WWII History:
Continued from the previous page, the following pictures were taken in Spring 2002 at the WWII Normandy battlefield sites of the British 6th Airborne Division.

The 'T' Junction
(Map Location A)

The Caen Canal Bridge (now named Pegasus Bridge) was not the only objective of the initial landings by Major Howard's coup de main party. In order to secure the bridge once it had been seized, British troops moved into the village of Bénouville, which is directly at the west end of Pegasus Bridge.

T Junction in Benouville
T Junction in Benouville

Two blocks down the street due west from the exit of the bridge and the Café Gondrée is the 'T' junction where Sgt. "Wagger" Thornton used a PIAT to repel the first German armoured counter-attack on the night of June 5th/6th. After their rebuff here the confused German forces overestimated the strength of the British landings and delayed further counter-attacks, giving the airborne forces time to organize and consolidate. The picture above is the 'T' junction (now a round-about) looking south. In the middle at the top of the small hill is the road down which the German attack came. The town hall is the building in the left of the photograph. The road leading off to the left leads directly to Pegasus Bridge about 100 yards away.

7th Para Battalion Memorial at T Junction
7th Para Battalion Memorial at T Junction

To the side of the 'T' junction is a memorial to the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion. The 7th Battalion memorial and a close-up of the inscription are shown above and below.

Plaque on the 7th Bat. Memorial
Plaque on the 7th Bat. Memorial

Bénouville Chateau
(Map Location B)

The Bénouville Chateau is situated on the west bank of the Caen Canal, approximately 1000 yards south of the village. The chateau is clearly visible from the site of Pegasus Bridge, as shown in this picture below taken from the remaining German gun pit on the east bank of canal near the bridge.

Bénouville Chateau
Bénouville Chateau from Pegasus Bridge

A walking/biking path can easily be taken from the Café Gondrée down along the bank of the Caen Canal and past the chateau. This photograph was taken from the gun pit where Corporal "Wally" Parr, a member of the Oxs & Bucks coup de main party, fired on the chateau using a captured German light artillery piece.

Bénouville Chateau
Bénouville Chateau, north side.

At the time of the invasion the chateau was not occupied by German forces, but was actually being used as a Church-run maternity ward. Corporal Parr had assumed that German fire was being directed from an observation post in the chateau, and had fired on its location. Luckily there were no casualties, and the occupants assumed that it was the Germans who were shelling them, creating a bit of useful bit of propaganda. The photos above and below show the chateau's buildings. Above is the side facing the bridge, below is the side that faces south away from the bridge.

Bénouville Chateau
Bénouville Chateau, south side.

First Bailey Bridge
(Map Location C)

Along the path to the Bénouville Chateau is a marker for where the first Bailey Bridge of WWII was built. It is several hundred yards south of Pegasus Bridge, where the land is more open and the banks are fairly low. The bridge was built on June 8th, 1944, just two days after the invasion. It would have allowed for reinforcements and supplies to more easily cross the canal and river into the 6th Airborne's positions. The marker on the west bank of the canal is shown below. The inscription reads, JUNE 8 1944 HERE WAS BUILT THE FIRST BAILEY PONTOON BRIDGE IN FRANCE.

First Bailey Bridge in France
Marker for the first Bailey Bridge in France.

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Map of Pegasus Bridge Landing Area
Map of Pegasus Bridge Landing Area.
Letters refer to sections in this article.

Le Port
(Map Location D)

The village of Le Port, which is part of Bénouville, is within quick walking distance of Pegasus Bridge, by going to the 'T' junction and turning north toward the Channel. The picture below was taken from Pegasus Bridge looking north along the canal's west bank from the initial British positions, and shows the Bénouville Church in Le Port.

Bénouville Church in Le Port from the bridge
Bénouville Church in Le Port as seen from the bridge.

A troublesome German sniper was located in the Bénouville Church tower until finally dealt with by Corporal Killeen using a PIAT. There are several well known historical photographs of the damage done by the blast. The photograph below from the same position as the historical photographs, and shows the church now restored.

Bénouville Church in Le Port
Bénouville Church in Le Port

The Bénouville Church in Le Port is also the location of a Commonwealth Gravesite, and contains 22 graves of British soldiers. Among those buried are members of the Oxs & Bucks and the Parachute Regiment. The site is very well tended, as is the case with all war graves in France. This photograph shows the cemetery inside the churchyard. All Commonwealth Gravesites are marked with a green plaque on the exterior of the site. As with many locations, soldiers were buried there over a period of time, so a mix of dates and units will appear on the stones, including RAF crews whose planes were lost in the area.

Bénouville Church, British soldiers graves
Bénouville Church cemetary, British soldiers' graves.

Commonwealth gravestones are a uniform white/gray granite with a rounded top. The soldiers' number, rank and name are surmounted by their regimental seal. An inscription chosen by the family appears at the bottom. The grave in this photograph is that of a corporal of the Oxs & Bucks who was killed on D-Day.

Commonwealth Gravestone
Commonwealth Gravestone

Orne River Bridge
(Map Location E)

The Orne River Bridge, now called Horsa Bridge, is several hundred yards east of Pegasus Bridge. The Orne River runs parallel to the Caen Canal. Both run from the sea to the north into the centre of Caen several miles to the south. The Orne River Bridge was the second objective of Major Howard's coup de main party on the night of June 5th/6th. This bridge was also successfully captured by the glider troops on that night.

New Orne River Bridge
The new Orne River Bridge.

Whereas Pegasus Bridge was maintained as a memorial even after the original structure was removed, the Orne River Bridge was not as well-known and has been replaced with a modern span. It is difficult to stop to view the area, as the roads here are narrow and there are no cafes or pullovers nearby. Below is a photograph taken from Horsa Bridge looking north up the Orne River towards the sea.

View north from Orne River Bridge
View north from Orne River Bridge.

Touring the battlefield sites gives the student of history a much richer understanding of the events of the past. Walking through the locations where history happened is both a rewarding and moving experience. Be sure to bring a guide book, maps, and histories of the actions as reference. Give yourself plenty of time to stop and read about the sites you are visiting.