Pegasus Bridge (the original) at Benouville/Ranville Memorial Museum

Pegasus Bridge Memorial and Museum

If there was one essential and strategic point during the invasion of Normandy, also known as D-Day, by the Allied troops, it would have been the capture of the two bridges in Benouville and the neighbouring Ranville. The two bridges were essential for the liberation of France and the rest of Europe. The operation was called Operation Deadstick, and it meant to lose the two bridges would mean that the invasion would probably fail or slow down.

 

The Benouville bridge called the Caen Canal bridge was renamed “Pegasus Bridge” in honour of the emblem worn by the British Airborne Forces (the flying horse, Pegasus). It has become one of the main topics in many books, documentaries and the very popular movie “The Longest Day“. 181 British troops led by Major John Howard captured and held the two bridges until they were relieved (as a side note, the actor who played Major John Howard in the movie, Richard Todd, was actually a Captain involved in the Pegasus Bridge operation during the opening phase).

The "new" Pegasus bridge over the Caen Canal
The “new” Pegasus bridge over the Caen Canal

When you arrive at Benouville (probably coming from, or going to, the UK ferry in Ouistreham) you will quickly see the famous bridge. However, it is not the original Pegasus bridge, but a newer model that replaced the original bridge in 1994 which had served its time. The original bridge was placed in the Pegasus Memorial, which you can discover below.

Main memorial of the Pegasus Bridge
Main memorial of the Pegasus Bridge

Right next to the new bridge is a memorial, saying in French and English “6/6/1944: The banks of the Orne (ed: river) first part of France are liberated by the Allied forces”. In fact, the village of Benouville was the first French village liberated by the Allies.

But this is not the only memorial to be found at the bridge:

Memorial and Major John Howard statue at Pegasus Bridge
Memorial and Major John Howard statue at Pegasus Bridge

Here is a memorial and the head & bust of Major John Howard. Both have inscribed plates (click on the photo for a bigger version).

Memorial and Major John Howard statue facing the Pegasus Bridge
Memorial and Major John Howard statue facing the Pegasus Bridge

Both face the Pegasus bridge, a nice touch. A little further down, in well manicured lawns you will find….

Memorial showing where the Horsa glider landed next to Pegasus bridge
Memorial showing where the Horsa glider landed next to Pegasus bridge

…..the spot where the first Horsa glider landed. It is uncanny, since it’s only a few meters away from the bridge. Even using today’s technology, it is an incredible accomplishment to navigate a glider so close in the dark of the evening, especially considering the only way the pilots could navigate in those days was using a stopwatch. No GPS, no radar, no beacons … nothing but stars, a stopwatch and guts.

Memorial showing where the 2nd Horsa glider landed next to Pegasus bridge
Memorial showing where the 2nd Horsa glider landed next to Pegasus bridge

The 2nd glider landed only a few meters away from the first one, surprising the German troops by their speed and stealth landing. Unfortunately the third glider landed in the water, and one trooper died drowning. Lance Corporal Fred Greenhalgh was the first casualty of D-Day.

A few meters further you will find the Museum dedicated to the battle of Pegasus. Appropriately, its street address is:

Major John Howard avenue, where the Pegasus Memorial Museum can be found
Major John Howard avenue, where the Pegasus Memorial Museum can be found

At this address, you will find a nice Memorial Museum:

Pegasus Memorial Museum at Ranville
Pegasus Memorial Museum at Ranville

For more information about the Memorial, opening times and fees, please click here. Inside, you will find a wealth of information about the battle;

Inside the Pegasus Memorial Museum
Inside the Pegasus Memorial Museum

All the weapons used, uniforms and items used by both camps are displayed and described here, as well as the strategy and battle plans.

Scale models and real weapons found in the Pegasus Memorial Museum
Scale models and real weapons found in the Pegasus Memorial Museum

There are also a lot of scaled models of the airplanes and gliders used, plus all the types of weapons both sides had at their disposal.

