Tag Archives: Pegasus Bridge

Tonga! Tonga! Tonga!

While the U.S. airborne landings in Normandy during Operation Overlord, involving 13,100 paratroopers of the 82nd and  101st Airborne Divisions making night parachute drops early on D-Day followed by 3,937 glider troops flown in after dawn– are well known, especially following Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, the British companion drops the same morning gets less attention.

Official caption: “Paratroopers from the 22nd Independent Parachute Company of the British 6th Airborne Division with their divisional “Pegasus” mascot before the start of Operation Tonga (part of Operation Overlord, the Allied landings in Normandy) at RAF Harwell. June 5, 1944.”

By War Office official photographer, Capt. E.G. Malindine. Photograph H 39057 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Operation Tonga, involving 8,500 men of the British 6th Airborne Division (which included the unsung 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion), was given the key tasks of seizing the two strategically important bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne River at Bénouville and Ranville and destroying the Merville Gun Battery behind Sword Beach.

By War Office official photographer, Capt. E.G. Malindine. This is photograph H 39070 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-37)

IWM caption: OPERATION OVERLORD (THE NORMANDY LANDINGS): D-DAY 6 JUNE 1944. The Final Embarkation: Four ‘stick’ commanders of 22nd Independent Parachute Company, British 6th Airborne Division, synchronizing their watches in front of an Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle of No 38 Group, Royal Air Force, at about 11 pm on 5 June, just prior to taking off from RAF Harwell, Oxfordshire. This pathfinder unit parachuted into Normandy in advance of the rest of the division in order to mark out the landing zones, and these officers, left to right, – Lieutenants, Bobby de la Tour Don Wells John Vischer Bob Midwood were among the first Allied troops to land in France. Comment: This was Operation Tonga.

British paratrooper during Operation Tonga, note the skrim helmet and Mills bomb.

Pegasus Bridge by Gerald LaCoste who was with British 6th Airborne Division HQ in Normandy. Via The Parachute Regiment Museum.

Tonga was overall successful, though not without the same sort of brutal fighting that the 82nd and 101st had to pull off on D-Day. While the 6th Airborne Division lost 10 percent of the men who alighted on French soil that day, their war was just beginning, and would within a couple of months lead them to a “Bridge too far.”

Of Skrim’d helmets and toggle ropes on Tonga

Almost forgotten in the shuffle with COVID and rioters, the 76th anniversary of the Overlord landings on Normandy just passed.

While over here we remember the double jump behind the lines by the 82nd (All American) and 101st (Screaming Eagles) Airborne Divisions are extremely well documented in their actions to the rear of Omaha and Utah beaches, the British/Canadian 6th Airborne Division also jumped that night behind Juno and Sword Beach in Operation Tonga, famously making a play for what is now remembered as Pegasus Bridge.

Two common pieces of kit observed on the Brit/Canuck Paras were skrim/scrim helmets and toggle ropes.

Future Elizabeth and the Queen Mother speak to British paratrooper 1944, prior to D-Day. Note his skrim camo helmet

1st Canada Parachute Battalion getting ready to leave Carter Barracks for their D-Day,. Note their STENs and chest pouches as well as skrimmed helmets.

Juno Beach, a weary 1st Canadian Paratrooper takes a rest in a slit trench. Varaville, Normandy. June 6, 1944. Toggle? Check. Skrim? Check

No. 4 Commando 1st Special Service Bde meet up with 6th Airborne Div Paras at Bénouville, 6 June 1944, behind Sword on D-Day. Note the Enfields, STENS with chest pouch, M1911 in the Commando’s hand, and various toggle ropes and scrim

British paratrooper during Operation Tonga with his skrim helmet and Mills bomb while a No. 4 Enfield bayonet is seen to the left, D-Day

Brothers, Lieutenants Joseph Philippe Rousseau & Joseph Maurice Rousseau, 1st Canadian Parachute Bn, looking like extras on “The Longest Day” of not “A Bridge Too Far” with their toggle & skrim

British 6th Para Div, DDay, Normandy. Do you see what I see? 

The Toggle rope was (supposedly) very useful

Uniform and equipment worn by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratrooper via Legion Magazine, note his helmet and toggle rope

Double helmet scrim. Helmet from Op Herrick 2010 on left and OP Varsity, March 1945, Via the Museum of the Parachute Rgt

1 SSB on D-Day, and the piper of the Pegasus Bridge

Note the Bren guns and covers on the Enfield .303s

The 1st Special Service Brigade (1 SSB) goes ashore at Sword Beach, 1944. The Lord Lovat Simon Fraser is visible to the right of the column wading ashore in the first photo, and is the one standing and addressing the brigade. After losing several men to sniper fire the unit switched from their distinctive berets to helmets shortly after coming ashore. Also visible in the first photo, closest to the camera, is the “Mad Piper” Bill Millin, who famously piped the unit across Pegasus Bridge.

Bill is interviewed below in 1991, which was demolished in 1994:

The airborne operation to seize Pegasus with just 90 glider-borne infantry of 6 Airborne Div with orders to “hold until relieved” (Operation Deadstick) is detailed below.