by Simon Smith
Commemorating D-Day and the Battle for Normandy
From the moment the Battle of Britain was over, the Allies had planned for the invasion that would liberate Europe from the tyranny of Hitler’s thuggish Reich. On 6 June 1944 those plans were put into practice on the beaches of Normandy when the world witnessed the largest amphibious landings ever seen. But before the vast Allied armies could storm ashore on D-Day, the flanks of the chosen 50- mile long beach-head had to be secured – and held. The task of seizing the left flank fell to the British 6th Airborne Division whose first objective was to capture the two Orne bridges that controlled access to Sword Beach.
Midnight had scarcely passed when three Horsa gliders swept out of the night to land within yards of the Bénouville Bridge over the Caen canal. Led by Major John Howard, the small force of men drawn from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry supported by sappers from the Royal Engineers sprang into action. Quickly overcoming the dazed defenders they seized the canal bridge, the nearby bridge over the river was soon also taken without a shot being fired.
Simon Smith’s masterful piece Pegasus Dawn portrays the scene a few days later at the Bénouville Bridge, later renamed ‘Pegasus’ after the British 6th Airborne’s flying horse emblem. Now reinforced by other units, including commandos, the British are in full control of the area, allowing free movement over the canal and river. Overhead Mk.IX Spitfires from 340 (Free French) Squadron RAF, part of 145 Wing, Second Tactical Air Force, provide fighter cover across the area.