March 6, 2018 by Lee
“Up the Ox & Bucks” a quote from Richard Todd who played Major Howard in the Film “The Longest Day”. Richard Todd incidentally was there at the bridge as he was part of the relieving paras ordered to fall back to the bridge once their task was complete.
Brief Background / Historical Account of the Action
The Benouville Bridge or as it was later renamed Pegasus Bridge spanned the Cean Canal. Not far from Pegasus Bridge was a much smaller bridge which spanned the River Orne. Both bridges had to be taken intact and held until relieved by Lord Lovat and his commando force after landing on Sword Beach on D-Day. Both bridges were deemed a vital target to secure the left flank of the Sword Beach Landing Zone.
The main force assembled for this raid consisted of D Company 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, known as the “Ox & Bucks”. These troops were part of the 6th Airborne Division’s 6th Airlanding Brigade, along with engineers and all under the command of Major John Howard. Getting them to the landing zone the troops were transported in 6 Horsa Gliders which were towed by Halifax bombers. Once the bombers were over a certain point the gliders cast off and floated through the air to the landing zone. Meanwhile, to create confusion the bombers were tasked to bomb targets around the area. Once on the ground, Howard’s orders were to capture both bridges intact with “Surprise, speed and dash”, repel all counter attacks and most importantly “Hold Until Relieved”.
Capturing Pegasus Bridge was the task of 3 Gliders numbered 91, 92 and 93. Glider 91 (with Howard on-board) was the first to touchdown at 0016 hrs and skidded to a stop, entangled in barbed wire and just yards from the bridge. Gliders 92 & 93 landed nearby a couple of minutes later. Amazingly the German sentries failed to raise the alarm to this crashing noise as they believed it to be debris from an aircraft on a bombing raid. Surprise it seemed was complete and lead elements from the gliders were on the bridge, the Germans reacted. After a brief and fierce firefight lasting only a few minutes, Pegasus Bridge was in British hands. Shortly afterwards the River Orne Bridge was captured by troops from Gliders 94, 95 and 96 which landed nearby. Demolition charges that had been placed on the bridges by the Germans were removed and Major Howard radioed the success signal “Ham & Jam” which was both bridges captured intact. Now all that Major Howard had to do was “Hold Until Relieved”.
The picture below shows a sketch of the map done at the time.
Soon, once the Germans had taken stock of what was going on, they started a string of counter attacks to recapture the bridges. One such counter attack was by German armour and being Airborne troops, they only had a PIAT to take on this threat. Not wanting to have these monsters’ breakthrough and head for the beaches, Sgt Thornton bravely picked up the PIAT and went to the end of the road and found some cover waiting for the armour to be in range. The round penetrated, and the vehicle went up and burned for the rest of the night, occasionally cooking off rounds. The rest of the armour retreated and didn’t return for the rest of the night.
At around 0300 hrs reinforcements from 7th Parachute Battalion began to arrive to help reinforce the British position. At dawn a German gun boat came up the canal from Ouistreham and opened fire on the British position, this boat too was dispatched by a PIAT and its’ crew were captured.
Several more counter attacks to recapture the bridges were fought off throughout the morning and pressure was mounting. Until, with great relief, the defenders heard the sound of bagpipes approaching at 1330 hrs. This signalled the arrival of Lord Lovat and the Commandos of his 1st Special Service Brigade.
The Picture below was taken a few days after D-Day what I think to be a signals unit repairing telephone wires.
I was very lucky for my 40th a few years ago now that my wife had booked Colin Rumford’s holiday home at Arromanches which overlooked Gold Beach. Arromanches is where the floating British Mulbury harbour was located, unfortunately the only thing left of it now is the huge break waters that were filled with concrete and sunk in place, over time these have eroded and are now breaking up. But while we were there we went too all the beaches as well as in land positions key to the invasion. One such place that I had always wanted to visit was Pegasus Bridge and the Café Gondree. Café Gondree was the first house liberated on D-Day and the now owner is Madame Gondree the daughter who which was only a young child on the night of the invasion.
The pictures below are some of the pictures I took while we were visiting Pegasus Bridge and the Café Gondree.
The next set of pictures is from the Pegasus Bridge museum which is now the resting place to the original bridge that the Ox & Bucks fought over. You can see Jamie and I attempting (poorly) to recreate the action of storming the bridge as Major Howards men did. Also, you can see a mock up of a Horsa Glider which transported the troops for the raid.
There are now many on this topic, but I have only listed the ones that inspired me.
- The Longest Day – If you like films then I can’t recommend this film enough.
- Pegasus Bridge – By Stephen E Ambrose. This paperback is an excellent account of the training right through to the action as told by the Heroes who survived. You may have heard of Stephen E Ambrose before as he wrote the book Band of Brothers which became a mini TV series.
- Pegasus Bridge – Osprey Raid series of books. A factual account of the raid with good illustrations.
- Wargames Illustrated – Where the original article was written by Colin Rumford.
Well that’s it for now but look out for part 2 where we talk about the orders of battle for the scenario and some of the special rules that will be needed to playout the action.
Until next time, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Please feel free to Like, Comment, Share and Follow us as we continue our journey in this hobby…….