As part of the Atlantic Wall the Germans believed in defence in depth; place weapons and bunkers on the beach to smash an invader as they landed but also back up those positions with sizeable artillery further away from the coast or in a flank position able to fire into nearby potential landing grounds. The Allied pre-D-Day planners focused on a number of bunker complexes containing artillery units that would pose a special threat to the landings. On the American sector one of these was at a coastal location called Pointe du Hoc, east of the seaside town of Grandcamp.
The position at Pointe du Hoc was strongly protected from attack by sea. Between Grandcamp and the OMAHA sector, the flat Norman tableland terminates abruptly in rocky cliffs. At Pointe du Hoc, these are 85 to 100 feet high, sheer to overhanging; below them is a narrow strip of beach, without the slightest cover for assaulting troops. Aerial photographs indicated what was later confirmed by French civilians: that the enemy regarded the position as nearly impregnable from seaward attack and were more concerned with defending it against an enemy coming from inland. The battery was part of a self-contained fortress area, mined and wired on the landward side. Its flanks were protected by two supporting smaller positions mounting machine guns and, on the west, an antiaircraft gun. These positions were sited to put enfilade fire on the beaches under the Point, and to aid its defence against any inland attack. Enemy troops at Pointe du Hoc were estimated at 125 infantry and eighty-five artillerymen, included in the sector of enemy coastal defences, from the Vire to the Orne, held by 716th Infantrie Division. This unit contained a high percentage of non-German troops, and was regarded as of limited fighting value. Elements of the 716th Infantry Division held the sector from Vierville to Grandcamp, in which, because of the continuous stretch of cliffs, coastal strong points were widely spaced. Those nearest Pointe du Hoc were one mile distant on the west and two miles to the east. The Germans had made no preparations to defend this part of the coast in depth. The 716th Infantry Division was stretched thinly along 30 miles of shore; behind it, but believed ten to twelve hours away, the 352nd Infantry Division in the St-Lô-Caumont area was the nearest mobile reserve.1
As all the American airborne troops were already allocated to operations around Ste-Mère-Eglise, a Ranger Group, attached to the 116th Infantry that was detailed to land on OMAHA Beach, was given the task of taking on this formidable position. In overall command was Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder, with the group comprising men from 2nd Rangers and 5th Rangers, the latter commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Max F. Schneider. Rudder’s men were to make the assault on the coastal battery, while Schneider’s were off-shore and would await the success signal before moving in. In total some 225 Rangers would be put ashore on the narrow shingle beach beneath the cliffs, ladder and rope their way up and neutralise the battery site. Prior to D-Day Pointe du Hoc came under heavy aerial bombardment with bombers of the Ninth US Air Force carrying out bombing runs and in the final hours destruction rained down from the 14in guns of USS Texas and a final strafe by eighteen medium bombers just twenty minutes before H Hour.
Aerial view of Pointe du Hoc used by the Rangers prior to the assault. (US National Archives)
On 6 June the weather affected operations here, like other locations,
The leading group of nine surviving LCAs kept good formation, in a double column ready to fan out as they neared shore. Unfortunately, the guide craft lost its bearings as the coast line came in sight, and headed straight for Pointe de la Percée, three miles east of the target. When Colonel Rudder, in the lead LCA, realized the error he intervened and turned the column westward. But the damage had been done. The mistake cost more than 30 minutes in reaching Pointe du Hoc; instead of landing at H Hour, the first Ranger craft touched down about H+38, a delay that determined the whole course of action at the Point for the next two days. The main Ranger flotilla, eight companies strong, was following in from the transports, watching anxiously for the signal of success at Pointe du Hoc (two successive flares shot by 60-mm mortars). By 0700, if no message or signal had come, Colonel Schneider’s force was scheduled to adopt the alternate plan of action and land at the Vierville beach. They waited ten minutes beyond the time limit and then received by radio the code word TILT, prearranged signal to follow the alternative plan. So Colonel Schneider turned in toward Vierville, where the 5th Rangers and A and B of the 2nd landed at 0745. Pending the outcome at OMAHA Beach, and the success of Colonel Schneider’s force in fighting cross country to the Point, Colonel Rudder’s three companies would fight alone.
