The Mission You’ve Never Heard Of: The Hours Before D-Day

by Giles Milton

Who was Denis Edwards? And why was he dropped behind enemy lines some six hours before the beach landings on D-Day? Turns out he was tasked with one of the most dangerous missions to take place on 6 June 1944.

Welcome to Season 3 of Unknown History: D-Day Stories. I’m your host, Giles Milton, and today we’re talking about a specialist team who was sent on a mission in which failure was not an option.

Soldiers of D-Day

Many hours before the beach landings on D-Day—when it was still pitch dark—an extraordinary and top secret nighttime operation was underway.

A small group of young men—British and Canadian—was dropped into Normandy under the cover of darkness. Their task was to spearhead the initial assault on occupied France with an audacious coup-de-maina swift and surprise attack that would require them to land deep behind enemy lines. Long before the seaborne forces struggled ashore, this little group would be fighting their way through the French countryside with the goal of seizing two vitally important bridges, one at the village of Ranville and one at Bénouville.

The capture of these bridges was crucial to the success of D-Day. They were the principal crossing points for two waterways, the River Orne and the Caen Canal, which ran northwards to the coast. If the bridges remained in German hands, the Allied troops that were due to land at dawn risked being trapped inside their beachhead. If that happened, the SS Panzer divisions would be able to sweep across the bridges and drive those newly landed men back into the sea.

Among the young soldiers taking part in the mission was 19-year-old Denis Edwards. He looked far too young to be entrusted with such a hazardous mission. With his scrubbed cheeks and boyish grin, he might have been mistaken for a member of the Sea Cadets. Yet Denis Edwards was far from naïve and had no illusions as to the perils that lay ahead. “Terrifyingly dangerous” is how he described it. “There were so many possibilities for things to go badly wrong.”

To learn more about Denis Edwards and the hours before D-Day, check out the Unknown History channel at Quick and Dirty Tips. Listen to the entire episode on the player below.

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Posted in Military History, Modern History

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