The German gun battery on the cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc were the most dangerous for the allied landings at Normandy. These guns could fire on Omaha and Utah beach. The 2nd Rangers Battalions task was to make an amphibious landing, climb these cliffs under enemy fire and destroy these guns.
The unit chosen for this task was the 2nd Ranger Battalion. They departed for Britain on November 11th 1943. Once arrived, cliff climbing were conducted with the British commandos. This was not specific training for Pointe-du-Hoc but was standard for all Rangers programs. In 1944, the final set of cliff climbing exercises were conducted in the spring of 1944 at Swanage, Dorset using the specialized equipment for the Pointe-du-Hoc mission.
The specialized equipment consisted of rocket-propelled grapnel hooks. After considerable experimentation the final configuration was chosen. Each Ranger LCA (Landing Craft Assault) was to hold six of the grapnel hooks. Small wooden toggles were tied to the rope to enable easier climbing, other would be launched with a rope ladder. Each LCA would curry an additional ladder.
The Rangers were to land along with the main force of Omaha and Utah Beach. This was necessary because of mine sweeping operations which could not be performed for the Rangers only. As a result, the guns at Pointe-du-Hoc were still active when the main force would land. Therefore, bombing the gun fortifications from the air became more important. The raid was to be conducted by two Ranger Battalions, the 2nd and 5th Rangers.
When first being told of the mission, Ranger commanders were flabbergasted and thought it was a joke. They stated ‘Three old women with brooms could prevent the Rangers from climbing that cliff’. Were the first wave (2nd Rangers) were to fail, the second wave (5th Rangers) were to land away from Pointe-du-Hoc and assault the guns from the landward side.
This was the prelude to the landings. Heavy bombers from the US Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force were to weaken the batteries from the air. Beginning on April 23rd 1944, the bombers flew 10 sorties of which three on June 6th. Two guns were destroyed and could not be repaired. To fool Allied observers, telephone poles were used as decoys. Therefore, the success or failure of these missions was not clear to allied intelligence. Secondary targets were also destroyed such as mine fields, trenches and gun pits. The bunkers were hit but sustained minimal damage. On June 6th, the battery was severely weakened but that too was unclear for allied intelligence.
The Rangers boarded the landing craft at around 4.00 hours. The run for the beach took about two hours due to rough seas and the overweighed LCA’s. One of the LCA’s was swamped at sank. The troops were not rescued for several hours. Due to fog and heavy some, it was hard to distinguish the landmarks. As a result, Pointe-et-Raz-de-la-Percee was mistaken for Pointe-du-Hoc. About 900 meters from shore, the mistake had been discovered and the LCA’s changed course. They were now in range of the machine gun nests on the cliffs. Several LCA’s was sunk or disabled.
The Rangers were now 40 minutes behind schedule. Nine remaining LCA’s landed on a small beach which was pockmarked with craters due to the heavy bombardment causing severe landing problems. The Rangers and equipment were soaked with water. This caused problems for the grapnel hooks, when fired, the ropes failed to reach the top of the cliffs. Only a few were fired successfully.
German resistance to the landings was light due to the heavy bombardment apart from two bunkers, the observation bunker and a flak bunkers on the left side of the cliff. Armed with MG42 machine guns, the Rangers were prevented from using the left side of the cliffs. When the first Rangers reached the top on the right flank, they could advance to their objective without seeing any Germans. In the center, a few German troops were seen throwing hand grenades over the cliff. They were dealt with BAR fire. On the right side, the First Ranger was killed but the rest of the team secured that position as well. The Rangers swarmed over Point-du-Hoc in nine separate little groups with one purpose in mind – to locate and destroy the guns.
The observation bunker was the only site that was still in German hands and would stay in German hands for more than a day. A few rangers peppered the bunkers slit with grenades and a bazooka while the rest moved to the rear of the bunker. At the rear, the entrance was blocked by a steel door. Having no demolition charges, one Ranger was left to guard the door while the rest went on to clear the rest of trench around the bunker. The final assault would not be made until D+1.
While this was going on, other Rangers moved to the gun emplacements and soon discovered that the guns were not there.
Three teams set of for the Vierville-Grandchamp road further south outside of the battery position. The Rangers encountered further resistance near the edge of the stronghold. By 8:15, the Rangers reach the road. They advanced along the road but encountered a German resistance nest in the hamlet of Au Guay. BAR fire convinced the German to surrender. About 200 meters from Utah beach, the Rangers discovered five surviving guns, pointing towards Utah Beach. The guns were unmanned. The Rangers destroyed the guns. Runners were sent to HQ to inform them that the guns were taken.
