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1st Special Service Brigade, of destroying a suspected enemy HQ at Sallenelles on the way to Le Plein, and finally, by patrolling, to stop all enemy movement from Franceville Plage on the coast into the Divisional area through Sallenelles or Breville. Between 12.20 am and 12.50 am on the morning of D day the battalion was to drop into a long field a mile South West of Varaville.

A wealth of detailed information about the enemy, the ground and the nature of the objectives had been collected by divisional headquarters, and excellent maps, air photographs and models were available for planning, The commanding officer’s plan could therefore be made in great detail for the assault on the Merville battery, and a fairly detailed forecast of the subsequent tasks could be attempted.

The enemy battery at Merville lay about 300 yards South of the village and contained four guns sited in an arc facing North West. All four guns were completely enclosed by casemates with walls and roof of reinforced concrete 6ft 6 ins thick. Two of the emplacements were protected and camouflaged by earth banks which surrounded the casemates except for the gun-ports on the North West and the doors on the South East. Earthing was still going on round the other casemates on D day. The guns were estimated to be 150-mm or 5.91 inch calibre, firing a shell of about 96 lbs. On the West and North West about four hundred yards of an anti-tank ditch had been completed, fifteen feet wide and ten feet deep, and round the whole battery were two belts of wire. The outer looked to be no more than a. cattle fence, but the inner fence was about ten feet wide and six feet high. Between the two fences was a minefield, averaging seven rows with about six feet between mines. Other scattered minefields were laid on various likely approaches to the battery outside the perimeter wire. Inside the perimeter additional belts of wire intersected the battery area.

The garrison was estimated at 160 all ranks and some fifteen to twenty weapon pits were visible on the air photographs. They were thought to haVe up to four or five machine guns and up to three 20-mm dual purpose ground and anti-aircraft guns. The battery lay in a fruit and dairy farming area and was surrounded by open fields and orchards. Much of the ground for some 3,000 yards to the South was scarred by bomb craters, since most of the preliminary bombing by the RAF had missed the target and large craters had blocked a number of the country roads in the neighbourhood. The 716 German Coastal Division was responsible for the defence of the area and the nearest troops were believed to be an infantry company at Franceville Plage, a battalion at Cabourg and a large HQ at Varaville. A four gun antiaircraft position was under construction North East of Merville and another was occupied at Sallenelles.

During the long programme of bombing carried out by Bomber Command before D day the Merville battery had been attacked more than once, and in spite of the difficulty of hitting so small a target, extensive damage had been done. Some 400 craters could be seen in and around the battery and one casemate had received two direct hits, neither of which penetrated. Some gaps had been blown in the wire, some of the mines detonated and damage done to the weapon pits. Planning was based, however, on the assumption that most of these gaps in the defences would have been repaired by the time the assault went in on D day.

(Archive transcripts © Copyright Normandy War Guide)

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Archive: 9th Bn The Parachute Regiment North West Europe 1944 - 45

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