the locality of Merville, close to Franceville in the Calvados,
a battery of the German Army, made up of several protection bunkers,
anti-tank ditches, innumerable kilometers of barbed wires, minefields,
and especially of four casemates locking up each one a gun of 100mm.
These guns are able to open fire on Sword
Beach. For the Allies, this military site, reinforced by a whole
of various bunkers of observation and support located west of Franceville-sur-Mer
has to be under control before the British and French soldiers begin
to land on D-Day. the German garrison of the battery of Merville
is strong of 200 soldiers.
staff takes the following decision: it is a commando of British
parachutists which will have to reduce to silence the battery in
the night of D-Day, that is to say a few hours before the beginning
of the landing.
And it is Lieutenant
Colonel Terence Otway who receives the command of this commando
made up of 700 men, belonging to the 9th brigade of the 6th Airborne
division. Conscious of the difficulty of this mission, he wished
that his subordinates knew every details of the mission. During
the months which precede D-Day, British troops train themselves
continuously with the parachuting (day and night). The battery is
even entirely reconstituted in England according to photographs
taken by Allied planes during reconnaissance missions. The trainings
are proceeded by all times and at every hour.
of the attack
At the first
hours of Tuesday June 6, 1944, the seven hundred and fifty British
parachutists jump above Normandy. This time, it is war. In spite
of the meticulous drill, the operation do not proceed as it should.
Like their American comrades, the British are victims of an important
dispersion while arriving on the ground; the wind and serious errors
of dropping (in the night some pilots confused the Dives and the
Orne rivers) disturb considerably the established plans. The grounds
flooded by the Germans in Normandy do not arrange anything: with
this problem and in the darkness of the night, parachuted infantrymen
were quickly lost.
The losses in
men and material is quite higher than the most pessimistic estimations:
at 02:30 a.m. in the morning, approximately 150 men out of the 700
committed ones have gathered. The others are strayed in the Norman
countryside, wounded or drowned in the marshes. Some will walk sometimes
more than four hours to complete one kilometer and half, without
even finding their comrades. Lieutenant Colonel Otway has no Jeep,
no heavy machine gun, no torpedo, and he does not have any news
from almost 550 of his men, parachuted over the Calvados region.
operation seems to have failed even before it began.
In spite of
this reduced manpower, Otway decides to maintain his project. He
must absolutely capture the battery because he knows that on this
success depends the survival of British and French infantrymen,
who are to land on Sword Beach in a few hours, as well as the Allied
sailors in the warships on the English Channel.
At 04:30 a.m.
Otway reaches Merville where he finds a dozen scouts who discreetly
practised some ways through the barbed wires. He notes that the
bombardment carried out by a hundred of Lancaster was not precise
at all: the battery is almost intact. Gliders filled with explosives
must land in the center of the battery right before the attack,
they were shot down by the German anti-aircraft artillery, the FLAK.
engage however a brief but violent attack against the 200 German
infantrymen who defend themselves with eagerness.
later the British control the battery but their losses are high
(70 British officers and soldiers died or are wounded). They launch
then lighting rockets as a sign of victory, to inform the Allied
sailors who wait off the Norman coasts that the Merville battery
is (temporarily) neutralized.
If the battery
of Merville is captured a few minutes before the beginning of the
landing on the beaches of Normandy, Otway, already short of men,
material and ammunition, knows that if the Germans counter-attack
to take back the casemates, he and his men will not have enough
means to defend their territory. He decides to move his forces to
the locality of Amfreville, a few kilometers south-west of Merville
and to abandon the battery after having destroyed the guns in the
A German doctor,
looking after as well the casualties of his fatherland as the British
soldiers, decides to remain with the untransportable men. Otway
prevents him that the Allied Armada will bombard the battery at
05:30 a.m. and that if he wants to live he should better leave.
The sense of duty of the German “doc” is stronger: he
wants to remain to take care of the wounded of both sides to put
them at shelter from the bombardments. The British Lieutenant Colonel
accepts and thanks him, before leaving with his survivor men towards
Amfreville. After having put the casualties at shelter from the
bombardment, the German doctor is killed by the explosion of the
Allied fleet fires, whereas he went to seek medical material in
one of the bunkers.
to the British airborne operations on D-Day