Pictures

Terence Otway

Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway

Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway in 1998, standing beside a bust of himself at the Merville Battery

Terence Otway

Terence Otway

Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Brandram Hastings Otway

 

Unit : Battalion HQ, 9th Parachute Battalion

Service No. : 63633

Awards : Distinguished Service Order, Legion d'Honneur.

 

Terence Otway was born in Cairo, Egypt, on the 15th June 1914. He was commissioned into the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1933, first with the 2nd Battalion, but in 1935 he journeyed to Hong Kong to join the 1st Battalion. In May 1937 he was posted to Hong Kong HQ Cipher Staff, but as a Lieutenant rejoined the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles in August of that year. The Battalion made up part of the international force that was sent to Shanghai to protect it from the Japanese invaders.

 

"We spent four months in Shanghai, and we were bombed, shelled and machine-gunned almost every day by the Japanese, whilst guarding the International Settlement. We then moved to India. We'd hardly arrived before we were involved in putting down riots in Rawalpindi. Then we moved up to the North-West frontier and we were there for a year on active service. Not a week passed without us having a scrap with the tribesmen, and some of the scraps were hand-to-hand fighting with knives and swords. So that was so-called peace!"

 

In December 1937 the Battalion was posted to India, and several months later was posted to the North-West Frontier. In August 1939, Otway married Stella Whitehead and just over a year later, by which he had returned to England with the Ulsters, their first son, Michael, had been born. In the final days of 1940, Otway was promoted to Major and in June 1941 he attended Staff College, six months later passing out fourth of two hundred. In 1942, he was posted to the War Office as a Staff Officer responsible for briefings and briefing papers for the War Cabinet. In July 1943, he returned to the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles to take command of one of their companies. In his absence, the Battalion had been converted to the airborne role and was now a part of the 6th Airlanding Brigade. In the following month he applied to join the Parachute Regiment and became Second-in-Command of the 9th Parachute Battalion, but in March 1944, Otway was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and given command.

 

Sergeant Les Daniels said of him, "Colonel Otway was a very hard man, very stand-offish, naturally as you'd expect your Commanding Officer to be. No tolerance for a fool whatsoever. You daren't make a mistake with the Colonel." Otway's own philosophy on command was straight-forward, he wrote, "I wanted to be respected and I wanted to be considered to be a fair person, but I wouldn't go out of my way to get popularity. I wanted an efficient, well run, happy Battalion, and I reckon I had it."

 

During the first few months of his command, Otway was informed of the invasion plan and the role that the 9th Battalion would play in it. "I was taken to a farm house near Amesbury, in Wiltshire, by the Brigade Major, and nothing was said. I was taken up to the first floor and there was a model, and he said "you see that, that's a battery", I said "Yes I can see that", and he said "You have got to take it". They {the guns} were sited to fire straight along the Normandy beaches over which the British troops were due to land in Operation Overlord. If they had fired when the troops were landing from their landing craft it had been calculated that probably the operation would have failed."

 

The assault upon the Merville Battery was to be the most risky venture that the 6th Airborne Division was to undertake on D-Day. Otway summed up the extent of the challenge most successfully: "The Battery contained four guns which were thought to be 150mm, and each gun was in an emplacement made of concrete six foot thick, on top of which was another six foot of earth. There were steel doors in front and rear. The garrison was believed to consist of 150-200 men, with two 20mm dual-purpose guns and up to a dozen machine guns. There was an underground control room and odd concrete pillboxes dotted about. The position was circular, about 400 yards in diameter and surrounded by barbed wire and mines. There was a village a few hundred yards away which might have held more German troops. There were only two sides from which we could possibly attack. On the north there was a double-apron barbed wire fence, outside which was a minefield about thirty yards deep. Outside this again was an anti-tank ditch fourteen feet wide and sixteen feet deep, which we assumed would be full of horrors. On the south side there was the same double-apron fence and the same thirty-yard minefield, but instead of the ditch there was another barbed wire fence some twelve to fifteen feet thick and five to six feet high. The whole Battery was then surrounded by a minefield 100 yards deep which was protected by a barbed wire cattle fence, possibly electrified. Such was the nut to be cracked. As we were to land to the south of the Battery I decided to attack from the south."

 

Otway's plan was as follows. Accompanying the pathfinders, landing at 00:20, would come a ten-man reconnaissance party. One group, led by Major Allen Parry, would establish the Rendezvous Point on the drop zone, whilst the other, the Troubridge Party under Major George Smith, was to head for the Merville Battery to conduct a study of the German defences. Before they arrived at the Battery, one hundred RAF heavy bombers, Lancasters and Halifaxes, would attack the Battery at 00:30 in the hopes of destroying it, or at least substantially reducing the defences. At 00:50, the remainder of the 9th Battalion were to land on DZ-V. Once assembled, they would make their way to the Battery, accompanied by a formidable assortment of supporting arms, including a troop of the 591st Parachute Squadron and two anti-tank guns. Two other parties were to precede them, the Taping Party, whose job it was to cut and mark paths through the wire and then clear them of mines, and another Troubridge Party led by Lieutenant Dennis Slade, who were to proceed to the site of a different Battery to confirm, as Allied intelligence believed, that it was a dummy battery. Before the assault proper began, a Diversion Party was to attack the main gate, whilst two Sniping Groups, consisting of machine-guns and snipers, targeted fortifications and machine-gun positions. "B" Company was then to lay Bangalore torpedoes to further clear the wire, and these were to be detonated as the G-B Force, consisting of most of "A" Company and further 591st Parachute Squadron engineers, travelling in three Horsa gliders and guided by Eureka beacons and the light of 3" star shells, landed inside the battery to attack the casemates with flame-throwers and Sten guns. Of this manoeuvre, Otway remarked, "It seemed to me daft to go over what was then known as the Atlantic Wall, the heavily fortified French coast, fly over that and drop outside another fortress, i.e. the Merville Battery. So I decided to see if I couldn't drop or couldn't put troops directly inside." When the gliders landed, "C" Company, with further star shells to illuminate the area, fired by the Mortar Platoon, were to charge through the minefield and attack the German defences, followed by the remainder of "A" Company and the Sniping Groups, whilst "B" Company were left outside to guard the flanks of the Battery. Besides the G-B Force, the gliders were also to carry purpose-made "General Wade" charges, which the sappers would then use to destroy the guns. If all went well, the naval party attached to the 9th Battalion would contact the battleship, HMS Arethusa, and inform them of their success. If no such signal was received by 05:30, the ship was ordered to assume that the attack had failed and proceed to deal with the battery itself.

