Imagine heading into combat in an unarmed plane with no engines, knowing that if you didn't hit the ground exactly as planned the odds were good you would die. If crashing into whatever was there didn't kill you, the swamps or river would. If the other gliders in formation with you didn't make it, the odds were good that you might not take your goal, and the enemy could rather easily surround and destroy you. If you've seen the movie "The Longest Day" you know that this was the plan for taking the "Pegasus" bridge, along with the nearby Ranville bridge, and securing them for Allied forces. Oh, and to silence a gun battery that could shell the landings and ships down the road at Sword Beach. Elements of the British 6th Airborne division did so, and secured both bridges within ten minutes of landing.
On 5 June, a force of 181 men under Major John Howard left England in six "Horsa" gliders as part of Operation Deadstick. The goal was to secure the bridges so that German armor could not get at the eastern flank of the Sword landings, as well as elimnate the gun battery at Merville. Five of the six gliders landed within yards of the objectives, and despite one landing in a pond (resulting in the drowning death of Lance-Corporal Fred Greenhalgh), the troops poured out and attacked the surprised German troops. One glider landed at the wrong bridge, some seven miles away, and the majority of troops in it managed to make it back through German lines to rejoin the unit at Ranville.
The battle to secure and hold the Pegasus bridge was recreated as part of the movie "The Longest Day" and the actor who portrayed Major Howard in it was Richard Todd. On D-Day, he was part of the 7th Parachute Battalion that were the first reinforcements to reach Maj. Howard and his command.
A famous scene in the movie is the arrival of Lord Lovat's Commandos, being led by a piper. I have been assured that such did happen, though I am not prepared to swear to the exact tune being played.
In the initial assault on the bridge, Lieutenant Dan Brotheridge became the first soldier to die as a result of enemy gunfire on D-Day.
The original bridge was replaced with a new version in the 1990s. Rather than scrapping the old bridge, it was moved to the nearby memorial and museum.
There is more to come, and I hope to visit most or all of the sites seen in "The Longest Day" while here.