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Race for the Orne Bridges

Poised, on the left flank of the British invasion beaches - 21st Panzer Division; an old adversary from the desert war. Can they be kept out of action? They are known to be east of the River Orne. What if we could destroy all the bridges, early in the day, surely that would help?

Relying on air attack is uncertain. These bridges must be blown and the experts are available - enter the Royal Engineers. But how to get them there? This is, after all, enemy territory so they will need to move fast, and require protection. The problem was handed to an armoured car regiment, the Inns of Court. This is what happened.

Tank Museum photo No 3734/B/5 Tank Museum photo No 3734/B/5

C Squadron, the Inns of Court was specially organised on a 'half-troop' basis. That is 12 groups, each with one Daimler Dingo scout car and one Daimler armoured car. Nine of these groups would each escort a Royal Engineer half-track carrying the explosive charges.

The idea was to land this force on Juno beach from two landing craft, race inland and spread out, each with a bridge as their target. But we all know about the best-laid plans…

Tank Museum photo No. 0348/A/1 Tank Museum photo No. 0348/A/1

As the two landing craft approached the beach one of them struck two mines and sank. Damage was not serious but it would be six hours before those vehicles could be unloaded. Meanwhile the others landed and, having cleared the beach, with the loss of one Dingo on a mine, their troubles began. Another car was knocked out by a British tank but, the further they went the more opposition they met and it soon became clear that they would not reach the bridges that day.

Tank Museum photo No. 4201/A/5 Tank Museum photo No. 4201/A/5

Day two proved even worse; reorganising for a second attempt one troop halted at a location known as Jerusalem Crossroads where, despite showing agreed visual signs, they were attacked by USAF Thunderbolts and the explosive filled half-track blown apart, taking most of the nearby buildings and other vehicles with it.

inns of court
Jerusalem crossroads from Needs Must… the history of the Inns of Court Regiment in WWII.

The survivors tried again on the third day but it was too late. German forces were counter-attacking and it was all the armoured cars could do to keep out of the way of major tank battles.

In the end none of the bridges were destroyed and, despite a regimental legend that one half-troop got nearly all the way to Paris, what was left of the Squadron joined in basic reconnaissance duties until the rest of the regiment arrived, later in the month.

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