The error in direction had further consequences. The correction headed Colonel Rudder’s column of LCAs back toward Pointe du Hoc, but now on a westerly course, roughly paralleling the cliffs and only a few hundred yards offshore. The flotilla thus had to run the gauntlet of fire from German strong points along three miles of coast. Fortunately these were few, and their fire was wild and intermittent. The only serious casualty was a DUKW, hit by 20-mm fire as it neared the target area. Five of the nine men aboard were killed or wounded.2
This delay proved fortuitous for the defenders; by the time the Rangers began their ascent of the cliffs some 40 minutes had passed since the pre-H Hour bombardment had come to an end. The Germans could calmly take aim, unmolested by hostile file, and open up on the Rangers. An after action report for each boat landing the Rangers was compiled for the American official history,
LCA 861. Carrying a boat team of Company E, commanded by 1st Lt. Theodore E. Lapres, Jr., this craft grounded about 25 yards from the bottom of the cliff. Three or four Germans were standing on the cliff edge, shooting down at the craft. Rangers near the stern took these enemy under fire and drove them out of sight. At the instant of touchdown the rear pair of rockets was fired, then the other two pairs in succession. All the ropes fell short of the cliff edge, as a result of being thoroughly soaked. In some cases not more than half the length of rope or ladder was lifted from the containing box.
As the Rangers crossed the strip of cratered sand, grenades were thrown down from above them, or rolled over the cliff edge. These were of the ‘potato-masher’ type, with heavy concussion effects but small fragmentation. They caused two casualties. The hand-rockets were carried ashore, and the first one was fired at 15 yards from the cliff. It went over the top and caught. Pfc. Harry W. Roberts started up the hand-line, bracing his feet against the 80-degree slope. He made about 25 feet; the rope slipped or was cut, and Roberts slithered down. The second rocket was fired and the grapnel caught. Roberts went up again, made the top (he estimated his climbing time at 40 seconds), and pulled into a small cratered niche just under the edge. As he arrived, the rope was cut. Roberts tied it to a picket. This pulled out under the weight of the next man, and the rope fell off the cliff, marooning Roberts. However, a twenty-foot mound of clay knocked off the cliff enabled Roberts’ team to get far enough up the side to throw him a rope. This time he lay across it, and five men, including Lieutenant Lapres, came up. Roberts had not yet seen an enemy and had not been under fire. Without waiting for further arrivals, the six Rangers started for their objective, the heavily constructed OP at the north tip of the fortified area. About ten minutes had elapsed since touchdown.
Just after Lapres’ group got up, a heavy explosion occurred above the rest of 861’s team, waiting their turn on the rope. Pfc. Paul L. Medeiros was half buried under debris from the cliff. None of the men knew what caused the explosion, whether a naval shell, or the detonation of a German mine of a peculiar type found later at one or two places along the cliff edge. The enemy had hung naval shells (200-mm or larger) over the edge, attached by wire to a pull-type firing device and fitted with a short-delay time fuze. The explosion had no effect on the escalade. Medeiros and four more Rangers came up quickly, found Roberts’ party already gone and out of sight, and followed from the cliff edge toward the same objective.
LCA 862. This craft, carrying 15 Rangers and NSFC personnel, landed about 100 yards left of the flank LCA. The men had no trouble in disembarking, but once on the sand they found themselves exposed to machine-gun fire from eastward of the landing area. One man was killed and one wounded by this fire; two more injured by grenade fragments.
The forward pair of rockets had been fired immediately on touchdown, followed by all four others together. One plain and two toggle ropes reached the top, but one toggle rope pulled out. Tech. 5 Victor J. Aguzzi, 1st Lt. Joseph E. Leagans (commanding the team), and S/Sgt. Joseph J. Cleaves went up the two remaining ropes, arrived at the top almost together, and fell into a convenient shell hole just beyond the edge. There they paused only long enough for two more men to join; then, following standard Ranger tactics, the five moved off without waiting for the rest of the team, who came up a few minutes later.
LCA 888. Colonel Rudder’s craft, first to hit the beach, had 15 men of Company E and 6 headquarters personnel, including Lt. J. W. Eikner, communications officer. A few enemy troops were seen on the cliff edge as the LCA neared shore, but, when Sgt. Dominick B. Boggetto shot one German off the edge with a BAR, the others disappeared. The Rangers had trouble in getting through the beach craters; neck deep in water, they found it hard to climb out because of the slick clay bottom. A few grenades came over the cliff without causing casualties.
