Warriors in their Own Words

Remarkable stories of war told by the men who fought for a proud nation. Their words. Their voices. Our first episodes tell riveting stories from World War II, then we move on to the Vietnam War and other dramatic conflicts.

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PREVIEW: The Battle of Merville Gun Battery

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In this preview, we'll be sharing a clip from tomorrow's interview with Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway DSO. Make sure to catch our full interview with Otway when it releases tomorrow.

Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway DSO served in the British Army during World War II. In the hours before the Invasion of Normandy, he and the 9th Parachute Battalion were dropped over German lines, and tasked with destroying the Merville Gun Battery. Armed with four 150 mm guns, the Merville Gun Battery was crucial to the German defense.

Otway became a hero for his leadership that day, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. After his death in 2006, the citizens of Merville-Franceville-Plage erected a bust of Otway in his honor.


Ken Harbaugh:

I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In this preview, we'll be sharing a clip from tomorrow's interview with Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway DSO. If you'd like to hear more previews like this, please let us know at [email protected]

Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, DSO:

I had arranged for a bugle to be blown. We laid down outside the wire. We went very, very quietly, took up position ready to assault over and through the wire. We were going to blow two gaps instead of the original four because of the shortage of explosive tubes Bangalore torpedoes. As soon as they went up, we were to go through those gaps and over the inside wire. We hadn't got enough to blow the inside wire, I thought. But actually we did blow some gaps in the inside wire, so the assault troops went through first. The support platoon or company, we'll stick to the original and support company followed. I was in the gap. I went up with the leading troops and I stood in the gap while the others passed me. I was criticized for that because as a commander, people said I should have been at the head, which I had replied, well, what the hell use would I have been if I'd been dead as a commander? I was directing there and I was actually hit, my equipment was hit, not me. I got one through my haversack and one through a side haversack and a bullet right through, it went through the back of my uniform, so I was lucky. And the troops then spread out, went round to the seaward side. Well, one party went to the entrance, which was on the landward side, throwing grenades in there with the doors, which were shut or kicked them open and whatnot. The other party went round to the open side where the guns were firing towards the sea and attacked in there with STEN guns. So the Germans that were there were killed or wounded, but a great number of them were actually down below. Have you been there? Well, you notice a chamber underneath each gun and they were down there. And so those were ones who were left who came out with their hands up.

Well, we took bleacher blocks out and threw them away right out into the fields. You can't fire a gun without a bleacher block. Yes. There were spares obviously somewhere, but they would've had to rattle around. And this is what we planned to do on the basis that by the time they had found any new bleacher blocks, where they'd put them, the main wave of seaborne troops would've got in. Because don't forget, my orders were not to destroy the gun, was to neutralize them. That word has been consistently overlooked. And if you can neutralize a gun and stop them firing, you've done your job, even if you don't have explosives to blow the things up. We did, as I said, put grenades down them. So therefore that would cause a bit of a trouble because they'd had to get all of metal splinters and everything out of the guns before they could put any shells in. So that's what we did. That's all we could do because we didn't have, as you know, the explosives and so on.

The guns of the battery, with those four guns going flat out, it probably would've canceled out the left flank of the British landing, which would have meant that the Germans could have withdrawn the troops from that part of the coast, put them further down, even in front of the American parts of them. And so it could well have been, yes, disastrous from that part. It could have meant that the Germans could have grabbed Pegasus Bridge and could have come in on the left flank. And after that, who knows what would've happened, instead of the allies all the way along landing and pushing in. I don't think that's exaggerating.

Once that part of it was done, I sent the success signal up, which was a green, red, green, I forget, very light. And an REF aircraft went over wagged its wings like that, which was this acknowledgement signal. My signal officer then produced a pigeon out of his inside pocket, wrote out a message, and that went back to Whitehall, London actually, landed in Whitehall. So that was a success signal. I then had to regroup with what little lot I had and go on to the next objective because they'd given me an awful lot to do. I was supposed to attack Amfreville. I was supposed to attack another post up near the coast, but I had, what did I have left? About 50 odd men, I think.

They didn't put up any real resistance at all. Yes of course I lost men, but I lost a lot of men. But they were the machine gunners who had the opportunity to calculate that, yes, those British had couldn't get to me. I'm a machine gunner, but the ordinary infantry, they put their hands up straight away. We took, I think 23 prisoners out of the 150 of garrison and the rest were killed or wounded. I've got a brochure which little thing which I got from Steiner who as I said was away, but he is on record of saying that when he got back to the battery, he only had 12 unwounded men who were capable of firing guns out of the 150. So that gives you the scale of our success basically.

Ken Harbaugh:

That was Lt. Col. Terence Otway DSO. Make sure to catch our full interview with Otway when it releases tomorrow.


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