9th Para Battalion – Capture of the Merville battery
After Action Reports
6th (GB) Airborne Division
Capture of Coastal Battery Position at 155775 by 9 Para Bn – JUNE 6, 44
1. Problems involved
This Bty was thought to consist of four 150 mm guns in concrete emplacements. Therefore it was of utmost importance that it should be eliminated before it could interfere with landing on the beaches.
The guns were known to be sited in concrete emplacements 12 feet high 5 feet deep. Thickness of concrete 2 metres with a covering of 4 metres of earth; steel doors in front, wooden doors behind. Therefore special equipment needed to destroy emplacements.
Defences – one 20 mm dual purpose gun and several MGs. How many MGs unknown but many alternative positions visible. Str of Garrison – 180 to 200 all ranks.
The bty position was surrounded by a cattle fence enclosing a minefield of an approximate average depth of 100 yds, the inner border of which consisted of a Dannart wire fence 15 ft thick and 5 ft high. In places this inner fence was doubled, and within it the bty position itself was intersected by cross wire.
On one side of the bty position there was an A tk ditch 15 ft wide and 10 ft deep.
Outside the bty position isolated minefields were laid across the open approaches and MGs were sited to cover all approaches.
Therefore it was necessary to carry special equipment to overcome obstacles. Since this equipment was heavier than could be carried by parachutists, it would be necessary for a glider element.
The time factor was vital.
The bty had to be destroyed by 0450 hrs.
Owing to naval and air commitments no one could be dropped before 0020 hrs.
The nearest suitable DZ was 2400 yds from the bty positions.
2. Preliminary Organization.
|(a)||In order to disorganise the defences, damage obstacles and possibly clear a route through the minefields it was decided to drop an Oboe of 4000 lbs bombs from 100 Lancasters on the bty position between 0030 and 0400 hrs.|
|(b)||One aircraft to drop a party of parachutists at 0020 hrs consisting of:-|
|(i) A bn RV Organisation Party to organise the Bn RV on the DZ.|
(ii) A bty Recce Party to recce route forward and defences.
|(c)||A first glider element of 5 gliders loads containing special heavy equipment, this included two 6-pr A tk guns. 3 RASC jeeps and trailers containing ammunition, special store etc. Special stores included:-|
|(i) 24 lengths of scaling ladder for A tk ditch.|
(ii) 60 lengths of lightweight Bangalore Torpedo.
(ii) 12 specially constructed duralumin foot bridges to be used if possible to cross the A tk ditch, thereby avoiding mines in it.
|Note. A further 120 lengths of Bangalore Torpedo, and 48 lengths of scaling ladder to drop with parachutists. This glider element to land as close as possible to the Bn RV at 0035 hrs.|
|(d)||The bn was to drop at 0050 hrs, re-organise at the RV which had to be cleared by NOT later than 0235 hrs.|
|(e)||A taping party of 1 Off and 8 ORs to travel with CO in first aircraft, also duplicate RV organisation and bty recce parties in case the original parties had gone astray.|
Taping party to proceed immediately to bty position and to lay tapes as directed by Recce Party to most suitable points for gapping the inner wire defences. This party was equipped with Polish mine detectors.
|(f)||OC Recce Party to meet CO during approach march, to confirm or otherwise layout of enemy defences, and to lead the Bn to their FUP.|
|(g)||The assault party was to go in from the South East. The assault plan was based upon blowing 3 gaps through the inner wire defences. A “Firm base” to be established about 300 yds outside the Perimeter from which the taping party was to clear lanes 4 ft wide through the minefields to each intended gap.|
|(h)||The Bn to be organised as follows:-|
|(i) Breaching Coy – One pl to each gap.|
(ii) Assault Coy.
(iii) Glider Assault Party – 3 Offrs and 47 Inf, 1 Offr and 7 RE.
(iv) Reserve – One Coy (less glider assault party)
(v) 2 sniping parties (each 3 Bren grps, 3 snipers, 3 A tk rifles).
(vi) Diversion Gp (5 PIATS and 2 bren – incl 2 GERMAN speakers).
(vii) “Firm Base” party (rest of Bn under 2 i/c).
(viii) Mortars in posn 500 yds behind “Firm Base”.
3. Organisation on arrival.
(a) Head of Bn to reach “Firm Base” between 0410 and 0420 hrs.
(b) On reaching Dis P, Breaching Party to divide into 3 Breaching Pls and move to wire on orders of CO and lay Bangalore Torpedoes.
(c) Assault Coy to move to first cross tape behind Breaching Coy.
(d) Reserve to move to second cross tape behind Assault Coy.
(e) Sniping Parties 150 yds to each flank.
(f) Two 6-pr guns to posn 150 yds west of Bty.
(g) Diversion Party to Main Gate north of Bty.
|4. Assault Plan.|
Movement of Breaching Coy silent if possible; if surprise lost bugle to sound “CHARGE” on which fire to be opened by all supporting arms.
0424 hrs – Glider Assault Det released by tugs at 6000 ft – three gliders. To land in the bty posn. Armed with Sten, grenades and Gen Wades charges for blowing casemates.
0424½ hrs – tug aircraft to signal letter ‘M’ to Bn HQ after releasing.
0425½ hrs – “Reveille” sounded on bugle – one mortar to switch to star shells to give Glider pilots their targets. No smoke to be used till gliders landed.