The rockets were fired in series, at thirty-five yards from the cliff base. None of the waterlogged ropes reached the top. When two Rangers, best of the group at free-climbing, tried to work up the smashed cliff face without ropes, they were balked by the slippery clay surface, which gave way too easily to permit knife-holds. Bombs or shells had brought down a mass of wet clay from the cliff top, forming a mound thirty-five to forty feet high against the cliff. A sixteen-foot section of the extension ladder, with a toggle rope attached, was carried to the top of the mound and set up. A Ranger climbed the ladder, cut a foothold in the cliff, and stood in this to hold the ladder while a second man climbed it for another sixteen feet. The top man repeated the process, and this time Tech. 5 George J. Putzek reached the edge. Lying flat, with the ladder on his arms, he held on while a man below climbed the toggle rope, then the ladder.
From there on it was easy. As the first men up moved a few yards from the cliff edge to protect the climbers, they found plenty of cover in bomb craters, and no sign of an enemy. In fifteen minutes from landing, all the Company E men from LCA 888 were up and ready to move on. Colonel Rudder and headquarters personnel remained for the moment below, finding shelter from enfilade fire in a shallow cave at the bottom of the cliff. By 0725, 1st Lt. James W. Eikner had his equipment set up and flashed word by SCR 300 that Colonel Rudder’s force had landed. Five minutes later he sent out the code word indicating ‘men up the cliff ’; the ‘Roger’ that receipted for this message, again on SCR 300, was Eikner’s last communication of D Day on the Ranger command net. When he sent the message PRAISE THE LORD (‘all men up cliff’) at 0745, no response was forthcoming.
LCA 722. Twenty yards left of Colonel Rudder’s craft, LCA 722 hit shore with IS Company E Rangers, five headquarters men, a Stars and Stripes photographer, and a Commando officer who had assisted the Rangers in training. Touchdown was made at the edge of a crater, and the men could not avoid it in debarking. Enemy grenades were ineffectual, and the craters and debris on the beach gave sufficient cover from enfilading fire from the left. The only casualty was Pfc. John J. Sillman, wounded three times as the craft came in, hit twice on the beach, and destined to survive. A good deal of assorted equipment came on this craft, including the SCR 284, two pigeons, a 60-mm mortar with ammunition, and some demolitions. All were got ashore without loss, though it took maneuvering to avoid the deep water in the crater. Tech. 4 C. S. Parker and two other communications men hefted the big radio set on a pack board, and managed to get it in and working before the first climbers from 722 reached the top.
The rockets had been fired just before landing. One ladder and one plain rope got up and held (LCA 722 had experienced no trouble with water, and the ropes were comparatively dry). The single rope lay in a slight crevice, but the ladder came down on an overhang where it seemed exposed to the flanking fire and would be hard to climb. Tech. 5 Edward P. Smith tried the plain rope and found he could easily ‘walk it up.’ On top three or four minutes after landing, he saw a group of Germans to his right throwing grenades over the cliff. Sgt. Hayward A. Robey joined Smith with a BAR. Robey lay in a shallow niche at the cliff edge and sprayed the grenadiers with forty or fifty rounds, fast fire. Three of the enemy dropped and the rest disappeared into shelters. Pfc. Frank H. Peterson, lightly wounded on the beach by a grenade, joined up and the three Rangers went off on their mission without waiting for the next climbers.
The mortar section in this boat team remained below, according to plan, with the purpose of setting up their 60-mm on the beach to deliver supporting fires. But the beach was too exposed to make this practicable, and time was consumed in getting ammunition from the one surviving supply craft. About 0745 the mortar team went on top without having yet fired.
LCA 668. Company D’s craft had been scheduled to land on the west side of the Point. As a result of the change in angle of approach, the two surviving LCAs came in to the left of Company E, and in the center of the Ranger line.
