The Forgotten Defenders of Pegasus Bridge

If there is one major point that people do not realise about Pegasus Bridge, it is the crucial role played by the 7th Parachute Battalion.

This particular article has been prompted after hearing a podcast involving Giles Milton, an historian who has just produced a book about D-Day. In that interview he was asked about the defence of Pegasus Bridge during D-Day. He stated that Major Howard’s Coup de Main force of 181 men defended the bridges until the arrival of the Commandos. While that is in effect true, it gives the totally wrong impression, as of course the brunt of the fighting in the defence of the bridge was performed by the 7th Parachute Battalion. (Also, it was never the role of the Commandos to relieve the men holding the bridge. Their task was get across the bridges as quickly as possible and take up position on the vital Breville Ridge). On checking his book, there is no mention of them in there either ! This is probably the most common mistake made by writers and indeed, those who profess an interest in the action. This was made very apparent, over quite a long period, in the comments written on the Facebook Page of ‘Pegasus Bridge – The Film‘ (which is currently ‘on ice’).

Highlighting this fact in no way denigrates or reduces the impact of the Coup de Main party’s capture and initial defence of the bridge. It was a truly brilliant achievement, yet the majority of people do not appreciate that it was the first part of the plan. It was obvious that such a small force could not hold the bridges until the arrival of the seaborne forces, and so the second part of the plan was the 7th Battalion’s arrival and assumption of the defence, while overall command was passed to Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Pine-Coffin. The battalion went into Benouville, both northern and southern parts, thereby extending the defensive perimeter, while the immediate area around the bridge was assigned to Major Howard’s men.

Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Pine-Coffin

The battalion’s casualties on the day are testimony to the heavy fighting, much of it against armoured vehicles, in preventing the Germans getting close to the bridge.