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D-Day Campaign Pt. 1 - Pegasus Bridge

Background

Operation Overlord. The Invasion of Normandy. D-Day. All of these words describe one of the epic battles in human history and the largest seaborne invasion ever launched. This event is of such a scope that it can scarcely be captured by the human imagination, yet it has been the subject of countless books, movies and speculation that has consumed entire careers. The objective of this massive undertaking was simple - invade Europe over the English Channel and open up another front so that all three allied powers may descend on Germany collectively. In order to overcome the formidable defenses that had been erected on the beaches of France, the Allies had to strike where they were weakest, at Normandy, and assemble a multifaceted force that could engage the defenders in all places at once.

As ships and bombers smashed installations, commandoes captured strong-points, airborne soldiers touched-down behind enemy lines and partisans ambushed lorries. On five stretches of Normandy Beach, the bulk of the forces assembled by Great Britain, Canada and the United States of America hurled themselves at the tenacious defense of the German Whermacht. As Field Marshal Erwin Rommel noted, if the invaders were not thrown off the beach and into the sea on the very first day, they would never be removed from their beachhead. The actions of everybody participating in this operation over the next twenty-four hours would prove crucial in determining the course of the later stages of the war.

The first soldiers to touch down and engage in combat during D-Day were the members of the 6th Airborne Division of the United Kingdom. Their objective was to seize the Benouville Bridge (Codenamed Pegasus) and hold it against any German counter attacks until relieved. The bridge spanned the Caen canal that ran parallel with the Orne River. The bridge was of particular strategic importance as it was a major artery into the Normandy interior and opened the way for Caen itself, the objective of the soldiers that would soon be landing on Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. If the bridge remained in German hands or was destroyed, then mustering significant forces to push from the beachheads further inland would have been logistically difficult.

The men trained for this mission were the best of their kind and were ready to operate outnumbered and behind enemy lines. Leading the strike would be D Company of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry led by Major John Howard. Upon landing in their Horsa gliders between the canal and the river, D Company quickly seized the bridge and eliminated the guards. However, the German garrisons in the neighboring towns soon became aware of the attack and saw the necessity to stop the assault before the airborne soldiers became established at the bridge.

The defending German forces would not allow them to simply take and hold this important causeway, and despite logistical complications, the lack of any real leadership and the early hour the defenders would rally to make a localized counterstrike. At 0130 hours, scarcely an hour after the bridge had been initially taken, two companies of soldiers supported by whatever vehicles that lay close at hand set themselves upon Major Howard and his men. This would be the only major confrontation between D Company and the German forces defending Normandy during D-Day, but it would prove crucial in deciding the fate of the bridge.

Scenario: D-Day Pt. 1 - Pegasus Bridge

At 0130 hours on June 6th 1944 the sleepy garrisons of Le Port and Benouville organize themselves for a hasty counterattack against the British Paratroopers who had just taken the Pegasus Bridge. The bridge must be seized or destroyed and the Paratroopers must be prevented from occupying Le Port and Benouville.

Allied Objectives

Above all else, D Company must hold the bridge and prevent the German forces from taking it or even worse, destroying it. All the same, the Allies must establish a strong perimeter in the outlying villages adjacent to the bridge and the crossroads. If the German garrisons retain control of these towns it will be a significant barrier for the forces that will be arriving to relieve Howard’s men during the day and leave D company on exposed ground by the canal.

Axis Objectives

Taking back the bridge is paramount. Doing this will put up a significant roadblock for future allied operations and it could be used to move German troops closer to the beaches. Still, continued control of the bridge is by no means guaranteed and in a desperate situation such as this a hasty rearmament and demolition of the bridge by pioneers may be even more beneficial.

Aftermath

A fortuitous shot from a PIAT would obliterate the leading Panzer IV and ignite an intense fire fight that lasted several hours. The remaining Panzers slowly withdrew and the SP-Guns only made desultory attacks from long range, not wanting to engage the Paratroopers close-up. As D Company rebuffed the German infantry, its sphere expanded to control Le-Port and part of Benouville once the fighting died down. Only a few probing attacks would come from the nearby 8th Panzer Grenadier Regiment in the morning. The 6th would hold the bridge and only at the cost of two fallen comrades. This great victory during the first hours of D-Day would become legendary, being popularized in movies such as The Longest Day and books to this day. (Allied Victory: 5 – 0)










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