LCA 668 grounded short of the beach strip, as a result of boulders knocked from the cliff by bombardment. The men had to swim in about twenty feet. While 1st Sgt. Leonard G. Lomell was bringing in a box of rope and a hand-projector rocket, he was wounded in the side by a machine-gun bullet but reached shore and kept going. Despite the unusual distance from the cliff, and the very wet ropes, three rockets had carried the cliff edge with a toggle rope and the two rope ladders. However, the grapnels on the ladders just made the top; since the lead rope connecting grapnels with the top of the ladders was 40 feet long, the Rangers had, in effect, two plain ropes and a toggle. Sergeant Lomell put his best climber on the toggle while he tried one of the ladders. All ropes were on an overhang, and only the toggle line proved practicable. Even on it, climbing would be slow, so Lomell called for the extension ladders. Picking a spot high on the talus, his men found that one 16-foot section added to a 20-foot section reached the top of the vertical stretch, beyond which a slide of debris had reduced the slope enough to make it negotiable without ropes. Two men had got up by the toggle rope; the rest used the ladder and made the top quickly. Grenades caused some annoyance until the first men up could cover the rest of the party. Twelve men moved off from the edge with Sergeant Lomell and 1st Lt. George F. Kerchner.
LCA 858. Shipping enough water all the way in to keep the Rangers busy, this craft nevertheless kept up fairly well and was only a minute or two behind the others at the beach. The men were put out into a crater and went over their heads in muddy water. Despite the wetting, a bazooka was the only piece of equipment put out of action. Three men were hit by machine-gun fire from the east flank.
The rockets were fired in series, the plain ropes first. All the ropes were wet, and only one hand-line got over the cliff. It lay in a crevice that would give some protection from enemy flanking fire, but the direct approach to the foot of the rope was exposed. The Company D Rangers worked their way to the rope through the piles of debris at the cliff base. While one man helped the wounded get to Colonel Rudder’s CP, where the medics had set up, all the party went up this one rope and found it not too hard going. They could get footholds in the cliff face, and a big crater reduced the steepness of the climb near the top. The group was up within 15 minutes. As in most other cases, the first few men on top had moved off together, and the boat team did not operate as a unit after the escalade.
LCA 887. As a result of Company D’s unscheduled landing in the center of the line of craft, the three LCAs carrying Company F were crowded eastward, all of them touching down beyond the area originally assigned them. Few of the Rangers realized this at the time.
LCA 887 had not been much bothered by either water or enemy action on the trip in. The craft grounded five yards out from dry beach, and the shorter men got a ducking in the inevitable crater. No equipment trouble resulted; even Sgt. William L. Petty’s BAR, wet here and muddied later when he slipped on the cliff, fired perfectly when first needed. Some enemy fire, including automatic weapons, came from either flank. Two Rangers were wounded.
Just before hitting the beach the two forward rockets were fired. Only one of the plain lines carried, and 1st Lt. Robert C. Arman, commanding the team, figured the heavier ropes had no chance. So, all four of the mounted rockets, together with the boxes carrying toggle ropes and ladders, were taken out on the sand – a matter of ten minutes’ heavy work, while the coxswain of the LCA did a notable job of holding the craft in at the beach edge. When the rockets were set up for firing, the lead wire for making the firing connection was missing. Tech/Sgt. John I. Cripps fired all four in turn by touching the short connection, three feet from the rocket base, with his ‘hot-box’. Each time, the f lashback blinded Cripps and blew sand and mud all over him. The other Rangers saw him clean his eyes, shake his head, and go after the next rocket: ‘he was the hell-of-a-looking mess’. But all the ropes went up, and made it possible for the party to make the top. Sergeant Petty and some other expert climbers had already tried the plain rope and failed; it was on a straight fall, requiring hand-over-hand work with no footholds possible, and the men had trouble with their muddy hands and clothes on the wet rope.
Sergeant Petty started up one of the ladders, got thirty feet up, and then slid all the way back on the cliff face when the grapnel pulled out. Tech. 5 Carl Winsch was going up the other ladder when fire from somewhere on the flanks began to chip the cliff all around him. Petty went up after Winsch, and found him, unwounded, in a shell hole at the top. Here Petty waited for two more Rangers and then they set out for their objective.
