Pointe du Hoc is a cliff top on the coast of Normandy in France. It is located on the west side of Omaha Beach, it is 100 ft (30m) tall overlooking the sea. During World War II, specifically Operation Overlord it was a target of the U.S. Army Ranger Assault Group early on D-Day. The high ground overlooking Omaha Beach would prove to be a significant threat to the Allied landings if not taken.
Before the Attack on Pointe du Hoc
Before the American attack on Pointe du Hoc the Germans had built fortified gun emplacement to host a number of 155mm guns that they had captured from the French. As the guns were located between Utah Beach on the west and Omaha Beach on
the east they were a challenge the American forces had to overcome if they wanted to safely land on the beaches. The first attempt to get rid of the guns was by using naval guns and aerial bombardment. Both attempts seemed unsuccessful and it was believed that the fortifications were too strong to be destroyed this way. The only option left to destroy the guns was by a ground force attack. This task was assigned to the United States 2nd Ranger Battalion, it was decided that the guns needed to be destroyed early on D-Day.
Before the American attacks the guns were moved 1 mile away but the fortifications were still intact and even without the guns would present a threat to the landings if they were managed by artillery observers. While the Range Battalion commanders knew that the guns were moved from their positions the Rangers didn’t know until the attack started.
The Landing at Pointe du Hoc
The Rangers, using 10 landing craft and 4 DUKWs they landed on a beach 3 miles (about 5 kilometers) from their objective. They were so far off partly because of the rough sea they had to face, one supply craft even sank because of the elements, leaving only one survivor.
Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder, the commander of the operation immediately realized the error and quickly headed west toward Pointe du Hocbut it was already too late as another DUKW was destroyed by 20mm fire. The error would also prove costly because the operation was now 35 minutes behind schedule and the defenders of the cliff top could now re-enter their positions because the bombardment was over. The main Ranger force were
given orders to wait, if the landing was successful they were to proceed to the landings at the point. Otherwise they were to land on the west of Omaha and fight towards the west and to the cliff top. It was decided that the Rangers would land at Omaha so Rudder and his people were on their own.
The problem for the Rangers was that they were only on the east side of Pointe du Hoc, while the original plan was that there would be forces on both sides. When they approached the cliff, the beach at its base was only 30 yards (27 meters) wide and there were many craters from the bombardment. To climb the cliff the Rangers were equipped with special rocket-powered grappling hooks and fireman ladders. Climbing up wasn’t an easy task, one of the problems was that the fire from their own ships had piled up the earth at the base of Pointe du Hoc, this meant that they couldn’t come close enough to use the ladders.
Pointe du Hoc Map
Pointe du Hoc Video
Making it to the Top of Pointe du Hoc
After several attempts the Rangers, thanks to some assistance from the naval artillery, made it on top of the cliff with a surprisingly small number of casualties. When they reached the fortifications they realized that the guns weren’t there anymore, the Rangers split up, one group remained behind to establish a command post while the other went looking for the guns. They found the guns in an apple orchard, unguarded. The Rangers easily destroyed the guns and accomplished their primary mission.
The Germans however soon recovered from the initial confusion and started a counterattack and by nightfall they forced the rangers into a defensive position. By the next day Rudder had lost over 100 men of the 225 he started out with. The next day Rudder and his battalion were relieved by the 5th Ranger Battalion after having held off five Germany counterattacks.