0428 hrs – “Fall-in” on bugle – all fire to cease except for Diversionary Party to enable gliders to land.
0430 hrs – 1st glider to touch down. “Lights Out” on bugle – star shells cease.
As soon as dark Bangalore Torpedoes to be blown, and successful gaps indicated by light signals.
Assault Coy pass through gaps – reorganise inside into 4 parties and immediately rush to four gun positions followed by Tp RE.
Bn Comd Post move behind Assault Coy and establish inside wire. Reserve Party move up under hand of Bn Comd. Sniping parties join reserve.
|(a) Gliders on landing to rush the two centre gun positions and destroy.|
(b) Diversionary party to break through at Main Gate as Assault Coy goes in.
(c) Recognition signals arranged between all parties involved.
Moderate flak was encountered crossing the coast. But the Bn was dropped over an enormous area. One stick being dropped 30 miles EAST of Bty Position.
The RV organisation party and Recce party were correctly dropped, and got away according to plan.
Half the Taping party got away fairly easily, but without tape, as the party was dropped in a marsh and the tape lost.
The CO’s aircraft and parties were dropped close to the DZ, but immediately on top of a GERMAN HQ, which resulted in a short melee before they got away.
By 0235 hrs only 110 ranks had collected at the Bn RV with only 10 lengths of Bangalore Torpedo and no scaling ladders.
There was no sign of the five gliders carrying stores and vehicles to the RV.
The CO thereupon decided to wait for a further 16 minutes before starting.
By 0250 hrs the Bn had grown to 150 strong with an additional 10 lengths of Bangalore Torpedo. Each Coy was about 30 strong. Enough signals to carry on – no 3″ Mortars – One MG – one half of one Sniping party – No 6-pr guns – No Jeeps or trailers, or any glider stores – No sappers – No Fd Amb, but 6 unit medical orderlies. No mine detectors – One Coy Comd missing.
The CO decided to advance immediately.
The OC Recce Party met the Bn during the approach march. This party had cut the outer cattle fence, penetrated the minefield to the inner wire where they had waited for half an hour observing and pin pointing the enemy posts by the sound of conversations. They were there joined by the Taping Party, who marked the approach routes by digging their heels in the dust. It is an amazing fact that these two parties accomplished what they did without mine detectors, and without a single casualty. Several trip wires were encountered and neutralised as they felt their way forward with their hands.
As a result of OC Recce Party’s report the CO decided to make two gaps only, detailing 15 men to each gap from the Breaching Coy.
The remaining two Coys he amalgamated into one assault Coy – divided into 4 parties 1 per gun – two parties through each gap.
During the approach march the Bn was heavily shelled, and narrowly evaded a hostile patrol 20 strong.
On reaching the ‘firm base’, fire was opened by 6 enemy MGs from positions outside the wire, 3 on each flank, and by 4 MGs from positions inside the wire.
The CO then despatched his one MG to silence the MGs on the left flank – it did.
He sent the Diversionary Party (now only 1 Sgt and 6 men) via the right flank to carry out their original task. He told them to silence the 3 MGs on the right flank enroute – they did!
About this time the CO saw two gliders circling the Bty; both being shot at and hit by flak. Having no mortars he could not illuminate the bty posn. One glider appeared to be about to land on the bty, but it subsequently grounded between 4 and 5 miles away. The other crashed landed in an orchard behind the bn. Here the OC attacked a German pl attempting to approach the Bn from the rear. This glider party although far smaller in numbers, held off the German attack for 4 hrs.
As soon as the gaps were blown the Assault Parties went in for the guns – and ignoring all flank opposition their speed and determination took them through.
The Diversionary Party forced an entrance at the Main Gate at the same time.
The CO then drew in his Breaching Parties with any oddments as a reserve, and sent them through to mop up the ground between his Comd Post and the guns.
It was a disappointment to the bn to find that the guns were of 75 mm only, and these were destroyed by Gammon bombs. It does not detract however from a magnificent feat of arms, and a display of absolute determination to overcome all handicaps.
As soon as the bty had been captured the Germans began to shell the position accurately and fast from FRANCEVILLE PLAGE.
The bn strength at the finish was 80.
Casualties – 1 Officer killed and 4 wounded, 65 ORs killed, wounded and missing. This does not include severe casualties.
The success signal was fired at 0445 hrs, and a carrier pigeon dispatched to ENGLAND in confirmation.
Personnel missing from the drop continued to arrive for days, and more may do so still. But during subsequent continuous fighting the Bn strength has not since exceeded 15 officers and 278 ORs.
6. PRELIMINARY TRAINING.
Before the operation the Bn went out to Camp by itself for a fortnight accompanied by RE and Fd Amb dets.
It there constructed on the ground an exact full scale model of the Bty position including the A Tk ditch.
Every man was detailed to the special task he would be required to do in the operation, and practiced continuously at the task.
5 days and 4 night rehearsals were carried out. After the initial day rehearsals each day rehearsal was followed by a night one.
The rehearsal included an approach march over a slightly longer distance than was anticipated on the operation. All rehearsals were carried out with live ammunition.
The crossing of various types of obstacles with heavy equipment and weapons was practice. As also was assault over the most difficult obstacles which might be expected. It included cattle fence, minefield, outer Dannart, A tk ditch mined and inner Dannart wire.
Re-organisation at the Bn RV was also rehearsed.
Note. The bombing attack had missed the Bty completely. It had in fact almost eliminated the Recce Party.