 

The preparations for the attack were meticulous. "The Brigade Major, Bill Collingwood, and I, flew over the area and we found this place near Newbury with a big hill. It's called Walbury Hill. It's a long ridge about 800 feet high, very narrow at the top, so it was absolutely ideal for live ammunition. Then I went to see the owner, who was a farmer. He was very good about it because we could have slapped a compulsory order on him. One landowner was a bit difficult. He happened to be a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the First World War, but I took him in and gave him a gin...! I had, in fact, to see seven people in departments about it, including the Civil Service who said "You can't do this, you'll have to wait for permission...", I said "To hell with that, I'm doing it, and I'm doing it tomorrow!""

 

"We built a replica of the whole route from the rendezvous point in France to the battery. And that included every hedge, every ditch, every fence, they were put in place in Berkshire. It was vital that we complete secrecy, we couldn't afford a leak. I got on to the RAF and asked them to lend me a dozen or so of their most attractive WAAFS, and I briefed the WAAFS personally and I said "I want you to go into Newbury, and you can do anything you like, don't come back and tell me what you've done, but I want you to see if you can get any hint of what we're going to do". At the end of however many days it was, I can't remember, they came back and not one single man had broken security. It was that vital. Lives, all our lives depended on it."

 

Recognising that his men could become involved in skirmishes with the enemy as soon as they landed, thus distracting them from the battalion's main task, Otway told his men, "Get to that RV. You are not to have any private fights. You get to the RV and THAT'S IT!". Forty-eight hours before the invasion, Otway imposed a drinking ban on his men as he feared that the waiting would result in some men drinking too much and going into action in far from an ideal condition. He was confident that the 9th Battalion was prepared for the invasion, but he had doubts over their experience. "The average age in the battalion was twenty. I was twenty-nine and the second oldest man in the battalion. So they were youngsters, they were wonderful youngsters, but they hadn't been in action. I and one other were the only people who had ever actually been at the wrong end of artillery or rifle fire."

 

D-Day was postponed for twenty-four hours due to bad weather, which Otway had reason to feel some joy about because he had been working so hard for months that he was exhausted, and the postponement allowed him some much-needed rest. "Half past eleven we took off. We had thirty six aircraft, I think. I know I walked down the whole line of aircraft and I spoke to the Captain, every Captain, of each aircraft and all the troops before we took off." For the first half of the journey to France, Otway fell asleep but woke up shortly after leaving the British coast behind. "I put a flash of whiskey in my own hip pocket and took a bottle of whiskey, which I passed round the aircraft... We didn't have any excitement until we got over the coast. Some people said there was no anti-aircraft fire. There was - because there was a very loud explosion by the tail of our aircraft and luckily we weren't damaged, and there was another one as we were jumping. Myself, I got the blast of it standing in the door. The man in front of me got even more. He shot out like a bullet, but he wasn't hurt." This man was Corporal Joe Wilson, Otway's batman, who had to be helped to jump after becoming stuck in the doorway when the green light came on. Otway was about to follow and hand his bottle of whiskey to the RAF despatcher, when the aforementioned explosion threw him and the bottle out of the door.

 

"We were fired at by small arms fire.. There were incendiary bullets coming up at me and actually going through my chute, which was disturbing, in fact I was bloody angry about it...! It had never occurred to me that my chute might catch on fire while I was in it, but I thought of it then going down - but it didn't. We were widely dispersed due to all this small arms fire coming up, and due to various factors we were scattered." Otway and Corporal Wilson landed very close to a farmhouse, which was occupied by German soldiers. Wilson fell through the roof of a greenhouse and so obviously attracted the attention of the Germans, who opened fired upon the two men. Wilson, with quick thinking, threw a brick through one of the windows in the farmhouse, which all of the occupants naturally thought to be a grenade, and the slight delay allowed him and Otway to make their getaway.

 

"A lot of men missed the dropping zone, including me, and that is why I had so few. Plus the fact that Rommel had ordered all the flat area there to be flooded. We waded through at times chest high water to get there and we saw a lot of our men drowned, there was nothing we could do about it. They had all their equipment and they also had a heavy kit bag, which should have been released and in some cases wasn't, but anyway the result of this was, we couldn't get them out of the water, they couldn't get out." As he made for the Rendezvous Point, Otway and his small group saw two such paratroopers coming down. "We saw two men come down by parachute and land in the marshes. We tried to pull them out by their parachute harness but it was useless. With their sixty-pound kitbags they sank out of sight at once and were drowned in the mud and slush... The suction was unbelieveable. We just couldn't get them out. I lost a lot of men in there." Pushing on, his group encountered two Germans on bicycles, "Home Guard types, old enough to be my father. They said they were 'Sick of the SS dressing up as Paras and please let them get back to barracks.'" Otway soon convinced them that he was a real British paratrooper, but not wanting to become burdened with prisoners that he could not look after he sent them on their way, but first threw their rifles into the water.

 

"We arrived at the Rendezvous at 1.30am... There was desultory firing going on but otherwise everything was quiet except for the moans of a sapper with a broken leg." Otway quickly found his Second-in-Command, Major Eddie Charlton, who was delighted to see him and quickly informed him of how badly the drop had gone. Otway was naturally gloomy after hearing this, but then he noticed his batman, Joe Wilson, "He was waiting for me and he said, 'I believe Sir, yo have only got fifty men'. Without telling anybody, I had kept a spare fifteen minutes in my timetable and by the time I was due to move off to attack the battery the total had got up to 150..." Wilson offered Otway a flask, "as if it were a decanter on a silver salver. He said 'Shall we take our whisky now Sir?' He was a professional boxer, and then he turned valet. Flat nose, big cauliflower ears, the sort of man you'd think hadn't got a brain in his head. In fact, he was extremely intelligent and he knew me backwards." Otway waited at the RV and was considerably troubled. The plan had fallen apart with only a quarter of his men and very little vital equipment accounted for. He wandered whether he should go ahead with the attack on the Merville Battery at all, however he showed his concerns to no one but his batman. "I said, 'What the hell am I going to do, Wilson?' 'Only one thing you can do, Sir, no need to ask me.' And he was right. What else could I do?"

