The Crater Riddled Cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, Normandy

Mar 16, 2016 1 comments

A few kilometers east of the small fishing port of Grandcamp, the Normandy coastline in northern France, juts into the sea forming a sheer promontory called Pointe du Hoc that towers thirty meters above a narrow pebble beach. It was here the Germans had built one of the strongest forts in Hitler’s Atlantic wall during the second World War. This was also the highest point between two sections of the beach, codenamed Utah and Omaha, where the Allied forces planned to land during D-day invasion on June 6, 1944.

Pointe du Hoc held six 155mm artillery guns in heavily reinforced concrete bunkers that were capable of hitting either beach with their big shells, as well as the thousands of ships of the invasion fleet anchored off the shores of Normandy. The destruction of these guns was important if the invasion was the succeed.


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In the weeks leading up to the invasion, the entire Normandy coastline was aerially bombarded. Pointe du Hoc was specially targeted. Quoting from the book The Victors by Stephen E. Ambrose:

Heavy bombers from the U.S. Eighth Air Force and British Bomber Command had repeatedly plastered the area, with a climax coming before dawn on June 6. Then the battleship Texas took up the action, sending dozens of 14-inch shells into the position. Altogether, Pointe-du-Hoc got hit by more than ten kilotons of high explosives, the equivalent of the explosive power of the atomic bomb used at Hiroshima.

Still, nobody was sure whether the battery was actually neutralized. With the lives of thousands of soldiers, and the outcome of the war itself at stake, a decision was made to attack the position by sending a team of commandoes on foot, who would have to scale the cliffs using ropes and ladders in the early hours of dawn.

The task fell upon the 2nd Ranger Battalion, under the command of Colonel James E. Rudder. After a perilous landing on the beach, the Rangers fought the slippery rock face, sodden ropes and enemy fire, and finally struggled to the top only to discover, to their astonishment, that Germans had already moved the guns and replaced them with huge timber beams. 

The Rangers quickly organized a search party and found the guns hidden nearby, which they destroyed using grenades. The mission was completed but the Rangers still had to get out that place. Unfortunately, the relief forces came two days too late. Without reinforcement and food running low, the Rangers managed to hold off repeated attempts by the Germans to recapture the site. By the time the troops coming from Omaha Beach had broken through to their positions, less than 40 men of the original 225 had survived.

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.

Today, the cliff looks like the lunar surface. Craters left by aerial bombing and Naval artillery shells still litter the ground as evidence of the terrible battle that took place here. You can still see the bullet holes in the bunkers, and remains of the German ammunition store. In 1979 a memorial is erected here, and is now overseen by the American Battle Monuments Commission.


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  1. "Saving Pvt Ryan" seems to have skipped over the aftermath of 2/75Inf (Rangers) and the speed with which that unit was reinforced. That the Rangers (light infantry) held the objective as long as they did (against Panzers or mech infantry) is an equally telling epic. Shades of Thermoplye.


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