There are thousands of little actions in the history of warfare, and a longtime favorite of myself and other wargamers is the capture of Pegasus Bridge on June 6, 1944. Just minutes past midnight, Operation Deadstick delivered some 180 British soldiers from the 6th Airborne Division onto French soil near two key bridges on the far eastern flank of the Allied invasion during the D-Day invasion throughout that historic day.
The D-Day Allied assault routes with the British 6th Airborne Division drop zone (circled in red)
Landing in the dark in six wooden Horsa gliders with only one casualty and minimal other initial incident, the British soldiers and engineers made quick work of the surprisingly meager defense by about 50 men from the German 716th Infantry Division. With the bridge over the Caen Canal secured and another at the nearby River Orne also captured, the initial mission had been accomplished in quick order.
The mission then shifted to a defensive one for the British at the bridges and nearby Bénouville as the German command ordered a counter attack. Another 200 paratroopers from the British 7th Parachute Battalion landed to join in the occupation but were met by German tanks, mortars and guns. Under German sniper fire at the bridge and with few heavy weapons at their disposal, the British held out in the town amid house-to-house fighting in Bénouville until the close of the first day of the invasion.
Too Fat Lardies, makers of the I Ain’t Been Shot Mum company-level WWII rules, provided scenarios for the actions at Pegasus Bridge and Bénouville in the 2006 Summer Special. Playing the scenarios recently at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY allowed me to use my recently-completed 15mm bridge model from Najewitz Modellbau and refight one of my favorite little moments in the big history of the war.
The Battle for Pegasus Bridge
Like most IABSM games, the fight at the bridge started with hidden German troops and the British entering the board on blinds. Initial blind placements were randomized through a die roll to reflect the off-board glider landings. Owing to the time just past midnight, spotting of any troops was impossible until units closed with just inches of each other.
Initial set up of the scene at Pegasus Bridge
British charge hard into the German positions
A British fire team splits off to attack the German bunker
Dividing my British force, one platoon rushed into an initial German position, took a few hits in a close assault, fell back but charged back to overwhelm the Germans. The remainder of my force (including my engineers) moved slowly, clipped a path through barbed wire and made its way toward the concrete bunker. A brief firefight at the bunker sent the German defenders fleeing toward the canal, the engineers placed their explosives and the rest of the British made way for the bridge.
German troops flee their bunker as the British cut the wire and push onward
British engineers set charges at the bunker as German machine guns open fire across the canal
As the German bunker went up in and explosion of flame, German machine guns revealed themselves on the opposite side of the bridge. Two sniper sentries also appeared and began harassing the advancing British with fire. To clear the way, a British officer took a heroic run at one sniper, capturing the German where he sat.
The bunker burns, the British head over the bridge but take shots from German snipers
A thin line of Germans look to hold off the advancing British
With the Germans in retreat, the British take Pegasus Bridge
With the bunker aflame, the British marching over the Bridge and the thin German defense starting to run, the British had again made quick work of their mission. The bridge was held, but it was on to Bénouville and the inevitable German counterattack.
The Battle for Bénouville
At Bénouville British blinds moved on to the table for six turns, stalling briefly in turns four and five. Taking up occupying positions in the town, the mission was to simply hold against the coming German counterattack. As German blinds began entering the field in the woods and open areas outside the town, the initial British infantry were supported by slow-arriving reinforcements to the rear.
Initial set up of the scene at Bénouville from the British end of the table
British blinds enter and occupy the town
Attacking from a safe position within two buildings, the British over zealously abandoned their defensive mission and attacked to reveal the closing German blinds. In a close assault, the British were thrown back as reinforcing German heavy machine guns and mobile guns moved in. Taking fire from the German guns at close range, the remaining British defenders in the nearest house answered with a side-armored shot from a PIAT which left one German gun burning but the Germans still on the advance.
German troops advance on the town supported by mobile guns
Germans swarm out of the woods toward the British defenders
A British PIAT takes out a German gun
The licky destruction of one German gun was about the last thing to go right for the British. Additional reinforcements were tardy in their arrival as Germans continued to pour into the town. As the Germans set up positions amid the town’s houses, two towed field guns also rumbled into the town. Additional close combat erupted between the buildings with the British continuing to take heavy casualties and losing more ground.
German artillery is towed into the town
As British reserves continued to fail in their arrival, the Germans pressed on. After initially holding four safe positions in the buildings of Bénouville, British positions continued to evaporate and men fell back under continued German combined arms fire and close assaults. By that time of the game, it was clear the British were not going to hold the town and the German counterattack was clearly on its way to victory.
Our final score in the played action at Pegasus Bridge and Bénouville was 1-and-1. The early success at the bridge had not been capitalized upon by the British at Bénouville, upsetting the historic balance from 1944 but still making for a great afternoon of gaming a favorite scenario for the first time.