The 6th Airborne Division was one of two airborne formations created when the airborne forces came into existence from 1941 onwards. It was commanded by Major General R.N. ‘Windy’ Gale DSO OBE MC, an experienced regular soldier who had seen action in the First World War a generation before. Like all British airborne divisions, it was composed of three brigades: two parachute brigades and one airlanding brigade. The parachute brigades contained battalions of the Parachute Regiment, and would drop from either C47 Dakota transport aircraft or Stirling bombers. The airlanding brigade consisted of battalions of infantry regiments converted to airlanding units which would be brought in by glider. Most of the support units in the division were gliderborne due to the nature of their heavy equipment and the need for vehicles. The only tank support was from the divisional reconnaissance regiment, and this was equipped with Tetrach light tanks, which could be brought in aboard the larger Hamilcar gliders.
Major General R.N. ‘Windy’ Gale DSO OBE MC.
6th Airborne Division Drop Zones on D-Day.
The division’s objective on D-Day was to drop in the area around and east of the Caen Canal and Orne River. There were two bridges over those waterways at Bénouville which had to be taken intact and held. In addition, the division was tasked with taking and neutralising the German gun battery at Merville (see pp.34 – 35). Further to the east specialist Engineers would land and destroy the bridges over the River Dives to stop German re-enforcements and armoured troops from entering the Normandy bridgehead. Once these tasks were complete the division would then link up with the Commandos and elements of 3rd Division landing on Sword Beach. From there they would establish an eastern flank to ensure the advance on Caen was secure and the bridges at Bénouville remained in Allied hands. Bénouville is a small village in Normandy, located just west of the Caen Canal and Orne River. There is a twelfth-century church, and on the southern edge of the village, set in parkland, an eighteenth-century chateau designed by the French neoclassical architect Ledoux, famous for his work in Paris. By the 1920s the chateau was a maternity hospital and latterly where the regional accounts department was based before it was requisitioned by the Germans. There were two bridges here. There was a lift bridge across the Caen Canal, and a swing bridge on the Orne. They were both moving bridges due to the passage of vessels along the waterways, although by the 1930s it was largely only the Caen Canal with its link to the deep-water facility in the city that remained in use. A pre-D-Day intelligence report stated that Bénouville, ‘has a population of 589 spread over small farmsteads with a big chateau which commands views SW and NE along the Orne Valley. The mayor’s name is M. Thomas.’1 The same report said of the local people,
there will be a considerable number of essential workers left in farms etc. They have been cruelly treated by the enemy but at the same time they will have been bombed by the Allies, so in the early stages there may be some anti-allied feeling . . . The Norman is a horse dealer and a notorious cider drinker and always he loves success in anyone and appreciates a sharp deal but is a stickler for justice and should be handled justly and firmly.2
Pegasus Bridge just before the war.
The Germans had garrisoned Bénouville since 1940, but in 1944 defences had been expanded with a 50mm gun position on the eastern side of the bridge, trenches dug along the canal, a roadblock on the village side of the canal and barbed wire covering the position. Beyond the village, anti-glider obstacles (poles) had been placed in the fields. The troops guarding the position were believed to be from the 711th Infantry Division, a formation numbering 13,000 men backed up with artillery and anti-tank gun support, and tank support consisting of a unit equipped with captured French Renault 35 tanks. Intelligence reports rated this division as ‘low category’ and made up largely of men aged 35 – 40, or very young soldiers, with a large number of Russians or Ost Truppen. The 21st Panzer Division were the nearest armoured formation, and the gun battery at Merville could also provide support if needed.
The bridge across the Orne River.
Men from 6th Airborne board their gliders.
