– Departure from the Merville battery.
With the Merville Battery neutralised it was time to regroup at the place called “The Calvary”. It had to be done. But only around sixty five men turned up. Lieutenant Colonel Otway could think only of the tragedy that had befallen his 9th Battalion. With only one fifth of his men he had succeeded in his task and now, after the unbelievable feat of arms, the Battalion was further reduced.
Witnesses describe Otway’s mood swinging from intense rage, difficult to contain, and deep despair. But he had to lead his Battalion into the next phase of his mission.
Thirty minutes later, orders given, the column moved off…
They followed a track, silently. Each man concentrated hard because every hedge, every tree could conceal an enemy ambush. All the senses of the men of the 9th Battalion were heightened because the ground made the column’s movement particularly dangerous.
And suddenly another threat presented itself, the unmistakable droning of bombers. The paratroops had time just to throw themselves to the ground before the Lancasters dropped a carpet of bombs.
Heads down in a ditch and arms crossed across their tin hats, the men of the 9th Battalion found themselves once more in a nightmare, and could only wait until it passed over.
The earth shook below their bodies, soil rained in on them, and giant craters opened like hungry mouths nearby. Amazingly, no one was hit.
The line of bombs had run parallel to the column of Otway’s me.
– The radar station at Sallenelles.
The German radar station was to have been neutralised
Having moved forward for a while Lieutenant Colonel Otway halted. He did not want to risk losing yet more of his men. He would concentrate his force on the next priority mission; to take and hold a place called “Le Plain”. This was a strategic position because this portion of Normandy dominated the River Orne, the canal and the road that connected Caen to the coast. If this position was held by the Germans it would allow them to fire on the Allied bridgehead. Moreover, this was also the route that the Commandos would take to link up with the 9th Battalion and relieve them. Colonel Otway decided not to attack the radar station at Sallenelles. He gave revised orders and moved off in the direction of Le Plain.
– The chateau at Amfreville.
It was not long after diverting towards Le Plain that the paratroops came upon a German position immediately to their front. Machine guns opened up and a hail of fire rained in on them.
Everyone took cover whilst one man crawled up covertly and overran one of the machine guns. The watching Otway seized the moment and gave the order to charge. The initiative succeeded and the remaining Germans abandoned the position, believing they were facing a much larger number of attackers.
Once the Germans had gone, Otway scanned the distance through his binoculars. He could see significant German activity in a hamlet called
“Hameau Oger” quite close to Le Plain.
He therefore decided to go round the Germans and arrive at Le Plain from the East. Exchanges of fire took place and the Vickers Medium Machine Gun put paid to a German counter attack.
Moving further forward, he saw, not far from the Hameau Oger, a château (which does not exist today). After reconnoitering, they occupied this château d’Amfréville, entering from the rear. Not unhappy to have a roof over his head, Otway had the place searched, posted sentries, and positioned snipers with telescopic sights. These snipers would locate and eliminate their hidden German counterparts.
Meanwhile the Germans formed up and advanced towards the château, opening fire. Terence Otway did not intend that the enemy should discover his Battalion’s precarious situation. Therefore he dispatched a section of paratroops to attack a building where he had observed German activity. This building was situated on the route that the Commandos would take towards Le Plain. The attack failed. Otway became more worried because they were isolated and running short of ammunition… and night was beginning to fall.
It was D+1, 7th June 1944. Some stragglers had joined up with the 9th Battalion but the total was still no more than 80 men. A machine gun was destroyed, a sniper dislodged an enemy sniper, everyone held their post.
The advance elements of the Commandos had begun to engage the Germans in the Hameau Oger. Colonel Otway decided to go forward and meet up with the Commandos. He would meet Lord Lovat, who was still in the area of the River Orne, and formulate a plan for the Commandos to link up with the 9th Battalion and relieve them. On his return to the château d’Amfréville Otway knew that his men needed to hold out until nightfall.
– Chateau Saint-Côme.
The villa at Bois-des-Monts and the stranglehold of the German counter attack
It was D+2, 8th June 1944. The link-up with the Commandos had taken place the previous night. The Battalion no longer found itself isolated and Otway was ordered by Brigade to head for the château Saint-Côme to the South East of Bréville.
It was necessary to hold the high ground Château Saint-Côme – Le Mesnil (see the map below) because this dominated the plain to Caen. They were to be the shield that protected the Eastern flank of the Allied invasion.
Under the cover of darkness, the 9th Battalion moved off.
They skirted round Bréville and saw a German column. The Battalion dissolved into the landscape and let the Germans pass by because their mission was more important than destroying this enemy column. The Germans passed through, unaware of the presence of Otway’s paratroops. They moved off again.
As dawn broke, they arrived at the château Saint-Côme, no one was at the entrance; it appeared deserted. Colonel Otway did not want to take any risks and established his HQ in the Villa Bois-des-Monts, opposite the imposing entrance to the château. This villa is marked “HQ” on the map below. He would rapidly establish the Battalion in all-round defence at the villa with 3 companies (see map). Concurrently he dispatched a reconnaissance party to the château Saint-Côme. The château was deserted but all the signs were of a hasty German withdrawal, they had not had sufficient time to finish their various tasks.
