Terence Brandram Hastings Otway
DSO, Legion d'Honneur
Born: Cairo, Egypt 15th June 1914
Commissioned into the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1933, first with the 2nd Battalion, and then in 1935 joined the 1st Battalion in Hong Kong.
HONG KONG POSTING
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.
In December 1937 the Battalion was posted to India, and several months later was posted to the North-West Frontier.
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.
ROYAL ULSTER RIFLES
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.
APPLICATION TO JOIN THE PARACHUTE REGIMENT
In August 1943, he applied to join the Parachute Regiment and became Second-in-Command of the 9th Parachute Battalion, in March 1944, Otway was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and given command. 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. The assault upon the Merville Battery was to be the most risky venture that the 6th Airborne Division was to undertake on D-Day. The Mission was to eliminate the thread of dropping shells onto the landing beaches at all costs.
Merville 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 they 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. 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 the force was supposed to land on the South side, Otway decided to attack from the south.
THE PLAN IN DETAIL
Otway's plan was as follows: He would accompany the Pathfinders, who were also to land at 00:20, with a ten-man reconnaissance party. One group, led by a 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 recce of the German defences around it. One hundred RAF heavy bombers, Lancaster's and Halifax's, would attack the battery at 00:30 in the hopes of destroying it, or at least substantially reducing the defences around it. At 00:50, the remainder of the 9th Battalion were to land on the DZ nearby. They would then 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 units were to go ahead of this formation as a taping Party, whose job it was to cut and mark paths through the wire and then clear them of mines. Another party called the Troubridge Party were to recce another site close by which was belived to be a dummy gun site. 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 within the battery. The whole perimeter was surrounded by dense barbed wire. "B" Company was to lay Bangalore torpedoes to clear this wire, and were to be detonated as the force, consisting of most of "A" Company and further 591st Parachute Squadron engineers, travelling in three Horsa gliders had landed inside the battery to attack the casements with flame-throwers and Sten guns. When the gliders had landed, "C" Company, with star shells to illuminate the area, fired by the Mortar Platoon, would 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. The gliders were also to carry specially prepared 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.
DRINKING BAN BEFORE D-DAY
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 to get to the RV at all costs. 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. Many of his men were aged on average 20 years. Otway was himself 29, but a seasoned campaigner. Many of his Battalion had never seen an angry man.
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. When his aircraft took off on the following night, he was asleep for the first half of the journey.
RED ON GREEN ON... ... ...GO!
Otway was to be the second man in the aircraft to jump, his batman, Corporal Joe Wilson, was first, however when it was time to jump, Wilson became stuck in the doorway and had to be helped out. Otway was about to follow and, as he handed his bottle of whisky to the RAF dispatcher, a shell exploded to the rear of the aircraft and threw Otway, together with the bottle, out of the door. Otway and 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.
Many men missed the dropping zone, including Otway, and that is why he had so few to start with. Many landed in marshes and swamps that Rommel had ordered the land flooded in preparation for an invasion, and sadly drowned. Otway informed his 2IC, Major Eddie Charlton, how badly the drop had gone. Otway was naturally gloomy after hearing this. He 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. His famous quote was. "What the hell am I going to do, Wilson?" "I had no radio sets working, I had no engineers, I had no medics. 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.
NEGOTIATING THE RAF CRATERS
Progress towards the Battery was made more difficult as the Battalion had to negotiate huge bomb craters that the RAF had left behind after their precision bombing raid. After a time the sound of marching feet could be heard approaching and so the men took cover in these craters. A group of twenty Germans, completely oblivious as to what was going on, marched right passed their position. Otway decided to leave them for later, and not give the game away at that stage. As they got closer to the Battery, Otway met Major Smith, who had returned 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 final RV , Otway called a quick 'O' Group to update his plan for the assault, which had to be reviewed due to the shortage of men and equipment after the horrendous landings. Major Smith said of him at the time, "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.
FORMING UP FOR THE ASSAULT
As the Battalion was forming up for the assault on the perimeter wire, they were spotted and fired on by at least six machine-guns on both of their flanks. Sergeant Knight, who was also to mount the diversionary attack on the main gate, took a few men over to the guns with grenades and illiminated them. Otway now waited for the main force to appear in their gliders, but only one Horsa was seen to fly over the Battery. 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. As the assault got inside the Battery, Otway moved forward to the right-hand gap in the wire so that he could observe proceedings, he could see that his men were in the grips of hand to hand fighting, using close quarter battle drills. Lt Mike Dowling came up to him, saluted, and stated that the location was secure and the job done. Otway asked him if the guns had been blown. Dowling replied that he thought so. Otway, screamed at him to "Bloody well go back and make sure they have been". Unfortunately, on his way back to the casements, 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. As the fighting died down and Otway knew for certain that the Battery had been taken, he wandered around the area. He then proceeded to personally inspect the damage to the guns. Otway's plan to attack the Merville Battery had been criticised by some who saw it to be an unnecessarily complicated, and therefore prone to failure. Besides relying on being able to rally the large amount of equipment and personnel required following the drop, the most obvious part of the plan that could fail, was the attempt to land the three gliders inside the Battery to coincide with the start of the attack. Otway's plan was to attack the location from three sides, with a diversion at the main gate, the assault across the minefield, and the gliders landing inside the perimeter. In relation to his three pronged attack plan, his assault was certainly deemed a success. The plan varied slightly that Otway had created but not because it was too complicated, only because the 9th Battalion had had a horrendous drop and lost a great deal of their specialist equipment and more than three-quarters of their infantry strength. Any Parachute Force with similar losses that he had incurred at the DZ 's could have ever succeeded in what he had achieved on that day, without his brilliant leadership qualities and quick revision of his plan.