 

"I had no radio sets working, I had no engineers, I had no medicals. Damn all really. It did occur to me, yes do I go ahead or do I not. And I'm not line-cheating on this, the first thought that went through my mind was how on earth could I face my friends if we did not go ahead. So we went ahead. I was committed. I felt, well if it goes wrong, it goes wrong, there's nothing I can do about it now. So I suppose it would be true to say I went on and put all thoughts of failure out of my mind. It was a question of move off, or give up. In the Parachute Regiment giving up is not an option."

 

"En route to the battery we found that the RAF, which had bombed the battery several times, had, quite by accident, put a lot of their bombs along our route, so we were clambering in and out of bomb holes anything up to eight to nine feet deep. That wasn't funny in this pitch darkness... we were near bomb holes when we heard some troops marching and we got into them, and the Germans went straight past us. I could have reached out and touched one by the ankles. They never saw us." With the 9th Battalion was an officer of the 22nd Independent Parachute Company, Lieutenant Bob De Lautour, who was to be killed in action on the 20th June. Otway said of him, "He had fallen into what was a dry well in which the farmer dumped everything from their outdoor toilet. He was covered in it, and consequently smelt decidedly unpleasant! You can imagine his reaction as an ex-Guardsman!"

 

As they drew near to the Battery, Otway met Major Smith, who had returned with his Troubridge Party from their reconnaissance of the Battery defences. Smith reported that he had found nothing to give him undue concern. When the Battalion reached the area which was to be their Firm Base, Otway called an 'O' Group to explain his plan for the assault, which due to the shortage of men and equipment needed to be drastically altered. "Instead of going for four gaps in the wire with Bangalore torpedoes, I only blew two, because it was essential that I had a lot of men going through two gaps rather than a few men going through four gaps. I had sent an officer [Captain] Paul Greenway and a Company Sergeant Major, up to the wire ahead and their job was to sit down outside and listen to the German conversation, watch their cigarette butts and so on. And they crawled through the minefield and defused the mines in the dark with their fingers. It was a very, very brave thing to do. They had to do it. Luckily there was enough moon, but they weren't spotted. Then they crawled back and turned round on their backsides and went through backwards dragging a path, making it with their heels, for us to follow. They both got decorated, needless to say."

 

Despite the immense difficulties facing the assault, Otway remained focused. Major Smith said of him, "The Commanding Officer was calm and unperturbed. He gave his orders concisely and clearly, as though he were standing giving orders on a training demonstration. Looking back, it seems incredible that everything was arranged and organized on the spot, amidst what seemed the most awful chaos. It took only a few minutes. The CO's calm set a fine example which was followed by all ranks. His thoroughness in training paid a dividend, the troops were on their toes and ready for the job." Major Dyer was to have led the assault with his "C" Company, but in his absence command was given to Major Allen Parry, and the assault was to be made by a composite force of both "A" and "C" Companies, approximately totaling fifty men. Otway took charge of the remainder, who were to be held back to mop-up any resistance which harried the assault party.

 

As the Battalion was forming up for the assault, they were spotted and fired on by an estimated six machine-guns from both of their flanks. Otway shouted, "Get those bloody machine guns!", upon which, Sergeant Knight, who was also to mount the diversionary attack on the main gate, led a small force over to the guns on the right flank and took them all out. Once this was accomplished, Knight then headed towards the main gate. Otway remembers, "They loosed off everything they could, not towards the casemates, but in a north/north-westerly direction to stop hitting us in the side. They threw grenades, made a hell of a row. It made the Germans go and find out what was happening. They didn't seem to know where we were, didn't concentrate their fire. They didn't send anyone out to the wire to find out."

 

Otway now waited for the G-B force to appear in their gliders, but only one Horsa was seen to fly over the Battery, the remainder did not appear. The assault could wait no longer and so Otway gave the order. Major Parry blew his whistle, the Bangalore torpedoes were detonated to clear the wire in the path of the assault party, then Otway said "Get in, get in!", and so the attack began. "The garrison concentrated everything waist-high on the gaps in the wire, booby traps and mines were going off all over the place, the battle in our rear was going full tilt and fierce hand-to-hand fighting was taking place inside the Battery... I put two battery attacking assault parties through each gap one after the other so that they fanned out and went in. They went round at the front of the casemates, you can't get through the steel doors at the back, although I did have in my Battalion two anti-tank guns which came by glider, but again they were dispersed and they weren't there. So the only way of getting in was where the guns pointed out. "

 

As the assault got inside the Battery, Otway moved forward to the right-hand gap in the wire so that he could observe proceedings. "As it got lighter I could see. I had to be able, for example, looking to my right to see Sergeant Knight and whether they'd managed to get in through the gate. Equally, I had to be in the best position from the machine gun fire on the left of the position. In addition, I had to keep on dodging this sod, a machine gun up on the tower, who was shooting at me. So I was moving in and out."

 

Otway waited for news of how the assault was progressing. Eventually Lieutenant Mike Dowling came up to him, saluted, and said, "Battery taken as ordered, Sir." Otway asked if the guns had been destroyed, and the reply of "I think so" prompted him to say "Bloody well get back up there and make sure those guns are out of action." Unfortunately, on his way back to the casemates, a mortar landed close to Dowling and he and his batman were killed. Otway decided to lead the remainder of his force into the battery to mop up the last pockets of resistance. "Machineguns opened up on both sides so it was chaotic in the sense that there was a heck of a lot of fire going on. In those conditions you have to ignore the wounded for the time being, you just go on... Once the Germans saw that we were parachutists they put their hands up. They shouted, I could hear them, 'paratrooper', and we killed or wounded the whole garrison except for twenty-three. We took twenty-three prisoners and took them out."

