PEGASUS BRIDGE by Stephen E. Ambrose
Kirkus Star


June 6, 1944
Email this review


The recent, deglorifying accounts of D-Day and after (John Keegan, Max Hastings) left untouched the repute of the British Sixth Airborne Division--one unit of which, the gliderborne troops of Major John Howard's D Company, made the first, crucial Normandy landing. For Ambrose, maximum-biographer of Eisenhower, this brief chronicle of a single engagement in a busman's holiday for fair: leading a veterans' battlefield tour in 1981, Ambrose was approached at Pegasus Bridge--one of the pair of crossings, over the Caen Canal and Ouse River, that Company D captured and held on D-Day--by none other than Major Howard . . . from whom (along with other British and German survivors) he later got much of this story. It's foremost a story of preparation. From the overloaded Horsa gliders soundlessly approaching their pinpoint landing zone at 0007 on D-Day, Ambrose switches to the preceding two years of training and planning, boredom and break-outs: Howard's fanatical emphasis on physical fitness and mental alertness; the endless nighttime simulations, the practice with German weapons; the intelligence, unprecedented in detail and currency (the scale model of the site was changed daily, on the basis of French-underground and aerial-reconnaissance reports); the sense, to a man, "that D-Day would be the greatest day of their lives." Howard's company succeeds in taking the bridges intact, thanks partly to luck and German weaknesses (a carousing officer, feeble non-German conscript troops). A single corporal, with the company's one functioning anti-tank weapon, holds the bridges until paratroop reinforcements arrive--in effect securing the invasion's entire eastern flank--while Hitler's insistence on giving every order delays a German counterattack until midday. But Howard loses his officers, by having them lead their platoons from the front. After D-Day, we learn, D Company reverted to being an ordinary infantry company, a waste Ambrose decries, and the British never mounted another such coup de main--"not for the bridge at Arnhem, nor the one at Nijmegen." Howard, a reckless driver, was seriously injured in a motor accident and crippled trying to get back into trim. Others of the men became friendly, even intimate, with their German counterparts (one of them now a British citizen). Ambrose is little given to dramatizing, and he apologizes for superlatives: recounted close-in, with soldierly affability and snap, the facts don't need embellishment.
Pub Date: March 25th, 1985
ISBN: 0671671561
Page count: 212pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1985


NonfictionTO AMERICA by Stephen E. Ambrose
by Stephen E. Ambrose
NonfictionTHE WILD BLUE by Stephen E. Ambrose
by Stephen E. Ambrose
NonfictionNOTHING LIKE IT IN THE WORLD by Stephen E. Ambrose
by Stephen E. Ambrose