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Pointe du Hoc

Discussion in 'Pointe du Hoc' started by Jim, Feb 9, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    On June 6th 1944 an international coalition attacked Nazi occupied France along the Normandy coast. Supported by paratroops, soldiers landed on five beaches - codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword - to begin the liberation of Western Europe. This was D-Day for Operation Overlord and its success - all five beachheads were established - was a pivotal moment in the Second World War. However, there was a sixth naval landing that, although far smaller than the main beaches, was considered more dangerous. It took place at Pointe du Hoc.
    On the west of the Normandy coast, between Grandcamp les Bains and Vierville sur Mer, a rocky promontory called Pointe du Hoc sticks out of the cliffs. When Germany prepared an 'Atlantic Wall' of defences against Allied invasion in 1943/44 they picked Pointe du Hoc, with its vertical slopes, tiny shingle beach and views of the surrounding coast, to build a defensive compound mounting – according to Allied intelligence reports - six 155mm guns, artillery which could hit positions several miles away.
    With thick concrete casements and underground bunkers, protected cable runs, an equally protected spotting post on the cliff and a network of trenches, the position was amongst the strongest ever built by the Nazis in the west.
    The beaches guarded by Pointe du Hoc had been chosen as the two American landing points - Utah and Omaha – on D-Day and, with the capability to inflict such massive casualties, the guns had to be neutralized as early as possible during the invasion. Unfortunately, the massive concrete infrastructure prevented Allied bombers from achieving a guaranteed success. Although the RAF and USAF dropped explosives equivalent to the Hiroshima bomb upon the Pointe, Allied soldiers would still have to attack in person on D-Day. In addition, the Germans had placed the majority of their defences to guard against an attack from inland, believing the cliffs to be nearly impregnable, and had around 200 men in place.

    Just to give an insight as to how deep the craters are, here is me stood in one 60 years after the event.

    [​IMG]

    The mission was given to the 2nd and 5th battalions of the US Rangers. Under the command of Lt. Colonel James Rudder, D, E and F companies of 2nd Battalion would move first, sailing to the cliff base and attacking up the sheer rockface with grappling hooks and ladders at 6.30am. D company would move in from the west, E and F from the east. When a route was open the remaining force – A and B company as well as the whole of 5th Battalion – would follow. If the initial attack failed and no signal had been given by 07:00 am, the remaining force would adopt a different plan, landing at the west of Omaha beach and attacking the Pointe round from inland. Meanwhile, Company C of 2nd Battalion would make a similar assault on Pointe de la Percée, a position located between Pointe du Hoc and Omaha beach. From here C Company would head overland to du Hoc.

    The initial target was the guns, but the Rangers were also briefed to neutralise the position and seize a main road which ran past the Pointe and along the coast, severing the German connection between Grandcamp Les Bains and Vierville sur Mer, and thus between Utah and Omaha beaches. This position was to be held until troops from Omaha were able to link up with the Rangers, hopefully at around midday.

    As 6.30 am (H-Hour) approached, D, E and F companies approached the Normandy coast in a flotilla of twelve craft: nine LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) carrying the Rangers and three DUKWs (duplex-drive trucks which could 'swim') carrying supplies and ladders. The tenth LCA, with D Company’s Captain Slater and twenty men, had sunk shortly after embarking, and the rough seas similarly overwhelmed the fourth DUKW soon after; Slater and his men were rescued later that morning.

    At H-Hour the guns of USS Texas ceased firing upon the Pointe and the Rangers closed in. Unfortunately, a combination of strong tides and navigational confusion – the same mix which proved so lucky on Utah – had pushed the Rangers off course: they were opposite Pointe de la Percée instead.

    Rudder quickly realised and ordered the flotilla west along the coast, but the delay cost the Rangers thirty-five minutes. They reached the Pointe at 07:05 am, five minutes after the deadline to signal the remainder of their force, so 5th Battalion – accompanied by A and B companies from 2nd Battalion – moved towards Omaha beach instead. D, E and F were all Rudder had to take Pointe du Hoc.
    The mistake had other consequences. As the Ranger's flotilla sailed to the Pointe they moved parallel to several miles of defended coastline and came under attack from machine guns, mortars and artillery. Despite the aid of USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont, who realised the situation and fired onto the coast, suppressing the German troops, another DUKW was sunk. In addition, the Germans which USS Texas had suppressed atop Pointe du Hoc had over half an hour to realise the bombardment had stopped and return to their positions. Finally, all three companies approached from the East, and the remainder of D company abandoned the plan to attack from the west in favour of regaining lost time.

