Pegasus was the name given to a bridge over the Caen canal, near the town of Ouistreham. The bridge, also known as the Benouville Bridge after the neighbouring village, was a major objective of the British 6th Airborne Division, which was landed units by glider near it during the Normandy Invasion on the 5th/6 June 1944. It was given the permanent name of Pegasus Bridge in honour of the operation. This name derives from the shoulder emblem worn by the attacking British, which is the flying horse 'Pegasus'. The main objective of capturing Pegasus Bridge was to secure the eastern flank of the invasion, preventing a counter attack from rolling up the entire invasion force. The eastern flank was defined by the River Orne and the Caen Canal, and Pegasus Bridge, together with the neighouring Horsa Bridge, were the only bridges in the immediate vicinity of the invasion area to cross these features, and so their successful capture would secure the eastern flank. The initial assault was carried out by 181 soldiers -- four platoons of D and two of B Companies, 2nd Ox & Bucks -- in six Horsa gliders, led by Major John Howard. The operation is frequently although incorrectly referred to as Operation Coup de Main. Coup-de-main is a term used to define any swift, pre-emptive strike and it is now generally accepted that the operation to capture the Caen canal bridge had no specific codename. John Howard retained a copy of the mission order from his commanding officer, Brigadier Nigel Poett and these orders are untitled and at no point refer to any operation code-name,Coup De Main or otherwise. Three of the gliders landed within fifty metres (164 feet) of Pegasus at 16 minutes past midnight on June 6. The first, Glider No.92, was flown by SSgt Jim Wallwork and SSgt John Ainsworth. It contained Major Howard and No.1 Platoon of the "coup de main" force. Landing heavily it came to an abrupt halt when, as had been planned during the briefings, it pushed its nose through and penetrated the first belt of barbed wire around the bridge. The force of this sudden halt catapulted both glider pilots through the cockpit screen (thus becoming the first Allied soldiers to set foot in France on D-Day) and rendered them, together with all of their passengers, unconscious. Within a few seconds, however, the men had fully regained their senses and became aware that all around them was quiet. The noise of the crash had not alerted the Germans at the bridge, a mere 50 yards from where the glider had come to rest. If it had then the fate of the coup de main might have been decided in seconds. Fortunately, the guards had disregarded the noise that they heard as that of debris falling from a damaged Allied bomber. No.1 Platoon were quickly out of the glider and instinctively went about the tasks for which they had been training for months. Several men knocked out a machine-gun position whilst the majority of the platoon, led by Lt. Den Brotheridge, rushed over the bridge to capture the other side, firing from the hip and lobbing grenades as they charged. Once across to the western side of the bridge, Brotheridge dropped a grenade into another machine-gun position but was shot through the neck in the next instant. Mortally wounded, Lieutenant Den Brotheridge was the first soldier to die as a result of enemy action on D-Day. As No.1 Platoon had begun their attack, No.2 Platoon landed safely in the second glider and immediately moved up to help clear the enemy away from the eastern end of the bridge. No.3 Platoon were not so lucky as the abrupt halt to their landing had torn the fuselage from the glider and left a dozen men trapped in the wreckage, one drowned in the adjacent lake. Their commander, Lieutenant Smith, was injured as a result of the crash and was hurt further by the grenade-wielding German whom he encountered and killed several minutes later, however he continued to lead his men and helped to secure the western side of the bridge. Throughout all of these actions, the accompanying Royal Engineers of the 249th Field Company, had been ignoring the enemy fire directed at them as they climbed all over the bridge, looking for wires to cut and detonation devices to remove. The Germans had clearly prepared the bridge for demolition but, fearing an accidental explosion or sabotage by the French Resistance, the charges had not been placed. After overcoming the initial shock of this sudden and violent assault, the German garrison fought back, but defeat was inevitable and many fled the scene. As the firing died down, Major John Howard knew that, for now at least, Benouville bridge was safely in British hands. Pegasus Bridge in 1944 A few hundred yards to the east, spanning the River Orne, stands another bridge known as Horsa Bridge, or Ranville Bridge, after the nearby village. This was the second objective of the Ox and Bucks, and was assaulted by the remaining three gliders, one of which landed miles from the bridge and so played no part in the raid. The other two gliders, however, landed on target. No.6 Platoon landed first and proceeded to attack the bridge, but by this time the sound of fighting in the direction of Pegasus Bridge had alerted the German garrison. Fortunately, their defensive capability amounted to a single machine-gun position, the crew of which fired a few ineffective rounds at the British as they came into view, and then fled in the face of No.6 Platoon's accurate mortar fire. A few minutes later, No.5 Platoon, who had landed 700 yards short of the landing zone, arrived at the bridge, unaware that it had already been taken. They ran across it, expecting to be fired upon at any moment, but in the gloom before them there appeared the unmistakeable shape of Lieutenant Fox, the commander of No.6 Platoon. So ended the brief struggle for Horsa bridge. The coup de main raid had been a complete success. With comparatively few casualties, both bridges had been taken in just ten minutes. The landing of the gliders on to these very small landing zones in the dark was later hailed by Air Vice-Marshal Leigh-Mallory, the commander of Allied air forces during the invasion, as "one of the most outstanding flying achievements of the war." Most of the 6th Airborne landed by parachute 40 minutes later, one of their many tasks being to reinforce the defenders of the bridges, which were successfully held, against little enemy interference, by Major Howard's men for two hours before the first troops arrived. The role of the 7th Battalion The Parachute Regiment is frequently overlooked in this regard, for they were the relieving force who were to bear the brunt of the German counterattacks to the west of the Caen Canal throughout the 6th June. They had dropped some six hundred strong, however due to a confused and scattered drop, less than half of these had assembled at the rendezvous point and all of their support weaponry, mortars and medium machine guns, were missing. Nevertheless the Battalion distinguished itself in holding a wide bridgehead around Pegasus Bridge against constant enemy probing attacks, frequently supported by armoured vehicles. In particular their "A" Company, based in the nearby village of Benouville, suffered the most severe fighting and were eventually cut off from the remainder of the 7th Battalion. The first relief was from 6 Commando, led by the commander of the 1st Special Service Brigade, Lord Lovat, who arrived to the sound of the Scottish bagpipes, played by 21-year-old 'Mad Piper' Private Bill Millin. The arrival of these troops, however, did little to help the defence of the bridges as their orders were to cross over the Bridge and help secure terrain east of the Caen Canal, which the remainder of the 6th Airborne Division was currently holding. The remnants of the 7th Battalion's "A" Company continued to hold out until 9:15pm on the 6th June when British infantry, in the form of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Warwickshires, arrived from the invasion beaches and secured Benouville, and so allow the evacuation of "A" Company's many wounded. The remaining twenty men of the Company who were still able to fight followed at around midnight.