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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Pegasus Bridge

6 June 1944

Theatre: North West Europe
Location: Normandy, just north of Caen, in France.
Players: 6th Airborne Division including 3rd and 5th (Parachute) Brigades, and 6th (Airlanding) Brigade.
Outcome: The successful capture of two bridges around the strategically important French town of Caen.

An RAF glider pilot in training over England for the eventual airborne invasion of Western Europe
An RAF glider pilot in training over England for the eventual airborne invasion of Western Europe©
The 6th Airborne Division played a crucial role in the early stages of Operation Overlord, the Allies' invasion of North West Europe. Its task was to take control of areas north of Caen and east of Sword beach, protecting the eastern flank of the landing zone on D-Day.

The first phase of the operation went to plan: at 20 minutes past midnight, three gliders landed within metres of their objective, two bridges across the River Orne and the Caen canal. The Caen canal swingbridge, codenamed Pegasus, was in British hands within ten minutes: the first engagement of D Day.

Three further battalions, dropped by parachute, reinforced the bridges and liberated the nearby village of Ranville. There they were joined by the glider-borne troops of 5th Brigade, who fortified the village. A few kilometres north east, 3rd Brigade's parachute drop was less straightforward; scattered over large areas, the paratroops eventually regrouped and achieved their objective of blowing up five bridges.

The most complex operation of the night was also the most costly. The 9th Battalion had the objective of taking the gun battery at Merville: four guns defended by 100 troops. Following a precision bombing raid, 555 paratroops were to attack the battery using anti-tank guns dropped by glider. In the event, the bombers missed their target, the anti-tank guns were lost and the troops were scattered - many landed in marshes and drowned.

The battery was eventually attacked and captured by 150 troops whose heaviest weapon was a single machine-gun. The Merville guns turned out to be too small to pose a serious threat to the invaders; the paratroops destroyed them anyway. The 6th Airborne had made a vital contribution to the success of Operation Overlord.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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