 

"The assault troops had put grenades down the barrels of the battery's guns, but they don't have any effect on very shiny, polished, hard metal, but there was a whole lot of splintered grenade that had to be cleaned out. But we also took all the breech blocks out and threw them away, so they couldn't fire those guns without getting new breech blocks."

 

As the fighting died down and Otway knew for certain that the Battery had been taken, he wandered around the area. "I saw what I thought was a dog tied up outside a pillbox and went to investigate, but an officer {not recognising that it was his Commanding Officer before him} who was lying nearby with a shattered leg shouted, "Don't touch that you bloody fool, it's a booby trap." It was Lieutenant Jefferson." Captain Havelock Hudson was also lying wounded and was in the process of receiving some attention from Corporal Tottle, the medic. Hudson later wrote, "At this point Terence Otway came running down the pathway through the mines. He stopped beside me and said, "Are you all right?" "I think so," I said. "He's been hit in the stomach," said {Corporal Tottle}. "Oh bad luck," said the CO. "We've got the Battery, Hal." I take it as eternal credit that I did not say what he could do with the Battery."

 

Otway continues, "There were twenty-three German prisoners. I ordered them to show us the paths through the minefields. They refused so we fired into the ground behind them. Then they moved." He then proceeded to personally inspect the damage to the guns. "It was a shambles, it was a mess. Then Dante's Inferno was let loose. The Germans began to shell and mortar us from neighbouring positions with complete disregard of their own troops. I personally took shelter in the first casemate I could, and one had to move very carefully from casemate to casemate."

 

"Out of the one hundred and fifty men who actually attacked, when we came out and did a count there were sixty-five to seventy, including myself on our feet, the rest were wounded, killed or wounded. So out of the seven hundred and fifty odd I had when I started, I had sixty-five... We captured a German doctor to whom full marks [should be awarded], he went back inside the battery to get the medical supplies to help our people, but we had German wounded as well. We had about the same number of German wounded. Our padre, who was with us but at the back, he went off to a local village with some local men and he got a couple of German trucks and a car, a couple of German staff cars. Brought them back, put all the wounded on and drove them back into 6th Airborne Division. [He] stuck a Red Cross out the front and the Germans let them through.. It's been estimated that we saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. They {the guns} were not there to fire on the British seaborne troops, on that particular beach. They {the 9th Battalion} were magnificent all of them, what's that they say about the British when they've got their backs to the wall. 

 

Otway's plan to attack the Merville Battery has been criticised by some who saw it to be an unnecessarily complicated affair, and therefore prone to degenerating into chaos. Besides relying on being able to gather up the large and varied amount of equipment and personnel required after the drop, the most obvious failing in the plan was the attempt to land the three coup de main gliders inside the Battery to coincide with the start of the attack. The success of this manoeuvre did not dictate the success of the overall assault, however, because Otway's plan was to attack the garrison from three sides, with a diversion at the main gate, the assault across the minefield, and the gliders landing inside the perimeter. All of these acted totally independent of the other and the whole premise of this three-pronged attack was that the garrison should be taken by surprise and not know which way to turn for the best. In this respect the assault was certainly a success. The plan that Otway created went awry, not because it was too complicated, but because the 9th Battalion were extremely unlucky on the drop and lost a great deal of their specialist equipment and more than three-quarters of their infantry strength. No plan could account for such an extreme turn in events.

 

The remnants of the 9th Battalion withdrew from the Merville Battery and proceeded about half a mile to the south-east and arrived at the Calvary Cross, the designated rendezvous. Here the Battalion halted whilst Otway considered his next course of action. Following the attack on the Battery, the 9th Battalion were intended to proceed to Sallenelles, destroy the German HQ there and occupy the Naval Radar Station, as well as moving south to capture the northern end of the ridge at Le Plein. As they waited at the Calvary Cross, a few stragglers rejoined the Battalion, but with only one hundred men, it was highly questionable whether the Battalion could achieve these objectives. Sergeant Les Daniels arrived on the scene and wrote "I saw the Colonel sitting on the Calvary, with his head in his hands. He had been through a tremendous amount. To take what few men he had in to attack that Battery, was beyond human expectancy. What he'd put up with. Organizing the job and then to do it with so few tools, and knowing full well we had a full day in front of us." Despite having ripped victory from the clutches of defeat at the Merville Battery, Otway recognised the limits of his vastly understrength Battalion and so he decided to abandon Sallenelles and instead lead his men on to the far more important objective of Le Plein.

 

He approached the village from the north, but on the way he was warned by a Frenchman that there were some two hundred Russian soldiers, who had been forced into the Wehrmacht, blocking his route in Hauger. Not at all wishing to became entangled in such a fight, Otway ordered his Battalion to swing eastwards and, with a generous distance between themselves and Hauger, advance into Le Plein from the east. "I had half-a-dozen men up front leading the way. I was about fifty yards behind them, and when they went in where the houses came, some Jerries opened up with a light machine gun. Regimental Sergeant Major Bill Cunningham came up to me and I said, "Go up and take charge of that lot and find out what is happening."... I actually could hear {RSM Cunningham, shouting at a German}, with his broad Belfast accent. "You great big fat so-and-so, stick your f...... hands up or I'll shoot your guts out," something like that, and the chap bolted. He couldn't understand English, but it was his tone! Then he found some more Germans. So we closed up and took up positions, the eight of us, on either side of the road, a ditch on the left, houses on the right." As this fighting had been going on, a Frenchman in a blue suit very casually approached Otway and said "A very good morning." Otway remembers, "This Frenchman asked if I'd like a coffee when it was all over! Standing up on the ground and I was in the ditch; bullets flying all around us, smoking his pipe. Not a care in the world."

