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The Planned Destruction of Bridges Over The River Dives

Discussion in 'Pegasus Bridge' started by Jim, Mar 4, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Dropping with the 9th Parachute Battalion on 3rd Parachute Brigade's DZ 'V' was the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel George Bradbrooke. The Canadians were ordered to blow the bridges over the River Dives at Varaville and Robehomme and to eliminate the German garrison at Varaville. As with the other battalions, its drop was scattered and disorganised. Many of C Company's men were dropped ten miles from the correct zone, some even coming down within 1.000yds of the landing beaches on the western side of the River Orne. A few, however, were dropped close enough to the drop zone to form an assault group to attack the German garrison in Varaville. These men, under the command of Major McLeod, were joined by stragglers from A Company and others from 8th and 9th Parachute Battalions. It took most of the night for this small band to eliminate the Germans in Varaville, who were mainly grouped around a fortified position near the chateau. Whilst the Canadians were engaging the garrison they heard an enormous roar as the bridge over the Dives near the village was blown. A small group of men under Sergeant Davies had managed to assemble enough explosives and had infiltrated through the enemy positions to set about destroying the crossing place as planned.

    B Company lost many of its men in the flooded waters and marshy ground of the River Dives. Its objective was the bridge at Robehomme. Only a few paratroopers could be gathered together for the task and these men set off for the river led by Lieutenant Toseland. At the crossing place they found Major Fuller, who had earlier dropped in the River Dives itself. The engineers tasked with the blowing of the bridge had not arrived, nor had their explosives. Each man did, however, have a small amount of explosive with him to make Gammon bombs to be used against tanks, and so the major gathered all of the explosives together to form a single charge of about 301bs. One of the sergeants used this charge to try to blow the bridge, but only succeeded in weakening it. Fortunately, some time later a group of engineers arrived and placed adequate charges on the structure, destroying it completely. With both of these bridges blown, the 1st Canadian Battalion withdrew to the area of Le Mesnil to take up a position guarding the eastern flank of the airborne lodgement.

    This Horsa glider is alleged to be the one that carried Maj Gen Gale over to Normandy, but it lacks the number 70 that was marked on the fuselage to the right of the door and which can clearly be seen in other photographs of the general emplaning for the flight.

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    Further to the south, 3rd Parachute Brigade's other battalion, the 8th Parachute Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Alastair Pearson, dropped onto DZ 'K'. It had the most scattered drop of all, for only four of the 37 C47s carrying the battalion dropped their sticks of paras at the right place. Two hundred and thirty men were dropped on DZ 'N' instead of DZ 'K'. The battalion's task was the elimination of the bridges over the Dives at Bures and Troarn. Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson found the same chaos as elsewhere when he had landed and tried to gather his battalion together. At the rendezvous near a track junction close to Touffreville he could only find 30 of his men. The colonel waited for more to arrive and by 0330hrs he had assembled 11 officers and 130 other ranks. Time was pressing and he could wait no longer; he decided that this depleted force would have to do, and set about achieving his objectives. He sent a small party off to destroy the railway bridge at Bures and took the remainder of his men towards Troarn. This latter village was the greater problem, for it was thought to be held in force by the enemy and the bridge was on the far side of the built-up area.

    Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson gathered a few more men as he advanced, and deployed what he had of his battalion to command the high ground overlooking Troarn. Meanwhile, other men of his unit and some engineers had been gathering near DZ 'N', where they had been dropped by mistake. They consisted of two separate parties who had met up near the Bavent Woods. The senior officer was Major J. Roseveare, a Royal Engineer from 3rd Parachute Squadron RE. The combined party consisted of about 60 paratroopers and 60 engineers, together with 400lbs of explosives, demolition equipment and a jeep and trailer. The major sent the bulk of the engineers and most of the material to blow the Bures Bridge, whilst he and eight others loaded the trailer with as much explosive as they could, piled onto the jeep and headed for Troarn.
    Just outside the village they found a barbed wire roadblock, which took 20 minutes to negotiate. Whilst they were doing so, one of the men shot a German cyclist, rousing the enemy garrison. The whole area came alive with Germans, and the intrepid party once more crammed onto the jeep and trailer and set off down the main street firing as they went. 'There seemed to be a Boche in every doorway shooting like mad,' recalled Maj Roseveare later. The engineers returned fire as best they could whilst clinging desperately to the swaying vehicle as it careered at speed down the street. Nobody was injured, but the sapper on the rear of the trailer, who had been firing a Bren gun, was missing when they reached the unguarded road bridge. Working as quickly as they could, they laid explosives and blew the charges. When the dust settled, there was a large impassable gap in the middle of the roadway. Job completed, the major and his men abandoned the jeep and made their way on foot back to the battalion's lines, swimming small streams and fording inundated areas as they went.

    This picture was taken on 10th June, four days after the landings. It shows a group of paratroopers from 12th Parachute Battalion who were dropped in enemy territory far from DZ 'N' and spent the next four days trying to link up with their battalion. Here they enjoy a deserved cup of tea.

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    It was later that morning before Lt Col Pearson received confirmation that both the bridges at Troarn and Bures had been demolished as ordered, although he had heard the tremendous explosions earlier. His battalion was strengthened during the night as more stragglers rejoined the unit. By dawn, the colonel had his men deployed along the ridge down the western side of the Bavent Wood and was overlooking the enemy-held territory to the east.
    Whilst the individual battalions of the first two brigades of the 6th Airborne Division were completing their assigned tasks, Maj Gen Gale and his headquarters had arrived with the third wave of the division, landing on DZ 'N' at around 0320hrs. The general had set down with the main glider force, and with him were the heavy equipment, light field-guns and anti-tank guns that had been carried over to Normandy in 68 Horsa and four giant Hamilcar gliders. The arrival of Gale and his headquarters now meant that the paratroopers could fight as a division rather than as a collection of separate battalions each fighting their own individual war.
    Just after dawn, information began to filter through to Gale at his HQ. News of the capture of the bridges over the Orne and Caen Canal, the destruction of the Merville Battery and the blowing of all the bridges over the Dives gave the general great heart. His division had achieved all their major objectives; it now remained for his specialist paras to fight as infantry and to hold on to the lodgement against the inevitable German counter-attacks.
     

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