutes after Maj Howard’s company had descended on the bridges, did not have such a successful landing. Their drops were scattered and it took a long time for the men to rally. Two aircraft had been allocated to deliver men to each of the three drop zones. They were then to set up their Eureka beacons to guide in the main force of paratroopers onto their allocated landing points. This main force was arranged to drop 30 minutes after the pathfinders. The 5th Parachute Brigade’s Commander, Brigadier Nigel Poett, arrived with his advance HQ precisely on target on DZ “N”, close by Ranville with the pathfinders. He was immediately cheered by the sound of the whistle being blown by Maj Howard, signalling the successful capture of the bridges.
    With so little time to complete their tasks and the failure of the majority of them to land on target, the pathfinders were unable to mark the drop zones sufficiently well to ensure that the following paratroopers landed in the correct place. When the aircraft bringing the main force arrived over their various drop zones at around 0045hrs, the beacons guiding them onto their targets were giving misleading signals. German anti-aircraft fire was also causing many planes to lose formation and direction, so when the order came for the parachutists to drop, they were often released in the wrong places. On DZ “N”, 5th Parachute Brigade was dispersed over a wide area.

    The bridge over the River Orne at Benouville. This was the second target of Maj John Howard's D Company of the 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and it was captured intact in the early minutes of 6 June. Its fame and place in history has been long overshadowed by the more glamorous events at Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal a few hundred yards away.


    [​IMG]
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Messages:
    3,324
    Likes Received:
    12
    via War44
    The 7th, 12th and 13th Parachute Battalions became intermingled and confused. Some order was restored as the individual groups quickly assembled at their appropriate collecting points, but many paratroopers became completely lost and only joined up with their units after many hours or even days trying to get tlleir bearings.
    Lieutenant-Colonel Pine Coffin's 7th Parachute Battalion dropped on the Ranville DZ 'N' in some disarray. After waiting at the rendezvous point for a short while for his battalion to rally, the colonel decided to take those men who had arrived and lead them towards Howard's isolated company of the Ox and Bucks at the Orne bridges. He left his second in command, Major Baume, to collect any stragglers who might turn up later. The battalion's arrival at the bridges was most opportune, as the enemy was beginning to launch determined counter-attacks against Howard's exposed company.

    The wrecked gliders that brought Maj John Howard and his men to within a few yards of the Caen Canal bridge at Benouville. The Cafe Gondree alongside the canal can be seen in the left background.

    [​IMG]

    Pine Coffin now took over command of the bridges and organised a strong perimeter around the river and canal crossings. Howard's company was withdrawn to the eastern river bridge to act as reserve, whilst the 7th Battalion's own companies crossed over the Caen Canal and established defensive positions on the western side of the lodgement. A and C Companies blocked the road from Caen, holding the southern part of the village of Benouville, whilst B Company moved into place in the tiny hamlet of Le Port and in the small wood alongside it, blocking the approaches from Ouistreham. The battalion was only 200 strong, although other paratroopers filtered in during the night as isolated individuals picked their way through the darkness to join their unit.

    In the days after the landings, broken Horsa gliders litter the fields of Landing Zone 'N' to the north of Ranville.

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Jim

    Jim New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Messages:
    3,324
    Likes Received:
    12
    via War44
    Lt Den Brotheridge

    Lt Den Brotheridge led No 1 Platoon into the attack across the canal bridge at Benouville. With the gliders landing so close to their objective the paratroopers of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry were able to get onto the bridge virtually undetected. Close behind Brotheridge was Private Billy Gray, carrying a Bren gun. The two German guards patrolling the bridge were suddenly confronted by the paras rushing towards them out of the night. Private Romer turned and fled but the other managed to fire off a red flare to raise the alarm. Brotheridge reacted immediately and cut the man down with a burst of Sten gun fire; Billy Gray then joined in with a volley from his Bren gun. The firing alerted the machine gun crew on the end of the bridge. Brotheridge continued towards them tossing a grenade as he ran, but was instantly killed by a bullet through the neck. Following closely behind Brotheridge, the men of his platoon concentrated their fire on the German machine gun post. The grenade thrown by the now dead officer exploded killing the enemy gun crew. Without pause, the men of the platoon continued their race across the bridge and fanned out on the other side of the canal. In just a few swift seconds the first Allied objective had been captured. The first Allied soldier had been killed in action on D-Day and the first German soldier had died defending Hitler's Fortress Europe. The war continued for the other men on the bridge. Within minutes Private Romer, a 16-year old Berliner fresh from training camp, was captured. For Billy Gray and his comrades in 'D' Company, the fighting was only just beginning. After the capture of the bridge the company joined the remainder of the 2nd Oxs and Bucks and went into the line as infantry early on 7 June. For the next seven weeks they fought an increasingly bitter war of attrition to protect the left flank of the landings. Little by little the battalion's strength was eroded by artillery, machine guns and snipers. By the end of August Major Howard's 'D' Company was a shadow of its former strength. All of the original sergeants and most of the corporals were gone, and of the officers on D-Day only Howard was left, and he had been wounded twice. Altogether, the company could only muster 40 of the 181 men who began the campaign.
     
  4. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2006
    Messages:
    483
    Likes Received:
    0
    via War44
    :thumb:
    Oh man accounts of these actions always slay me - just absolutely bloody AMAZING.
    For the rest of the day I will now have to watch the relevant bits of "The Longest Day", and I will maybe get out my dusty copy of Call Of Duty and play the Pegasus Bridge part....[​IMG]

    Then there's the Richard Todd stories....
    :happy:
    The preserved bridge in the rain:
    [​IMG]
     

Share This Page