The plan to take the bridges at Bénouville had been formulated in the spring of 1944. The unit detailed to make the assault on the bridges was the 2nd Bn Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. This was an airlanding unit, which came in by glider. It had been felt that a direct parachute drop on the targets would fail, and that a strike force should land almost on top of the objective and immediately engage the Germans before they had time to react. While landing a glider so close to a bridge over a waterway was a tricky call, the pilots of the Glider Pilot Regiment were confident it was possible. Within the battalion the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel M.W. Roberts, selected ‘D’ Company for the task as it was led by his best company commander, Major John Howard. Reginald John Howard was a pre-war regular soldier who had served in the ranks as an ordinary soldier, and was a police officer in Oxford when the war broke out. He was commissioned in 1940, and was promoted to Major and commanded ‘D’ Company from 1942.
The task allocated to Howard and his men was to land two sets of three gliders close to the bridges to be taken; one party of three near the Orne Bridge and one near the Caen Canal. Each glider was packed with men from ‘D’ Company along with Airborne Engineers to clear any explosives and mines, and medics to assist with the expected casualties. Howard was set to be in the leading glider to land at the Caen Canal Bridge, but the assault would be lead by one of his platoons, with the others following in close support. A similar assault would take place on the Orne Bridge. Training for the mission had been intense, but as the group approached the Normandy coastline on the night of 5 June, Howard felt confident.
The order to release was given and the gliders began their descent. Unbeknown to Howard, one glider for the Orne Bridge group had been towed off course and landed miles away, the party rejoining later. In Howard’s group the pilots began the tricky task of descent; the landing being the most difficult part with little space to stop the aircraft. Special arrester parachutes had been fitted to the gliders and these were used. Howard had joked about putting the gliders close on the enemy wire near the Caen Canal Bridge, but that was exactly where the lead glider, with Howard in it, came to rest. It was arguably the most impressive feat of flying in the whole war, something that Air Chief Marshall Leigh Mallory later commented on.
With the gliders down, and close to the objective, it was time to go into action. Private Clark later recalled,
Lt Danny Brotheridge, our platoon commander, quickly slid open the door and said ‘get out!’ I jumped out and stumbled on the grass because of the weight I was carrying and set the Bren up facing the bridge. The rest of the lads jumped out. Lt Brotheridge got in front of me. He looked around to make sure everyone was out and said ‘Come on lads!’ and up we got . . . we were about thirty yards from the bridge. We dashed towards it. I saw a German on the right hand side and let rip at him and down he went. Having shot the first German, I still keep firing going over the bridge. At the other side there was another German and he went down.3
Aerial view of the Pegasus Bridge landings.
But not every German had been accounted for. Return fire was coming in the direction of the party crossing the bridge and the first to get hit was Den Brotheridge. Caught by a bullet, he was thrown onto his back where he died in the arms of one of his men, Corporal Wally Parr. Lieutenant Herbert Denham Brotheridge, from Smethwick in Staffordshire, was the first British combat fatality and probably the first fatal Allied battle casualty of D-Day.
Despite this loss the German defence had buckled, and the firing died down as the men of Howard’s company cleared the trenches. Another one of the platoon commanders, Lieutenant Wood, later recalled, ‘by the time we got over to the other side most of the enemy seemed to have run away; I found an MG34 intact with a complete belt of ammunition on it which nobody had fired ... On my ’38 set I heard the magic words Ham and Jam and knew that the operation had been successful.’4
John Howard himself later wrote an account of the unit’s activities on D-Day,
At 2354 hrs Monday 5th June 1944 an assault party consisting of ‘D’ Company and 2 platoons ‘B’ Company under command of Major R.J. Howard, took off in 6 gliders from Tarrant Rushton airfield. They were the first troops to leave England for the invasion of the continent and had a coup de main task of capturing two vital bridges intact, namely the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne at Benouville and Ranville respectively. These gliders were briefed to land within 50 yards of each bridge. Speed and dash on the part of the attacking troops was considered sufficient to overcome the garrison of 50.
