We Should Always Remember What Happened That Night It's What We're Capable Of At Our Best....
D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, which led to the liberation of France and the defeat of Nazi Germany, has many stories of heroism and amazing feats (and it must be said catastrophic mistakes). One of the first military actions to take place, the capture of the bridges over the River Orne and the Caen Canal, is an inspirational story, and I believe show's us what we can do for freedom with excellent planning, training and heroism.
For D-Day to succeed it relied on secrecy and subterfuge, and breathing space for the forces attacking the beeches to break through and form a bridge head. If the Germans discovered the location of the invasion, or managed to counter-attack quickly, the whole operation would be in jeopardy. The first part, hiding the time & place of the landings was very successful, and we will address it in a separate article. The second, buying time for the landings on the beaches, relied on the landing od airborne troops on the flanks, or edges of the invasion area, to slow down and stop any counter-attacking German forces.
The British were worried about their Eastern Flank, and the bridges at Ouistreham, which if left intact or in the hands of the Germans, would allow a devastating counter-attack that could push the Allies back into the English Channel.
The idea was capture the two bridges in a coup de main - a surprise attack. But these were not the days of helicopters, night vision or laser bombs. Parachutes were out of the question, a too inaccurate way of delivering enough men to the point of attack. Gliders were the answer. Big Horsa Gliders, each capable of carrying 30 troops, towed to their target, then silently piloted with pinpoint accuracy, where the soldiers could spill out and attack their objective instantly, with complete surprise.
As it was, 3 of the gliders landed within 50 metes of the bridges. This was just after midnight, in complete darkness. Probably the finest piece of airmanship of WWII. The soldiers of the Ox & Bucks, led by Major Howard, captured the first bridge almost instantly, and the second within a few minutes. For now, the flanks of Operation Overlord were safe, but could they hold on?
Holding on until 9am that morning, reinforced by Paratroopers, the Glider troops fought off determined German attacks to capture the bridges, some supported by armored cars and artillery. Exhausted and with many wounded, they succeeded, against all odds, as shown to great effect in the film "The Longest Day."
So what does the operation at Pegasus Bridge teach us today? I think it shows us that anything is possible, with the right training, equipment and people. To achieve almost miraculous results you don't need a miracle. You need solid preparation, superb equipment, and the best people. And a little luck.
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