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"Rolling bascule bridge" redirects here. For other types of bridge referred to as "rolling" see rolling bridge.


Pegasus Bridge before its replacement


Pegasus Bridge is a bascule bridge (a type of movable bridge), built in 1934, that crossed the Caen Canalmarker, between Caenmarker and Ouistrehammarker, in Normandy, Francemarker.

Also known as the Bénouvillemarker Bridge after the neighbouring village, it was, with the nearby Ranvillemarker Bridgemarker over the river Ornemarker, a major objective of Operation Tonga in the opening minutes of the invasion of Normandymarker. A gliderborne unit of the British 6th Airborne Division, commanded by Major John Howard were to land, take the bridges intact and hold them until relieved. The successful taking of the bridges played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the days and weeks following the invasion.

In 1944 it was renamed Pegasus Bridge in honour of the operation. The name is derived from the shoulder emblem worn by the British airborne forces, which is the flying horse Pegasus.

Battle for the bridge

Pegasus Bridge in 1944


On the night of 5 June 1944, a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard, took off from RAF Tarrant Rushtonmarker 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 included elements of B and D Companies, 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, a platoon of B Company, Royal Engineers, 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 Beachmarker.

Five of the Ox and Bucks's gliders landed as close as 40 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 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 in combat on D-Day.

One glider, assigned to the capture of Horsa 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 rejoined the British forces. The Ox & Bucks were reinforced half-an-hour after the landings by 7th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment and linked up with the beach landing forces with the arrival of Lord Lovat's Commandos.

One of the members of the 7th Battalion reinforcements was young actor Richard Todd who would, nearly two decades later, play Major Howard in the film The Longest Day Five years before his death, Major Howard described the portrayal of the events surrounding the capture of the bridges and his role in them as "sentimental rubbish".

Today

Original bridge in the Pegasus Museum - July 2005


Pegasus Bridge now resides in the grounds of the Pegasus Memorial Museum. The museum was inaugurated by HRH The Prince of Wales on 4 June 2004and lies at the Eastern end of the current bridge. The original bridge was replaced in 1994 by the wider, stronger structure, built by Spie Batignolles, that exists today. It had been extended by 5 metres in the early 1960s to accommodate the widening of the canal and remained in use until 1993. After its replacement, Pegasus Bridge was left on waste ground. The bridge was sold to the museum for the symbolic price of one Franc.

Many of the soldiers killed in the actions of June 1944 are buried in the war cemetery at Ranvillemarker. Lt. Brotheridge's grave, which is located in the churchyard next to the cemetery, has a commemorative plaque that was installed by the family Gondrée, whose house near Pegasus Bridge was the first to be liberated during D-Day. It still exists and nowadays contains a café and a small museum shop that sells Pegasus Bridge related material. Arlette Gondrée, who now runs Café Gondrée, was a small child living in the home when it was liberated.

Design

The replacement Pegasus Bridge built in 1994
Pegasus Bridge and the structure that replaced it in 1994 are examples of a distinct subtype 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.

See also

References

  1. .
  2. .
  3. Pegasus Bridge on Structurae database


Further reading

  • Ambrose, Stephen E. (1985; 2nd print 1988). Pegasus Bridge. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780671523749
  • Edwards, Denis (1999). The Devil's Own Luck: Pegasus Bridge to the Baltic 1945-45. Leo Cooper/Pen & Sword. ISBN 9780850526677
  • Parr, Barry (2007). What d'ya do in the war, Dad? Trafford Publishing. ISBN 9781425110734
  • Norbert Hugedé, Le commando du pont Pégase (unreliable on many points, but witness reports of local French civilians cited)
  • Historica Nr. 34: Normandie 1944 (publ. Heimdal. 1993)
  • John Howard en Penny Bates, The Pegasus Diaries about the military career of Major Reginald John Howard, commanding officer of D Company Ox and Bucks who took both bridges over the river Orne (Ranville) and the Canal de Caen (Benouville) in the night before D-Day.
  • Barber, Neil (2009) 'The Pegasus and Orne Bridges'. An in-depth account of their capture defence and relief on D-Day. Pen & Sword. ISBN 9781848840416.


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