‘A’ Company, 7th Parachute Battalion’s Heroic Defence of Benouville (and therefore Pegasus Bridge) on D-Day

Benouville village with the the Chateau bottom right, Pegasus Bridge centre right, the T-Junction with the main road and Ouistreham to the north.

Benouville was the village at the western end of Pegasus Bridge. It’s defence on D-Day was absolutely crucial because if lost, the route to the lightly defended bridge (by the Oxf and Bucks Coup de Main party) and the main road to Ouistreham and SWORD Beach would be open to the Germans. As mentioned in a previous post, this defence was the task of the 7th Parachute Battalion.

The battalion’s detailed defensive plan did not survive their scattered drop. Therefore, only the more basic elements of the plan were able to be implemented, and one of these was the defence of Benouville village by a very depleted ‘A’ Company commanded by Major Nigel Taylor.

Major Nigel Taylor MC, OC ‘A’ Company, 7th Parachute Battalion

Many publications, including recent ones produced for the 75th Anniversary, have attempted to explain the reason why the Germans were unable to break through Benouville and get to the bridge. Nearly all of them base their explanation on a quote by Hans Holler, a German soldier belonging to 8 Company, Heavy Panzergrenadier Regiment 192. He actually entered the Chateau de Benouville beside the Caen Canal, the Maternity Home building that gave a superb view of Pegasus Bridge and the area surrounding it. During the research for The Pegasus and Orne Bridges, I also corresponded with Hans Holler and can confirm his description of what he saw and his explanation as to why the Germans could not get to the bridge:

The mass of enemy paratroopers fought doggedly and received continuous reinforcements from the coastal area. We had to watch, with great bitterness, the endlessly growing numbers against us, knowing we would receive no support. The most we could do was hold the position and try to interrupt the advance.

What is vitally important is the context of this statement, and this is that Herr Holler entered the chateau in the early afternoon. Consequently, it completely ignores the fact that a German armoured formation that had arrived at Benouville during the early morning had attacked ‘A’ Company on numerous occasions – AND HAD FAILED TO BREAK THROUGH. The only anti-tank weapons that the Company possessed were the odd PIAT gun and gammon bombs that had to be physically placed on a vehicle. Holler also stated that they had managed to capture half of the village, but could progress no further. This is confirmed by both Major Taylor and his 2I/c, Captain Jim Webber.

Benouville. ‘A’ Company initially took up positions having moved from the left, along this road and then turned right at the crossroads to take up position facing the open field. By the end of the day they were hanging on to a line from the zig-zag trench (centre of photo) and the lane running to the right, just in front of it.

What Holler and the Germans obviously failed to appreciate during the morning, and as shown above, well into the afternoon, was that due to the open ground behind them, the ever-dwindling remnants of ‘A’ Company had been cut off from the rest of the battalion for virtually the whole day and that included radio contact. There was NO REINFORCEMENT. The ‘constant reinforcements’ seen from the Chateau were the Commandos arriving at the T-Junction and HEADING EAST TO TAKE UP POSITION ON THE BREVILLE RIDGE, and seaborne Engineers who had arrived to build a Bailey Bridge across the canal.

The main road to Ouistreham. This is the crossroads where the men turned past this corner house and shortly after became embroiled in a skirmish that escalated throughout the day. They ended up in a defensive position behind the house on the left further down the road. Company HQ was the zig-zag trench.

The only ‘reinforcements’ to reach the ‘A’ Company position on the road during the early afternoon were three Sherman DD tanks of the 13th/18th Hussars, who were told by the Paras to go no further. For some reason, they ignored this advice, advanced along the road and were systematically knocked out. Throughout the day there were no ‘concerted attacks’ against the Germans, that is until the arrival of the 2nd Warwicks at around 9pm in the evening, when they were driven out of the village.

Captain Jim Webber MC DCM, assumed command of the ‘A’ Company men when Major Taylor was wounded and rendered immobile. By the end of the day he had been wounded three times himself, but continued to lead from the front in the defence of the village..

And so it is clear that the reasons for the Germans not capturing Benouville and quite possibly Pegasus Bridge, are the bravery of the ‘A’ Company men; the misreading by the Germans of their strength during the morning; and finally, during the afternoon, the impression given of reinforcement by the arrival of the Commandos and seaborne Engineers at the T-Junction, thereby deterring the Germans from making more concerted attacks.