At 0025 hrs the first glider crash-landed within 20 yards of Bénouville Bridge. It contained No 25 platoon commanded by Lt H.D. Brotheridge, and the company commander. According to plan they immediately attacked and crossed the bridge while they took on the defences, the Sappers who accompanied the party cut wires and removed charges. Lt Brotheridge was unfortunately shot while crossing the bridge and died two hours later, he gave a gallant display of brilliant leadership. The 2nd glider, 24 platoon, commanded by Lt D.J. Wood touched down a minute after 25, with 14 platoon commanded by Lt R.A.A. Smith half a minute later. While 24 took on the inner defences, 14 were ordered to reinforce 25 and start to form a small bridgehead to meet the first expected counter-attack. Both the platoon commander and platoon Sergeant of 24th were wounded in the initial assault, subsequently command falling on Cpl Godbold. On the Ranville Bridge only two platoons had arrived, 17 platoon under Lt D.B. Fox, and 23 under Lt H.J. Sweeney. Little opposition was met and 17 platoon soon had control of the bridge, reinforced by 23. Both bridges were captured and consolidation effected after mopping up, within 15 minutes of landing.5
With the bridges secure and Howard, as David Wood mentioned, having given the instructions to his signaller to send the code-words ‘Ham’ and ‘Jam’ to indicate the capture of both bridges to those off-shore (the information was also sent by pigeon), it was up to his small party to defend what they had captured. Some men were sent to guard the swing bridge across the Orne, but as airborne troops were dropping around Ranville beyond it, possibly tying up any small parties of Germans there, it was felt the main threat would come on the western bank. Moving up to the crossroads next to the mairie at Bénouville, Howard screened out his men here and into the neighbouring buildings around the church. Here they awaited the arrival of the expected German counter-attack.
Howard’s gliders landed close to the bridge.
Back at the bridge one building was increasingly in use, the first to be ‘liberated’ as such. This was the local café, owned and run by the Gondrée family. Georges and Therese Gondrée had purchased the café before the war, and had a young family. In the early hours of D-Day they had heard the gliders land on the opposite bank of the canal. They retreated to the safety of the cellar with their two children, Georgette and Arlette. Then the firing started and going upstairs to see what was going, Georges Gondrée came under fire when he opened a window to look down on what was happening. Thankfully, the burst missed him, and he went downstairs to speak with the soldiers. They advised him to go back down to the cellar, which is what he did until the battle for the bridges was over.
Howard’s defences were about to be put to the test. He later wrote,
the defence of the bridges until our relief arrived was expected to be a difficult task, within an hour two or three tanks approached the bridges from the West. The first tank was put out of action by a well aimed bomb from a PIAT [Projectile Infantry Anti-Tank] fired by 17 platoon. This platoon was brought over from the river bridge to form part of the bridgehead on the west bank.6
The man responsible for this feat was Sergeant Thornton. He later wrote that the PIAT had,
fifty yards range only and you must never, never miss. You’ve had it because by the time you have reloaded and cocked it everything has gone . . . Sure enough . . . this thing appears. You couldn’t see very much, it was moving slowly towards the bridge. For a few second they hung around. Although shaking I took an aim and ‘Bang!’ off it went. The thing exploded. Two minutes later all hell let loose.7
The tank was immobilised and the crew bailed out. The tank was a Panzer IV, almost certainly from the 21st Panzer Division. The other tanks in the group that had approached the bridge withdrew, at least for now. The Germans had seemingly been surprised at the anti-tank capabilities of the airborne troops, thinking they would easily be overwhelmed by armour. For now it was a stand-off.
Finally, at 0300 on 6 June what Howard and his men had waited for finally materialised from the direction of Ranville.
