June 6 1944, 00.16h
Benouville sur Mer, north of Caen
Pegasus Bridge and the structure that replaced it in 1994 are examples of a distinct sub type of bascule bridge, the “Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge” or “rolling bridge”. Bridges of this type do not pivot about a hinge point, but roll back on curved tread plates attached to the girders of the main span. This design allows a greater clearance of the waterway for a given opening angle.
Battle for the bridge
On the night of June 5 1944, a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard, took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton in Dorset, southern England in six Horsa gliders to capture Pegasus Bridge, and also “Horsa Bridge”, a few hundred yards to the east, over the Orne River. The force was composed of D Company (reinforced with two platoons of B Company), 2nd Battalion, Oxford and Bucks light Infantry; 20 sappers of the Royal Engineers of 249 Field Company (Airborne); and men of the Glider Pilot Regiment. The object of this action was to prevent German armour from crossing the bridges and attacking the eastern flank of the landings at Sword beach.
Five of the Ox and Bucks’s gliders landed as close as 47 yards from their objectives from 16 minutes past midnight. The attackers poured out of their battered gliders, completely surprising the German defenders, and took the bridges within 10 minutes. They lost two men in the process, Lieutenant Den Brotheridge and Lance corporal Fred Greenhalgh.
Greenhalgh drowned in a nearby pond when his glider landed. Lieutenant Brotheridge was killed crossing the bridge in the first minutes of the assault and thus became the first member of the invading Allied armies to die as a result of enemy fire on D-Day.
One glider, assigned to the capture of the river bridge, landed at the bridge over the River Dives, some 7 miles off. Most of the soldiers in this glider moved through German lines towards the village of Ranville where they eventually re-joined the British forces. The Ox and Bucks were reinforced half-an-hour after the landings by Lieutenant Colonel Pine-Coffin’s 7th Parachute Battalion, and linked up with the beach landing forces with the arrival of Lord Lovat Commando’s.
One of the members of the 7th Battalion reinforcements was Captain Richard Todd, a young actor, who would, nearly two decades later, play Major Howard in the film The Longest Day.
The original Pegasus Bridge now resides in the grounds of the Pegasus Museum. The museum was inaugurated by HRH The Prince of Wales on June 4 2010.