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Pointe du Hoc

History and pictures of the Pointe du Hoc

 
Why an attack on the Pointe du Hoc ?

Situated just between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach, the Pointe du Hoc dominates the sea of its vertical cliff from 25 to 30 meters high. It is set with a battery: 6 French 155 mm howitzers are installed on plates

Image : Bombardement en mai 1944 de la Pointe du Hoc Bombardment in May 1944 of the Pointe du Hoc.

It is necessary to Rudderture this battery since it represents a threat for two landing beaches (Omaha and Utah). This is the mission given to a special American unit, especially created for the occasion, the 2nd Rangers Battalion. The Pointe du Hoc was the objective, in the previous days and months the landing, of massive bombardments. The position, at the top of cliff, remains however very difficult to conquer.

Strategy for the Rudderture of the battery of the Pointe du Hoc

Convened 5 months earlier at the HQ of the General Eisenhower, Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder, a former farmer of Texas, learns that the 5th Corps of the 1st Army (general Bradley) must Rudderture the sector having received the code name of Omaha Beach. By seeing the air photographs of the Pointe du Hoc, he initially thaught of a allied command joke: the german battery, very strongly protected by bunkers and from a rampart of high cliffs, was his objective. But Bradley was not there to laugh and informed him of his future mission.

The initial attack is envisaged at 06:30 a.m. and 225 Rangers take part in the attack. The colonel Rudder will led the attack. At 07:00 a.m., that is to say half an hour after the initial attack, the Rangers have to announce to the allied boats (using a lighting pistol) that the Pointe du Hoc is Ruddertured. Then the Allies have to send 500 Rangers in reinforcement to retain the German counter-attacks and to make it possible to await the landed troops of the 116th infantry regiment coming from Omaha Beach.

The Rangers have to climb the cliff on the two sides of the Pointe du Hoc, east and west, then to Rudderture the bunkers and blockhouses which contain the german artillery guns and to destroy them. The schedule must be respected if the Americans want to receive the 500 Rangers in reinforcement. They will themselves reinforced on June 6 by the men of the 116th infantry regiment with Sherman tanks, coming from Vierville, in the western sector of Omaha Beach.

Image: Photograph of the Pointe du Hoc bombarded Photograph of the Pointe du Hoc bombarded.

If at 07:00 a.m. Rudder did not launch a lighting rocket indicating the catch of the Pointe du Hoc, the 500 Rangers of reinforcements will be directly sent to Omaha Beach, sector Charlie.

Course of the attack

On the bridge of the H.M.S “Ben My Chree ”, at 6 in the morning, on June 6, 1944, James E. Rudder tells his men: “Now listen… Rangers! Show them what you are worth… Good luck guys! Demolish them… Departure in five minutes.”

The 225 Rangers, splashed by water and icy scum, partly suffering from the sea sickness, charged with their equipment, move with their landing crafts towards the cliffs, hidden by smoke coming from the explosions, the fires and by the screen smoke protecting the allied armada. A british pilot of landing craft will undertake the Pointe de la Percée, east of the Pointe du Hoc and surmounted by a german radar, with the Pointe du Hoc.

But the current is strong; the landing crafts are going to the east and, a few tens meters before reaching the cliffs of the Pointe de la Percée, Rudder realizes that the cliff in front of him is not the good one… The landing craft turn right on time and sail towards the West. They arrive finally near their objective: it is 07:00 a.m. At this time, the Allies think that the operation is a total fiasco, since they haven't seen yet the lighting rocket announcing the catch of cliff. The 500 Rangers intended to reinforce Rudder and its men are then directed towards the beach of Omaha, where the landing has already started…

The Germans, on their side, had 30 minutes to be restored: to join the bunkers, to establish a defense force, to rearm themselves… And they wait, weapons and grenades with them, for these ennemy soldiers who approach their position. The current and the waves make run a landing craft, it has only one survivor there; the others also run, pulled by their equipment. The German machineguns open fire and pour an iron rain which falls down on the American landing crafts. Some sunk; a barge, transporting exclusively ammunition intended for the Rangers, explodes, projecting pieces of all kinds around. The first landing craft reaches the pebble beach, at the eastern side of the cliff: precipitation will avoid the Rangers from climbing on the two sides of the Pointe du Hoc. The American soldiers discover a beach from five to six meters broad already dug by many mortars holes.

The first bodies fall down on the rollers, while some Rangers launch, using rifles, grapins and cords, while the naval artillery supports them. But weighed down because of the water, the cords and the hooks fall down on the beach. Some then decide to climb the cliff with their hands, digging steps with their knifes. The Germans launch grenades on the fine tape of beach and sprinkle it with the machineguns.

Image: Climbing of the cliffs, using cords and ladders Climbing of the cliffs, using cords and ladders.

Firemen ladders, installed on landing crafts, make it possible for the Rangers to reach the top, while others reach it while climbing with the cords which remained hung and which the Germans did not have enough time to cut.

