- Mémorial Pégasus, Avenue du Major Howard, Ranville, France
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Two important bridges across the Canal de Caen and the Orne river were the first objectives taken by airborne troops in the Normandy campaign. Just after midnight on 6 June 1944 a small detachment of the 6th British Airborne Division surprised the German garrison guarding the bridges. The Pegasus Memorial recalls their bold action and the commitment of the Division in Normandy.
For the 6th British Airborne Division, the most important mission on 6 June 1944 was to capture intact the two bridges that crossed over two parallel stretches of water: the Canal de Caen and the Orne river. This would enable the troops landed on Sword Beach to proceed rapidly east of the Orne.
As the element of surprise was very important, this mission was the first D-Day action in the British sector.
A company of the 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, commanded by Major Howard and reinforced by sappers, was to be deployed at 00:20 in the immediate vicinity of the two bridges. One of the six gliders went astray and landed a dozen kilometres from the objective, but the other five deployed the assault detachments as expected. At the bridge over the Canal de Caen, the best guarded of the two crossings, the assault troops surprised the small garrison and emerged victorious after a brief but vicious engagement. The bridge over the Orne river, only guarded by two German sentries, was taken without firing a shot. Reinforced by other parachutists during the night, Major Howard’s men were joined in the early hours of the afternoon by the commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade, who had landed at dawn at Sword Beach.
The museum (known as Memorial Pegasus), situated in between the two bridges commemorates this bold action and the commitment of the 6th Airborne Division in Normandy. Inside the museum visitors will find the original bridge (nicknamed ‘Pegasus Bridge’), replaced in the 1990s to accommodate river traffic. A life-size replica of an Airspeed Horsa glider is also presented.
Fought between the iconic landings on 6 June 1944 and the liberation of Paris on 25 August, the Battle of Normandy is often overlooked. Yet this campaign decided the course of the war in Northwestern Europe. The losses were huge: more than 100.000 people were killed during the 80 days, 20.000 of them civilians.