LCA 884. This craft, the target for considerable enemy fire from cliff positions on the way to the Point, had replied with its Lewis guns and the BARs of the Rangers. Touchdown was made on the edge of a shell hole, in water shoulder-high. Three Rangers were hit by fire coming from the left flank. When rockets were fired in series, front to rear, four got over the cliff, but every rope lay in such position as to be fully exposed to the continuing enemy small-arms fire. Moreover, the Rangers were so muddled in getting through the craters on the beach that the plain ropes would have been unusable after the first climber went up. The only rope ladder that reached the top was caught below on beach boulders and hung at an awkward angle. Several men tried the other ropes without success, and Pvt. William E. Anderson got only part way up in his attempt at free-climbing. 1st Lt. Jacob J. Hill finally took the group over to the left, where they used the ladders of 883’s boat team.
LCA 883. Last in the column of approach, this craft was last to reach shore, nearly 300 yards left of its planned position and considerably beyond the edge of the main fortified area on Pointe du Hoc. Just to their left, a jut in the cliff protected the boat team from the flanking fire that caused so much trouble for the other landing parties. They made a dry landing, and had a perfect score with the six rockets. This gave an opportunity to use the climbing assignments on a full schedule, using every rope. Nevertheless the going was hard, even on the ladders. 1st Lt. Richard A. Wintz, on a plain rope, found it impossible to get any footholds on the slippery cliff. The wet and muddy rope made it difficult for hand-over-hand pulling, and at the top Wintz was ‘never so tired in his life’. He found six men together and started them out immediately.3
American Air Force bombers softening up the gun battery site prior to D-Day. (US National Archives)
Within thirty minutes of the landings around thirty to forty Rangers out of 190 had come ashore. With the German defenders on the cliffs neutralised the survivors were faced with a landscape that would not have looked out of place in the previous war; the pre-D-Day bombardments had turned the battery site into a moonscape of craters. Rudder wondered if it was still possible to achieve his objectives given the now small size of his party, but with the exception of the OP, which stubbornly held out, clearing the bunkers only took minutes as little opposition was encountered. It was a surprise, but as they entered the artillery casemates he and his Rangers were in for an even greater shock.
One party after another reached its allotted emplacement, to make the same discovery: the open gun positions were pulverized, the casemates were heavily damaged, but there was no sign of the guns or of artillery equipment. Evidently, the 155s had been removed from the Point before the period of major bombardments. The advance groups moved on inland toward the assembly area.4
What had happened to the guns? Some recent accounts claim that Rudder knew they were not there when they landed, but the contemporary accounts clearly point to the fact that they were eventually discovered by accident.
About 0900, a two-man patrol from D went down the double-hedgerowed lane that ran south from the highway near Company D’s outpost. About 250 yards along the lane, Sergeant Lomell and S/Sgt. Jack E. Kuhn walked into a camouflaged gun position; there, set up in battery, were five of the enemy 155s missing from the Point. They were in position to fire toward Utah Beach, but could easily have been switched for use against OMAHA. Piles of ammunition were at hand, points on the shells and charges ready, but there was no indication of recent firing. Not a German was in sight, and occasional sniper fire from a distance could hardly be intended as a defence of the battery. So effective was the camouflage that Lomell and Kuhn, though they could later spot the guns from the highway, had seen nothing until they were right in the position.
With Kuhn covering him against possible defenders, Sergeant Lomell went into the battery and set off thermite grenades in the recoil mechanism of two guns, effectively disabling them. After bashing in the sights, of a third gun, he went back for more grenades. Before he could return, another patrol from Company E had finished the job. This patrol, led by S/Sgt. Frank A. Rupinski, had come through the fields and (like Lomell and Kuhn) were in the gun position before they saw it. Failing to notice the fact that some disabling work had already been done, Rupinski’s patrol dropped a thermite grenade down each barrel, and removed some of the sights. After throwing grenades into the powder charges and starting a fire, the patrol decided the guns were out of action and withdrew. A runner was sent off at once to the Point, bearing word that the missing guns, primary objective at the Point, had been found and neutralized.
