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Conclusions From Pegasus Bridge

Discussion in 'Pegasus Bridge' started by Cabel1960, Nov 12, 2011.

  1. Cabel1960

    Cabel1960 recruit

    Nov 4, 2006
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    via War44
    On 16 July 1944, FM Montgomery decorated Maj Howard with the Distinguished
    Service Order (DSO) in recognition of his efforts on the coup de main raid. The citation reads:

    Major Howard was in command of the airborne force which landed by glider and secured the bridges over the R. Orne and Caen Canal near Bénouville by coup de main on 6 June 1944. Throughout the planning and execution of the operation Major Howard displayed the greatest leadership, judgement, courage and coolness. His personal example and the enthusiasm which he put behind his task carried all his subordinates with him, and the operation proved a complete success.

    After D-Day, Howard commanded his company until September 1944, when they were withdrawn from the line. Owing to the injuries he sustained in a car accident in November 1944, he took no further part in the war and was eventually invalided out of the army in 1946. After this he became a public servant until he retired in 1974. His role in the assault on the bridges was detailed in a number of books and films and after he retired he lectured in Europe and the United States on tactics and on the assault itself. On the 54th anniversary of D-Day, Howard was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government. He died in 1999, at the age of 86.
    Years later, Raymond ‘Tich’ Raynor of 22 Platoon summed up the operation and the reasons for its success. Luck and surprise had been on the side of the coup de main force. ‘The Germans were not alert. As they had regular bombing raids in that area, they didn’t take any notice of the gliders being towed behind the bombers, so when the gliders crash-landed they thought they were bombers crashing. The glider pilots also helped by landing us so near our target. They had been practising for a year on Operation Deadstick and the information from the French Resistance and aerial photographs all helped. Sgt ‘Wagger’ Thornton, without whose PIAT gun all would have been in vain; also Jack Bailey, who knocked out the bunker which John Howard took for his command post; Maj Nigel Taylor of the 7th Parachute Battalion getting his company into Bénouville, and Captain Priday for getting my platoon back to the bridges.’

    The coup de main operation at Pegasus Bridge continues to be studied by soldiers and military historians. For soldiers the lessons are still relevant, realistic and thorough training, high morale, aggressive leadership and a knowledge that the cause was just and the action critical to the success of D-Day. For many years John Howard was the guest of the Swedish Army Staff College, which during the Cold War studied the operation since they saw key locations in their country as possible targets for a Soviet or Warsaw Pact coup de main attack. The author was privileged to hear Maj Howard speak on the exact spot where his glider made its dramatic landing in the early hours of D-Day. As he spoke, the pride he felt for the men of his company and what they achieved was still strong, as was the deep sense of loss for the men who died on D-Day and in the days that followed. Georges Gondrée died in 1969, the 25th anniversary year of D-Day. Thérèse, his wife, continued to run the café until 1984, dying a few days after 6 June. The café and surrounding area are now a French national monument, and Mme Arlette Gondrée continues the tradition of hospitality to British soldiers that began in the small hours of 6 June 1944. Hearing Arlette describe the night of 6 June, and perhaps more tellingly, what life under the German Occupation was like for the family, still has the power to captivate the young soldiers who are learning about the ‘Realities of War’.

    Forty-seven years after the landing, ‘Todd’ Sweeney returned to Normandy and, escaping from the official ceremonies, visited the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at nearby Ranville. It contains 2,562 graves, of which just over 2,000 are British and 322 German. Many of these men died in the fighting around the bridges and the drop zones. As the British brought in their dead in 1944 they also collected the bodies of their adversaries and now the Germans rest in their own part of the cemetery. In 1991, accompanied by his former foe, Oberst Hans von Luck, Sweeney returned to honour fallen comrades. ‘He went to one corner of the cemetery to mourn his dead, and I went to the other to mourn my dead,’ Colonel Sweeney recalled. ‘It made me think what war is all about. At the time it was the only way out. But is it necessary? Isn’t it a futile way of settling business?’

    Will Fowler

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