 

As the 9th Battalion pushed into Le Plein they encountered stiffer resistance. Believing that a key position had been identified in the enemy's defence, Otway asked Lieutenant Halliburton to come to lead a ten-man patrol to investigate. "I said to Halliburton, "Take some chaps and go there and find out {the enemy's strength}. Do not get involved in any fighting. Come back here and tell me what the situation is." Halliburton led his group to the building, but unfortunately he was killed and the patrol compelled to fall back. Faced with this resistance and his mounting losses, Lieutenant-Colonel Otway decided that he had to abandon Le Plein and so ordered the 9th Battalion to establish themselves in the Chateau d'Amfreville, where he planned to wait until the 1st Special Service Brigade could arrive and relieve them.

 

Otway found that the rear of the chateau was most vulnerable to attack, however the enemy did not make a serious attempt to evict them and so limited their activities to mortaring, sniping and the odd burst of machine-gun fire. Otway quickly realised that the snipers around the Chateau were not of a particularly good calibre, and so he ordered that any spare ammunition should be given to men to take out these snipers one at a time. Lieutenant Slade, who was acting Adjutant, led a party into a barn in an attempt to tackle a machine-gun that was the source of much irritation, however tracer rounds set the barn alight and his primary concern was to get calves out of the burning building. Otway eventually had to physically pull Slade out of the barn. Slade eventually got at the gun and knocked it out with grenades. Wanting to impress the Colonel, he brought back the gun as proof of his success, however Otway was not happy that he had risked his life to get it. "Dennis was very inclined to go like a bat out of hell at everything. The sort of chap that gets the Victoria Cross. They always say that Victoria Cross people never knew why they had got it!"

 

As these skirmishes were going on, the German prisoners, who were being held in the grounds of the Chateau, were angry at all the fire that was going on around them. Otway visited them to address their complaints and he was immediately confronted by a German officer who began to lecture him on the Geneva Convention. He was not amused. "They were complaining about being left in the open and not protected. I said, "You'll be killed by your own fire, not ours. If you're talking about the Geneva Convention, how do you explain this note which has Hitler's signature on saying that all members of the British Parachute Regiment were to be shot out of hand?" {No reply} So I said OK, you can stay there or you can be locked up in a room in the Chateau. When the artillery opens up it is bound to be used as a point of reference. "Which do you want to do?" They stayed there."

 

Throughout the morning, despite particularly heated exchanges of fire, the 9th Battalion was not seriously attack. However the situation was becoming desperate as a few casualties had been suffered and ammunition was getting very short. Patrols were sent out to search for any ammunition containers that had been dropped on the previous night, however only two were found and almost all of their contents were mortar rounds. "At that time I was very, very down. I was almost on the point of deciding "Do I go on or do I surrender and pack up?" That's when Paul {Greenway} who, although he was only a Captain, was a great friend of mine, said, "Don't be so bloody silly. We've just got to go on." So I came to my senses, took a brace of myself."

 

In the early afternoon, the sound of gunfire was heard from the direction of Le Plein and it was clear that it was not aimed at the 9th Battalion. Otway believed that this could only be the Commandos, and so he immediately left the Chateau and ran down the hill to find out what was going on. At the Ecarde crossroads he found elements of No.3 Commando and Brigadier The Lord Lovat. Otway explained the situation to Lovat, who then asked him to escort Captain Westley, one of No.3's troop commanders, on a reconnaissance in preparation for an attack on Amfreville, which the 9th Battalion was asked to support with covering fire. Otway returned to the 9th Battalion and at 15:30 it was obvious that the attack was in progress. After a time the sound of firing drifted away eastwards and, believing Amfreville to have been taken, Otway decided to head over there to find out what was happening. "I said to {Corporal Joe} Wilson, "We're going down there." Everybody said, "You're mad, you'll get killed", but I said, "It's a risk I've got to take", I hadn't got any alternative. Wilson had got hold of a motorbike, so Wilson drove the motorbike, I sat in the sidecar, and we went down there." They passed several dead Commandos on the way and arrived at the Ecarde crossroads in time for a particularly heavy bout of enemy mortaring, which prompted them to seek shelter in a ditch. Brigadier Lovat was nearby with No.6 Commando, Otway called out to him, "One of your Commando units has just had a sticky time. If you wish to talk to me, come down here, because I'm not bloody well coming up there!". Lovat came over and informed him that No.6 Commando had taken Le Plein, but he wouldn't be able to relieve the 9th Battalion until No.4 Commando arrived and put in a night-attack on Hauger.

 

By the following morning, the 9th Battalion had been relieved at the Chateau d'Amfreville and so they moved into Le Plein. On the previous day it had been noted that a great deal of sniper activity had come from the church tower in the village, and this was Otway's first point of call. He suspected that the priest was a collaborator and so forced him up to the tower and pushed him through the door first, just in case any of the snipers were still inside. Luckily for him, the 9th Battalion had done their job well and inside the tower the bodies of six snipers were found. The Commandos and paratroopers searched each house in Le Plein and in so doing amassed a great deal of arms, ammunition and prisoners. "These were mainly Russians being forced at gunpoint to fight. This is what most prisoners stated, that they were either Austrian or Russian, but on examining their pay books some of them had difficulty in explaining their place of birth!"

 

At 21:30 on the 7th June, Lieutenant-Colonel Otway received orders to move to the Chateau St Côme, just as they were in the process of handing over control of the area to No.3 Commando. "They {the Commandos} had hardly arrived when my orders came through on their radio to go to the Chateau St Côme. I was actually talking to {Lieutenant-Colonel} Peter Young. A radio chap came up and said, "A message for Colonel Otway," and I was given my orders. They said, "Go to the Chateau St Côme. Just take up position and hold at all costs."" It had always been planned than the 9th Battalion would take over the defence of the Chateau, yet Otway had absolutely no idea what the ground was like around it, and so he sent Major Charlton ahead in a captured Renault car to conduct a reconnaissance. Otway did not know if the Chateau was still held by the enemy, and so he decided to be cautious and marched the Battalion south, so that he could approach the area from the south-west and avoid being seen. Lieutenant Hugh Pond of "A" Company was in the lead. "My instructions to Hugh Pond were to carry on, and every time we come to a junction or crossroads, you stop. You do not cross. Don't go past any junction or crossroads without first reconnoitering that we can do so safely. So when I was satisfied that it was all right, I sent Hugh on. There was a runner who went backwards and forwards."

