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Point du Hoc The Rangers attack

Thursday 18 January 2001

The Pointe du Hoc Ranger Memorial, covering 30.5 acres, is the battleground 8 road miles west of Normandy American Cemetery, where Colonel Earl Rudder’s 24 Ranger Battalion scaled the 100 foot cliffs on D-Day morning, 6 June 1944, to seize this fortified enemy position which controlled the landing approaches to Omaha and Utah Beaches. The site, preserved since the war By the French Committee of the Pointe du Hoc, which erected an impressive granite monument at the edge of the cliff, was transferred to American control by formal agreement between the two governements on 11 January 1979 in Paris, with Ambassador Arthur A. Hartman signing for the United States and Secretary of State for Veterans Affairs, Maurice Plantier signing for France.

General Omar Bradley, who commanded the operation against Omaha and Utah Beaches, commented: "No soldier in my command has ever Been wished a more difficult task than that which Befell the 34 year-old commander of this Provisional Ranger Force. Lieutenant Colonel James F. Rudder, a rancher from Brady, Texas, was to take a force of 200 men, land on a shingled shelf under the face of a 100-foot cliff, and there destroy an enemy Battery of coastal gun5."

At approximately 4:30 a.m. on the morning of 6 June 1944 the Rangers set out for their objective. As the small flotilla of British assault landing craft, loaded down with 225 men of the U.S. 24 Ranger Battalion, approached the cliffs of Normandy, a Ranger in one of the L.C.A.s decided to "stand up and have a look". "My God, they are up there waiting for us", the young soldier said as he sat back down, readied his rifle and prepared to hit the beach. As all of the assault craft came within range, the enemy at the top of the cliff opened up with concentrated small arms and machine gun fire. The "zing" of ricocheting bullets was in the air. Fifteen Rangers were killed or wounded during the struggle through the rough surf, and the dash across the heavily cratered narrow beach. The fighting, the bleeding, and the dying on the Normandy beaches had begun. The D-Day Ranger Force of two battalions, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder, a former football coach and rancher of Brady, Texas, had a special mission on the right flank (western anchor) of Omaha Beach. Three companies of tIre 24 Ranger Battalion were to scale the 100 foot high cliffs in an isolated action three miles west of the main landings, ond take a heavily fortified battery position at the "Pointe du Hoc". One company of the same unit would land on Omaha’s "Charlie" beach and assault the enemy positions at "Pointe de la Percé". If the assault at Pointe du Hoc was successful by H-Hour plus 30 minutes, the 5th Ranger Battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Max Schneider of Shenandoah, Iowa, and the remaining companies of the 24 Battalion would land there. If not, Schneider’s Rangers would land on Omaha and proceed with an overland attack on Pointe du Hoc. As the situation developed, the Rangers were to fight a battle completely different, with different objectives from the ones planned prior to D-Day.

Ranger Captain Ralph E. Goranson, of Libertyville, Illinois, with the special mission at Pointe de la Percée, led the BB men of "Charlie" company across the sand, subjected to deadly accurate enemy fire. Only 29 of his Rangers made it. Thirty-nine were dead or about to die in the suri and on the beach. "Here’s one for Ripley", Captain Coranson said to one of the Ranger officers some time later, "I found nine slugs and bullet holes in my gear and clothing - didn’t get a scratch; yet an many around us have died". British destroyers eventually took care of the enemy installations at the Pointe de la Percée, hut in spite of the severe losses the remaining handful of Goranson’s Rangers went on to destroy a well defended enemy fortification inflicting many casualties.

The German fortifications at Pointe du Hoc contained the eneny’s biggest guns, a battery of six 155 millimeter howitzers of French make. This artillery with a range of 25,000 feet posed a great threat to the troops on both of the Aaerican beaches and had to be knocked out by H-Hour (6:30 a.m.) ii the landing were to succeed with a minimum of losses. The late Lieutenant Colonel Rudder (who was later to become the President of Texas A & N Loiversity at College Station Texas, and a major general) was sure he had the men to do the job. Lieutenant Colonel Rudder’s men, in turn, had complete confidence in his leadership.

