As you stand there looking at it, as I did in June 2010, it is difficult to grasp the fact that for a brief period in time, it was the most important man-made structure in the world. A tiny drawbridge that spanned a narrow body of water in France. One that was subject to a quick and furious battle that began the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.

Benouville (later Pegasus) bridge over the Caen Canal, and Ranville (later Horsa) bridge, some 400 yards away over the river Orne, received keen interest from Allied planners early on in the planning for Operation Overlord. An attention less because of location and more for their ability to transfer the one thing that might ensure disaster on that momentous day. The German Panzer force.

Ranville (Horsa) Bridge
Ranville (Horsa) Bridge

If enough tanks rumbled across these bridges, they held the ability to decimate the entire eastern flank of the three British and Canadian landing beaches and sweep the infantry, who in the critical first hours would lack armor, back into the sea. If such a disaster occurred, the American beaches could be isolated and rolled up as well.

Therefore, the bridges had to be taken, and held, for several hours until relief came, first from more paratroopers, then from the beaches. The task appeared daunting, but there was no other choice. Operation Tonga, as it was designated, would involve the first action of the massive Allied armies waiting to be released against the continent.