Just why the German guns were thus left completely undefended and unused is still a mystery. One theory, based on the fact that some artillerymen were captured that day on the Point, was that bombardment caught them there in quarters, and they were unable to get back to their position. All that can be stated with assurance is that the Germans were put off balance and disorganized by the combined effects of bombardment and assault, to such an extent that they never used the most dangerous battery near the assault beaches but left it in condition to be destroyed by weak patrols.5
With the guns finally neutralised, the Rangers secondary task was to move south and secure the highway so that when American forces broke out of the OMAHA beachhead the main road towards Carentan was already in Allied hands. Following the securing of the Battery site, Rudder began to send men down to the highway to secure a position that could be defended. The force of sixty Rangers were joined by a handful of Paratroopers from 101st Airborne who had been dropped wide and patrols were sent out to try and seek out where the enemy was located. Confusion reigned on both sides,
Typical of the way men on both sides were cut off and isolated during the first two days was a capture within the Ranger lines. About noon Sergeant Petty came back to the CP to get a rifle for one of his men. Just as he arrived, Sgt. James R. Alexander fired his BAR back toward the highway at two Germans who appeared by a gate, halfway down the lane. One German fell, and Petty and Alexander went over to examine the body, three other Rangers tagging along for no particular reason. Petty was sitting astride the gate, looking at the dead German, when somebody yelled ‘Kamerad’ from the ditch bordering the lane. Three Germans were coming out of the ditch. Sgt Walter J. Borowski fired some shots into the hedgerow on the chance that there might be more men hiding. Two more Germans came out. Then the hedgerow was searched in earnest, but without further results. Two of the prisoners, a captain and a noncom, said they had had a machine gun, which the Rangers were unable to find. Altogether, about forty prisoners were taken in by Ranger patrols and outposts, to be grouped under guard in the field near the CP.6
The American flag is draped on the cliffs after the Rangers had taken Pointe du Hoc. (US National Archives)
Positions were quickly established. A roadblock was made on the Carentan road by the remaining men of ‘D’ Company, and men of E and F Company established defences in the bocage south of the road towards some farm buildings and with good fields of fire, and put an advanced outpost further out to spot for any potential contact with the Germans. At one stage a large German patrol passed by the twenty or so men of ‘D’ Company at the roadblock; a force much bigger than they could have taken on. Thankfully for the Rangers, the force was unaware of the men in the hedgerows and passed on by.
The first real test came that evening. Rudder had decided to continue to guard the main road in case men from the 29th Division arrived – there was no radio contact outside of the Pointe du Hoc positions and Rudder had no idea of the slaughter at OMAHA – but realised the ‘D’ Company roadblock position was weak, so moved them into the hedgerows to extend the defences there. The first contact with the Germans was made at 2330,
the Rangers posted in front of the D-E corner were startled by a general outburst of whistles and shouts, close by on the orchard slope. Enemy fire opened immediately and in considerable volume. Sgt Michael J. Branley and Pfc Robert D. Carty, in position west of the corner, saw tracer fire from a machine gun to their right and only twenty-five yards from Company D’s side of the angle. South of the corner, in Company E’s outpost, the men spotted another machine gun to the west, about fifty yards from Company E’s defensive line. Neither outpost had seen or heard the enemy approach through the orchard. At the angle, and along E’s front, the Rangers returned the enemy fire at once, the BARs firing in full bursts. Carty and Branley started back toward the corner to get better firing positions; Carty was killed by a grenade, and his companion, hit in the shoulder by a bullet, managed to crawl to the hedgerow.
In the Company E outpost, Corporal Thompson and Hornhardt were almost walked over by a group of Germans who came suddenly around a hump in the north-south hedgerow dividing the orchard. Thompson saw their silhouettes against the sky, so the Rangers got in their fire first at point-blank range and knocked down three of the enemy. The others went flat and threw grenades, one of them exploding in Thompson’s face and cutting him badly. He gave his BAR to Hornhardt and they started back for the corner.
