Against all Odds-The US Rangers & Their Heroic Assault on Pointe Du Hoc

Pointe Du Hoc Naval History and Heritage Command - Navy.mil

The Assault on Pointe Du Hoc was one of the most harrowing (and costly) missions in U.S. Army Ranger history.

Knowing their mission was crucial to Allied success on D-Day, the Rangers pressed on despite suffering terrifying casualties, being severely outnumbered, and possessing inaccurate intelligence.

Ultimately, their mission and their sacrifice saved the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers who landed on the beaches.

Importance

Pointe Du Hoc is a prominent point on the Normandy coast, located between the Utah and Omaha beach landing sites. As such, it was an ideal location for the Germans to bombard Allied landing sites on both beaches.

The beach next to the point is small and quickly leads to a 100-foot high cliff.

D-Day
D-Day

Any effort to attack the site would involve climbing directly up the cliff face with no cover from the Germans above. This was the mission the Army Rangers were given.

Allied intelligence had noted not only the strong entrenchments at the top of the ridge but also the 155mm artillery guns that were particularly concerning. These guns would tear Allied troops apart as they landed.

As such, the 2nd Ranger Battalion, under Lt. Col. James E. Rudder, was sent in. They would later be reinforced by the 5th Ranger Battalion under Lt. Col. Max F. Schneider.

The plan was for them to land at 6:30 AM on D-Day and destroy the artillery pieces. They would be reinforced later that day by the 116th Infantry from the main landings on Omaha.

A 15.5 cm K 418(f) gun, of the type used in the Pointe du Hoc battery, is preserved at the Atlantic Wall on Jersey. Photo: Danrok CC BY-SA 3.0
A 15.5 cm K 418(f) gun, of the type used in the Pointe du Hoc battery, is preserved at the Atlantic Wall on Jersey. Photo: Danrok CC BY-SA 3.0

The Initial Assault

Naval bombardments on the Pointe began at 5:50 AM, with the Battleship Texas supplying most of the fire. In just over half an hour it pounded over 250 shells into the German position.

The bombardment stopped at 6:24, as the Rangers’ landing craft approached the beach.

The Rangers were divided into three forces: A, B, and C.

Group A was to land at the bottom of the cliffs just below Pointe Du Hoc.

Group C was to await a signal from Group A to reinforce them, or if group A failed to take the objective, land and take it themselves.

Finally, Group B was to capture a related nearby objective at Pointe de la Percée, which was also occupied by German artillery.

The groups would all meet up at Pointe Du Hoc to hold the position from any later counterattack. More reinforcements would then arrive from the main landing sites on Omaha Beach.

USS Texas (BB-35). Underway off Norfolk, Virginia, March 15, 1943, with her main battery gun turrets trained to port.
USS Texas (BB-35). Underway off Norfolk, Virginia, March 15, 1943, with her main battery gun turrets trained to port.

Problems began immediately, as Group A’s landing was delayed by over half an hour because the landing craft went off course.

Then one of Group A’s landing craft capsized on the way to the mission, and the lead craft was hit by German artillery fire.

Another craft suffered from additional fire. One of the four DUKWs sent with them was disabled before reaching the beach. By the time the landing craft reached the beaches, they were down to just over 50 men. Group C was sent in only 15 minutes later.

When the craft reached the beaches, they were immediately hit with grenades and machine-gun fire. The Nazis had been able to recover from the bombardment due to the half-hour delay.

There was nowhere to hide on the small beach, so the Rangers began to scale the cliffs.

Some were able to use rocket-launched grappling hooks brought with the landing craft, but the Germans began cutting the ropes. The rest climbed up the cliffs with their bare hands and daggers.

Rangers from 2nd Ranger Battalion demonstrate the rope ladders they used to scale Pointe du Hoc.
Rangers from 2nd Ranger Battalion demonstrate the rope ladders they used to scale Pointe du Hoc.