 

At about 01:30, the 9th Battalion climbed back on to the ridge and saw before them, standing on the crossroads and clearly visible in the moonlight, Major Charlton waiting for them. "He was walking up and down that road smoking a cigarette. I thought he must be mad. I said, "Are you crackers?" He said, "Why?", "I could see the butt up the lane, what about the Germans in the Chateau?" He said, "There aren't any Germans in there." He was right, they'd got out." Not taking any risks at all, Otway led his men into the woodland, and while they proceeded to dig slit trenches, he got out his pistol and knocked at the front door of a nearby bungalow. A woman put her head out of a window and she asked what they wanted, Otway informed her that they were British paratroopers and that the invasion had started. She replied, "Please go away! I'm fed up with you German troops and your exercises pretending to be British soldiers. We want to get some sleep!" Otway retorted, "Madame, we are British soldiers. Unless you come down and let us in, I'm afraid we are going to force an entry and I wouldn't want to wreck your house. If you will kindly come down, you will see for yourself." This both she and her husband did, and Otway, Wilson and a few others proceeded to search the house. As he and Wilson glanced around the drawing room, using their torches, Otway noticed a photograph of Edward d'Abo, whom he had known from his days at Sandhurst. He immediately asked the owners, an enquiry which convinced them that they were British soldiers, what they were doing with this photograph, and to his amazement discovered that d'Abo was their nephew. The owner of the house introduced himself as Monsieur Magninat, the Mayor of Bréville.

 

The 9th Battalion were to occupy the Chateau St Côme and the Bois de Mont woodland, however their numbers were now too few for this to be possible, and after consultation with Brigadier Hill, Otway decided to concentrate his force in the woods. An obvious benefit to this strategy was that the Germans would undoubtedly assume that the Chateau was occupied and so make it the main target of their artillery fire. Otway still wanted to deny the Chateau to the enemy by means of constant patrolling, and also a constant vigil by a two-man team was adopted in order to give immediate warning in the event of infantry forming up to move on the Chateau and its buildings. The Bois de Mont was a powerful defensive position and Otway made all the use of this that he could, notably of the densely wooded areas that needed only a handful of men to defend them. His resources, in terms of men and machine-guns, was very limited, so he created a system that would lure any attack into open ground over which all of his machine-guns, crammed into just a 50 yard strip of the driveway leading to the Chateau, had full view. "I made that little area the firepower base and I put every Bren gun and all the machine guns I got eventually, facing across that open ground... I positioned my troops like this so that the Germans were "funnelled" into the position, a killing zone. I wanted to lure the Germans into that. The one thing I didn't want them to do was to come creeping down through the wood on the right." To keep his men concealed and his numbers a mystery, Otway gave instructions that no man was to show himself to the enemy and no one was to fire until the enemy were within twenty or thirty yards of their positions.

 

On the 8th June, a call for assistance came through to Otway from Brigadier Hill, whose Headquarters was under heavy attack in the Le Mesnil area. Otway sent Major Smith with thirty men to attack them in the rear. Accompanying the group was the Brigade Intelligence Officer, Captain Tony Wilkinson. "He {Wilkinson} was on the other side of the road and he came over to me, and it was right on a corner. I came up, put my head around the corner to have a look and see what the Germans were at. They immediately opened fire. I went back and told Wilkinson to come back, and I suppose it was instinct, he then looked and got shot in the head. It wasn't a question of disobeying orders or anything, it was purely instinct... The sniper was very quick. He nearly got me." Smith carried on and, with the assistance of Brigade HQ's fire from the front, succeeded in breaking up the attack by hitting it in the rear.

 

On the 10th June, Otway attempted to arrange a truce with the Germans to bury the mass of enemy dead lying in front of the 9th Battalion's positions. The British dead could easily be retrieved and buried but the Germans lay on ground that was too exposed for the paratroopers to risk venturing out into, however something needed to be done, not just out of respect for the dead, but also for the living as the stench was becoming unbearable. "I found in the 'house' one of these hailers, I suppose because he was the Mayor of Breville, and I used that. My German was reasonable enough. All they did was shoot at me." Undeterred, Padre Gwinnett later got hold of a white flag and attempt to signal their opponents. "He had it on a pole to start with and he took it out in front, out into the battlefield and waved it in front of the Germans. He was very brave. When we were collecting wounded and dead, we collected wounded irrespective of whose side they were on. The Germans did stop shooting except for one fool who fired and that was when John Gwinnett, standing up there, turned around and said in the most un-parson like language, "You stupid bugger. Can't you see my bloody dog collar!"" Of the Regimental Aid Post the Battalion had established, Otway remarked, "At one time we had 183 wounded in there... We had people walking around here with bandaged legs, bandaged arms, bandaged heads, still fighting. They went to the RAP, they were patched up, came out and made room for the other people... I think, from memory, I ended up losing 120 killed here, plus wounded."

 

Later in the day, Lieutenant-Colonel Otway spotted a group of British infantry approaching his lines. They were the 5th Battalion The Black Watch, placed under the command of the 3rd Parachute Brigade to strengthen their numbers and also to assault Bréville. "I happened to glance down in the fields behind me and saw a group of British soldiers. I looked through my glasses, I saw one of them had red tabs. I thought "What the hell's going on!" It occurred to me to take an escort because they were wide open and I knew that there were Germans on that road. They were right under fire. I found this Brigadier, this Black Watch Officer, and asked him what was going on. He was very hoity-toity. He said, "Why?" I said, I was the CO of the 9th. He said he was going to send a Company to attack the Germans on that road and I asked him not to do it. I said that the hedge there was very thick; I didn't know how many Germans there were but I guess 100 to 150, if not 200." Otway attempted to suggest an alternative method of attack but the officer was not interested. "He haughtily said, "I know what I'm doing", and I said, "With the greatest respect sir, I don't think you do." I then said I would not take any responsibility if you attack across that field. Got back, rang straight through to {Brigadier} James Hill and told him what was happening to try and stop the attack. I had to, to cover myself. Actually, he was very good. He calmed me down and said, "There's nothing we can do about it"." In order to secure the right flank of the attack, Brigadier Hill reluctantly, out of respect for their waning strength, asked the 9th Battalion to attack the Chateau St Côme and also send a reconnaissance patrol into Bréville during the night. He said of Otway's reaction, "He never belly-ached, he never blanched, he never did anything. He said, "OK"." During the night, "C" Company overcame marginal resistance and won back the Chateau.

