The Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies owns a remarkable collection of Second World War aerial reconnaissance photographs. These photos cover many of the areas where First Canadian Army fought in Normandy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany during 1944 and 1945. As a primary document, these images tell us much about the terrain, conditions and events that cannot be found anywhere else. A great example of this are the photos of the tragic experience of Worthington Force in August 1944.
This regular blog feature will examine individual photographs from our collection to share the richness of the imagery. The first instalment shows elements of the airborne landings which took place as part of Operation Overlord – D-Day – on the early morning of 6 June 1944. The most interesting feature of this photo is Pegasus Bridge, visible in the bottom right corner. D-Day planners had considered the early capture of the bridge crucial to their plan of holding and defending the high ground on the left flank of the invasion. To accomplish this task, D Company, 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, under Major John Howard was tasked to capture the bridge. They were expected to land their gliders as close to the bridge as possible, and they did. In what Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory called the finest feat of precision flying in the Second World War, the three gliders of Major Howard’s force landed within metres of their target and quickly captured the bridge. The impressiveness of this achievement is shown in this air photo, taken a month after D-Day, and shows just how close the gliders landed.
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– A single glider can be seen near Horsa Bridge. This was one of three gliders tasked to capture the bridge over the Orne River. The men of this glider accomplished their task easily as the bridge was undefended.
– In the top of the image is Landing Zone N where dozens of gliders landed.
– A pontoon bridge, built by Allied engineers, can be seen to the right of Horsa Bridge. This was built to facilitate the transportation of supplies into the Orne bridgehead.
– A close look reveals significant evidence of the Allied presence. Vehicles can be seen on roads; fields contain foxholes dug by troops for protection; vehicles, troops and supplies can be seen along many of the hedges, and villages are occupied by Allied troops.