D-Day, 6th June 1944 – Part Five The US Rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc

This post is dedicated to the memory of those who died on Tuesday 6 June 1944 in pursuit of freedom. It is through their sacrifice that we enjoy the freedoms we have today.

In this the fifth part of the story of D-Day, 6 June 1944 we concentrate on the actions of the US 2nd Ranger Battalion at Pointe-du-Hoc. This is their story…

Introduction

Pointe du Hoc is a promontory to the west of OMAHA Beach and was the site of a German Coastal Artillery Battery. The Germans had constructed six fortified gun emplacements to house the 155 mm guns, which from their commanding position on the cliff top were able to bring artillery fire directly onto the approaches to both UTAH and OMAHA Beaches. Because of this the Pointe du Hoc position posed a significant threat to the American seaborne assault forces and had to be neutralised.

The Pointe du Hoc location had been bombarded on several occasions from the air and by naval guns, but intelligence reports assessed that the fortifications were too strong and in order to effectively neutralise them an assault by ground forces would be required. A plan was drawn up for two Battalions from the US Rangers to assault the position early on D-Day. The US 2nd Ranger Battalion would assault from the sea by scaling the 100 ft cliffs and the US 5th Ranger Battalion, with the companies of the 2nd not carrying out the initial assault, would follow up to reinforce the 2nd Rangers on the Battery location.

The 2nd Ranger Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder and the plan called for three of his companies to be landed by sea at the foot of the cliffs, scale these using ropes, ladders, and grapples, all under enemy fire, and engage the enemy at the top of the cliff. This was to be carried out before the main landings and they had been specially trained for the cliff assault on the Isle of Wight, under the direction of British Commandos.

Despite initial setbacks due to weather and navigational problems, that resulted in a 40-minute delay and loss of surprise, the cliffs were scaled and the battery location was assaulted successfully with relatively light casualties.

Fire support was provided during the attack by several nearby Allied destroyers. When the position was taken it was discovered that the 155 mm guns were not there having been moved out of the position, possibly as a result of air attacks during the build-up to the invasion.

The Rangers had set about consolidating their defence when Sergeant Leonard Lomell and Sergeant Jack Kuhn went to look for the guns. They followed a dirt track leading from the Battery location inland to the road. About 200 yards south of the road they found the guns and ammunition in an orchard set up ready to fire towards UTAH Beach. The ammunition was blown up and several of the guns destroyed. Those that the Americans were unable to destroy due to lack of charges were put out of action by smashing the gunfights.

The costliest part of the battle for the Rangers came after the cliff assault. Determined to hold the high ground, yet isolated from other assault forces, they fended off several German counterattacks over the next two days until reinforced from Omaha Beach. The original plans called for an additional, larger Ranger force of eight companies to follow the first attack. Flares from the cliff tops were to signal this second wave to join the attack but because of the delayed landing the signal came too late as the other Rangers, mostly of the US 5th Ranger Battalion, had become embroiled in the landing at OMAHA Beach and did not reach the Pointe du Hoc position for two days. At the end of the 2-days action the landing force of 225 was reduced to about 90 men who could still fight.

Ian R Gumm
at Willowmead

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