Our relief, 7th Bn Parachute Regiment (Somerset Light Inf) reached us 3 hours after our landing, 2 hours later than expected. Being relieved by the Somersets made the bridge operation a light infantry show. Our first relief was intended to be ‘C’ Company 7th Para Bn commanded by Major R.H. Bartlett of the regiment, unfortunately his company were dropped dispersed and unable to reach us as soon as expected. Soon after first light a Gun Boat moved up the Canal from the sea and shot HQ 7 Para Bn. Another well aimed PIAT bomb put this out of action. The assault force was still defending the bridges when the regiment landed and crossed the bridge at 2300 hrs.8
Indeed, the arrival of the boats was a curious incident, also mentioned by 7th Bn Parachute Regiment in their account,
two boats, each about twenty foot long, chugged slowly past . . . keeping an interval of about a hundred yards between them. There was no sign of life to be seen on either but there was a closed wheelhouse aft where the crew were presumably watching events .. . Each had a pom-pom gun in the bows but these were apparently completely unmanned. It was obvious they did not know what the situation was and had come down to try and find out . . . A Bren gun of Thomas’ platoon on the West end of the bridge and a PIAT of Howard’s on the East end of it both opened up . . . almost simultaneously. The Bren splintered the wheelhouse and the PIAT stopped the engine completely. The second boat immediately turned round and made off towards the sea at full speed . . . The first boat drifted helplessly towards the East bank where a reception party of Howard’s men were waiting . . . While it was drifting though the pom-pom gun, which was obviously remote controlled, swung round and started to fire tracer into the battalion position on the West . . . The crew of the crippled boat, who were all young soldiers and very nervous except for . . . an arrogant Nazi type, surrendered without trouble and the gun boat remained as a trophy.9
For John Howard, with the arrival of 7 Para and the establishment of a new perimeter, the day was over. It was the first of many he would spend in Normandy, but in August 1944 he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order for bravery on 6 June.
The 7th Bn Parachute Regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pine-Coffin. The unit had been formed from a nucleus of men from the 10th Bn Somerset Light Infantry in November 1942. The battalion had become part of the Parachute Regiment at this time, but retained its Light Infantry title and associations being known as the 7th (Light Infantry) Bn. Its men were also given permission to wear a small piece of green diamond-shaped cloth backing to the Parachute badge on their berets, a regiment colour showing a visible connection to the old regiment. After much parachute and invasion training, in February 1944 command of the battalion passed to Richard Geoffrey Pine-Coffin. He was a pre-war regular officer who had first been commissioned in 1928, served in India, fought at Dunkirk and had been awarded the Military Cross in North Africa with 3rd Bn Parachute Regiment. Pine-Coffin was highly respected by his men, and many described him as quiet and inspirational, and all recalled his fondness for smoking a pipe. For D-Day his battalion had been selected to support the coup de main operation that John Howard and his men were detailed to make; the capture of the vital bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne River. They would be parachuted onto a Drop Zone (DZ) close to the bridges and then march to the objective to support Howard in the defence of the ground if his party had succeeded, and launch their own attack on the bridges if he had failed. The plan to land the gliders so close to the bridges made many think the latter situation was more likely. In case one or more of the bridges had been blown it would also mean a water crossing to secure the area, so Pine-Coffin’s men would be detailed to carry boats into battle as well as their own gear.
With training over, the final briefing was made in the last hours leading up to D-Day when the exact locations could be revealed. By 2230 on 5 June, the 7th Bn was airborne in thirty-three Stirling bombers adapted for parachute drops. They began the drop over the DZ at 0500 on the 6th and, as was common on D-Day, some men were scattered far and wide. There were two aircraft shot down by flak en route with the loss of all on board and one aircraft returned without dropping as the pilot had failed to find the DZ. Pine-Coffin had made it down and it was now up to him to bring the battalion together into a coherent fighting force.
