Thursday, September 17, 2009

I have been to.... Pegasus Bridge

I can't tell you how many years I've waited to visit Ouistreham and the Pegasus Bridge, but suffice to say the current Mrs Steve the Wargamer and I have been holidaying in France with the spuds for at least 12 years, and we almost always come home via the Caen/Portsmouth ferry route for the convenience of the sailing times. Now Pegasus Bridge is only 10 minutes from the ferry port, but in all that time I've always been too late to make the detour and visit.... up until now. This year we were on a much later boat, so game on!!

I've divided these up into two groups - first the battlefield, and second the Memorial Museum... I'd say up front that this site is well worth going to if you get the chance...

So, a brief background first (and this is verbatim from the Wikipedia entry).

"On the night of 5 June 1944, a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard, took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton 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 Beach".

A picture is worth a thousand words so the following may help with orientation...

The red circle is Pegasus....you can see how critical the bridge was in strategic terms - it is the first major bridge across the canal...

First off, a view of the canal showing the modern bridge (the original was replaced in 1994) and how wide the canal is - the canal can get up to 200m wide in places, but I'd say it was about 50m at this point:

Next the landing area itself next to the current bridge... poor planning on my part prior to the visit (it was spur of the moment, I hadn't expected to be able to get there) lead me to believe that the water you can see was the Orne River, it isn't - it's a tributary.

What this tributary does do however, is tighten the available landing area for the gliders considerably... the following shows you how narrow it is. In the film you can see concrete plinths, these mark the landing points of the three gliders... as is often the case, I stand in total awe of the skill of the men who landed those gliders, in the dark, on an unknown landing area, in such a small area... absolutely astounding. The film is taken with the bridge directly behind me no more than 20 yards..

The site is well supplied with information on the men involved in the operation, and each of the markers you see in the film had descriptions so you could understand who had landed where...









On the other side of the canal, opposite the actual cafe, there is this rather sad looking Centaur, standing on a section of bailey bridge..





..and here is the Cafe Gondree itself.. during the battle the cafe was used as an aid post. The cafe owner, Monsieur Gondree, allegedly dug up his hidden supply of champagne (200 bottles!) which he had buried in his garden to safeguard it, and gladly shared it with his liberators... definitely better than the NHS, then!

...and so on to the museum which houses the original Pegasus Bridge in the grounds. The museum is new and well worth a visit for many reasons...

...the exhibits inside being one of them - I didn't really have long enough to do these justice, but there is huge amounts of original letters, documents etc and the exhibits are chock-full of original items of equipment..

..the grounds of the museum contain a number of other exhibits which seemed to me to be a little out of place - I think I would have preferred to see some more Airborn orientated equipment - specially adapted Jeeps, maybe even a Tetrarch, etc? For all that the exhibits were all in excellent condition..





The best from my perspective was this M3 - I've had a thing about M3's ever since Airfix brought out the kit all those years ago and I added them (totally incorrectly) to my western desert forces!!





By far and away the best bit though was the bridge itself - totally open, and you were allowed to walk on it and across it..





They did have a recreation of a Horsa glider however, which was a bit of an eye-opener, I hadn't realised how big they were...



They also had an original bailey bridge in various stages of build to show how they were put together..





...and less we forget that this is a memorial - there is this lovely, and recently added, set of stones by the bridge itself.



...well worth the wait I'd say, and both informative, awe inspiring, and sobering at the same time.....

================================================


In my efforts to get in as much sailing as possible before the end of the sailing year, I headed out solo last Saturday for a pleasant afternoons sailing...(it would seem that a new 'Jonas Brothers' [click here] DVD purchased just that morning - with four free pairs of 3D glasses apparently - seemed to be a bigger attraction than the opportunity to sit on the boat with her Dad for two or three hours! )

Started out with two reefs, got as far as we had the weekend before, where I then had to shake the reefs out (wind was dropping all the time). By the time I was half way up the harbour it had dropped to almost nothing so the donk was switched on and we motored home through a very quiet, very still, gloaming...

A huge sunset, a pleasant cigar, and a can of Tanglefoot [click here] just underlined what was a memorable sail. Winter approaches though - it was dark when I moored at 7.30 in the evening!

Distance: 10 miles (105 miles year to date - there's the century)
Wind: "Changeable" (Started out Force 4 dropped to nothing)

9 comments:

  1. Pegasus Bridge holds something special for me.
    for many years there was a winged Pegasus painted on the hotel on the corner of corporation Road in the town. it was put there by the men of the airborne forces as they trained for their attack on the bridge by using the Corporation road bridge in grimsby. the two bridges are of exactly the same design and dimensions. I cross this bridge eveery day on my way home from work - as do thousands of others - and often wonder how many know of its history and significance?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am very pleased to see the new museum, and that the old bridge has been treated with more respect than when I last saw it. The Horsa repro looks brilliant the markers showing where the 3 gliders landed really demonstrate the skills of those glider pilot regiment pilots & when you look at the size of those gliders...incredible! Tanglefoot a fine pint of badger!! Did you know that Johnny Woodhouse who used to run the Panda Soft drinks division of the badger empire was the ex CO of the SAS!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Crikey - you guys are a font of knowledge this evening.. I had no idea about either of those facts - thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was at Pegasus Bridge earlier in the year during a visit to the Normandy Beaches ... and it was the best bit as far as I was concerned. My father was in 6th Airborne - he was a gunner with 53rd Airlanding Light Regiment RA - and they actually had a picture of the entire Rehgiment on display in the museum. It brought a lump to my throat just seeing them all together.

    I took a photo of the Horsa replica home to show him ... and he was beside himself to think that they had actually made one! He and the rest of the gun team went into action in a Horsa, with a jeep, ammo trailer, and 75mm Pack Howitzer chained down behind them. Apparently they all knew that if the landing was rough, the whole lot could break free and squash them during the landing. He said that he was petrified of that happening, and that getting out and fighting was far less of a worry .. in fact he felt safer outside the glider than in it!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nice blog entry Steve. My parents in law lived in Normandy so I was lucky enough to see Normandy en toto before all the 1994 Hoo-ha! Before they moved the original bridge and things generlly started to sprout more roundabouts, dual carriagewats, momnuments.

    Not denying it's all still a very stirring place! One of the best bits in the movie!

    Cheers
    Mark

    ReplyDelete
  6. Excellent post and pics, Steve. I went to the Normandy beaches as a child but never to Pegasus Bridge.

    Giles

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nice post Steve.

    Any idea why the Centaur had measurment numbers all over its turret?

    The people who own it should paint it, it does look sad and neglected.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Moif - agree w.r.t the state of the Centaur... it desperately needs to be "looked" after especially as I now find that it is a relatively rare tank...

    The markings are interesting; the Centaur was the close support version of the Cromwell and according to Wikipedia (which has a picture of this tank in it's article) this is a Mk IV Centaur armed with a 95mm howitzer (with 51 rounds of ammunition).

    Apparently this was the only version of the Centaur known to have seen combat & 114 were produced.

    I *believe* the markings are to assist with it's primary purpose which was to take out German pillboxes from the landing vessels on D_Day ie. for accurate direction finding - my assumption is that there must be a mark on the deck that they can line the degree markers against?? These tanks were given their targets on the beaches by naval observers who could use the turret calibrations to indicate targets accurately - useful in situations where the tank commander can't see the target because of smoke etc. Would love to know more!

    By the way - check this out - absolutely stunning!

    http://anzacsteel.hobbyvista.com/Military%20Models/centaurivbg_1.htm

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very nice model. I wish I had the time and patience to try something as detailed as that. Not sure what I'd do with it afterwards though...

    ReplyDelete