The Merville Battery

Also coming under the remit of Operation Tonga, the objective of rendering the Merville Battery useless was going to be tough…

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Field Marshal Erwin Rommel inspects the defences of the Atlantic Wall
Built by Nazi forces as part of the Atlantic Wall, the Merville Battery was a formidable coastal fortification, that would need to be taken out if the beach assault was to be a success. This job was handed down to the 6th Airborne Division, the same division where other elements would seize the bridges at Benouville.
​The 9th Parachute Battalion was assigned to take the Merville Battery, as well as advancing on a small village called Le Plein, before taking a German Navy headquarters near the River Orne.
​However, many Paratroopers of Lieutenant-Colonel Otway’s battalion, were scattered all over the place, with a large proportion landing a considerable distance from their intended dropzone. Otway himself landed some 400 metres away from the dropzone and after a brief exchange of fire, and gathering some of his scattered ‘stick’, he made it to the DZ at 01.30.
​Otway was under strict orders that the battery was to be destroyed by 05.30, however by 03.00, only 150 paratroopers were mustered, with only one machine gun and a handful of Bangalores. Otway’s plan of assault relied heavily on the larger explosives and a greater number of engineers to operate them.
​Due to the time-critical nature of his objective, Otway decided that he must push on with the assault with the resources he had, his battalion arriving at the battery at 04.00.
​Linking up with the pathfinders, sent to mark out sites for the Bangalore’s deployment, Otway readied his assault force for an attack.
​Limited on numbers, Otway divided his battalion into four smaller assault groups, one designated for each casemate of the battery. By 04.30 he was ready, just as three gliders were due over the battery carrying his much needed Sappers. Only two made it to France however, with one aborting and landing in England, while one landed over two miles away and the other landing on the outskirts of the battery’s minefield.
​As soon as the first glider overshot, Otway ordered the explosives to be detonated, causing two paths through the battery’s perimeter. Through these gaps, the paratroopers attacked, with heavy casualties being taken when the defenders opened fire.
​The casualties were so great that casemate four was attacked by a force of just four men, who cleared the casemate using fragmentation grenades.
​The other casemates were attacked with phosphorus grenades and fragmentation grenades, which were aided in their effectiveness by the German’s inability to lock doors leading into the battery.​​

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The Merville Battery, as it stands today
​Many prisoners were taken as the assault took place which culminated in improvised devices, attempting to disable the Czechoslovakian Howitzer guns that occupied the battery. Unfortunately, at least one of these guns would go back into action when the Germans reoccupied the site.
​With no radio to communicate with the Navy, Otway, his men and their prisoners withdrew, as shelling was due to start at 05.30 if no word had reached Naval Command.
​Their primary objective was complete but at a huge cost, a staggering 50% casualty rate (50 killed, 25 wounded) was recorded.
​Despite this, they continued on, attacking and securing Le Plein as agreed. However, by this time they were far too understrength to continue, and so moved to a planned rendezvous point at 05.30.
​The Merville Battery was a key strategic target for the Allied invaders, however, it was never fully destroyed as planned. In fact, the Germans reoccupied the battery soon after the assault and then repelled a further attack by the Special Service Brigade on the 7th June. The battery was so valuable to the Germans and consequently was well defended, so much so, that they occupied it until around the 17th August, only leaving when the German army began its withdrawal from France.

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