Neil Barber


British Airborne Author

The Coup de Main Operation

An excerpt from The Pegasus and Orne Bridges by Neil Barber

Posted by Neil Barber on Thursday 10th of March 2016

The glider had come to a halt within a hundred yards of the bridge.  The two pilots were lying in water, still strapped into their seats in the wreckage of the cockpit.  Geoff Barkway:
I thought ‘There’s not much future in this’ and struggled out.  Fortunately the front had disintegrated so that the harness wasn’t attached to anything, so there was no problem in getting free… .

He then tried to assist his colleague.  Peter Boyle: 
I didn’t know where I was apart from the fact that I was in the wreckage of the glider. I ached a bit somewhere… .  I was thinking, ‘Oh God’… .  I remember Geoff pulling the wreckage from me and pulling me out.  It was pitch black.

Lieutenant Smith:
I had a Lance Corporal Madge… , and I remember groping around in the dark, covered with mud and  water and shock, and he said, “What are we waiting for, sir ?”  And so I tried to find my weapon and couldn’t and found somebody else’s Sten gun and ran towards the bridge, or rather, hobbled.

Peter Boyle:
I moved round the glider, or round the wreckage, and I can remember seeing a body across the undercart.  There was a chap there and I put my hand on him and he was just hanging there.  And although there was a kind of half-light and things were happening, I was still thinking, “I’ve got to do the job I was there to do… .”

This was to find the PIAT and take it across to the other side of the bridge. The Engineers of 2 Platoon, 249 Field Company had reached their appointed locations above and beneath the bridge to search for explosives.  Sapper Cyril Haslett, on board Glider 92 had followed Captain Neilson, met up with the five engineers from Glider 91 and rushed down to the bank of the canal:
It was just mud.  We had just had to scramble on as  best we could, because the bridge came over the road, into the bank.  Underneath, you had to feel your way around.

Sapper Harry Wheeler had followed 25 Platoon across the bridge and then double-backing over the southern abutment, saw a large wire running along the side.  He readied his wire-cutters: 
It was the only wire I could see.  I didn’t know what it was; hoped for the best.  It blew me off my feet, and the wire-cutters, blew them out of my hands !  I reckon it was for lifting the bridge; must have been, the amount of power that was there. Although firing was going on, none of it was directed at the Engineers. 

Major Howard:
After a bit of a pause, Number 3 Glider came up, Sandy Smith with his platoon, and he seemed to be limping very badly.  He confirmed that they had had quite a few casualties in landing, but his boys were all right and I said, “Number Three task.”  Their arrival of course increased the shouting of the codewords all the way round and what with the firing, the shouting and the skirmishing going on everywhere, it was like hell let loose I
should think for about ten minutes.

Lieutenant Smith:
I found a Spandau firing right down the centre of the bridge, so I ran left down the catwalk running along the side of the bridge to avoid this machine gun.  I arrived at the other end of the bridge to find Brotheridge dying.  And then in the flurry I remember a German throwing a stick grenade at me and then I felt the explosion and my right wrist was hit.  I was extremely lucky because the grenade exploded very close to me and hit various parts of my clothing but not my body, although there were holes in my flying smock.  That was the first German I actually shot.  Having thrown his grenade he tried to scramble over the back of one of the walls adjoining the café, and I actually shot him with my Sten gun as he went over. 

Smith then looked at the outside of his wrist in the moonlight:
I was rather shocked because it had scooped up all the flesh up to the bone and your wrist bone is very flat as I then discovered, and it was white.  I could still at that time operate my finger trigger, which was fortunate. 

 

Having shot this German, he immediately looked up at the café, only to see a figure looking down at him.  It was Georges Gondrée.  Lieutenant Smith:
Well we’d been told in our briefings that the Germans had used the café a great deal when they came off sentry.  They used to go and have a cup of coffee there and they were quite often, in the café as a result.  And so I wasn’t taking any chances because this German had nearly killed me.  And so I fired my Sten gun straight up into the window… .

Fortunately he missed, although one bullet ricocheted off the ceiling and through the headboard of the bed, while another penetrated the bathroom door.  Georges Gondrée then went downstairs.

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