Pegasus Bridge is the name given to the bridge over the river Orne that was assaulted by airborne troops on the night of D-Day, June 6th 1944.
British airborne troops of the 6th Airborne Division commanded by Major General Richard ‘Windy’ Gale, landed on the east flanks of the Normandy battlefront, near Ranville, north of Caen. The objective of these troops was to secure the high-ground on the eastern flank of the landing beaches, capture the bridge over the river Orne and put out of action the German battery at Merville.
The first allied troops to land in occupied France were the reinforced glider company under the command of Major John Howard, who crash landed at 12:16am, on June 6th 1944.
An amazing feat of flying, the glider pilots landed in total darkness within metres of the bridge across the River Orne, between Ranville and Benouville. This bridge was to become known as Pegasus Bridge ( after the Pegasus on the paratroopers unit badge).
The Horsa gliders landed on a thin strip of land between the River Orne and the Caen Canal, that was so small the Germans did not think was large enough for a landing site. Today a memorial can be seen on the landing site, with a stone marking the stopping point of each glider. Notice how marshy the ground is there.
RAF Air Chief Marshall, Sir Leigh-Mallory later described this flying as ‘the finest piece of airmanship of the war’. Despite being lightly armed, Major Howards orders were to take the bridge and to “Hold (the bridge) until relieved”.
The garrison at the bridge was around 50 German troops, who were taken by surprise due to the silent approach of the gliders and the ferocity of the attack. The attack lasted only five minutes, after which the bridge was in British hands, and the adjacent Cafe Gondre had become the first house in France to be liberated.
Lord Lovats Scouts
Once the bridge was in British hands, Major Howard and his troops could only sit and await the inevitable counter-attack. During the night they were reenforced by other paratroopers.
Brigadier Simon Christopher Joseph Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat landed at SWORD BEACH with his 1st Special Service Brigade Commandos reputedly wearing a white jumper under his battledress and armed with an Winchester hunting rifle.
His task, and that of his troops was to link up with the troops at Pegasus Bridge.
Despite orders not to allow such actions in battle, Lord Lovat instructed his personal piper, Bill Millin, to play his bag-pipes as they pressed on towards the beleagred troops, where they arrived at a little past one pm. The due time was 12 noon.
I speculate that no password was needed due to the uniquely British sound made by this instrument!
Historians argue about the time, as stories exist that they reached the bridge only two and a half minutes late – but such is history.
The route that 1st Special Service Brigade took can now be followed on the new (2009) 6 km footpath/cycle route.
What to see
Pegasus Bridge is a ‘must see’ on any Normandy visit. The key points of interest are:
- The Airborne Museum at Pegasus Bridge. Home to the original Pegasus Bridge. The museum roof forms the wings of a paratrooper’s cap badge. Good disabled access.
- Cafe Gondre. The first house to be liberated sits on the western exit of Pegasus Bridge. Has a large collection of photos in this small cafe.
- Merville Battery Museum. A nicely restored battery with a Dakota and an audio visual recreation. Good disabled access.
- Footpath to Ouistreham. Opened in 2009. This 6km footpath was the route taken by Lord Lovat’s Commandos
During the anniversary week ( around 6th June each year) there can often be seen commemorative jumps over the original drop zones (DZ) at Ranville.
Pegasus Bridge is a short drive south from the main ferry port and beach resort of Ouistreham.
Simply drive off of the ferry and head towards Caen.
See the ‘Getting about in Normandy section’ for details of bus routes.