During the early hours of June 6th 1944, Allied paratroopers and glider-troops landed on the east and west flanks of the Normandy coastline; the British at Merville Battery and what was soon to be known as ‘Pegasus Bridge’, and the US 82nd and 101st Airborne landing around the St Mare Eglise area.
The British Drops
The British 6th Airborne Division, commanded by Major General Richard ‘Windy’ Gale dropped between the river Orne and the high ground to the eastern flank, to secure that area, while other units had more specialised roles.
Under the command of Major John Howard, a reinforced glider company landed within metres of what was to become known as Pegasus Bridge ( after the Pegasus on the paratroopers unit badge). Although lightly armed, their orders were to take the bridge and to “Hold (it) until relieved”.
Meanwhile, troops of the 9th Parachute Battalion was dropped on Merville Battery, to neutralise the guns there.
The US Drops
Troops of the US 101st Airborne Division (which featured in the series ‘Band of Brothers’) and the 82nd Airborne Division dropped at the western end of the Normandy beaches.
They were tasked with securing the Carentan to Cherbourg highway to prevent the Germans from sending reinforcements into the area, and in clearing the routes to Utah Beach.
Due to high winds, cloud and heavy flak (anti-aircraft fire) over the DZ s, the drops became widely dispersed, with many troopers in the first wave landing in the marshes. The first wave consisted of 13,000 troops, delivered in 822 C47 Dakota aircraft – such was the scale of this airborne invasion.
Much of the 505th Parachute Infantry regiment (PIR) of the 82nd Airborne Division was dropped close to St Mere Eglise, with one soldier landing with his parachute caught in the church steeple. Each year this is remembered by the town’s people, who place a parachute dummy on the steeple.
What to see
The key attractions for people with an interest in the ‘Airborne’ element of the Normandy landings are St Mare Eglise ( which acts as a hub of all things US Airborne in the western side of the landing area), Dead man’s corner museum, La Fliere bridge and dropzone, Troop Carrier Monument, Pegasus Bridge/ Cafe Gondre and the Airborne Museum and Merville Battery.
During the anniversary week ( around 6th June each year) there can often be seen commemorative jumps over the original drop zones (DZs), particularly in the region of St Mare Eglise and Merville Battery / Ranville.
US Airborne enthusiasts should look out for the Dead Man’s Corner to Carentan airborne march.