The mission's objective: To capture intact and hold two road bridges that crossed the Caen canal and River Orne near to the villages of Bénouville and Ranville two miles inland from Sword Beach where both British and Free French forces were scheduled to land during the D-Day 6th June 1944 part of that main invasion force.
The intelligence reports stated both bridges were heavily defended by German troops and both had been wired for demolition. Once captured, both bridges had to be held against any German counter-attacks until the assault force was reinforced and then relieved by Allied commandos and infantry troops advancing from Sword Beach. This mission was to ' Hold until relieved' a do or die mission, the whole Allied invasion hinged on this mission.
It was imperative for all those troops advancing from both Juno and Sword beach and equally vital to the success of the British airborne landings. Failure to capture these bridges intact, or to prevent their demolition by the Germans, would leave the 6th Airborne Division cut off from the rest of the Allied armies with their backs to these two waterways.
If the Germans retained control over the bridges, they could then be used by German armoured divisions to counter-attack the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy. The Airborne forces had to secure areas inland on the flanks of those invasion beaches to prevent any counter-attacks against the invading forces who would be at their most vulnerable when breaking out off those beaches.
Chapter 22 Ham & Jam is from my most recent book 'Anonymous Heroes' and covers 'Operation Deadstick' in much greater detail. My next illustration was taken in July 2013 when reserching for that chapter.
Incert photo operation_deadstick_2
Why was I so keen to learn about this particular WWII operation ? Well that was only because as a schoolboy at Kingham Hill School unbeknown to me two school chums, one was a perfect and head of Sheffield house, his younger brother was in Bradford house. Their father actually took part in that operation, but sadly a few days later he was killed in action when advancing inland. However it was their fathers regiment who had carried out this audacious operation, more to the point it was the same regiment that our school army cadets were badged to namely the 3rd Battalion Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry our own regiment. The very same regiment who arranged and looked after us at our annual summer ACF camps yes the OX & Bucks.
My next illustration again taken in July 2013 I'm actuall standing on the original bridge at Bénouville that later on in 1944 was renamed Pegasus Bridge in honour of that operation. This name being derived from the shoulder emblem worn by the British airborne forces, which is the winged horse Pegasus.
Incert photo operation_deadstick_3 (Picture with Poppy wreaths in)
At that time our Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry had re-trained and now became part of 'D' Company, 2nd (Airborne) Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. It was crucial to the mission that the elements of stealth and surprise were not compromised. Equally the force had to arrive at its precise location in tandem. With the targets being so close there was the risk that noise at one bridge could rouse defenders at the other bridge. An airborne drop by parachute was ruled out, as troops could be blown off course or land in the river or canal or be spotted in the air, due to aircraft engine noise. A glider borne landing for attacking these two bridges was decided upon.
Incert photo operation_deadstick_5 ( Montarge of B &W photoes)
Ox and Bucks’ gliders landed as close as 47 yards from their designated bridges the first at fifteen minutes past midnight with others arriving close behind - the first Allied troops to arrive in Normandy. The attackers poured out of their gliders, completely surprising the German defenders. After a brief fire fight, both bridges were captured, all within 10 minutes of them landing.
Just before the men boarded the gliders and left England, wireless operators were issued with special codewords. 'Ham' indicated the canal bridge was captured and 'Jam' the river bridge captured. Major Howard was also ordered that the bridges must be held until relieved. Half-an-hour after the landings The Ox and Bucks’ were reinforced by members of 7 Parachute Battalion, and then linked up with the beach landing forces with the arrival of Lord Lovat's Commandos. The bridges were successfully defended against German tank, gun boat and infantry counter-attacks.
The Historian July 2015.