Offense to defense

Quite quickly on 6th June, Major Howard had to change his men from the attackers to the defenders.

 

Picture
An example of a PIAT Gun which would become pivotal to the defense of the bridges

 

Soon after securing the two bridges, Major Howard began reshuffling his platoons to consolidate Benouville Bridge. He was concerned with the amount of potential German armour that were situated in Le Port, a short distance away. In fact they were so close, while Howard was issuing his orders, the sound of tanks starting up could be heard.
The tanks fortunately turned towards Benouville, rather than the bridges, but Howard knew it was only a matter of time before they returned, easily being able to repel D Company from the bridge. To make matters worse, the oinly weapons capapble of disabling a German tank was the PIAT gun. A cumbersome and unpredictable weapon that rarely managed to actually stop a tank. One PIAT gun was issued per platoon, but one was already rendered useless as it had bent during the landing.
Howard was concerned about how he was going to be outnumbered and outgunned. But shortly before 1am, he heard the rumble of low flying bombers and shortly after, began blowing ‘V for Victory’ on his whistle, a prearranged signal which guided the paratroopers to their target.
Around 1.15am, Howard had completed his defensive positions with the men he had landed with. He knew the paratroopers were on their way, but as they weren’t with him yet, he made do. His defensive positioning included one platoon by the crossroads, a Sergeant Thornton armed with the only working PIAT gun and two PIAT bombs.
Soon after, a tank swung into view. Howard was confident in the ability of his men, especially Thornton and that he would be able to disable the tank with the utmost professionalism. Others were not so convinced, the sound of the tank had terrified them at the fact that they were heavily outguinmned did nothing to relieve their fears.

 

Picture
A Mark IV Panzer, similar to the one initially encountered at Pegasus Bridge

 

‚ÄčThe nature of the PIAT gun is such that, if you miss your target, by the time you have reloaded and cocked the weapon, the enemy would have had more than enough time to return fire. Hence, Sergeant Thornton realistically only had one shot at taking out the advancing tank.
He also needed to get close. The range of the PIAT was poor, 45 yards at a push and throwing into the mix what was at stake, Thornton was “shaking like a leaf”.
Getting as close as he possibly dared, Thornton positioned himself and waited for the tank. It stopped, seemingly to get its bearings before proceeding, but before it could, Thornton fired off his PIAT bomb. It hit the  tank slap bang in the middle of the side panel. Thornton retreated and waited to see if it had taken any effect.
It had. The shell had managed to pierce the armour of the tank and had begun setting off everything from machine gun clips to shells. The light show that ensued, could apparently be seen for kilometres. The display went on for about half an hour and had quite an effect.
The second tank retreated and reported that the British had large numbers of anti-tank weapons and men. This prevented another counter attack for some time.
Sergeant Thornton had potentially pulled off the single most important shot of D-Day as the Germans desperately needed the two bridges.
Major Howard and the men of D Company, had won the battles of the night.

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