John Barrett
Francis Garcia-Pages
Txikia Hernández-Morales
Jesus Miguelez

Point du Hoc

Also known as Pointe du Hoc, this jagged protrusion into the English Channel from the beaches of Normandy was the battleground for what "Omar Bradley would call the toughest mission ever assigned under his command" (Goldstein 155). The point, atop a high cliff carved into by the channel's water, provided not only a nearly impenetrable defensive position, but also a great strategic locality for heavy German guns that could devastatingly cover the adjacent beaches of Omaha and Utah, which were both to be advanced on by the American units.

Unlike the rest of the Normandy beaches, fortified and inspected personally by the German Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel himself, the heavy guns utilized the natural landscape of the area as a natural barrier, not expecting an allied attack at that point. Not only did the taking of Point du Hoc allow the Americans to disarm the artillery fortifications that could potentially devastate the beach operations, but the attack gave way for the breaking of road connections farther inland.

Allied Command, Planning, and Preparation:

The battle of Point du Hoc formally fell under the Omaha Beach Operation, since both the second Ranger battalion, positioned directly on the beaches of the cliff, and the fifth Ranger battalion, positioned on Omaha beach, but directed to also attack the heavy guns of Point du Hoc from an inland approach. "The scheme was to land Companies D, E, and F of the second battalion in a cliff-scaling attack on the Pointe, while Company C landed to the east to destroy gun positions on the western end of Omaha" (www.normandy.eb.com).

The fifth Ranger battalion was to land at Omaha with Companies A and B of the second battalion. First, this group was to "lead the way" for the US First Infantry Division to take the beach. After doing so, the fifth battalion was to wait for a signal from the second battalion at Point du Hoc, informing them that the cliff-scaling mission had been successful. At this point, the Rangers of the fifth battalion were to scale the cliffs to regroup with the other battalion. If the signal did not come, the fifth battalion was to attack the point from the rear.

Both Ranger battalions were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder, who fell under Colonel Truman Thomson in the chain of command, chief of command under Omar Bradley. Rudder, "a thirty-three-year-old former football coach from rural Texas" (Goldstein 155), was not completely prepared for battle leadership, but was able to gain the complete confidence of his troops from the start.

Preparation for the battle of Point du Hoc had begun in the summer of 1943 in Camp Forest, Tennessee. The Ranger training ground had been built out of tents housing double their intended capacities of five men. Bunks furnished the tents, with mattresses of straw, giving life in the camp a total war submergence. The kitchen and the mess hall had been placed adjacent to an open area latrine. These unsanitary conditions provided for sickness among the troops, especially for the spread of dysentery. On arrival, Rudder was committed to changing these awful conditions for his elite troops. Within weeks, the soldiers were moved to proper barracks and the kitchen and mess hall were relocated. The American Rangers arrived in Britain in early 1944, in time to experience five months of intense scaling exercises.

Rangers required special training, especially in hand to hand combat. Rangers were placed into small units during battle and were knowledgeable in field survival, reconnaissance, and scaling and rappelling.

D-Day Point du Hoc:

The attack on Point du Hoc was planned for 0710 hours. Previous to the landings on the beaches was a final air raid by Allied bombers, attempting to entrench the troops of the German 352nd Infantry division in charge of defending the point. The Allies recognized that the six 155 millimeter guns on the cliff could only be destroyed on land, since their reinforced concrete housings protected them from all air raids.

The landing craft used for the mission were equipped with single straight rope, knotted rope, and rope ladder grappling launchers that could hook up to the top of the cliff. The preferred method of scaling was the knotted rope because it offered support and flexibility to shoot weapons while climbing.

The landings were 40 minutes late due to bad weather. One of the landing crafts capsized on the way to the beach. Once on, it only took minutes for the Rangers to scale the cliff, although they were under constant fire enemy units atop of it. Arriving at the gun casements, the Rangers dramatically found the heavy guns to be missing, moved due to the bombings. The Rangers moved onto the road that connected Saint-Pierre-du Mont to Grandcamp next. A group of Rangers were able to find two of the guns farther up the road, pointing at Utah Beach, surrounded by about 100 German Infantrymen. Able to destroy the guns' elevating mechanism, the Rangers were able to disable them but were forced to fall back to the casement positions for protection from heavy German counter attacks that would continue for the next three days when infantry reinforcements and the fifth Ranger battalion arrived, pushing back the German front.

Meanwhile, the fifth Ranger battalion on Omaha did not see any signal of victory upon the point. They themselves could not follow the intended plan of action because of the heavy resistance met on the beach. These men proved to be essential in the conquering of Omaha beach.

Works Cited:

Goldstein, Richard. America at D-Day: A book of Rememberance. New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1994

Encyclopedia Britannica Normandy Web Project
http://www.normandy.eb.com

Works Consulted:

Badsey, Stephen. Classic Battles: Normandy 1944 (Allied Landings and Breakout). London, Great Britain: Reed International Books Ltd. 1997

Keegan, John. Six Armies in Normandy. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1994
Miller, Russell. Nothing Less Than Victory: The Oral History of D-Day. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1993

Close Combat: Game Reference. Microsoft Corp. & Atomic Games, Inc. 1996

United States Army Rangers Home Page
http://www.ranger.org