Only a few minutes after the firing began, an immense sheet of flame shot up over to the west, near the position of the abandoned German guns. (The Rangers’ guess was that, somehow, more powder charges had been set off in the ammunition dump.) The orchard slopes were fully lit up, and many Germans could be seen outlined against the glare. The flare died almost at once, and the firing ended at the same time. It is possible that the powder explosion had disconcerted the Germans and ended their effort, but more probably the attack was only a preliminary probe by combat patrols, trying to locate Ranger positions by drawing their fire.7
The next attack came in at 0100 on 7 June, and this time much stronger with a greater use of grenades by the Germans, and in one case the Germans were seen throwing mortar bombs by hand as improvised grenades. Positions on the right flank were overrun, but the Germans again withdrew into the darkness until the final attack two hours later. On this occasion the mortar fire supporting it was even heavier, and more positions overrun. The Command Post in the middle of E and F Companies spotted Germans only yards away and engaged them on the track. But gradually the position was becoming untenable,
As the volume of enemy fire built up again from south and west, indicating a new rush was at hand, hasty and informal measures were taken to pass the word around for withdrawal back to the highway and the Point. Some Rangers failed to get the notice and were temporarily left behind. Petty and Robey were told to bring up the rear and cover the withdrawal with their BARs. Noncommissioned officers tried hurriedly to round up their men. Once started, movement was fast. S/Sgt. Richard N. Hathaway of the 5th Rangers had been posted halfway back to the highway, along the lane. His first notice of what was happening came when men ran by toward the north. Hathaway stuck his head through the hedgerow and shouted ‘Hey! What’s up? Where you going?’ The nearest man stopped running, put his rifle in Hathaway’s face, and demanded the password. Hathaway was so rattled that he could just remember the word in time. Told ‘the Germans are right behind us get out quick to the Point!’ he collected part of his group (he couldn’t find some, but they came in later), and went north. There could be no question of bringing back the prisoners.
As the parties arrived at the blacktop, there was no sign of any pursuit, and an effort was made to reorganize those Rangers at hand and to see that none were left. A hasty check-up showed that the Company F men were nearly all there, but only a scattering of E and none from D. Lieutenant Arman figured that the Germans might have infiltrated between the highway and the Point, so sent one party over to the east and then into the Point across fields.8
Rudder believed that his force in the hedgerows had been pretty much destroyed in the fighting, and with less than ninety men in the positions around the battery site he decided to dig in and stay put until the men from OMAHA Beach did arrive. He was able to use naval gunfire to protect his positions, and some re-enforcements were landed on the afternoon of the 7th at the foot of the cliffs, along with food and ammunition. On 8 June friendly troops were spotted less than a thousand yards away and finally Rudder and his Ranger force were relieved after two days at Pointe du Hoc.
Walk 10: At Pointe du Hoc
STARTING POINT: Car park, Pointe du Hoc battlefield site
GPS: 49°23′39.0″N, 0°59′18.7″W
DURATION: 5.72km/3.6 miles
This is a short walk where most of your time will be spent at Pointe du Hoc itself. Park your vehicle in the car park, which is well signposted from the D514. Start your tour at the visitors’ centre and then walk to the information panels that were installed in 2011. From here there is no set route around the site; you can follow the well-trodden pathways, go in all the bunkers, climb up onto the viewing platforms on top of the casemates and walk to the Observation Bunker, which was restored and re-opened in June 2011. For many years prior to this it was closed as the cliffs were collapsing in front of it; a multi-million dollar project organised by the American government has preserved the site and made it accessible in a way that has not been possible for some time. Although care must be taken at the edges, it is worth peeking down to get a sense of what an accomplishment it was for Rudder’s Rangers to get up them on D-Day under fire from the Germans at the top.
When the site has been properly visited (allow at least ninety minutes), return to the car park and follow the access road back to the roundabout on the D514. Here go left and then take the first right onto a track going south from the D514. After about 300m, stop. This was where the Rangers dug in and held positions in the second half of D-Day with Fox Company on the left and Easy Company on the right, and Rudder’s Command Post in the middle where the track is. An outpost was placed at the far end of the track.
From here continue and follow the track round to the right through to where it meets a minor road. Turn right and walk to a farm on the left. Here, take a track opposite and walk up for about 300m to where hedgerows can be seen left and right. This was the site where the German guns that should have been in the bunkers were discovered by a Ranger patrol and finally neutralised.
Return to the minor road and turn right. Follow the minor road back to the D514. Here go right and stay on the left-hand side of the D514 (a busy road) to the roundabout and turn left back to the car park and your vehicle.
Entrance to the renovated battlefield site.
The bomb-scarred landscape is evident here.
Rangers Memorial on the fire-control bunker.
Pointe du Hoc today.
One of the gun casemates that proved empty on D-Day.
One of the guns that had been removed by the Germans and taken to a position inland where it was later put out of action by the Rangers.
Bocage lane leading to the Rangers’ positions south of Pointe du Hoc.