It was very difficult to pick up ones bearings and the CO and Lieut Rogers collected many other wanderers in their search for the RV. It was a most desperate feeling to know that one was close to it but not to know in which direction it lay. Time was slipping by and the Coup de Main party might well be in difficulties; everything could easily be lost if the battalion did not arrive in time. It was impossible to pick up a landmark though until a chance flare, dropped by one of the aircraft, illuminated the church at Ranville, with its most distinctive double tower and thus provided the necessary clue.10
Having got to the Rendez-Vous point (RV), Pine-Coffin summoned his bugler and gave the order to sound the battalion call, hopefully bringing in any personnel sheltering in the darkness. He also instructed that an Aldis lamp should be flashed, risking discovery by the Germans in the hope that if the scattered battalion didn’t hear the call, they would see the flashes. The plan worked and, ‘officers and men began to come in from all sides and it was good to see how many had joined up into groups to come in as formed bodies, with their own protective detachments and the senior of the group in command although there were several groups without officers or NCOs in them.’11
Although many figures had emerged from the dark, it was soon found all the companies were well under strength, with ‘C’ Company down to only 15 per cent of its original number. The men had seemingly been scattered far and wide, and it would take time for them all to reach the RV. Pine-Coffin therefore decided trying to stick to the timing of the operation was more important than numbers, so waited until the battalion was at 50 per cent strength and left his second in command at the RV, Major E. Steel-Baume, to await the arrival of others.
The battalion moved off, with the weak company leading and the others following. Over the radio net the success signals broadcast by Major Howard at the bridges was picked up and so Pine-Coffin ordered the men to step up the pace. The swing bridge was reached first, and contact was made between the Paras and the Oxs & Bucks men. Pine-Coffin tracked down Major Howard and discovered that Brigadier Nigel Poett, commanding 5th Parachute Brigade, was also at the bridges. Discovering the bridges were intact and the position secure, Pine-Coffin brought the remainder of his force at the double as they crossed the 400yd between the two bridges.
The distances between the two bridges was only four hundred yards but it contained plenty of evidence of the thoroughness with which Howard’s men had done their job. Many of the battalion got their first sight of a dead German on that bit of road and few will forget it in a hurry, particularly the one who had been hit with a tank bursting bomb while riding a bicycle. He was not a pretty sight.12
Once across the Canal Bridge, Pine-Coffin sent his men out into defence positions at Bénouville. He had to use personnel from ‘C’ Company to bring the forward posts up to strength and kept what was left as a battle reserve. Radiomen were missing from the platoons and once the men were set up Pine-Coffin had no direct way to communicate with them. He realised the difficulty of his position.
The maternity hospital at Bénouville.
The battalion was now pitifully weak in numbers and several of those that were present carried arms only adequate for close quarter fighting. The actual number available, including all ranks, did not quite touch two hundred, excluding Howard’s party which could produce seventy more. There were no 3-inch mortars, no medium machine-guns and no wireless sets. There were, however, a few PIATs which were to give an excellent account of themselves.13
The furthest post out from the Canal Bridge were the positions in front of and in the grounds of Bénouville chateau. Here one of the platoon commanders, Lieutenant Atkinson, set up his men so they could keep an eye on the towpath along the canal, watch the chateau and also control the main road from Caen, which offered the best route into the position for any major counter-attacks. Known for his love of the use of explosives, Atkinson’s men were unusually equipped with more explosive charges than any other platoon in the battalion. They soon got a chance to use them, as several armoured vehicles approached and his men were able to knock out one tank and cripple another. His sections in the chateau grounds saw a figure walking around, and when ambushed discovered this person was a Madame Vian, who was in charge of the maternity hospital that had once been here. As Lieutenant Atkinson spoke fluent French he was able to ascertain a great amount of information as to the German positions and strength in the area.
The biggest threat to the positions held by the bridgehead party came when elements from 21st Panzer Division arrived for a counter-attack. A reconnaissance group of tank commanders came forward on foot, were seen by the forward outposts and came under heavy fire, and ‘the noise of the seaborne effort became very apparent before the Germans had recovered from the shock of being shot up while on their feet; the survivors rushed back to their tanks and the whole lot swung off towards the beaches’.14
Back at the bridge, the problem was not with the enemy but the locals.
