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Pegasus Bridge by Stephen E. Ambrose - In the early morning hours of June 6, , a small detachment of British airborne troops stormed the German defense . Pegasus Bridge was the first engagement of D-Day, the turning point of World War II .. I own an eBook, I've owned a trade paperback, and I own the audiobook. Pegasus Bridge - Ebook written by Stephen E. Ambrose. Read this book using Google Play Books app on your PC, android, iOS devices.
They were in separate rooms, not by choice but as a way to use every room and thus to keep the Germans from billeting soldiers with them. It was the 1,th night of the German occupation of Benouville. So far as the Germans knew, the Gondrees were simple Norman peasants, people of no consequence who gave them no trouble. Indeed, Georges sold beer, coffee, food, and a concoction made by Madame of rotting melons and half-fermented sugar to the grateful German troops stationed at the bridge.
There were about fifty of them, the NCOs and officers all German, the enlisted men mostly conscripts from Eastern Europe. But the Gondrees were not as simple as they pretended to be. Madame came from Alsace and spoke German, a fact she successfully hid from the garrison. Georges, before acquiring the cafe, had been for twelve years a clerk in Lloyd's Bank in Paris and understood English.
The Gondrees hated the Germans for what they had done to France, hated the life they led under the occupation, feared for the future of their daughters, and were consequently active in trying to bring German rule to an end. In their case, the most valuable thing they could do for the Allies was to provide information on conditions at the bridge. Theresa got information by listening to the chitter-chatter of the NCOs in the cafe; she passed along to Georges, who passed it to Mme.
About Pegasus Bridge
Vion, director of the maternity hospital, who passed it along to the Resistance in Caen on her trips to the city for medical supplies. From Caen, it was passed on to England via Lysander airplanes, small craft that could land in fields and get out in a hurry.
Only a few days ago, on June 2, Georges had sent through this process a tidbit Theresa had overheard -- that the button that would set off the explosives to blow the bridge was located in the machine-gun pillbox across the road from the antitank gun. He hoped that information had got through, if only because he would hate to see his bridge destroyed. The man who would give that order, the commander of the garrison at the bridge, was Major Hans Schmidt.
Schmidt had an understrength company of the th Grenadier Regiment of the th Infantry Division. The river ran parallel to the canal, about four hundred meters to the east, and was also crossed by a bridge fixed, and guarded by sentries but without emplacements or a garrison. Although the Germans expected the long-anticipated invasion at any time, and although Schmidt had been told that the two bridges were the most critical points in Normandy, because they provided the only crossings of the Orne waterways along the Norman coast road, Schmidt did not have his garrison at full alert, nor was he in Ranville on business.
Except for the two sentries on each bridge, his troops were either sleeping in their bunkers, or dozing in their slit trenches or in the machine-gun pillbox, or off whoring in Benouville. Schmidt himself was with his girl friend in Ranville, enjoying the magnificent food and drink of Normandy.
He thought of himself as a fanatic Nazi, this Schmidt, who was determined to do his duty for his Fuhrer. But he seldom let duty interfere with pleasure, and he had no worries that evening.
His routine concern was the possibility of French partisans blowing his bridges, but that hardly seemed likely except in conjunction with an airborne operation, and the high winds and stormy weather of the past two days precluded a parachute drop. He had orders to blow the bridges himself if capture seemed imminent. He had prepared the bridges for demolition, but had not put the explosives into their chambers, for fear of accident or the partisans.
Since his bridges were almost five miles inland, he figured he would have plenty of warning before any Allied units reached him, even paratroopers, because the paras were notorious for taking a long time to form up and get organized after their drops scattered them all over the DZ.
Schmidt treated himself to some more wine, and another pinch. The contrast between Schmidt and von Luck extended far beyond their activities at midnight. Schmidt was an officer gone soft from years of cushy occupation duty; von Luck was an officer hardened by combat. Von Luck had been in Poland in , had commanded the leading reconnaissance battalion for Rommel at Dunkirk in , had been in the van at Moscow in in December, he actually led his battalion into the outskirts of Moscow, the deepest penetration of the campaign and with Rommel throughout the North African campaign of There was an equally sharp contrast between the units von Luck and Schmidt commanded.