It was D+3, 9th June at daybreak. Otway had requested supplies and ammunition from Brigade. A burst of German artillery fire came in, and reconnaissance discovered that at least two companies were holding Bréville, seemingly awaiting reinforcements. The 9th Battalion would soon be opposed by a full-strength German battalion.
The artillery barrage continued throughout the night.
It was 10th June, D+4. The Germans were putting in repeated attacks and Colonel Otway was concerned about his mounting casualties. Despite their suffering heavy casualties, the German pressure was unrelenting.
They reoccupied the château Saint-Côme; the Germans were now face to face with the defensive positions of the 9th Battalion. But the paratroops did not flinch…
– Le Mesnil.
Headquarters of 3rd Parachute Brigade comes under attack
It was the 11th June, D+5. The German attacks between Bréville and the château Saint-Côme became more ferocious. The 5th Black Watch put in an attack on Bréville but, due to stiff German resistance, suffered heavy losses. The Black Watch fell back to the position occupied by the 9th Battalion. Then a message came through from Brigade, they were under attack, they needed support. Otway sent forward four officers and twenty men. They moved into the wood that bordered the road leading to Le Mesnil and Brigade Headquarters. The enemy were dug-in. The 9th Battalion put in a series of determined attacks, forcing the Germans to abandon their positions. They cleared the houses near to the crossroads of Le Mesnil. The threat had been eliminated.
The 9th Battalion and the 5th Black Watch comprised around two hundred men. Towards midday, the Germans began an intense artillery bombardment. The entire 9th Battalion took cover as best they could in their foxholes…
Then a German attack broke through the perimeter defence of the château Saint-Côme. Wave upon wave of German assaults were launched, the German Grenadiers hurled themselves on the paratroops’ positions… artillery rounds, mortar bombs… the casualties were heavy, the Regimental Aid Posts on both sides were overflowing.
At the Aid Post located at the Villa Bois-des-Monts a senior officer arrived, gravely wounded. He told Colonel Otway that he had lost two of his battalions, including armour and artillery. The fighting continued.
During the evening, during yet another German attack on the 9th Battalion position, Brigadier Hill arrived with reinforcements to rescue the situation.
Since midday, the men of the 9th Battalion had held out against a German force, significantly superior in numbers including armour and supported by artillery. The tough training regime had hardened the paratroops and the Germans were finally to learn that the men of the 9th Battalion were no ordinary soldiers, but soldiers of the Parachute Regiment. Men with wills of iron and extraordinary courage. Brigadier James Hill, during their training, knew that their all-round capability would give them the wherewithal to survive in chaos. And he well knew that chaos would be waiting for them in Normandy.
– The bomb at the chateau Saint-Côme.
Another terrible fatality
It was the evening of 12th June.
That never-ending day, when the Battalion held out in combat against vastly superior numbers of enemy, was drawing to a close. Thanks to their training, the men of the 9th Battalion found the inner resources that made them prevail. They had maintained their hold on the strategic position, albeit at a terrible cost in dead and wounded.
As night was falling, Lieutenant Colonel Otway inspected the Battalion’s positions. That terrible 12th June had ended satisfactorily, thanks to the timely arrival of Brigadier Hill with reinforcements.
Otway stood in the driveway opposite the entry to the château with four others, 3 officers and a non-commissioned officer.
Suddenly there was an air raid by the Luftwaffe. A bomb exploded close to the group; Otway was thrown across the driveway, Greenway and Pond were stunned, McGeever was wounded but Christie was killed. They were taken to the Regimental Aid Post at the Villa Bois-des-Monts.
The night of the 12th June would prove to be decisive. The 12th Battalion the Parachute Regiment and the Devons attacked from the North. The Germans, decisively beaten, abandoned their positions.
On the morning of 13th June, Lieutenant Colonel Otway regained consciousness in the Regimental Aid Post.
Towards the middle of the day, the 9th Battalion would be relieved at the château Saint-Côme by the 52nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Otway and his 9th Battalion moved to Brigade Headquarters at Le Mesnil. On arrival he was ordered to secure the forward edge of the Headquarters area, towards the crossroads of Le Mesnil. There was still no rest for the 9th Battalion.
On 14th June they occupied their position and the next day, 15th June, Brigadier James Hill congratulated Terence Otway on the occasion of his birthday. On 15th June 1944 Terence Otway celebrated his 30th birthday.
Some days later, the 9th Battalion was placed in reserve. It was at this time that Lieutenant Colonel Otway began to experience symptoms of illness. Total exhaustion, loss of balance, black spots before the eyes, terrible migraine, hyper sensitivity to noise. His colleagues persuaded him to see the doctor. He did…
It was Major General Gale himself who broke the news to Otway several days later. The explosion on 12th June had caused serious internal injuries. Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway had to be relieved of his command.
This was the worst possible news for Otway. He was shattered. For him this was the second wound he had received in Normandy.
During his convalescence, Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.