CDG 33 British Troops at Pegasus Bridge
Web Extra! Until recently, ACG readers had to wait two issues to find out the solution to our popular You Command Combat Decision Games. Now we are posting the historical outcome and analysis at ArmchairGeneral.com shortly after the respective due date for submissions of Reader Solutions. Here is the outcome for You Command CDG #33, “British troops at Pegasus Bridge" July 2009 issue.
The July 2009 issue of Armchair General® presented the Combat Decision Game “Pegasus Bridge, June 6, 1944.” This CDG placed readers in the role of Major John Howard, commander of a company from the 2d Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire (Ox and Bucks) Light Infantry Regiment assigned to the 6th British Airborne Division. Howard’s mission was to lead a glider assault to seize and hold two vital bridges over the Caen Canal and the Orne River, just east of the D-Day invasion beaches at Normandy. Allied control of these twin objectives was critical to prevent the Germans from using the crossings to launch counterattacks against the vulnerable flank of Sword Beach, the easternmost of the five Overlord invasion beaches, and to facilitate the troops’ rapid advance inland once the seaborne forces were ashore.
Yet seizing the bridges was only the first part of Howard’s mission. Once he secured the objectives, he had to hold them until relieved by Allied forces moving inland from Sword Beach. This meant that for several critical hours after Howard’s men captured the crossings, they alone had to defend them against German counterattacks.
The parachute drops and glider landings that preceded the main D-Day invasion were an important element of the overall plan to seize and expand a foothold in Nazi-occupied France so that the Allies could establish an unassailable base from which to launch a drive toward Germany and force the Third Reich to capitulate. The invasion force’s immediate task was to get the troops ashore and to move them inland as quickly and as far as possible; thus it was crucial to seal off the invasion area and secure the vital routes leading to the interior. The mission of the airborne troops was to land at key objectives surrounding the invasion beaches, prevent or disrupt any German counterattacks that could throw the invaders back into the sea, and pave the way for the main landing force to move inland. No objective was more crucial to the Allies’ ability to accomplish this mission than were the two bridges assigned to Major Howard’s glider force.
Howard organized his assault force of 181 men into two groups of three gliders each – one group under Howard, and the other under Captain Priday – and ordered them to land directly on the two bridges simultaneously, as described in CDG Course of Action Two. (See Historical Outcome map.) At 12:16 a.m. on June 6, the three gliders under Howard’s command banged down within 40 yards of the east end of Caen Canal bridge – soon to be known as Pegasus Bridge. Somewhat shaken by the rough landing, the men nevertheless immediately attacked their objective and accomplished their assigned tasks without further orders. Within 10 minutes Howard’s force had swept the surprised German defenders from the bridge with small-arms fire, disconnected the enemy’s explosive demolition charges, and set up a defensive perimeter to hold the crossing against any counterattack. Howard lost two men during the assault. Lieutenant Den Brotheridge was killed on the bridge, while Lance Corporal Fred Greenhalgh drowned when his glider landed in the canal.
Meanwhile, the assault force under Priday landed nearly on top of its objective, the Orne River bridge – although Priday’s glider mistakenly landed at another crossing several miles away. The men from Priday’s remaining two gliders, now under the command of Lieutenant Tappenden, quickly overpowered the small German guard force and seized the bridge intact.
A half-hour later, parachutists from the 7th Parachute Battalion, 6th Airborne Division, arrived to help defend the bridges. As Howard’s “longest day” progressed, the glider troops and parachutists fought off several German counterattacks but managed to hold the bridges. Finally at 1 p.m. Lord Lovat’s commandos arrived after landing at Sword Beach.
Hundreds of individual combat actions were fought at Normandy on D-Day to ensure the success of Operation Overlord. However, none was more important than the risky yet successful glider assault conducted by Howard and his men.
Our judges based their choices for winning Reader Solutions and those receiving honorable mention on submissions that chose Course of Action Two: Land at Both Bridges, or whose explanations demonstrated a solid grasp of the key points for a glider assault. (See “After Action Report.”) COA Two capitalized on speed and surprise, giving the enemy little or no time to raise the alarm, occupy prepared defensive positions, destroy the bridges with explosive charges, or shift forces from one objective to the other. This plan also placed the assault groups a reasonable distance from one another, with no enemy force in between them, should Howard have needed to shift troops from one group to the other.
Course of Action One: Land at Orne River Bridge, while having the advantage of keeping all of Howard’s men together, ran the risk of one or both bridges being blown up once the enemy became aware of the glider force’s presence. Certainly, the deliberate attack on the Caen Canal bridge that was called for by this plan would have alerted the defenders, giving them time either to occupy defensive positions and possibly defeat Howard’s assault or to detonate preplaced demolition charges.
Course of Action Three: Land on the Flanks organized the assault force into two groups as in COA Two, but it widely separated the groups with the enemy between them. Moreover, since COA Three called for the three gliders under Howard to land near the German guard unit, he and his men would have had to fight through the enemy’s main defense to arrive at the Caen Canal bridge – which the Germans likely would have blown up long before the glider troops even reached it.
AFTER ACTION REPORT
Key Points for the D-Day Glider Assault
- Enforce strict pre-operation security to maintain secrecy of D-Day invasion’s timing and location.
- Coordinate with beach invasion force to facilitate planned linkup.
- Conduct realistic rehearsals so everyone understands his role and mission.
- Cross-train personnel to account for inevitable casualties from “controlled crash” glider landings.
- Coordinate assaults on multiple objectives to reduce or eliminate the enemy’s advance warning.
- Fly routes that avoid enemy observation and anti-aircraft fire.
- Maintain glider assault force integrity; land each attacking force intact.
- Land as close as possible to the objective.
- Capitalize on surprise, speed and violent execution to overcome firepower disadvantage.
- Establish all-around defense to hold the objective until the arrival of relief forces.