 

The final act of the day was a mortar bombardment of the 9th and 1st Canadian Battalions, followed up by a heavy infantry assault. Machine-guns, aided by the guns of HMS Arethusa, succeeded in breaking up the enemy infantry. This naval bombardment was bravely directed by Captain Paul Greenway who, together with Sergeant Garrett, stood up in full view of the enemy and reported on shots falling astray and issued corrections, which were then relayed to Otway who, through his radio operator, passed them on to Brigade HQ, who in turn informed Arethusa. Otway's personal intervention in this was by no means accidental. "This was deliberate. If our troops were to be hit by shells, only I could take the blame, not Paul or anyone else."

 

The attack was thwarted, and amongst those taken prisoner was the commander of the 2nd Battalion The 857th Grenadier Regiment. He had been badly hurt in several places but showed very little discomfort during what proved to be a painful procedure of dressing his wounds. Otway arrived and began to question him, beginning with a exchange of compliments. He began, "The medical orderlies tell me that you stood the dressings very bravely." The German closed his eyes and replied, "It is nothing to die in battle. I only hope the fight was a fair one." Otway answered, "Indeed it was a very fair fight, and you fought bravely. Now tell me, where is your battalion headquarters?" Wearily, the German Colonel said, "I do not know." A map case had been taken from him after he was captured and Otway studied its contents for a few moments before stating, "It was not wise of you to come into battle with marked maps." In further conversation, the officer revealed that the attacks that his battalion had made during the last day had led to its destruction, and he said that the rest of the 857th Regiment had suffered similarly in attacks on Ranville and Amfreville.

 

On the 11th June, the 5th Black Watch mounted their ill-fated attack on Bréville. Following their repulse, Lieutenant-Colonel Otway helped to organise the survivors into defensive positions around the Chateau St Côme, as instructed by Brigadier Hill. He said to their commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomson, "I want you to take up position on the far side of the Chateau to the north and north-east. If any attack comes up that way I'll leave it to you."

 

On the following day the whole of the 3rd Parachute Brigade's position was violently attacked and the first blows fell upon the 5th Black Watch. Gradually the assault began to win ground and the Highlanders fell back into the 9th Battalion's area. Otway was deeply concerned about the stability of his position and so contacted Brigadier Hill to request his assistance. "I rang up to report that we were low on ammunition. We were running out of mortar bombs. That was one of the factors, but the most important thing was that if the Black Watch went back through me, what was I going to do?" Hill organised and personally led the sixty men of the 1st Canadian Battalion's "C" Company to the 9th Battalion's area, and they did much to break up the attack.

 

At 21:00 on that day, an hour before the 12th Battalion attacked Bréville, Otway was making a routine tour of his positions when a stray shell landed amongst his party. Lieutenant Christie was killed, Sergeant McGeever was wounded and Captain Greenway had been blown into a tree, but amazingly he was only concussed. Otway had been blown across the road by the blast and he was visibly unhurt, however for several weeks afterward he suffered headaches and pains to the left side of his neck and head, on one occasion he even lost his sight for three hours. On the 19th July, he was diagnosed as having severe concussion and so it was that Otway was evacuated from Normandy. Command of the 9th Battalion passed to Lieutenant-Colonel Napier Crookenden of the 6th Airlanding Brigade.

 

For his actions at the Merville Battery and in general throughout D-Day and beyond, Lieutenant-Colonel Otway was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His citation reads:

 

For conspicuous bravery and outstanding leadership. This officer led 150 men of his bn on the successful attack of the Sallenelles battery. He personally directed the attack and organised the successful cleaning up of the enemy strong points under heavy enemy mortar and machine gun fire. He led the attack on and successfully held Le Plein until relieved by another formation. On arrival in the Le Mesnil area he succeeded in beating off two major enemy attacks of several hours duration by his magnificent leadership of his numerically very weak and tired bn. His utter disregard of personal danger has been an inspiration for all his men.

 

Otway was sent to a hospital in Cardiff to recover, however he was deemed to be unfit for active service and so returned to the War Office. In May 1945, however, he was sent to India to take over command of the 1st/5th King's Regiment with the intention of converting them into the 15th Parachute Battalion for actions against the Japanese in Burma. In September 1945, Otway was made GSO-1 (Chief of Staff) to the 2nd Indian Airborne Division. A year later, he and his family returned home, where he was again posted to the War Office as GSO-1. He became quite unsatisfied with the state of the post-war Army, however, and in January 1948 he resigned his commission. Thereafter he became Assistant General Manager, the Gambia, at the Colonial Development Corporation, and a year later he served as General Manager to Nyasaland, however in June 1949 his health deteriorated and he was returned to the UK. In the decades that followed, Otway became involved in numerous enterprises, from the selling of life insurance to newspaper management, he was once Managing Director of The Empire News. In retirement he worked hard for the rights of servicemen and war widows and took a keen interest in the history of the Parachute Regiment, and has since been featured in numerous television documentaries describing the action against the Merville Battery. In the grounds of the Merville Battery Museum, there stands a bronze bust of Terence Otway, sculpted by Vivien Mallock and unveiled on the 7th June 1997.

 

Terence Otway died on the 23rd July 2006. The following is his obituary, as printed in the Daily Telegraph on the 25th July.

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway, who died on Sunday aged 92, led the 9th Parachute Battalion in operations on D-Day and was awarded the DSO.