    The site belongs to the Americans who have left things just as it was when the War Ended in 1945.

    [​IMG]

    The first phase of the assault involved jumping out from the LCAs, crossing a small and slippy shingle beach and climbing the cliff face via ropes, rope ladders and grappling hooks which were fired by special rocket propelled launchers from the landing craft. Soaked by the sea, some of the ropes were now too heavy to reach the clifftop. Men sank into craters beneath the surf – created by Allied bombs and shells which had missed the Pointe – and had to struggle out, assisted by Mae West lifejackets and their comrades. Others were killed or wounded as they crossed the beach, the target of constant fire from a German machinegun post to the Ranger's left. The DUKWs weren't able to land on the shingle and their ladders couldn't be used. In addition, German defenders fired down from the cliffs, rolled grenades over and cut some of the ropes, which were now greasy and often hard to grip.

    Amidst all this, the Rangers followed their training and took advantage of what luck they had. Allied bombing had caused part of the cliff to collapse, creating a muddy mound which Rangers could clamber up to rise a third of the way, or hide behind for cover. The grappling hooks had lit fuses on top, designed for no other reason than scaring German troops away with the pretence of a bomb, while the Naval ships continued to give what suppressive fire they could, pushing the defenders back from the edge. One intrepid Ranger even gave covering fire from the extended ladder of a DUKW, swinging back and forth in mid-air as the waves buffeted him around. The ragged cliffs also gave protection and once the first Rangers reached the top they gained some security for the climbers.

    While this might sound nightmarish to the modern reader, some Rangers retained their sense of humour. Sergeant Gene Elder told his men as they reached the clifftop "Boys, keep your heads down, because headquarters has fouled up again and has issued the enemy live ammunition", while, after falling in a underwater shell hole, Lieutenant Kerchner got rather angry: "I wanted to find somebody to help me cuss out the British navy, but everybody was busily engrossed in their duties so I couldn't get any sympathy." (Both quotations from the online version of The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II by Stephen Ambrose at http://www.worldwar2history.info/D-Day/Pointe-Du-Hoc.html)

    Another picture showing the size of a crater left by the Allied bombing.

    [​IMG]

    Once on top of the Pointe, the Rangers gathered into platoons and went after their assigned guns. They were aided by the landscape, which had been heavily cratered by aerial bombardment: the most frequent comparison is with the moon. Up to several meters deep, the craters gave immediate cover for the Rangers, who could form up and move quickly between the holes with far less casualties than over a level surface. The main threats were the machine gun from their west, an anti-aircraft gun which had begun firing from the right, and German troops in their trenches. Nevertheless, the Rangers soon reached the casements.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Guns

    It soon became apparent that Allied intelligence had made a mistake. The concrete casements were as expected - albeit heavily scarred by bombardment - as were the trenches, but there were far fewer Germans than anticipated and crucially, no guns. Instead, there were telegraph poles which had been put in place to look like guns. Tracks leading inland revealed that the Ranger's targets had been moved.
    As command and medical posts were established atop Pointe du Hoc – the wounded were tended to inside a captured casement – Ranger groups moved towards the road, their secondary target. This involved moving through the Pointe's heavily defended perimeter. While the minefields, bunkers, machine guns and barbed wire had been designed to repel attacks from the opposite direction, they were still lethal and, unlike the casements, occupied by a full compliment of German troops.

    When D company reached the road they only had twenty fully functioning men left.
    By 08:15 am around 35 Rangers had created a roadblock, achieving the secondary objective. However, the situation across the Pointe was still chaotic, as Rangers and Germans fought sporadically, all having to crawl for safety, often capturing and recapturing each other. Some Germans surrendered, only to be killed by other Germans. Rudder was heavily shaken by a British naval shell that fell short, and he'd also been shot in the leg by a sniper, but he remained forcefully in charge and arranged for the ever-present western machine gun to be removed. Lieutenant Eikner had brought along a First World War signaling lamp in case the mission's artillery spotters were incapacitated; they had been. Sending Morse Code via the lamp's shutters, the command post contacted USS Satterlee and directed naval gunfire onto the machine gun until it was obliterated.

