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   Inside Out - East Midlands: Monday 27th January, 2003


Plane and parachutists
D-DAY | Parachuters and gliders played a crucial role in the Normandy landings

Revisit a moment in history with veteran and film star Richard Todd who relives the D-Day landings. We take you back to the Normandy landings in 1944.

It's more than fifty years since the liberation of France on
D-Day. Today it's a distant memory, but for the men who fought on the beaches and in the skies, it could be yesterday.

D-day was an important turning point in the Second World War. It's been immortalised in numerous movies including
D-day - The 6th June'.

The film's star, Richard Todd, recently returned to the battlefields of Normandy in France. It proved to be a very special trip, and one which brought memories of fifty years ago flooding back.

Real life action hero

Actor Richard Todd
Hollywood star Richard Todd was a real life war hero who starred in several Second World War movies

Richard Todd is best known as a Hollywood legend, famous for roles in films such as 'The Dambusters' and 'The Longest Day'.

Less well known is that Todd was a war hero. He was first out of the plane on D-day serving with the 6th Airborne.

Eighteen years later he relived the event in the film 'The Longest Day' with celluloid action hero John Wayne.

Todd trained for a military career as a young man at Sandhurst. This led to six years active service during the Second World War.

After the war, Richard Todd became one of Britain's best known actors.

Today he lives in Grantham where he recently found his war-time parachute in his attic. The discovery brought back a stream of wartime memories from over 50 years ago.

On the beach

Parachute webbing
Parachutes such as Richard Todd's were used by the brave men who dropped from the skies

June 6 1944 is a date that will remain etched in the memories of Richard Todd and the veterans who fought on Normandy's beaches.

One of the main strategic landmarks in the invasion was Pegasus Bridge. The bridge was captured in the first few moments of D-day by the 6th Airborne division in what's been described "as the finest piece of airmanship of the war".

The 6th Airborne was given the job of securing the easterly landing areas of the Normandy beaches. The plan was to pave the way for the rest of the Allied troops by opening up communication routes.

Amongst their key tasks were the capture of the German battery at Merville, and the seizure intact of the two bridges at Benouville.

Gliding in

Richard Todd looking at grave stones
Richard Todd visits the graves of the brave men who gave their lives on D-Day

Gliders played a vital part in the capture of the landings with pilots from the Glider Pilots Regiment playing a key role.

A special force of six gliders were sent in, carrying 180 men in total. The gliders were released from their tug aircraft at 5,000 feet in complete darkness, using only maps and stop watches.

Half of the gliders were to take the river bridge whilst the remainder of the pilots would take the canal bridge.

The first glider carrying Major John Howard and his men landed within yards of the canal bridge, making them the first Allied troops on French soil.

Richard Todd in war uniform
Richard Todd photographed with fellow soldiers from the 6th Airborne

The men were temporarily knocked unconscious by the impact of the landing. Minutes later, they had abandoned their glider, and attacked a group of about 50 German soldiers who were taken by surprise.

The speed and surprise of the attack enabled the two bridges to be secured and held till the rest of the 6th Airborne arrived. The road link was now ready for the bulk of the invading Allied troops.

It was a remarkable achievement of courage and bravery against the odds.

The planning and execution of the landings had been impeccable.

Learning from the past

Today the events of D-day still resonate with the men who fought for freedom on 6 June 1944.

Richard Todd - Fact file
Born Dublin.
Spends childhood in India before moving to Devon.
Parachutes into France during the D-Day Invasion with the 6th Airborne.
Nominated for Academy Award for the film 'The Hasty Heart'.
Stars in 'The Dambusters'.
Co-stars with Robert Taylor in D-Day - The Sixth of June'.
Relives the Normandy landings in 'The Longest Day' with co-star John Wayne. Richard Todd was asked to play himself in the film, but ended up playing his real-life commanding officer.

Richard Todd sees valuable lessons to be learned from the invasion.

He says, "I think it's important that the new generations are reminded of what war was really like. We could be facing war again now so I think we should learn lessons from the past."

"Going back brings the memories for me and it's always poignant looking around the cemeteries and seeing the names of those who didn't come back."

Lieutenant Danny Brotheridge who led the attack was one of the unlucky heroes who gave his life for his country.

Brotheridge was shot in the securing of the bridges, and died of his wounds. He became the first Allied soldier to be killed on D-day

To him and the others who fought on that day, we owe a huge debt. It's a debt that we should never forget ...

See also ...

Second World War (History)

On the rest of the web
Imperial War Museum
The Royal Logistic Corps

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