The th Infantry was a second-rate, poorly equipped, immobile division made up of a hodgepodge of Polish, Russian, French, and other conscripted troops, while the 21st Panzer was Rommel's favorite division.
Von Luck's regiment, the th, was one of the best equipped in the German Army. The 21st Panzer Division had been destroyed in Tunisia in April and May , but Rommel had got most of the officer corps out of the trap, and around that nucleus rebuilt the division.
It had all-new equipment, including Tiger tanks, self-propelled vehicles SPVs of all types, and an outstanding wireless communications network. The men were volunteers, young Germans deliberately raised by the Nazis for the challenge they were about to face, tough, well trained, eager to come to grips with the enemy. There was a tremendous amount of air activity that night, with British and American bombers crossing the Channel to bomb Caen. As usual, Schmidt paid no attention to it.
Neither did von Luck, consciously, but he was so accustomed to the sights and sounds of combat that at about hours he noticed something none of his clerks did.
Bénouville D-Day 1944
There were a half-dozen or so planes flying unusually low, at five hundred feet or less. That could only mean they were dropping something by parachute.
Probably supplies for the Resistance, von Luck thought, and he ordered a search of the area, hoping to capture some local resisters while they were gathering in the supplies. Heinrich now Henry Heinz Hickman, a sergeant in the German 6th Independent Parachute Regiment, was at that moment riding in an open staff car, coming from Ouistreham, on the coast, toward Benouville.
Hickman, twenty-four years old, was a combat veteran of Sicily and Italy. His regiment had come to Normandy a fortnight ago; at hours on June 5 his company commander had ordered Hickman to pick up four young privates at observation posts outside Ouistreham and bring them back to headquarters, near Breville, on the east side of the river.
Hickman, himself a paratrooper, also heard low-flying planes. He came to the same conclusion as von Luck, that they were dropping supplies to the Resistance, and for the same reason -- he could not imagine that the Allies would make a paratrooper drop with only a half-dozen airplanes involved. He drove on toward the bridge over the Caen Canal.
Over the Channel, at hours, two groups of three Halifax bombers flew at seven thousand feet toward Caen. With all the other air activity going on, neither German searchlights nor AA gunners noticed that each Halifax was tugging a Horsa glider.
At the back end of the glider, Corporal Jack Bailey sang, but he also worried about the parachute he was responsible for securing. The pilot, twenty-four-year-old Staff Sergeant Jim Wallwork, of the Glider Pilot Regiment, anticipated casting off any second now, because he could see the surf breaking over the Norman coast.
(ebook) Pegasus Bridge
Beside him his copilot, Staff Sergeant John Ainsworth, was concentrating intensely on his stopwatch. Sitting behind Ainsworth, the commander of D Company, Major John Howard, a thirty-one-year-old former regimental sergeant major and an ex-cop, laughed with everyone else when the song ended and Parr called out, "Has the major laid his kitt yet?
On this flight, however, he had not been sick.
Like his men, he had not been in combat before, but the prospect seemed to calm him more than it shook him. As Parr started up "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary," Howard touched the tiny red shoe in his battle-jacket pocket, one of his two-year-old son Terry's infant shoes that he had brought along for good luck.
He thought of Joy, his wife, and Terry and their baby daughter, Penny. They were back in Oxford, living near a factory, and he hoped there were no bombing raids that night. Beside Howard sat Lieutenant Den Brotheridge, whose wife was pregnant and due to deliver any day five other men in the company had pregnant wives back in England. Howard had talked Brotheridge into joining the Ox and Bucks, and had selected his platoon for the 1 glider because he thought Brotheridge and his platoon the best in his company.
One minute behind Wallwork's glider was 2, carrying Lieutenant David Wood's platoon. Another minute behind that Horsa was 3 glider, with Lieutenant R. The three gliders in this group were going to cross the coast near Cabourg, well east of the mouth of the Orne River. Parallel to that group, to the west and a few minutes behind, Captain Brian Priday sat with Lieutenant Tony Hooper's platoon, followed by the gliders carrying the platoons of Lieutenants H.