    Away from the Pointe, Rangers were patrolling, fighting when necessary and following any suspicious tracks. At one point a group of around eleven Rangers dropped back to allow a large convoy of armoured Germans to pass uncontested: they simply couldn't attack over 50 enemy troops when the primary objective wasn’t complete and the Germans were heading elsewhere. Having destroyed some telegraph poles on the coastal road, Sergeants Leonard Lomell and Jack Kuhn followed a dirt road inland and made a discovery. There, hidden beneath a swathe of camouflage netting which rendered them invisible to Allied spotting planes, were the five guns, laid out and ready to fire upon Utah beach once the Pointe's spotting point had been re-established. In a later interview, Lomell recounted what happened next:

    "There was nobody at the emplacement. We looked around cautiously and over about a hundred yards away in a corner of a field was a vehicle with what looked like an officer talking to his men. We decided let’s take a chance. I said "Jack, you cover me and I’m going in there and destroy them." All I had was two thermite grenades – his and mine. I went in and put the thermite grenades in the traversing mechanism and that knocked two of them out because that melted their gears in a moment. Then I broke their sights. We ran back to the road...and got all the other thermites from the remainder of my guys manning the roadblock and rushed back and put the grenades in traversing mechanisms, elevation mechanisms, and banged the sights. There was no noise to that. There is no noise to a thermite, so no one saw us." (Leonard Lomell, cited in Remembering D-Day, Personal Histories of Everyday Heroes by Martin Bowman, (HarperCollins 2004), pg. 69. )

    At around the same time a patrol from E Company had discovered the German guns' ammunition dump, also undefended. Under the command of Sergeant Rupinski, the Rangers blew the dump, creating a huge explosion that rained debris on the already retreating Lomell and Kuhn. Word was soon returned to Rudder’s command post and then relayed to the Satterlee: the guns had been destroyed. It wasn't yet 09:00 am.

    A view of both craters and bunker.

    [​IMG]

    The Wait And The Aftermath

    According to the original plan, troops from Omaha would meet up with the Pointe du Hoc force at around midday. Unfortunately things had gone badly wrong on the beach and, while the landings had eventually succeeded, the day of carnage left the Omaha soldiers short of their inland targets. The elements of 5th and 2nd Ranger Battalions which diverted away from the Pointe landing at 07:00 had made little progress round to their comrades because they'd also been involved in the struggle to secure Omaha. This meant Rudder and his men needed to hold the Pointe for much longer than expected and with very few reinforcements. Only two platoons of Rangers made it from Omaha, one platoon on the evening of the 6th and a second on the afternoon of the 7th, thanks on the latter occasion to an LST that ferried the wounded one way and as many Rangers as could be found the other.

    In addition, three US paratroopers who'd been dropped away from their landing zone surprised everyone by fighting through German lines and into the Pointe base.
    Ultimately, the Rangers held onto the Pointe du Hoc compound until they were relieved late morning on June 8th. Throughout the intervening period they suffered five major counter attacks by German troops from 1st Battalion, 914 Regiment, who had recovered from their confusion, regrouped and begun the bloody business of repelling invaders. The extent to which the Rangers were aided by the German's own defences, which had been set-up to repel just the kind of landward attack the Wehrmact were attempting, is unclear from the histories but, despite more supporting fire from Satterlee, as well as USS Barton and USS Thompson, on occasion the Rangers were pushed close back to the cliffs. This period was the costliest for the men of D, E and F companies, with many being killed, wounded and captured but, had the Germans retaken the Pointe, they might have brought replacement artillery up and shelled the fragile Omaha beach.

    One of the deepest craters at Pointe du Hoc is as you first walk in near the entrance.

    [​IMG]

    By the evening of June 8th, Rudder's original force of 225 Rangers from D, E and F companies had suffered 135 killed, wounded or missing, with around eighty dead. Had the five 155m guns fired upon the Allied landings, casualties would surely have been far worse. There had once been a sixth gun atop the Pointe, but after being damaged in a bombardment it had been removed for repair. A, B and C Companies suffered equally: half of the first two units were shot down after landing on Omaha beach, while Company C lost 38 of their 64 men in a succession of bitter assaults as they tried to reach Pointe du Hoc.

    2nd Battalion was the first unit to complete their assigned D-Day missions and received a Presidential Unit Citation. Colonel Rudder and Lieutenant Lomell were presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, while Lieutenant Kuhn received the Silver Star. These, and other survivors, faced another year of war.

    From Robert Wilde, European History
     
  3. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    Those actions just beggar belief !

    :lol:
    - the LCAs that got them ashore were manned by the Royal Navy !!
    Still it's little wonder the Rangers have the respect they have as awesome assault troops. Simply UNBELIEVABLE.:avit:
    Great original photos aswell Jim :thumb:
     
  4. Kelly War44

    Kelly War44 New Member

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    Erm.....WOW.:wtf:
     

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