Operation Tonga Begins

Operation Tonga was the codename given to the airborne operation undertaken by the British 6th Airborne Division between 5 June and 7 June 1944 as a part of Operation Overlord and the Normandy Landings during the Second World War.

The paratroopers and glider-borne airborne troops of the division landed on the eastern flank of the invasion area, near to the city of Caen, tasked with a number of objectives. The division was to capture two strategically important bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne River which were to be used by Allied ground forces to advance once the seaborne landings had taken place, destroy several other bridges to deny their use to the Germans and secure several important villages. The division was also assigned the task of assaulting and destroying the Merville Gun Battery, an artillery battery that Allied intelligence believed housed a number of heavy artillery pieces, which could bombard Sword Beach and possibly inflict heavy casualties on the Allied troops landing on it. Having achieved these objectives, the division was then to create and secure a bridgehead focused around the captured bridges until they linked up with advancing Allied ground forces.

The division suffered from a combination of bad weather and poor pilot navigation which caused many of the airborne troops to be dropped inaccurately throughout the divisional operational area, causing a number of casualties and making conducting operations much more difficult. In particular, the battalion assigned the task of destroying the Merville artillery battery was only able to gather up a fraction of its strength before it had to attack the battery, with the result that the depleted force suffered a number of casualties. However, the battery was successfully assaulted and the guns inside it disabled, and the division's other objectives were also achieved despite the problems encountered. A small force of glider-borne airborne troops secured the two bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne, the other bridges were destroyed, and a number of towns were occupied. A bridgehead was formed by the division, and it successfully repulsed a number of German counter-attacks until Allied ground forces from the invasion beaches reached its positions. The actions of the division severely limited the ability of the German defenders to communicate and organize themselves, ensuring that the seaborne troops could not be attacked during the first few hours after landing when they were most vulnerable.

The 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigade Groups dropped on early hours of D-Day with six primary objectives. The first was to seize and secure the Landing Zones for the subsequent glider deployments. The paratroops also had to seize the high ground at Ranville, destroy the enemy batteries at Merville and opposite Ouistreham and destroy the bridges over the River Dives. Gliderborne troops were to assist with the assault on the Merville battery and to seize the vital bridges over the River Orne and Canal de Caen at Benouville.