In January 1942 Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt met in Casablanca to determine the route they were to follow to try to end WW2. The decisions at this meeting marked a decisive step in planning the opening of the second front in Europe. Among these measures, the two leaders decided to bring about in 1943, all the preliminary conditions required for the execution of a landing in Europe in 1944. The final date decided was 05 June 1944 (D-Day). General Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the allied expeditionary forces in Europe and therefore was in overall command of Operation Overlord.
Unfortunately a severe storm over the English Channel caused Eisenhower to postpone the invasion 24hrs.
The leading assault was named Operation Deadstick and was to liberate two bridges over the Caen canal, one at Benouville and the second at Ranville. The assault was led by Major John Howard and troops from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox & Bucks) were chosen to execute the plan.
Six Plywood Horsa Gliders were towed by Halifax bombers to the French coast. The Horsa Gliders were flown by two pilots and could carry 25 men or up to 4 tons of equipment. The only navigational aids they had were an airspeed indicator, compass and stopwatch.
They were released in thick cloud near Cabourg and split into two groups to head for the bridges. Using their basic navigation of time and distance, the Benouville raiding party, made two 90deg right hand turns and cleared the cloud on course for the bridge. The first glider landed at 00:16hrs 06 June 1944, in the field next to Benouville Bridge. The first objective was to take out the Pill box on the East side of the bridge. This contained the trigger for the Germans to blow the bridge if it looked like it could get over run. A No Shooting order was given to maintain the element of surprise, until the Pill Box was blown up. A Grenade into the Pill Box marked the start of the fire fight.
The second and third gliders landed as the fire fight started on the bridge.
The first Allied soldier to give his life on D-Day was 29 year old Lieutenant Danny Brotheridge. He died whilst attacking a gun position in front of Café Ghondree on the west side of Benouville Bridge. He is buried in the nearby Ranville War Cemetery.
At 00:22hrs approximately 500yrds away, the gliders had successfully landed and the assault started on Ranville Bridge under similar circumstances.
At 00:26hrs, Major John Howard blew his whistle to indicate to his men that the assault on the two bridges was complete. The element of surprise had taken just 10 minutes to overrun 50 German soldiers and re-take the two bridges. A decisive success.
Benouville Bridge was later renamed PEGASUS BRIDGE, in honour of the airborne troops which repatriated it. The flying horse Pegasus being their shoulder emblem.
At 0430hrs British Paratroopers and Gliders also over ran the Merville Gun Battery which is close by.
The numbers involved are hard to comprehend, and show what a logistical feat was undertaken. The following figures relate to those deployed for D-Day.
The Naval assault was given the code Operation Neptune. This consisted of 5,000 naval ships and 2,000 additional vessels employed to ferry men and supplies to shore. There were 195,000 Naval personnel.
There were 11,500 aircraft and 3,500 gliders which included 31,000 aircrew.
There were 132, 715 troops landed on the beaches and 24,900 parachuted in.
The American Airborne Troops theatre was the Cherbourg peninsula. Their operation began at 0015hrs and there were two divisions comprising 7,000 each division. St Mere Eglise was one of the towns they were tasked to repatriate. The Americans were also tasked with liberating La Pointe Du Hoc heavy gun battery which is situated between Utah and Omaha. This raid was led from the sea and was crucial to the success of the sea invasion to eliminate the formidable fire power of the German position.
Operation Neptune – the sea landings, commenced at 0630hrs which was dictated by the optimum tidal condition. From West to East the Codes for the beaches were UTAH, OMAHA (both American), GOLD (British), JUNO (Canadian) and SWORD (British and French Kieffer Commandos).
Success of this campaign would largely depend on the speed which supplies and ammunition could be replenished for the growing numbers of personnel. This required a facility to off load ships. Following the raid on Dieppe in 1942, it was decided that all ports were too well defended therefore a temporary structure would need to be fabricated and built. During 1943 and early 1944, components for two Mulberry Harbours were fabricated, one to be built at Omaha, the other off Gold Beach at Arromanche. These were to be towed across the Channel and assembled immediately after the successful landings.
The morning of 19th June brought with it another storm which damaged the Mulberry at Omaha with such severity that it was scrapped shortly afterwards and the components used to repair and enhance the Harbour at Arromanche.
Coinciding with the 70 years commemorations of WW2, seven members of Yarm Motorcycle Club headed to Normandy in Northern France to spend a week visiting the theatre of the D-Day Landings.
Members: Bob Arnett, Brian Brown, Allan Wren, Bill Robinson, Ken Vidgen, Nigel Smith and John Hutton