WITHDRAWAL FROM MERVILLE BATTERY
Those that remained alive 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 RV. The remaining members of 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 more men arrived who had got lost in the thick of battle, with only one hundred men at the RV, it was highly unlikely that the Battalion could achieve the list of objectives set after Merville had been taken out. Despite having achieved a victory 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.
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 lead a ten-man patrol to carryout a recce. He led his patrol to the building, but unfortunately was killed on the way, and his patrol fell back. Faced with this resistance and his mounting losses, Lt Col Otway decided that he had to abandon Le Plein and ordered the remaining men of the 9th Battalion to build defensive positions 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 the most vulnerable to attack. Many German snipers made that stay quite uncomfortable and Otway ordered that any spare ammunition should be given to men who were good shots 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 . Otway eventually had to physically pull Slade out of the barn. Slade eventually got the German machine gun position 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. Otways force had accumulated a few German prisoners, who were getting fed up of being targets like their British counterparts and complained. Otway was confronted by a German officer who began to lecture him on the Geneva Convention. Otway gave him this reply "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 it 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 attacked. However the situation was becoming desperate as there were a few casualties and the ammunition was getting very low. 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.
3 COMMANDO BRIGADE 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. 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. 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 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.
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 challenge. He suspected that the local priest was a German collaborator and 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.
DEFENCE OF CHATEAU St COME
At 21:30 on the 7th June a day after the landings, Lt Col 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. 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. Not taking any risks at all, Otway led his men into the woodland, and while they were digging slit trenches, he got out his pistol and knocked at the front door of a nearby house. 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.
SANDHURST PICTURE IN FRANCE
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 with any great impact, and after consultation with Brigadier Hill, Otway decided to concentrate his force in the woods. The Germans would obviously assume that the Chateau was occupied and so make it the main target of their artillery fire.
BOIS DE MONT WOODS
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. He had produced a "Killing Zone" using all his Brens consolidated in one area 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.
BURY THE GERMAN DEAD
On the 10th June, Otway attempted to arrange a truce with the Germans surrounding them, to bury the mass of enemy dead lying in front of the 9th Battalion's positions. The British dead could easily be retrieved at night and buried, but the Germans lay on ground that was too exposed for the paratroopers to risk venturing out into, and the stench was becoming unbearable.
Later that day, Otway spotted a group of British Infantry approaching his position made up of the 5th Battalion The Black Watch, placed under the command of the 3rd Parachute Brigade to strengthen their numbers and also to assault Bréville. In order to secure the right flank of the attack, Brigadier Hill had reluctantly, due to the 9th Battalions strength, asked the them to attack the Chateau St Côme and also send a reconnaissance patrol into Bréville. During the night, C Company overcame the resistance there 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 in the area.
GERMAN PRISONERS AND CAPTURED BATTLE MAP
The attack was successful, and amongst those taken prisoner in that area was the Commander of the 2nd Battalion, The 857th Grenadier Regiment, German Infantry. He had been badly injured in the fighting. Otway spoke to him, and received a compliment from him, to the fact that Otway and his force had been honourable adversaries in battle. A map case had been taken from him after he was captured and Otway studied its contents and couldn't believe an officer would carry such detail into battle. Clearly an arrogance that they, the Germans, never thought they would be beaten.
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. Otway had been blown across the road by the blast and he was physically unhurt but for several weeks afterwards he suffered headaches and pains to the left side of his neck and head, and on one occasion he even lost his sight for several hours. On the 19th July, he was diagnosed as having severe concussion and so it was that Otway was evacuated from the Battle of Normandy
CITATION FOR HIS ACTION AT MERVILLE BATTERY
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. He was given duties at the War Office.
In May 1945, 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 Chief of Staff to the 2nd Indian Airborne Division and served with our other Famous Face Lt John Wood.
RESIGNED HIS COMMISSION
Otway became very disillusioned with the Army after the war, and in January 1948 he resigned his commission. He then became Assistant General Manager, to the Gambia, at the Colonial Development Corporation, and a year later he served as General Manager to Nyasaland. In June 1949 his health deteriorated and he was returned to the UK.
In the years 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 Newspaper.
In his retirement he worked very hard for the rights of all servicemen and war widows and wrote many articles on the history of the Parachute Regiment and his actions at Merville Battery.
Next time you visit Merville Battery there stands a bronze bust of Terence Otway, which was unveiled on the 7th June 1997.
Sadly, Lt Col Terence Otway DSO died on the 23rd July 2006, this brave man will be a great loss to his country, and also to OUR Regiment, and rightly deserves to take his place in the Famous Faces section of our FOC ExAirborne Forces site, in honour also of all the attached arms that took out Merville Battery 62 years ago, allowing so many men to land safely on the beaches of Normandy. UTRINQUE PARATUS
Written and Compiled by Gil Boyd B.E.M - August 1st 2006