Maps

The Normandy Landings

The positions of the 6th Airborne Division, on the 6th June

The glider assault on the Bénouville and Ranville bridges

 

Pictures

Horsa gliders on LZ-N

Major-General Gale's Horsa glider on LZ-N

A group of paratroopers taken prisoner shortly after landing

 

While the 5th Parachute Brigade was assembling on DZ-N, the first counter-attack was launched against the coup de main force at the bridges. At 01:30, two half-tracks approached from Bénouville, the threat of armour posed something of a problem for Major Howard's men as the only substantial anti-tank weaponry to hand was a single PIAT with just two bombs. Nevertheless, Sergeant Thornton of No.6 Platoon bravely allowed the leading half-track to approach close to his position before he destroyed it with a single shot. This unexpected resistance persuaded the accompanying vehicle to withdraw.

 

Major Schmidt, the commander of the German bridge garrison, had been in Ranville when the coup de main took place, and having heard that something had happened at the bridges he set off to investigate in his open half-track, accompanied by a motorcyclist. The heavy sound of his half-track approaching Ranville bridge convinced No.5 Platoon that a tank was about to attack them, so they were somewhat relieved when the approaching vehicles were identified and they made ready to ambush them as they tried to cross. At close range, both vehicles were fired upon and stopped. Several of the German occupants were killed and the remainder, including Schmidt, who was wounded, were taken prisoner and sent to the Regimental Aid Post that had been established near Bénouville bridge.

 

 

Having waited for longer than he would have wished for his men to form up, Lt-Colonel Pine-Coffin ordered the 7th Battalion on towards the bridges to relieve the coup de main force. By the time that the first paratroopers arrived, at about 02:40, no further attacks had been made against the bridges, the earlier repulse of the half-tracks having convinced their enemy to wait for daylight before mounting a more serious challenge. To create a breathing space for the bridge defence, the 7th Battalion extended the bridgehead west of the Caen Canal by moving into Bénouville itself as well as the neighbouring village of Le Port, encountering only light resistance in the process.

 

The 12th Battalion, meanwhile, was charged with taking the village of Le Bas de Ranville and the surrounding area, the dominant feature of which was a ridge that provided an excellent defence against an attack on the Divisional area from the south. With only 60% of their strength accounted for, the Battalion moved off the drop zone at 02:30 and, having been fortunate enough to avoid enemy interference on the way, they began to take up positions along the ridge at 04:00.

 

The 13th Battalion had been ordered to move into Ranville itself and so prevent German attacks upon the bridges from the east. As the main part of their available strength went about this task, "A" Company remained behind on the drop zone to assist and protect the sappers of the 591st Parachute Squadron, who were busily engaged in clearing the landing strips of anti-glider poles in time for the glider lift which was expected at 03:30. A number of German outposts overlooked LZ-N, formerly DZ-N, and as a consequence machine-gun and mortar fire troubled the sappers from time to time, but nevertheless they pressed on with their work and had cleared their two strips by 03:00.

 

The Ranville garrison consisted of a company of the 21st Panzer Division, but luckily the majority of this formation were employed elsewhere when the airborne drops took place. The 13th Battalion encountered several pockets of resistance in and around the village, but by 04:00 these had been subdued and the paratroopers were then able to dominate the surrounding area.

 

At 03:35, the first gliders began to land on LZ-N, their cleared landing strips illuminated with lights that had been set up by the pathfinders. Of the seventy-two gliders that were destined for this zone, sixty-three made it safely, the remainder having being forced to cast off prematurely. Where possible, the passengers and equipment contained in these missing gliders rejoined the Division via the English Channel several days later. Amongst the successful arrivals of this lift were Major-General Gale and his Divisional Headquarters, one troop of the 3rd and the whole of the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Batteries, and also a section of the 286th Field Park Company, which had brought in a bulldozer to help clear obstructions from LZ-W, where some of the Second Lift were to land on the following evening. Divisional HQ proceeded to occupy the Chateau de Heaume in Le Bas de Ranville, whilst the anti-tank guns moved up in support of the 12th and 13th Battalions.

 

This arrival marked the end of Operation Tonga, during which all of the 6th Airborne Division's objectives had been accomplished. All of the units of the Division that had been brought in with the First Lift were in their planned positions and preparing themselves for the counterattacks which would be ranged against them in the hours before a link-up was effected with the sea-borne forces.