Freedom Bore a Terrible Cost at Pointe Du Hoc.

A bunker at Pointe du Hoc. Photography: John McCutcheon
A bunker at Pointe du Hoc. Photography: John McCutcheon

The earth is pitted with bombardments.  Huge craters that make me wonder why aren’t these bunkers completely pulverized.

On this cold, windy January afternoon the only signs of life are rabbit droppings.  Near the parking lot, a Pointe du Hoc museum is under construction.   But the half mile road to this Normandy Invasion site is now available solely to an Oklahoma couple who want to see this hard won battleground.

Scanning the landscape the earth appears to have burped up slabs of reinforced concrete.

At the point of Pointe du Hoc a bunker, 1500-1700 square feet, points menacingly toward the sea.   A narrow horizontal observation/MG deck slits the bunker.   Fortified with two meter (6 feet, 6 inches) thick walls and ceiling, this bunker bears few pock marks.

A massive cliff had to be scaled by the Rangers. Photography: John McCutcheon
A massive cliff had to be scaled by the Rangers. Photography: John McCutcheon

Knocking out the German defenses at Pointe du Hoc was strategic to the Normandy Invasion.  The Germans had six 155 mm cannons in elaborately fortified bunkers capable of a fifteen mile range into the Channel, east toward Omaha Beach, and west toward Utah Beach.

Bringing in gear, ammunition, tanks, fuel, supplies for hospitals, engineers, materials, and food was essential to the war effort.  The big guns had to be destroyed.

A few days prior to the scheduled Invasion, French Resistance fighters provided information through multiple relays of communication that the German had moved the six guns inland.

Unfortunately, bad visibility and poor communication prevented air reconnaissance from substantiating this information.

On June 6, 1944, 06:30, three companies of the 2nd Ranger Battalion led by Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder were to land on the narrow beach beneath the 100-125 feet cliffs of Pointe du Hoc.  Fourteen inch guns on the battleship Texas bombarded the German outpost.  Salvos from these guns were so powerful that sailors on board actually felt the ship jump backward in the water.  At 06:30 the Texas ceased gunfire.

It was not enough.  It was not long enough.  The Rangers missed the landing time by 35 minutes.  Time enough for the Germans to come from hiding and to re-man their machine gun/observation decks.

The Rangers faced one foul-up after another.  One of the ten boats going ashore swamped, washing all 20 men overboard.  Nine of the men drowned.  Men bailed with their helmets. Men vomited.  Men died.  Another boat had to dump half its load of supplies overboard to stay afloat.  The other supply boat loaded with ammunition and gear also swamped.

Lt. Col. Rudder noticed the British coxswain of his boat was headed to Pointe-de-la-Percee, rather than Pointe du Hoc.  The adjustment forced the boats to fight the tidal current and to ride parallel to the beach, while taking on German gunfire.  Bad visibility and failure of communication equipment added to the costs.

Two destroyers, the USS Slatterly and the HMS Talybont, saw that the Germans were firing on the Rangers from the edge of the cliff.  They moved in as close to the shore as possible and fired all their guns, driving the Germans away from the edge.

Still under heavy fire, the Rangers had to scale 100-125 feet cliffs.  Ladders from London fire stations capable of reaching 90 feet fell short of reaching the top.  But the constant bombardment from the two destroyers eventually reduced the height and provided at ground level enough earth for a foothold for the Rangers.

Rocket propelled grappling hooks aided the Rangers’ ascent.  Often fighting from one crater to the next, they moved forward yard by yard.

After the Rangers took Pointe du Hoc, they moved inland, located, and destroyed five of the six big German guns.   Meeting constant resistance, they managed to secure an important bridge and control a vital crossroad.  Two other important objectives of their mission.  They captured some French men who had fought with the Germans.  Later these men were executed.

The Rangers were successful.  Given a task that was deemed ‘’impossible,” they persevered.

But at a cost.  225 Rangers attempted to destroy the German defenses at Pointe du Hoc.  90 Rangers survived.

John and I walked silently back up the road to our car.   Each of us immersed in thoughts of sacrifices men have made for freedom.  Freedom comes at a terrible cost.

 

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