Story and photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet TM
All rights reserved copyright
The indomitable and irascible Travelling Gourmet TM visits with great respect and humility…Pointe du Hoc where the incredible bravery and audacity of the US Army Rangers…
MADE them feared and respected legendary airborne warriors on par with the Royal Marines Commandos! Anyone, libtards excluded, who sees this wind swept crop of rock with 100 feet high vertical cliffs can only wonder and be absolutely awestruck at the feat of arms that was accomplished here not so very long ago. Against near overwhelming odds, the Rangers struck at dawn and prevailed despite very heavy loss of life.
At H Hour, 0630, the three companies of the 2d Rangers, led by Colonel Rudder, were scheduled to touch down at the foot of the cliffs and deliver their assault. They totaled about 225 men, including a headquarters detachment.
The three companies selected for the mission at Pointe du Hoe had received intensive training and had developed special equipment for the operation. During April and May, at Swanage near the picturesque Isle of Wight, the personnel had been conditioned by hard practice in rope and ladder work on cliff s like those of the French coast, combined with landing exercises in difficult waters. Swanage is actually on the Isle of Purbeck on the British mainland. Personnel of battle hardened British Commando units gave all possible help, based on their experience in hit and run coastal raids. As a result of experiment with all types of equipment for escalade, main reliance was placed on ropes to be carried over the cliff tops fired by rockets; in addition, the assault wave would take along extension ladders. British landing craft (LCA’s) with British crews were used both in the training and in the actual operation.
Ten LCA’s would be sufficient to boat the three small Ranger companies and headquarters party, including signal and medical personnel, with an average of 21-22 men on a craft. Each LCA was fitted with three pairs of rocket mounts, at bow, amidship, and stern, wired so that they could be fired in series of pairs from one control point at the stern. Plain H -inch ropes were carried by one pair of rockets, affixed to the rocket’s base by a connecting wire. A second pair was rigged for rope of the same size fitted with toggles, small wooden crossbars a few inches long inserted at about one-foot intervals ; the third pair of rockets was attached to light rope ladders with rungs every two feet. The rockets were headed by grapnels. The rope or ladder for each rocket was coiled in a box directly behind the rocket mount. Each craft carried, in addition to the six mounted rockets, a pair of small, hand-projector-type rockets attached to plain ropes. These could be easily carried ashore if necessary.
Extension ladders were of two types. One, carried by each LCA, consisted of 112 feet of tubular-steel, 4-foot sections weighing 4 pounds each; these ladders were partly assembled in advance in 16-foot lengths. For mounting the whole ladder in escalade work, a man would climb to the top of a length, haul up and attach the next 16-foot section, and repeat this process until the necessary height was reached. As a final auxiliary for climbing, four dukws would come in close behind the first wave, each carrying a 100-foot extension ladder, fire-department type, with three folding sections. Two Lewis machine guns were mounted at the top of each
1. The Ranger companies averaged 65 men.
of these ladders, which would be particularly useful for getting up supplies.
Speed was essential for this operation, and the small assault force was equipped for shock action of limited duration, with a minimum load of supplies and weapons. Dressed in fatigue uniform, each Ranger carried a D-bar for rations, two “pineapple” grenades, and his weapon, normally the M-1 rifle. A few of the men selected for going first up the ropes carried .45 caliber pistols or .30 caliber M1-carbines. Heavier weapons were limited to four BAR’s and two light mortars per company. Ten thermite grenades, for demolition, were distributed within each company. Two supply boats (LCA’s) would come in a few minutes after the assault wave, with packs, extra rations and ammunition, two 81 -mm mortars, demolitions, and equipment for hauling supplies up the cliff.
The M-1 Carbine is a beautiful and compact weapon…but having used them, I can tell you that it is only good for close work and lacks stopping power.
The tactical plan provided for Companies E and F to assault on the east side of the Point, and Company D on the west . On reaching the cliff top, each boat team had a series of specific objectives, beginning with the gun emplacements and other fortifications on the Point. With these first objectives taken, most of the force was to push out immediately to the south, reach the coastal highway which was a main communications lateral for German defenses of the Grandcamp-Vierville coast, and hold a position controlling that road to the west until the arrival of the 116th Infantry from Vierville. If the assault at Omaha went according to schedule, the 116th would be at Pointe du Hoe before noon. Long before then, the main body of Rangers (eight companies) should have followed in at the Point to strengthen the foothold won by the initial assault.
As a final feature of the plans, fire support after the landing would be available on call from supporting naval craft and from artillery landing after 0800 near Vierville. A Naval Shore Fire Control Party (12 men) and a forward observer of the 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion were attached to Colonel Rudder’s headquarters, which was distributed among the four LCA’s carrying Company E.
D-Day weather was unfavorable for a landing assault, with rough seas that imperiled small landing craft during their approach to the beaches. Early visibility along the coast was poor, and an eastward-setting tidal current helped to produce errors in navigation. The results, on the Omaha Beach sectors, were delays in reaching shore and enough mislanding of assault craft to interfere seriously with the early schedule for the attack. The Ranger force did not escape these difficulties.
The nine LCA’s touched down on a front of about 500 yards, the right-hand craft just under the tip of Pointe du Hoe, and the others spaced fairly evenly. No great distance separated some -of the boat teams, but according to plan they went into action as separate units, each facing its particular problems of escalade and opposition.
In certain general respects, their problems were similar. The 30-yard strip of beach between water and cliff had been completely cratered by bombs. The craters were to handicap the unloading of men and supplies and were to render the dukws useless after landing, for these craft were nowhere able to cross the sand and get close enough to the cliff to reach it with their extension ladders. The cliff face showed extensive marks of the naval and air bombardment; huge chunks of the top had been torn out, forming talus mounds at the base. A few grenades were thrown down or rolled over the edge as the first Rangers crossed the sand, and enemy small-arms fire came from scattered points along the cliff edge. Particularly dangerous was enfilade fire, including automatic weapons, from the German position on the left flank of the beach. Once at the foot of the cliff the Rangers were better off, for the piles of debris gave partial defilade from the flanking fires, and the enemy directly above would have to expose themselves in order to place observed fire or to aim their grenades.
Naval support came to the aid of the Rangers at this critical moment.
The Rangers that had made it to the beach made their way up to the base of the cliff just west of the draw. Only 31 men of C Company made it so far. With the Ranger force pinned down, 4 soldiers, Lt William Moody, Lt Sidney Saloman, Sgt Julius Belcher and Sgt Richard Garrett, began to pick their way up a small crevice using their bayonets for leverage until they finally reached the top of the cliff. They quickly dropped ropes and the Rangers began to climb. By 07.30, C Company was on top of the ridge facing a fortified house.
The Rangers assaulted the house and Lt Moody kicked in the door, killed the officer in charge and led the search of the trenches dug behind. The Rangers began the systematic destruction of the pillboxes and positions using grenades, rifles and even their bayonets. Lt Moody was killed clearing one pillbox and command fell to Lt Saloman. Vicious no holds barred hand to hand fighting ensued. Kill or be killed. Sgt Belcher led a furious charge of the German machine gun positions that were pouring a murderous fire down onto Omaha. Using white phosphorous grenades, the Rangers coolly shot the Germans as they fled the burning positions.
Companies A and B of the 2nd Ranger Battalion and the entire 5th Ranger Battalion, came ashore at Omaha shortly before 08.00 and drove inland to link up with C Company.
BOMB AND SHELL HOLES in the narrow strip of rocky beach, at the foot of the cliffs, slowed the Rangers in getting to the shelter of the cliffs after landing.
To be continued…work in progress…