One of the chief daylight problems of the bridge platoon was how to deal with the very large numbers of extremely excited and voluble refugees who wanted to cross. They did not know which way they wanted to go but were very frightened and wanted someone to take them under control. Obviously they could not be allowed to stream across . . . as there was always the chance that they would later contact the Germans and report what they had seen.15
Lieutenant Thomas was given the task of dealing with them and when the civilians had all finished enthusiastically shaking hands with him and his men, he was forced to herd them all into hastily put up cages close to the bridge to stop them wandering off and appoint a handful of men to keep an eye on them. At this point Thomas also went into the Gondrée Café and roused Georges, his wife and children to reassure them about what was going on. Being made aware of the situation sometime before it was clear that their corner of Normandy had been liberated, it was only later that they were to discover they were the first building to be liberated in France on D-Day.
As it became light the seaborne landings and the battle for Ouistreham and SWORD Beach was audibly in full swing. It was just a matter of Pine-Coffin and his men sitting and waiting.
The attacks on the battalion bridgehead continued to be launched and to be beaten off, but now they were beaten off more as a matter of routine than as part of a life and death struggle on which everything depended. It seemed impossible that they [the Germans] could break through now and confidence was higher than at any period since the drop. The enemy was still very persistent though and although the attacks were driven off they were not so without casualties; each attack cost a few more and those that were still unwounded were beginning to feel the strain.16
Eventually the visible signs of success were evident and the men from the beachhead were on their way.
True to their word the Commandos were the first to arrive but it was not until 1pm that their pipes were heard in the distance . . . They came through in grand style and their mere numbers were sufficient to keep the snipers quiet for an hour or so . . . at 2pm the piper led the way across the bridge, skirling away on his pipes, followed by Lord Lovat. It was an impressive sight.17
With the initial link-up between the seaborne and airborne troops complete, a further wait ensued for Pine-Coffin and his men, as units of 3rd Division from SWORD Beach eventually made contact with the defence perimeter. However, instead of infantry arriving to relieve them, the first men from 3rd Division were Royal Army Service Corps lorry drivers and the driver of a Royal Engineers bulldozer from 79th (Armoured) Division. They had much to tell about the landings, but were of little use for the defence. Elsewhere, airborne headquarters had made contact with SWORD Beach and around 1930 Major General Tom Rennie, commanding 3rd Division, tore up at the bridge in a Bren Gun carrier to report personally to Pine-Coffin that the relieving battalion had been held up in hard fighting beyond the beach but the first elements would arrive shortly. Rennie was as good as his word as within 30 minutes men began to come into the battalion area, and shortly afterwards lorries arrived with the remainder of them. With their day’s action over, Pine-Coffin and his men collected on the road in Bénouville with orders to move off to Ranville for the night. Their task successfully completed, they looked back to the field graves of their comrades who had died in the action and were led by their Colonel across the Canal Bridge – a bridge thereafter known as Pegasus Bridge in recognition of the incredible feats of the airborne troops who fought here on D-Day.
Walk 1: In the Airborne Area
STARTING POINT: Pegasus Museum, Bénouville
GPS: 49°14′32.4″N, 0°16’20.2″W
DURATION: 4.8km/2.9 miles
Park your vehicle in the car park of the ‘Memorial Pegasus’ Museum in Rue Major John Howard, taking care to keep an eye on opening times. There is further parking down the same street. Spend time visiting this excellent museum, which houses the original Pegasus Bridge and many other unique mementoes of the 6th Airborne Division operations on D-Day; a good 90 minutes is needed here before moving off.
From the museum return to the main road (D514) and turn right towards the new Pegasus Bridge. Before the bridge cross the road and walk over to the area near the gun pit where the memorials are located. This is where the three gliders landed; the marker stones indicate the position of the nose of each glider and details of who flew them and who was inside are included on plaques. It is only when standing here at the first marker that you realise how close the glider pilots were able to put Major Howard and his men to the bridge. By the first marker is a bronze bust of Howard, who died in 1999. The nearby gun pit houses a 50mm anti-tank gun that was used on D-Day, and was re-used when The Longest Day was filmed here.
