The battle for the bridges crossing the Caen Canal and the Orne River were the first objectives of the British airborne forces in the early hours of D-day. Codenamed Operation Deadstick the aim of the mission was to secure exit routes for Allied forces from the beaches, and to prevent a German counter-attack. I am next to the Caen Canal and directly behind me is the Pegasus Bridge, the site of the first ground combat operation of
D-Day. We're on the site of the actual battlefield, although the bridge is now a replica, and the original bridge is in the grounds of the museum. 

On the night of 5 June 1944 a force of 181 men, commanded by Maj John Howard, took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton in Dorset in six Horsa gliders towed by Halifax bombers. Directly behind me are three plinths which mark the positions where the three gliders which carried Major John Howard's troops actually landed. This lead plinth is within 30 metres of the bridge itself. The assault group was made up of men from D Company second airborne battalion, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire light infantry. The gliders reach their targets shortly after midnight and having taken the Germans completely by surprise, after 10 minutes of fighting Pegasus Bridge was captured. 

Beyond the bridge is the Cafe Gondree, the red brick building in the background, which was the first home liberated by the Allied forces on D-Day itself. Just 90 minutes after taking off Major Howard was able to issue the codewords ham and jam signalling that both bridges had been secured intact. Here I am standing in front of the original Pegasus bridge which is now in the grounds of the Pegasus Memorial Museum, just a few hundred meters from the Caen Canal where the original action was fought. In this early action of D-Day the first British soldier of the Normandy invasion was killed as a result of enemy fire. Lieutenant Herbert Denham Brotheridge was shot while leading the first Platoon across the Caen Canal bridge.
 

In the early hours of D-Day, British Airborne forces conducted an operation to ensure troops landing on the beaches would have a path forward - and to prevent a German counterattack. 

IWM curator John Delaney explains what happened. 

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