Friday, June 6, 2014

Pegasus Bridge, France

The Memorial Pegasus is a great museum in Normandy and the home of Pegasus Bridge, one of the objectives during D-Day in World War II. Soldiers from the British 6th Airborne Division came in on gliders and were to capture this bridge over the Caen Canal and nearby Ranville Bridge over the Orne River. Without the bridges, German armored units could not flank the Sword Beach landing.

The sign on the museum

Flags by the museum

The British forces were led by Major John Howard. They mostly landed right on target just after midnight on the morning of June 6. They took the Germans by surprise and lost only two men. The bridges were taken in ten minutes. The operation was a smashing success.

The museum part of the site is well done. The usual assortment of weapons and vehicles are on display inside, along with quite a bit on parachutes and on individual soldiers who fought in the battle.

Various weapons

J by the communications equipment

A model of the bridge

J and a jeep

Explanation of parachute colors

Actual parachutes

Decoys (the foil strips were used to fool radar)

A video is shown in the museum about the attack and the museum's opening. The museum was dedicated by the Prince of Wales, Charles, in 2000. The video played alternately in French and English. After watching the video, we went outside to see the actual bridge. On our way, one of the museum workers told us she had to show us something. We followed her out to the bridge.

Pegasus Bridge

She took us onto the bridge and showed us some holes drilled into the side. She said the Germans hung explosives on the bridge in case they had to detonate the bridge during an attack.

Barely visible here

Two horizontal holes at the top and two diagonal on the left

The Germans took the explosives in at night to prevent the French Resistance from sneaking onto the bridge, stealing the explosives, and using them on some other strategic target. When the British troops attacked, the explosives weren't there. They spent a good deal of time looking for them and eventually gave up. The movie The Longest Day shows the raiders swimming up under the bridge and removing the explosives--just a bit of literary license, the worker explained.

She also showed us some of the bullet holes from the attack.

Bullet-riddled counterweight

The bridge stood over the canal until the 1990s. It was lengthened slightly when the canal was widened.

View from the end of the bridge

View from the other side

Eventually the French government decided to replace the bridge in 1993 with a wider and stronger bridge. The old bridge was taken to a dump. The museum guide said this was a very unpopular decision in 1994 (the 50th anniversary of D-Day) and locals started a new movement to open a museum nearby the original bridge location.

View from the museum to the new bridge

We thanked her and began to explore the outdoors displays. A replica of one of the Horsa gliders is on the grounds, with a fake soldier inside.

Horsa glider with J posing

Inside the glider

A statue of Brigadier James Hill, the most senior surviving British officer from the D-Day Invasion, is also on display. He died in 2006.

James Hill statue

The grounds also have several pieces of artillery and vehicles.

Bofors 44 mm gun

M3 A1 Half Track

Quadruple 12.7 mm anti-aircraft gun mounting (commonly mounted on half tracks)

25-pounder field gun

5.5 inch gun

The museum is definitely worth a visit and was inspiring to me and my children.

Happy 70th D-Day anniversary to all reading when this post publishes!

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