 

The 9th Battalion, part of 3rd Parachute Brigade, was given the task of destroying the coastal battery at Merville before the seaborne invasion began at dawn on June 6, and afterwards of occupying a key feature on the heavily invested defence perimeter on the Allies' eastern flank. The battery was believed to be equipped with four 150mm calibre guns capable of laying down fire on Sword Beach, which was the landing area for the British 3rd Infantry Division. It was guarded by a garrison of 130 within a 15 ft thick and 5 ft high barbed wire fence and surrounded by a minefield 100 yards wide. Twenty weapons pits had been counted in aerial photographs; there were also isolated minefields laid across all likely approaches; and an anti-tank ditch had been dug on the west side.

 

The assault, supported by three gliders with orders to crash-land directly on the battery, was to go in at 4.30 am, thus allowing the battalion one hour to destroy the guns before the assault-craft landed. Otway divided his force into 11 groups, each with its own task. Among them was a reconnaissance party, a taping party, a breaching unit, and the assault group. Four minutes from the dropping zone, the assault group ran into anti-aircraft fire and began to take evasive action. As a result, instead of being dropped in a concentrated area the battalion was spread over 50 square miles.

 

A shell exploded close to Otway's aircraft, and incendiary bullets went through his parachute just as he was about to jump. He, his batman Corporal Wilson, and another man landed close to a farmhouse which was a German HQ. Wilson fell through the roof of a greenhouse which attracted fire from the Germans but, with quick thinking, he threw a brick through one of the farm windows. This was mistaken for a grenade, which provided a moment of respite in which the three men got clear.

 

Much of the path-finding equipment had been damaged and smoke from a bombing raid reduced visibility. As a result few of the pilots saw the beacons prepared by the advance party, and there were parachutists who missed the drop zone by 30 miles. Some landed chest high in water and, weighed down by the 60 lb kitbags, were drowned. On reaching the rendezvous, Otway discovered that he had no radio sets which worked, no engineers, no medical orderlies and only a quarter of his men. But as the attack went ahead, it was found that the reconnaissance party had penetrated the minefield. The taping party had also arrived, but without tapes or mine-detectors; they marked the route through the minefields by scratching heel-marks in the dust.

 

The plan had to be drastically changed. The men from "B" Company were divided into two breaching teams. The assault was to be made by a composite force of "A" and "C" companies, comprising about 50 men. As they formed up, they were fired on by machine guns inside and outside the perimeter from both flanks. At 4.30 am, two of the three gliders carrying the assault party could be seen circling low over the battery. The plan for illuminating this had gone seriously awry and one of the gliders landed four miles from the objective; the other crashed in an orchard and immediately engaged a German platoon which was trying to reinforce the garrison.

 

The enemy machine guns were silenced and Bangalore torpedoes were detonated to clear the wire in front of the assault. "The battery concentrated everything waist-high on the gaps in the wire," Otway said later, "Booby traps and mines were going off all over the place, fierce hand-to-hand fighting was going on inside the battery, and I had to keep dodging a machine gun in the tower which was shooting at me." Twenty-three captured men were then ordered to guide Otway's force through the minefields as the Germans opened fire with shells and mortars from neighbouring positions. Otway started with about 750 men, few of whom had seen action before; of the 150 who took part in the attack, only 65 were still on their feet at the end of an action, which saved a great many Allied lives. The citation for his DSO stated that his utter disregard for personal danger had been an inspiration to all his men.

 

Terence Brandram Hastings Otway was born in Cairo on June 15 1914 and educated at Dover College. After attending Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1934 and served with the 2nd Battalion before joining 1 RUR in Hong Kong the following year. Two years later he was sent to India before being posted to the North-West Frontier. Not a week passed, he recalled afterwards, without a skirmish with the local tribesmen, often hand-to-hand with swords and knives.

 

Otway returned to England and attended Staff College, where he passed out fourth among a class of 200. After a staff job at the War Office, he returned to 1 RUR in 1943 as a company commander. He transferred to the Parachute Regiment and, in March 1944, was promoted to lieutenant-colonel on taking command of 9th Parachute Battalion.

 

After taking the Merville Battery, the battalion pushed into Le Plein, where they encountered stiffening resistance and, despite their depleted numbers, took the Chateau St Côme on the ridge. Two days later, while making a routine tour of his positions, a stray shell landed close to Otway. He was diagnosed with severe concussion and subsequently evacuated, then graded unfit for a return to active service.

 

In May 1945, Otway took command of the 1st/5th King's Regiment in India with instructions to convert it into an airborne battalion. He was made divisional chief of staff in September and, in 1946, he was again posted to the War Office. There he wrote the official history of Airborne Forces, which became available to the public in 1990.

 

Disillusioned with the post-war Army, Otway resigned his commission in 1948 and joined the Colonial Development Corporation, for which he worked in the Gambia and Nyasaland. Deteriorating health brought him back to England the following year to go into business. He was general manager of the Empire News, a director of Trianco and Scotia Investments and worked in the life insurance industry. As deputy chairman of the London headhunting firm Korn-Kerry, he wrote a lucid account in The Daily Telegraph in 1984 of how to be headhunted. After retiring in 1979 he remained active in promoting the welfare of soldiers in the Parachute Regiment and their widows. For almost 30 years he pursued a claim that he was being deprived of his full pension rights as a disabled officer, which was eventually confirmed by the Ombudsman, who declared that "Colonel X" (as Otway was known) and 24 others had been deliberately misled.

 

When he met the German commander of the battery in 1993 he admitted that he did not have the guts to refuse the proferred hand, but said afterwards that he could not forget his men, shot by the Germans as they hung helpless in trees. He shooed away picknickers from the battery, which is now a memorial and museum, declaring: "I don't like people eating and drinking where my men died." In 1997 he unveiled a bronze bust of himself at the site; and in 2001, he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur.

 

Terence Otway married, in 1939, Stella Whitehead, with whom he had a son who predeceased him. The marriage was dissolved and he had another brief marriage before marrying again, in 1971, Jean Walker.

 

The vast majority of this biography has been taken from "The Day The Devils Dropped In", and I am indebted to its author, Neil Barber, for granting me permission to repeat it here. This excellent book, about the 9th Battalion during the first week of the D-Day landings, can still be purchased via the Shop section of the site.

 

See also: Otway Family Website.

 

Back to 9th Battalion

Back to Biographies Menu