Eighteen U.S. Bombers drooped their bomb-loads minutes before the Rangers hit the beach, driving the enemy underground and momentarily disrupting communications. The assault itself was not unlike a medieval attack on the ramparts of a besieged castle. When D-Company platoon leader Lieutenant George F. Kirchnef, of Baltimore, Md., got his first close up look at the cliffs and heard the rattle of the enemy machine guns overhead his immediate thought was: "This whole thing is just one great big mistake, we’ll never make it". But the Rangers did "make it". It was a wild and frenzied scene as the men of Dog, Easy, and Fox companies scaled the cliffs of Pointe do Hoc. They accomplished this very difficult task by means of rocket-fired rope and rope ladders anchored to the top of the cliff by grappling hooks. The U.S. Destroyer Satterlee saw the enemy firing from positions along the edge of the cliffs and moved in for close support fire. Ropes were cut, hurling Rangers hack down to the beach. They got up and found other ropes to climb. Hand grenades were dropped on their heads. They continued to climb.

Sergeant Hayward A. Robey, an F-Company BAR man, and a couple of other Rangers reached the top in less than five minutes. Robey saw a group of the enemy to his right throwing grenades over the cliff. From a shallow niche at the cliff’s edge he sprayed the grenadiers with 40 or 50 rounds of fast fire. Three of the enemy dropped and the rest disappeared into shelters. Rangers in larger numbers were now scrambling over the cratered edge of the cliff, driving the enemy back in a determined effort to reach and destroy the main objectives, the 155 millimeter guns. As Ranger groups reached their appointed gun emplacements they were shocked and surprised to find empty casements, and almost all of the concrete positions completely pulverized. The big guns were strangely no place to be found.
Radio communications in these early stages of the battle were ineffective. A communications team still down on the beach made repeated attempts without success to reach the 5th Ranger Battalion. Due to the delayed landing at Pointe do Hoc, Schneider’s Rangers were already landing as pre-arranged on Omaha Beach, where a very much bigger battle was raging, and, as it turned out, a place where combat troops were badly needed. Therefore, the Rangers at the "Hoc" had to fight on alone. The 5th Rangers would take part in unexpected battles and would later be credited with "Leading the Way" on Omaha Beach.

While the Rangers were mopping up the Pointe, a patrol led by D-Company’s First Sergeant Leonard C. Lomell, of Toms River, N.J., discovered the missing French 155’s in an apple orchard cleverly camouflaged and sited for fire on either of the two beaches. Lomell and his men destroyed the guns with thermite grenades and thus prevented untold casualties on both Utah and Omaha Beaches. Lieutenant Colonel Rodder now instructed the radio team to send the following message: "Located Pointe do Hoc - mission accomplished - need ammunition and reinforcements - many casualties". About two hours later a brief message was received from ’.Major General Clarence R Hoebner, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division, which read as follows: "Sorry, no reinforcements available, all Ranger forces have landed’. Rudder’s Rangers could not now expect any help from ground forces landing three to four miles away, but they did have destroyers just off shore that were ready, willing and able to lend support. Communications with the Destroyer Satterlee was established via means of a signal lamp by Lieutenant James Likoer, the Rangers’ communications officer. When radio contact was made, radioman Lou Lisko of Natrona Heights, Pa., asked what Satterlee’s radio call sign would be. The radio operator on board replied:
"Just call us ’Slogger’". For the next 48 hours the Destroyer Satterlee was to live op to its radio code name. The destroyer fired on every target designated by the Rangers and also some targets it discovered on its own. Despite the many enemy artillery shells exploding very close to the Satterlee, and the other destroyers, they did not retreat but stayed and "slugged it out’ with the enemy. The Rangers could not have accomplished their mission and survived without this support.

The battle on Pointe do Hoc was fought actually by two main Ranger groups: the force that advanced beyond and cut the coastal highway (this group also found and destroyed the missing guns) and the Rangers who stayed to form a defensive perimeter near the fortified area of the Pointe itself. Both groups were to fight off, with the help of naval bombardment, a series of counter attacks and were to take part in countless skirmishes designed to drive the Rangers back into the sea. Private First Class William Cruz, a D-Company rifleman, was the only man of a group of 11 to return from an attack on an antiaircraft position labeled on the extreme right flank of the perimeter. F-Company’s Commander Captain Otto "Big Stoop" Masny of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, was wounded in a fire fight near gun position N°6. Every man in his group of about 10 had been wounded by enemy small arms fire, including four killed. A sniper’s bullet found its mark, and killed Sergeant Jack Richards of F-Company, an outstanding high-school football player from Lou Lisko’s hometown. And so it went, with other groups of Rangers continuing the attack, determined to accomplish their mission and stay alive. Sergeant Elrod Petty of Cohutto, Georgia an F-Company BAR man, accounted for 30 of the enemy single handedly in one isolated action. The medical section with the Ranger assault force, under the command of Captain Walter C. Block, M.D. of Chicago, Illinois, passed a very busy day. They did a heroic job of taking care of the wounded, although they themselves were constantly under enemy fire and suffered a number of wounded among their own ranks. In spite of the many casualties suffered, and thanks to the great naval support fire, rho Rangers survived the fighting on fl-Day and tenaciously held fast.