Taking the Pointe

By 7:40 AM, most of the Rangers had reached the top where they took the fight to the bunkers and German entrenchments. Most of the observation posts and strong points fell quickly. Within 15 minutes, the Rangers held control over almost all of the Pointe.

Check out the drone footage below to see the grim terrain and strong fortifications the Rangers had to overcome.

The final resistance was from the Germans’ command bunker. The bunker was well-built, and the entrance covered by three separate machine guns in the bunker itself.

Despite using grenades and bazookas, the Rangers were only able to neutralize this bunker the following day when they received demolition charges.

The Rangers set about their primary objective: destroying the 155mm guns. However, when they approached the gun emplacements, they turned out to just be wood dummies – the real guns were gone.

Damaged German pillbox at Pointe du Hoc.
Damaged German pillbox at Pointe du Hoc.

The Rangers realized that they needed to prepare themselves to hold their positions against an inevitable counterattack while also trying to locate the guns.

The commander of the operation, Lt. Col. James E. Rudder, decided to send small patrols to search for the guns while his other men prepared to hold the line.

1st Sergeant Leonard G. Lomell and Staff Sergeant Jack E. Kuhn managed to locate the five guns just a kilometer to the south. They used thermite grenades and their rifles to destroy them while avoiding detection.

With their objective completed, the Rangers needed to hold the line while awaiting reinforcements.

Groups A and C had suffered heavy casualties, and Group B had encountered heavier resistance than expected at Pointe de la Percée. Consequently, only a part of Group B was able to reinforce them on the 6th.

D+2, after relief forces reached the Rangers. The American flag had been spread out to stop fire of friendly tanks coming from inland.
D+2, after relief forces reached the Rangers. The American flag had been spread out to stop fire of friendly tanks coming from inland.

Holding the Line

By nightfall, the main body of Allied reinforcements was nowhere in sight, and the Germans launched their counterattack. With far fewer troops than expected as well as low ammunition, the Rangers had difficulty holding their lines.

The bunkers and entrenchments, which were created to defend against a Naval attack, were not useful to the Rangers. Vastly outnumbered, some were surrounded or ran out of ammunition and were captured.

The lines pushed back and forth throughout the night, with the Germans breaking through at times and then being pushed back. It was a harrowing battle.

When the sun rose, the Rangers had been pushed back slightly, but still held the Pointe ground. However, much to Rudder’s dismay, the 116th Infantry reinforcements were still not there.

The German counterattack stalled, although snipers continued to pick off Rangers throughout the day. When night fell on the second day, with reinforcements nowhere to be seen, all hell broke loose.

US soldiers during the D-Day in the Normandy area 6 June 1944.
US soldiers during the D-Day in the Normandy area 6 June 1944.

The Germans attempted three assaults on the sleep- and ammunition-deprived Rangers. Despite being severely outnumbered, the Rangers managed to hold off the first two assaults.

Finally, around the time of the third assault, early in the morning on the 8th, the 116th Infantry arrived. The German counterattack wilted in the face of the remaining Rangers, the tanks, and the infantry of the 116th.

The battle was finally won but at an incredible cost. Only about 90 of the 225 Rangers were still able to fight at the end of the battle, and some of those were injured. Rudder himself had been wounded twice.

Counting injuries, the casualty rate was around 70%. Nonetheless, the Rangers had done their job in the face of overwhelming odds.

Pre-invasion bombing of Pointe du Hoc by 9th Air Force A-20 Havoc bombers
Pre-invasion bombing of Pointe du Hoc by 9th Air Force A-20 Havoc bombers

Read another story from us: D-Day Training Video and Photos – Practice Makes Perfect

Legacy

Today, a monument built by the French stands in honor of the bravery and tenacity of the U.S. Army Rangers who took part in this operation. For his role, Lieutenant-Colonel James Rudder was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The battle for Pointe Du Hoc was portrayed in the first mission of the American campaign in the 2005 video game Call of Duty 2.