Up

 
Image : Un effondrement de la falaise, provoqué par les tirs du croiseur USS Texas A collapse of cliff, caused by the shootings of cruiser USS Texas.

A few minutes later, the first American soldiers move towards the bunkers and discover a lunar like area, dug by bombs. The Germans disappeared but the snipers still strike. These snipers use the holes dug by the bombs to approach the Rangers. In 15 minutes, the Pointe du Hoc is taken and hardly controlled by the Americans. But a series of misfortunes follow: the Germans withdrew the 155 mm guns! They were replaced by wood pylons which misled the allied recon planes!

Once the surprise passed, the Lieutenant-colonel Rudder organizes the defense of the small piece of ground which he controls. He launches a radio call to his HQ behind a german anti-aircraft defence blockhouse: “Here is Rudder, Hoc is under control… Heavy losses… I need immediate reinforcements!” He receives one answer shortly after: “Good job. Sorry for the reinforcements, already landed at Omaha.”

Image : The Lieutenant-colonel Rudder, leading the attack of the Pointe du Hoc The Lieutenant-colonel Rudder, leading the attack of the Pointe du Hoc.

The losses are, indeed, very high: on the 225 Rangers landed, 90 were killed or severely wounded during the climbing of the cliff and the Rudderture of the German battery. Rudder must make with it. The warships open fire around the area controlled by the Americans. A patrol of two Rangers, discover approximately one kilometer south of the battery the 155 mm guns, hidden behind a hedge, in a shooting position. About fifty German soldiers are present, approximately hundred meters south of the guns. The young Lieutenant who leads the small patrol gives his orders: his comrade has to provide a very important suppressing fire on the Germans while he will be launching grenades and destroying the aiming systems with the stick of his weapon. After having made a success of this operation, they to returned to tell Rudder about their discovery and about what they made.

Image : One of the 155 mm guns hidden one kilometer south of the battery One of the 155 mm guns hidden one kilometer south of the battery.

The night falls and the Germans organize a counter-attack. They infiltrate through the American lines and are pushed back by Rangers. But the ammunitions are limited and the reinforcements are still not there. Moreover, many Rangers are made prisoners because they cannot insure a solid defense line. An explosion stronger than the others is heared during the night: some Rangers have just exploded the German ammunition dump.

In the early morning of June 7, Rudder makes a new terrible report: the ammunition and food are insufficient to contain the attacks and the number of American rangers able to fight drops. And the 116th infantry regiment is still not there! But it is necessary to hold, orders are orders. The 116th infantry regiment met a very strong resistance, in Vierville and on the road towards the Pointe du Hoc and is delayed. Nobody knows the moment of their arrival to reinforce Rangers.

German defense concentrates in the west of the Pointe du Hoc, in the neighbourhoods of the anti-aircraft defense blockhouse. Rudder gives up the idea to capture it, having already lost 20 American soldiers to capture this german resistance point. Everywhere else, many snipers wound or kill Rangers.

Image : From the craters dug by the bombs, the Rangers defend their positions From the craters dug by the bombs, the Rangers defend their positions.

The second night falls on the Pointe du Hoc since this pieace of land belongs to the American soldiers. The reinforcements still did not arrive, tiredness gains (much of the Rangers have not closed the eye for two days), the ammunition and food are practically out of stock and the number of men able to fight is still in fall. In order to stop the American resistance, the Germans launch three counter-attacks on the sector held by the Rangers. Little by little, one by one, the American points of resistance fall. In the early morning, on June 8, 1944, whereas the Germans launch what must be for them the death-blow, the American tanks from the 116th infantry regiment finally arrive at the Pointe du Hoc with the infantry. The Germans flee and Rudder, wounded, has been able to finally smile, the first time for more than 48 hours. Rangers are reinforced.

Assessment

On the 225 Rangers engaged at the Pointe du Hoc, only 90 of them are still able to fight and much of them are wounded.

Image : German prisoners are led by Rangers to the landing crafts German prisoners are led by Rangers to the landing crafts.

The 500 Rangers who had landed at Omaha on June 6 at around 07:30 a.m. met a very strong resistance on the beach. They separated into two groups: one with about fifty soldiers which landed as envisaged at the sector Charlie (Vierville-sur-Mer), the other composed with the hundreds of Rangers remaining, east of Omaha Beach in front of Colleville-sur-Mer, estimating that the soldiers were more likely to survive there than on Charlie. Indeed, on Charlie, less than ten out of fifteen succeeded in surviving the landing while more in the east, about ten Rangers were killed.

The courage of the Rangers at Omaha Beach was exemplary and these men, particularly on Charlie, opened breaches at the price of incredibly high losses like all the American companies on this beach.

Nowadays, the moto of the Rangers, an elite unit of the United States Army, is “Lead the Way, Rangers”. This moto was said the first time by the General Cota on Charlie, to encourage these Rangers to help the Americans of the 29th infantry division.

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