Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Sixty five years ago, in a place not so far, far away....

This shows the spot where the first Allied troops landed in France on D-Day, June 6th 1944. It was just after Midnight. They were part of `The Airborne`, always first, always surrounded, they were the men of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry under the command of Major John Howard who, before the war, was a police officer. They were a corps elite. Their job was to capture this bridge on the Caen Canal and 2 other bridges over the Orne River and to hold them intact in advance of other British and Canadian paratroopers who were already in the air, waiting to hear the result of this mission, before dropping into that area of occupied France. Their job was to prevent German tanks from counter-attacking the troops that would land by sea 5 hours later. For those "Band of Brothers" fans, this was a similar strategic objective to that of the American 82nd and 101st Airborne at the far western end of the invasion beaches, over 50 miles away. The `Ox and Bucks` Light Infantry was the spearhead of the Eastern flank. Their mission was the classic example of a `Coup De Main`. They arrived, barely 100 of them, in 3 wooden "Horsa" gliders with controls that you could be forgiven for thinking would be used in a childs home made go-cart. There was an airspeed indicator a compass a stopwatch and precious little else. It was dark and the land below was under a blackout order, so there were no lights on the ground. They were towed across the channel and then released many miles from the target and flew a pre-planned, circuitous route in order to mask their intended target. The young pilots had trained hard but the time spent learning their skills could still only be measured in weeks. They navigated by a compass, a stopwatch and their trusty Mark 1 eyeballs to identify significant shapes of rivers and other landmarks. No Garmin, no Tom-Tom, no radar, no ground control. I reiterate, they were gliders, so no going round again, no second chances. All three gliders landed merely yards apart. If you'd been there at the time, stood at the spot where I took the lower left photograph, you would have seen all three of them, just the other side of the far towpath. The first one came to rest a mere 45 yards from the bridge. This was simply remarkable. The German defenders were totally surprised but resisted and after a fierce, head-on firefight the bridge was captured and the German demolition charges neutralised. The first man to be killed by enemy fire on D-Day, was Lt. Den Brotheridge who ran across the bridge, leading an attack on a gun position. He was shot in the neck, very close to where I stood to take this picture. He was 26. The rest, as they say, is history. This mission is, to this day, remarkable in its audacity, daring and execution. It is a humbling experience to stand there. The bridge at Benouville, Normandy, was renamed as a result and will forevermore be known as "Pegasus Bridge" - Up the Ox and Bucks!

12 comments:

Blue Eyes said...

"It is a humbling experience to stand there."

It is humbling enough just thinking about it. Could my generation summon up the stones to fight if we needed to? I do wonder.

No doubt many would find clever arguments as to why we should not even try to defend ourselves. "3 million jobs depend on this invasion!" they might say. "Freedom is the freedom of comfort and job security!" they might cry.

Great pics, another great post.

Sage said...

I feel shivers when I visit the battlefields of Europe, though I haven't yet managed to get to the Pegasus bridge.. the courage and bravery of those young men are a testament to behold. I am not sure I could ever be that brave to face such hardships and death so boldly. This is a great tribute, nicely written and told.

Hogday said...

Hi Blue and Sage. Me and my oppo's often ask the same question you posed and we always seem to come up with the same answer, that there will always be those among us of sufficient courage and committment who would step up to the plate. A former police colleague and TA reservist summarised it thus:

"I ask myself time and again would I have been able to do what they did - and I keep coming up with the answer, of course you would because when the war started these men were no different to any other - they were just amongst some of the best trained Soldiers in the World - so much so they would probably say they were prepared to die for their mates as opposed to Country. Brave brave bastards all of them".

Lots of bikers out there Sage! It will be very crowded during D-Day week and the locals are looking forward to greeting and honouring the last few of the veterans (and the entourage's much needed undervalued £££`s ;)

More pics to follow. I'm just winding back up to the warp speed of being back at work and juggling for time - what a merry-go-round we're on. Off again right now, ta ta

Evil Twin's Wife said...

Wow - that is so amazing! It gives me chills to think of the training and bravery of those involved.

Area Trace No Search said...

I agree with you Hogday, I'm pretty sure we would; in fact, I'm pretty sure there are officers and men making incredible acts of bravery and intelligence every day at the moment in the many places the UK armed services are committed at the moment.

The problem in my eyes, is that these things are not so "media-friendly" as they once were.

Acts like this get a column on page five and forgotten about. And our armed forces (and to an extend Police Officers) still keep doing it, day after day with the knowledge at the back of their mind of the possibility of it going horribly wrong.

Blue Eyes said...

Hogday/Area I am not saying that there are no good people, just wondering if there are enough to make a difference. Would the usually apathetic stir themselves to honourable ways if presented with such a grave situation as we faced in 39-45? I hope so, but so many people have been taught that national and civic pride are dirty words...

powdergirl said...

I agree with ATNS completely ( I would add 'women' to " officers and men" though ; ). Well said.
Great post & pic's Hogday, thanks for sharing.

Sucks to return to work,yes?

Hogday said...

ATNS: Ditto. I do a bit of `after dinner chit chat` from time to time (strictly for charity - but I don't like to mention it :)) and I always tone down the tales of derring-do, simply because the truth never sounds believable enough.
Blue: Know exactly what you mean.
PG: Yes, like stagnant pond water through a sweaty sock, so it does...but at least I'm not having to save lives, not least my own. Hey, only 10 weeks to summer hols in Nova Scotia.

Cpdcoppurr said...

This is some place that I want to visit, along with Pearl Harbor, and Normandy............

It is humbling to know that all these brave men fought and died for freedom for ALL. God Bless all of them.

Hogday said...

CPDCC: The Arizona Memorial is on my bucket list too. I'll post some more of Normandy, incl pics from Omaha Beach, shortly (or as I always heard the staff at Disney World say, "momentarily")

powdergirl said...

Well, if you and the Missus are already across the pond then you might as well go the distance of another 3000 short miles, and hit BC as well.
We'll sit at the beach and solve all the worlds problems with a little help from the local vintners offerings.
That'll learn em' !

Constable Confused.com said...

Amongst our force, we ex forces try every year to make one visit to Normandy around November. I know it's not June 6th but it somehow seems the right thing to do. Normandy in the sunshine does not have the same impact whilst remembering whereas November's weather is more fitting.

Respect.