British Lt. Col. Terence Otway and his men were to be charged with assaulting the Merville battery on June 6, 1944, at the height of the D-Day invasions of occupied France. For their mission – as well as the overall invasion – secrecy was of the utmost importance, so Otway wanted to ensure his men held that secret close and wouldn’t divulge anything under any circumstances.
So he turned to one of the oldest tricks in the intelligence-gathering book to test their mettle: using women to try to draw the information out of them.
Otway and the British 9th parachute battalion were going to assault the series of six-foot-thick concrete bunkers that housed anti-aircraft guns, machine gun emplacements, and artillery from a special artillery division. In all, 150 paratroopers would attempt to take down 130 Germans in a hardened shelter. Since the assault would come just after midnight and well before the main landings, operational security was paramount. The Lieutenant Colonel decided to test his men to see if they could be trusted with the information.
According to the 2010 book “D-Day: Minute by Minute,“ Otway enlisted the help of 30 of the most beautiful women of the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce and sent them out to the local pubs with the mission of trapping his men into divulging their secret plans. It was an important test; if the men of the 9th weren’t able to take down those guns, the entire landing might be in jeopardy.
But Otway would be pleased with the discipline of his men. Throughout the nights, they caroused as they always had, drinks in hand, singing the night away. But not one of Otway’s men ever gave up their secret. The attack would go on as planned. His 150 now-proven loyal men landing in the area by parachute and by glider that day in June. Even though the winds disbursed the fighters throughout a large area, they still managed to take down the gun site, albeit taking heavy casualties in the process.
After the Merville Gun Battery was down, the exhausted and depleted British paratroopers then moved on to secure the occupied village of Le Plein. Their assault on the guns cost them roughly 50 percent of their total strength – but they were able to accomplish their mission because of the total secrecy surrounding it from lift off to completion.
Feature image: “The Drop” by Albert Richards (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)