This second group was headed toward the mouth of the Orne River. In Fox's platoon, Sergeant M. In 2 glider, with the first group, the pilot, Staff Sergeant Oliver Boland, who had just turned twenty-three years old a fortnight past, found crossing the Channel an "enormously emotional" experience, setting off as he was "as the spearhead of the most colossal army ever assembled.
I found it difficult to believe because I felt so insignificant. At that instant, the invasion had begun. There were , men prepared to go into France that day, by air and by sea, British, Canadian, and American, organized into some twelve thousand companies. D Company led the way. It was not only the spearhead of the mighty host, it was also the only company attacking as a completely independent unit.
Howard would have no one to report to, or take orders from, until he had completed his principal task. When Wallwork cast off, D Company was on its own. With cast-off, there was a sudden jerk, then dead silence.
Parr and his singers shut up, the engine noise of the bomber faded away, and there was a silence broken only by the swoosh of air over the Horsa's wings. Clouds covered the moon; Ainsworth had to use a flashlight to see his stopwatch, which he had started instantaneously with cast-off.
After casting off, the Halifax bombers continued on toward Caen, where they were to drop their small bomb load on the cement factory, more as a diversion than a serious attack. During the course of the campaign, Caen was almost completely obliterated, with hardly a brick left mortared to a brick.
The only untouched building in the whole city was the cement factory. He thought of how deeply involved he was with his platoon commanders, his sergeants and corporals, and many of his privates. They had been preparing, together, for more than two years for this moment. The officers and men had done all that he asked of them, and more.
By God, they were the best damn company in the whole British Army! They had earned this extraordinary role; they deserved it.
John was proud of every one of them, and of himself, and he felt a wave of comradeship come over him, and he loved them all. Then his mind flashed through the dangers ahead. The antigilder poles, first of all -- air-reconnaissance photographs taken in the past few days revealed that the Germans were digging holes for the poles called "Rommel's asparagus" by the Allies.
Were the poles in place or not? Everything depended on the pilots until the instant the gliders had landed, and until that instant Howard was but a passenger. If the pilots could bring D Company down safely, within four hundred meters of the objective, he was confident he could carry out his first task successfully. But if the pilots were even one kilometer off course, he doubted that he could do his job.
Any farther than a kilometer and there was no chance. If the Germans somehow spotted the gliders coming in, and got a machine gun on them, the men would never touch the soil of France alive. If the pilots crashed, into a tree, an embankment, or one of Rommel's asparagus, they might all well die even as their feet touched French soil. Howard was always a bad passenger; he was the type who wanted to drive himself.
On this occasion, as he willed Wallwork onto the target, he at least had something physical to do for diversion. Held by a couple of men, Lieutenant Brotheridge began to open the side door. It stuck, and Howard had to help him. Looking down, once the door was open, they could see nothing but cloud.
Still, they grinned at each other before slumping back into their seats, recalling the fifty-franc bet they had made as to who would be the first out of the glider. As he took his seat again, Howard's orders flashed through his mind. Dated May 2, they had been unchanged since. Signed by Brigadier Nigel Poett, and classified "Bigot" a superclassification, above "Top Secret"; the few who did have clearance for "Bigot" material were said to be "bigoted" , Howard's orders read: "Your task is to seize intact the bridges over the River Orne and canal at Benouville and Ranville, and to hold them until relief The capture of the bridges will be a coup de main operation depending largely on surprise, speed and dash for success.
Provided the bulk of your force lands safely, you should have little difficulty in overcoming the known opposition on the bridges. Your difficulties will arise in holding off an enemy counterattack on the bridges, until you are relieved.
Brigadier Poett, commanding 5th Para Brigade, told Howard that he could expect organized reinforcements within two hours of touchdown. The paras would come through Ranville, where Poett intended to set up his headquarters for the defense of the bridges.
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This was one of the best World War 2 books that I've read. It is long enough to get a sense of the key players. Price may vary by retailer. Thank you! Schmidt treated himself to some more wine, and another pinch.
Priday's 4 glider had gone up the River Dives rather than the Orne River. Boland remembers the feeling "of being on your own up there, dead quiet, floating over the coast of France, and knowing that there's no turning back.