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The Meaning of D-Day

Pointe du Hoc
By Brian Williams

The Objective
Pointe du Hoc was located on the coast to the west of the Omaha beach landings and was the position of six 155mm cannons with a range of 25,000 yards.  These cannons had a commanding view of both Omaha and Utah beaches and the potential to cause much damage to the invading force.  The area had been bombed since May and then grew in intensity during the three days and nights before D-Day.  During D-Day, the USS Texas bombarded the point as did 18 medium bombers of the Ninth Air Force at H-20.

The point stood on cliffs between 85 to over 100 feet high at whose base was a very small rocky beach that offered no protection.  Because the point was positioned on near impregnable cliffs, the Germans had concentrated their defenses in anticipation of a ground assault from inland.  Above were heavily fortified concrete casements interlaced with tunnels, trenches, and machine-gun positions around the perimeter.  Although the 716th Infantry Division was thinly stretched along 30 miles of the shoreline, approximately 200 German troops (125 infantry and 85 artillery men) were garrisoned in or around the point.

The task fell to Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder's 2nd Ranger Battalion and called for 3 Companies (D, E, and F) of the battalion to scale the heights.  Company D was to approach the heights on the west, while E and F were to attack on the east.  The main Ranger force (5th Battalion and Companies A and B of the 2nd) were to wait off shore for signal of success and then land at the Point. In addition to destroying the guns, the Rangers were to move inland and cut the coastal highway that connected Grandcamp and Vierville.  They were then to wait for the arrival of the US 116th Infantry from Omaha Beach to the east - scheduled to relieve them at noon on the 6th.  Once linking up with the main force, they were then to move on Grandcamp and Maisy to the west in order to attempt to link up with the forces that were to land at Utah beach.

The Landing
H-Hour was scheduled for 0630 on June the 6th.  The Rangers approached the point with their flotilla of ten landing craft and four DUKW's, but the seas were rough and one LCA sank after taking on excessive water.  Ten minutes later, a supply craft sank leaving only one survivor.  In the confusion and strong tide, they approached the beach near Pointe de la PercĂ©e, at over 3 miles east of their objective.  Rudder immediately realized his error and headed west toward the point, but not before losing another DUKW to 20mm fire.  The error proved to be costly because the Rangers were now 35 minutes behind schedule at which time the defenders at the point were able to reenter their positions after the bombardment.  The main Ranger force was to wait until 0700 at which time if the landing was successful, they would follow the landings at Pte-du-Hoc.  If not, they would land on the western side of Omaha and fight their way westward to the point.  The designated time came and went and word was given to land at Omaha - Rudder and his Rangers were on their own.

The Rangers headed for the cliffs, but now they found themselves only on the Eastern side of the point when the plan called for landings on both sides.  The beach at the base of the cliff was only 30 yards wide and heavily cratered from the bombardment.  In order to climb the heights, the Rangers' LCA's were equipped with rocket-fired grappling hooks and the DUKW's were fitted with fireman ladders.  But, because of the shelling from the USS Texas and others, earth had piled up at the base of the cliff and the DUKW's couldn't approach close enough to the cliff to effectively use their ladders.  On the other hand, the piling at the base gave the men somewhat cover from enemy fire and also made the height to climb less.

After several failed attempts (due to the weight of soaked ropes) and due to the assistance of naval artillery (especially the British destroyer the Talybont), the Rangers finally struggled to the top after incurring only 15 casualties.  As men reached the top, they went off in small groups to accomplish their missions.

They reached the gun emplacements only to find that they had been removed and telephone poles had been temporarily installed.  Lt. Col. Rudder then split his command into two.  One group stayed behind to establish a command posts, while the other went in search of the missing guns.  The second group headed south and found the guns in an apple orchard, where they had been removed in order to be saved from the bombardment.  They were unguarded and were destroyed with thermite grenades.  The primary mission of the Rangers had been accomplished.

Up to this point, the German defenders had not yet recovered from their initial confusion.  They were slowly regrouping and assembling, and later that day the 916th and 726th counterattacked the Ranger positions.  Throughout the day, the USS Satterlee , Barton, and Thompson gave fire support to the Rangers when possible.  By nightfall, the Ranger were forced back into a 200 yard wide defensive position inside the battery.  The Rangers had lost 1/3 of his men and ammunition was running low.

By June 7th, the next day, of his original 225 men, Rudder had fewer than 100 and almost no food.  Despite attempts of the 5th Ranger Battalion that had landed at Omaha Beach four miles to the east, the Rangers remained under siege.  By the 8th of June, the 5th Ranger Battalion finally relieved Rudder's position.  They were almost 2 days behind schedule.

In the end, Rudder's Rangers had suffered 70 percent casualties and held off five German counterattacks.  Rudder was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his service at Point du Hoc and went on to command the 109th Infantry Regiment later in the war.

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