Although the guns were secure, resistance was not broken. Casualties were mounting in efforts to destroy the remaining pockets of resistance. After setting up an HQ on Pointe-du-Hoc, a warship for reasons unknown, bombing the HQ. A few rangers were killed. Radio communications could be restored and by 11:10 allowing the first wounded could be evacuated.
Other Rangers (Ranger Force B) were scheduled to land with the 116th Infantry Regiment (part of the 29th Infantry Division) at Omaha beach and move westward to clear out enemy resistance and move further to Pointe-du-Hoc. Enemy resistance the Dog Green sector had been seriously underestimated. The first elements of the 116th Infantry Regiment suffered horrendous casualties. Two Ranger LCA’s arrived nine minutes later. Seeing the carnage afflicted on the 116th, the Rangers moved over the sides of their LCA’s. By the time the Rangers reached the cliff, they suffered 54% casualties. Captain Goranson, who lead the Rangers, was hit nine time but the bullets only hit his gear. He was not wounded. The shell-shocked 116th Infantry Regiment lost almost all their officers and NCO’s and were huddling behind the beach obstructions. The Rangers moved inland, trying to motivate the infantrymen to follow them. They quickly cleared the trenches, mortar pits and machine gun nests but were forced to remain in this area as German reinforcements where coming in. By afternoon, the fighting subdued and the Rangers joined up with Ranger Force C.
The third and final elements of Rangers, Ranger Force C, were awaiting orders. They waited for codeword ‘Crowbar’. This would indicate that Ranger Force A had reached Point-du-Hoc and they would reinforce Point-du-Hoc. They failed to make contact and could not see any flares and thus, decided to stick to the plan and land on Omaha Beach, sector Dog Green. They suffered much the same force as Ranger Force B, suffering horrendous casualties (and can be seen in Steven Spielburgs Saving Private Ryan). They were not able to reinforce the Rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc as they were pinned down at Vierville.
The Germans launched a number of counters attacks near the road of Vierville-Grandchamps. At D+1, a relief force, consisting of 250 soldiers from the 116 Infantry Regiment, Rangers from the 5th Ranger Battalion and ten M4 Medium tanks. They advanced along the road when resistance was met. The tanks blasted their way through. The Germans were surprised and calling it a ‘crazy march’ mainly because the advancing column simple ignored large parts of the German defenses. The relief column reached St-Pierre-du-Mont, about one kilometer from Pointe-du-Hoc. The column had to halt due to big craters caused by pre-landing bombardment. Runners were sent to rear to ask for tank-dozers to fill the gaps. At that point, the column suffered from incoming artillery fire, coming from the Maisy Battery. Most guns of the Maisy Battery were taken out by navel fire, seizing the incoming artillery. A large number of rumors were causing a huge delay in advancing to Point-du-hoc. At the end of D+1, the 116th Infantry Regiment decided to wait to dawn before continuing. By this time, it was no longer a relieve force but to link up Utah and Omaha beach. The next day, the relief operation began with a naval bombardment, after that, the 5th Rangers were ordered to move west and take the high ground while the rest moved directly on Point-du-Hoc. The M4 tanks first reached the Rangers defensive positions. A wild melee broke out, the relief column confused because they didn’t know the encircled Rangers were using captured German weapons. Meanwhile, Admiral Carleton Bryant aboard the USS Texas head the firing and radioed to the encircled Ranger ‘Are you being fired upon’. The Rangers answered ‘Yes’. ‘Do you want me to fire on them’. A reply ‘No’ was given. ‘Are you being hit by friendly fire’. ‘Yes’. Soon after that, the Rangers were relieved.
By the end of D+2, the 2nd Rangers casualties were 263 of the total of 540 men. ‘Rangers lead the way’ slogan was born.
Was the raid on Pointe-du-Hoc necessary? With today’s insights, No. With the information available to Allied planners in 1944, Yes. Were the guns not moved after the aerial bombing of April 1944, they would have caused a great deal of problems for the allied landings. The experience of Longues-sur-Mer provides a strong hint of what might have happened at Pointe-du-Hoc without the Ranger raid. Like Ponte-du-Hoc, Longues-Sr-Mer was subjected to intense pre-invasion bombing. The bombing raids damaged one of its four casemates and tore up the electrical cabling between the guns and the fire direction center, incapacitating its high-tech fire control system.
This can be visited today. There are still a lot of bunkers that remain (somewhat) intact. One can still see the craters of the naval bombardments.
The Maisy Battery has been discovered about 12 years ago. After it’s discovery, a great controversy surfaced, claiming that the batteries at Pointe-du-Hoc were, in fact, a clever German ruse while the Maisy Battery was the real threat. This turned out not to be the case since the guns at the Maisy Battery were not in range of Omaha and Utah beach. More info can be found here
Watch this as a video