The original Pegasus Bridge in the Memorial Museum.
From the memorials cross the bridge to the far side of the canal. Stop. To your left is the famous Gondrée Café, the ‘first house in France to be liberated’ as the plaque above the front door proudly proclaims. Still run by the Gondrée family, it has always been a special place for returning veterans and inside it is a virtual time capsule of D-Day memories; no visit is complete without seeing it. From the café cross the road to the tank. This is a Centaur tank and has no connection to the Pegasus Bridge story; it was used by Royal Marine units on D-Day and was presented to the original museum here (to the rear of the café) in the 1970s.
Memorial to Major John Howard DSO.
The Gondrée Café.
From the tank follow the canal path in the direction of the coast. Take the first left, a minor path across a small bridge and into the outskirts of Bénouville. Follow Rue du Bac du Port to the D35; this was Lieutenant Colonel Pine-Coffin’s right flank in the defence of the village on D-Day and many of the buildings on your left were occupied by his men with, then, a clear field of fire. At the main road go left and enter the churchyard by the gate.
Bénouville churchyard is an unusual burial ground as it is an original D-Day cemetery; very few of them survive intact. The twenty-three burials here were made largely by units of 6th (Airborne) Division, along with a few from 3rd Division units that had landed on SWORD Beach. Most of the dead are from Pine-Coffin’s 7 Para. Among them is the Revd George Edward Maule Parry (Grave 21), who was one of the 7 Para chaplains. He parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and died defending wounded soldiers when the battalion Regimental Aid Post was overrun in one of the German attacks. Private Michael John McGee DCM (Grave 12) was a 20-year-old who took on a German tank with a Bren Gun, distracting the crew and allowing others in his group to place Gammon bombs on the tank. He was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery but was killed later in the day. By the main entrance are the graves of Georges and Therese Gondrée, who ran the café on D-Day; veterans often visit and place poppy crosses on the grave as a mark of respect for the kindness shown by the family.
The Gondrée family grave.
From the churchyard go onto the D35 and go left; follow the road until you reach the roundabout. This was a crossroads in 1944 and was the heart of Pine-Coffin’s defensive position in the village. The memorial to the 7th Bn Parachute Regiment is here, and battle damage to the First World War memorial outside the town hall is clearly visible. This town hall, or mairie, was the first such building to be liberated on D-Day and a plaque records this.
Bénouville crossroads, the town hall and battle-damaged war memorial.
From the town hall take Rue du Grand Clos to the left of the building, following it through the village. Further down take Chemin de Camilly on the right and at the end turn left onto Avenue du 5 Juin 1944. This area was part of the perimeter defended by 7 Para. Continue along the road to a crossroads with a large Normandy stone wall on the left. Here is the entrance to the Bénouville chateau, the maternity hospital, which was the left flank held by one platoon of 7 Para. The chateau is not open to the public. At this junction go left onto Rue du Grand Clos and follow it round then taking the first right into Chemin du Lavoir. This leads out onto the canal. There are good views of the chateau from here and also back towards the bridge and glider landing zone.
From here walk back along the canal to the bridge, cross over and follow the D514 past the museum, and straight across at the roundabout to the next bridge. Stop. This is Horsa Bridge, captured by the second part of Major Howard’s men who landed by glider in the fields north of here. The bridge was taken without a fight and at no loss. A plaque on the western side of the bridge recalls events here in 1944.
At this point you can either return to the car park or take in a visit to Ranville War Cemetery where many of those who fell in the fighting for Pegasus Bridge and Bénouville are buried. From here go across the bridge and at the roundabout take the exit for Ranville. Immediately turn right onto Chemin du Bar de Ranville au Marais. Follow this and then take Rue de l’Eglise following this to the church to visit Ranville churchyard and the war cemetery (see pp.48 – 49). Return via the same route to the museum car park and your vehicle.