Scaled model of the Pegasus bridge
Scaled model of the Pegasus bridge

There is even a Meccano set of the famous bridge.

real items used during the battle at Pegasus Bridge
real items used during the battle at Pegasus Bridge

But most are not scaled models but the real thing. Jeeps, mortars, machine guns…

Cannon and Pegasus Bridge at the Memorial
Cannon and Pegasus Bridge at the Memorial

Outside you will find many items too big to fit inside, including guns/cannon and the actual bridge.

5.5 inch Gun from the British Army
5.5 inch Gun from the British Army
A Centaur tank, like the ones that landed at the Sword and Juno beaches which came to help defend Pegasus bridge
A Centaur tank, like the ones that landed at the Sword and Juno beaches which came to help defend Pegasus bridge

The Centaur tanks arrived after storming the Sword and Juno beaches. They arrived at the Pegasus bridge to help defend it from the Nazi counter-attacks.

Anti Aircraft guns and half tracks at the Pegasus Memorial
Anti Aircraft guns and half tracks at the Pegasus Memorial

The Allied soldiers quickly had to install Anti Aircraft guns since the germans launched several air attacks to try to destroy the captured bridges, but it was in vein.

The actual Pegasus Bridge at the Memorial
The actual Pegasus Bridge at the Memorial

This is the actual original Pegasus bridge which got moved here in 1994 after being replaced by a newer model. It doesn’t look much, but it was vital to the liberation of France.

Just in front of the bridge:

A plate memorial for Lieutenant H.D. Brotheridge who was the first person killed by Germans during D-Day.
A plate memorial for Lieutenant H.D. Brotheridge who was the first person killed by Germans during D-Day.

.. there is a memorial plate in memory of Lieutenant H.D. Brotheridge who was the first British soldier to die by enemy fire during D-Day (the previously mentioned Lance Corporal Fred Greenhalgh died drowning).

Photo of the real Pegasus bridge during D-Day
Photo of the real Pegasus bridge during D-Day

This is a photo taken shortly after the capture of the Pegasus bridge. Notice the two Horsa gliders in the background and how close they managed to land in the dark next to the bridge.

A Horsa glider at the Pegasus Memorial Museum
A Horsa glider at the Pegasus Memorial Museum

You will also find a Horsa glider in full glory at the Memorial Museum. You can even have a look at what the inside looked like:

Inside a Horsa glider at the Pegasus Bridge Memorial Museum
Inside a Horsa glider at the Pegasus Bridge Memorial Museum

A Horsa glider could carry some 28 troops and 2 pilots or a mixture of troops and vehicles and guns.

Original fuselage of a Horsa glider at the Pegasus Bridge Memorial
Original fuselage of a Horsa glider at the Pegasus Bridge Memorial

This is the original fuselage of a Horse glider. Note that there are no trees growing through the fuselage, but they are a reflection on the glass walls protecting the glider.

There are several huts around the glider explaining more about the airplane, including scaled models.

Bailey Bridge as used by the Allied troops at the Pegasus Bridge Memorial
Bailey Bridge as used by the Allied troops at the Pegasus Bridge Memorial

Another original bridge you will find at the Pegasus Memorial Museum is the famous Bailey Bridge. These are British conceived pre-fabricated bridges that the Allied engineers could build rapidly to cross rivers.

An original Bailey bridge that was moved to the Pegasus Memorial
An original Bailey bridge that was moved to the Pegasus Memorial

The Bailey Bridge found here was built in June 1944 by the British in the area, and moved and rebuilt by French engineers in 1950 in Beaumais where it remained in operation until January 2001! It was then replaced by a more modern structure and the original bridge was moved to the museum.

Map of all the Bailey Bridges in the Caen area
Map of all the Bailey Bridges in the Caen area

30 such bridges were installed in this area alone, many used for decades afterwards.

Conclusion

The Pegasus Bridge was one of the most important and strategic targets for D-Day. It’s only a few minutes away from the Ouistreham ferry, on the road leading to Caen and motorways.

The area around the replaced Pegasus bridge is open to visit to all, the Memorial will require a small fee.

It’s a worthwhile detour for anyone interested in what happened during WWII.

Click here to access the Pegasus Memorial Museum.

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