Howard, Reginald John, born 08-12-1912 in West End, London, to Jack and Ethel Howard. The eldest of nine children, Howard’s family background was working class. His father worked as a barrelmaker for a brewery after serving in the trenches in France during World War I, while his mother kept the house and looked after the children. During his formative years, Howard was active member of the Boy Scouts, he also enjoyed attending school and did very well, earning a scholarship to attend secondary school. However, the economic situation at the time was hard and at the age of fourteen he began full-time work, working as a clerk at a broker’s firm. In order to further his education he took evening classes and continued with the Scouts. In 1931, however, he found himself out of work, after the brokerage firm that he was working for went out of business. In 1932, Howard enlisted in the British Army and undertook recruit training at Shrewsbury and was assigned to the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. He excelled at physical training and did consistently well on army exams. He became a company clerk and later a physical training instructor. On the basis of his education he applied for a commission but was rejected, although he was promoted to corporal. In June 1938, he was discharged from the army, having served his six year enlistment period, and joined the Oxford City Police. On 28-10-1939 he married Joy Bromley, whom he had met in 1936, and with whom he would later have two children, Terry and Penny. On 02-12-1939, following the outbreak of the war, he rejoined the SLI as a corporal, however, he was quickly promoted to company sergeant major and within five months of joining was the Regimental Sergeant Major. Offered the opportunity of a commission he went to 166th Officer Cadet Training Unit in mid-1940. On graduation he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, Ox & Bucks , on 09-11-1940. He rose to captain commanding a company. When the Ox and Bucks was marked for conversion to airborne in 1942, Howard volunteered, accepting demotion to lieutenant and command of a platoon. He was subsequently promoted, becoming a major in May 1942 and became company commander of ‘D’ Company. Howard led a the glider-borne assault on two bridges between Bénouville and Ranville in Normandy, France on 6 June 1944 as part of the D-Day landings during World War II.
These bridges spanned the Caen Canal and the adjacent River Orne (about 500 yards to the east), and were vitally important to the success of the D-Day landings. Since the war the bridge over the canal has become known as “Pegasus Bridge”, as a tribute to the men who captured it, while the bridge over the River Orne later became known as Horsa Bridge after the Horsa gliders that had carried the troops to the bridges. Released at 8.000 feet over the Normandy coast, three gliders, each carrying about 28 heavily armed troops—in total 90 men, pilots included—clipped the tops of a group of poplar trees skirting a very small field and a dangerous pool and bounced to a halt only a few yards from each other, at precisely 0016 hours. All gliders were brought to an immediate halt, almost on top of the objectives, the nose was “buried in barbed wire and almost on the bridge”, in the words of a soldier under Howard. The assault troops engaged their objectives almost from the moment they stepped outside of the wreckage of their aircraft. The German defenders were taken completely by surprise for they had almost no time to react, form, and attempt a defense of the objectives; since the British force had, in effect, landed within the boundary of the objective. Some of the Germans were caught asleep in their gun pits. Only one German soldier was able to fire a Very pistol to try to warn soldiers on the Orne bridge a few hundred yards away, but by the time he fired, the other bridge had been overrun. There was no time to attempt to blow the bridge, and even if there had been, the explosives needed for the job had never been fitted to the bridge. It was the classic example of a “commando-style” military operation, where surprise is the attacker’s greatest asset; and when it is executed as planned, surprise is complete because the attackers in the event, face essentially no opposition. And virtually all of their casualties in the assault, are either from friendly fire, or accident.The first soldier killed on the bridge was 2nd Lieutenant Herbert “Den” Brotheridge and one of the first to land was the later moviestar Richard Todd. Howard and his glider troops had been bolstered by both fresh airborne parachute landings and a detachment of commandos led by Simon Fraser , who marched to the bridge to the tune of Bill Millin’s bagpipes. Fraser died age 83, on 16-03-1995 in Beaulle, Scotland and Bill Millin died old age 88 on 17-08-2010 in Torbay, England. With these reinforcements, they were able to hold Pegasus Bridge against an attack by elements of the 21st Panzer Division , under Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger, strongly supported by artillery. Exha usted and lacking any serviceable tanks the 21st Panzer Division surrendered to the Soviets on 29-04-1945, the day before Adolf Hitler (did you know), suicide in his Berlin Bunker.Following the attack on the bridges on D-Day, instead of being removed from the line to commence training for further operations ‘D’ Company was used as a normal infantry company. Howard was nominated for the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership during the capture of the bridges, and on 16-07-1944, Howard was presented with the medal by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. ‘D’ Company remained in Normandy fighting until 05-09-1944, after 91 days of continuous fighting.After D-Day, Howard commanded his company until September 1944 when they were withdrawn from the line. Due to the injuries he sustained in a car accident in November 1944, he took no further part in the war and was eventually invalided out of the army in 1946. Inthe 1960s, Howard met and befriended Hans von Luck , a senior officer in the 21st Panzer Division who had been unable to assist in the defence of Pegasus Bridge on 6 June. Luck died old age 86 on 01-08-1997 in Hamburg.
Death and burial ground of Howard, Reginald John.
After this he became a public servant before he retired in 1974. His role in the assault on the bridges was detailed in a number of books and films since the war, and after he retired he gave a number of lectures in Europe and the United States on tactics and on the assault itself. Major John Howard died Wednesday 05-05-1999 in a hospital in Surrey, England. He was 86 and had lived in Burford, near Oxford and is buried at the graveyard of St Michael and All Angels church in Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire.
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