D+1 found the Rangers in defensive positions fighting off more attacks and awaiting the arrival of the rescue forces from Omaha Beach. An enemy machine gun position occupied by a number of German riflemen, located at the extreme left flank of the perimeter was a particularly annoying problem ever since the H-Hour landing. The two attempts by Fox company men had resulted in casualties and failed to eliminate the machine gun nest. The Rangers were too shorthanded to take further action, so a message was sent to higher command via a destroyer radio explaining the predicament. During the late afternoon of D+1 Rangers stood up and cheered as U.S. fighter bombers attacked and obliterated the enemy gun position. "Beautiful, right on target, a Bullseye", shouted Sergeant Robert C. Youso of Rockville, Md., who was wounded earlier in a three man ground attack on this position. he had crawled to within 20 yards of the enemy but was shot through the arm by a German rifleman as he half raised to throw a hand grenade into the machine gun nest. He spent the next day fighting with one arm in a sling.

Suddenly, friendly planes now appeared to bomb and strafe Pointe do Hoc. Apparently, the Air Corps had been erroneously informed that the Rangers had been wiped out. The squadron leader, using good judgment, came down to tree top level for a better look at his designated target. Many of the Rangers on the bombecratered terrain stood up and frantically waved their arms, helmets and field jackets. One Ranger, under fire, spread out on the torn earth an American flag for more positive identification. "Look, he sees us... he’s waving back at us", a Ranger shouted, "He knows now that are friendly troops down here". The low flying squadron leader, satisfied that U.S. troops were still fighting for possession of this little corner of France, joined the other pilots at the higher altitude and headed back across the channel. The tiny Ranger beachhead at Pointe do Hoc was in an almost constant state of siege. It was actually after the early destructions of the big guns that most of the fighting on this little piece of French real estate took place. Right up to the time of the relief on D+2 by anvancing troops from Omaha beach the Rangers continued to fight for survival.

Having run out of ammunition for some of their own weapons many hours earlier, Rudder’s men were now using captured German machine guns, and this got them into some serious trouble. When other advancing friendly forces lear the distinctive sound of the German machine guns, they opened up with tank and mortar fire on the beleaguered Rangers, thinking they had run into the enemy. As the first rounds began exploding in the C.P. area, Lieutenant Colonel Rudder, above the noise of the explosions and sounds of gun fire could be heard slrouting:"Stop firing those mactine guns". But the friendly fire did not stop until Corporal Frank "Killer" Kolodziejczak of Natrona Heights, Pa., contacted these forces by radio. This mistaken identity tragically resulted in four Rangers killed and six wounded.

The relief of the forces on the Pointe du Hoc took place a ahort time later. The 5th Ranger Battalion and the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division arrived about noon on D+2. Their arrival forced the enemy to retreat westward towards Grandcamp-les-Bains, where that evening another major battle would be fought. For the first time since H-Hour the survivors of the battle at Pointe du Hoc could breathe easy. Only 90 of the original 225 Rangers who had landed there two days earlier were now able to bear arms. Some of the 90 with comparatively lesser wounds were also listed as casualties, including Lieutenant Colonel Rudder. Although wounded twice he refused to be evacuated, remaining with his men in the continuing effort to expand the beachhead. The 2d Ranger Battalion, in the D-Day assault, landed approximately 450 men on the Normandy beaches. Seventy-seven were killed in action; 158 wounded and 36 missing - a casualty rate of around 60 per cent. The survivors of Pointe du Hoc moved out to join other troops, and to take part in still other battles that were yet to be fought before Hitler’s armies could be finally and totally defeated.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of all allied forces in the Normandy assault, once said: "I had always attached great importance to the liquidation of the Pointe du Hoc gun battery". During a nostalgic post war visit to the same area the General said: "It took guts to get up those cliffs that day".

Today, the battle-scarred Points du Hoc remains exactly as the Rangers left it on the afternoon of 8 June 1944. The only addition is a large stone monument erected in memorial tribute to the men who fought and died there. The monument was a project of a grateful and dedicated group of Frenchmen known as the "Comite de la Pointe du Hoc’. It was through their efforts and the generosity of the Government of France that this sacred corner of French soil was placed in perpetuity under the care of the american Battle Monuments Commission which maintains American military cemeteries and memorials on foreign soil.

This narrative is based upon the personal account of Mr. Louis Lisko, Historian of the Ranger Battalions Association.

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