by Giles Milton
Who was Terence Otway? And why was he chosen to capture one of the biggest German bunkers in the early hours of D-Day? Turns out that he was one of the most extraordinary Allied commanders to fight against the Germans on June 6, 1944.
Welcome to Season 3 of Unknown History: D-Day Stories. I’m your host, Giles Milton, and today we’re talking about a top secret mission that took place just a couple of hours before the Allied beach landings.
It was still night when a young German officer named Raimund Steiner took a look outside his observation post on the coast of Normandy. There was drizzle in the air and a white crest on the waves. “Bad weather,” he muttered to himself. “Not the kind of weather for an invasion.” He stepped back inside his bunker and decided to return to bed.
Steiner was the officer in charge of Merville Battery—a giant gun emplacement that was situated just inland from the beach. It was one of the key defences in the Atlantic Wall, the string of fortifications that the Germans had built all along the coast of Normandy.
Merville was among the biggest gun batteries of all: a massive fortified bunker whose 160 gunners were under Steiner’s command. Its four gun emplacements were buried in 18 feet of concrete and were positioned to dominate a huge length of Normandy foreshore. As such, it represented a very real threat to the Allied beach landings.
Eisenhower knew this and ordered that Merville be destroyed. In early hours of June 6, before the troops poured ashore from their landing crafts, a small group of specially trained soldiers were to be dropped into the countryside around Merville. They had one order: destroy the big guns.
To learn more about the battle for Merville and to read all about the first 24 hours of D-Day, check out the Unknown History channel on Quick and Dirty Tips. Or, listen to this entire episode in the player below.