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The Land Beneath Us – Tour of Pointe du Hoc, Part 1

To celebrate the release of The Land Beneath Us, I’m conducting a photo tour of locations from the novel that I saw on my research trips to England, Normandy, Tennessee and more.

From the previous books in the Sunrise at Normandy series:

From The Land Beneath Us:

Tullahoma, Tennessee

Today—Pointe du Hoc, Part 1

Pointe du Hoc, Part 2

Don’t forget to enter The Land Beneath Us Release Day Giveaway, which includes lots of items I picked up on the trips! Giveaway runs Feb. 4-10, 2020.

Pointe du Hoc

The story of the US 2nd Ranger Battalion scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc has fascinated many. On this steep little point of land in Normandy, the Germans had placed six 155-mm French-made guns, each with a range of ten miles, capable of reaching both Utah and Omaha Beaches as well as the invasion fleet at sea. They needed to be eliminated.

Cliffs of Pointe du Hoc (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Cliffs of Pointe du Hoc (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Cliffs of Pointe du Hoc (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Cliffs of Pointe du Hoc (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Tip of Pointe du Hoc (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Tip of Pointe du Hoc (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Map showing Allied naval bombardment of Normandy on D-day, 6 June 1944 (Victory in the West, vol. 1, public domain via National Archives, UK)

Map showing Allied naval bombardment of Normandy on D-day, 6 June 1944, showing location of Pointe du Hoc (Victory in the West, vol. 1, public domain via National Archives, UK)

The US Army called on Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder and his 2nd Ranger Battalion. The Germans expected an attack from the land—not from the sea—so Rudder’s Rangers were assigned to climb the 100-foot tall cliffs and disable those guns.

Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder, commander of US 2nd Ranger Battalion, on Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, 7 June 1944 (Texas A&M Cushing Library)

Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder, commander of US 2nd Ranger Battalion, on Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, 7 June 1944 (Texas A&M Cushing Library)

Army Rangers of the US 5th Ranger Battalion in an LCA landing craft about to board their troopship for D-day, Weymouth, England, 1 June 1944 (US National Archives)

Army Rangers of the US 5th Ranger Battalion in an LCA landing craft about to board their troopship for D-day, Weymouth, England, 1 June 1944 (US National Archives)

Allied map showing German gun emplacements and defenses at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, dated 21 April 1944 and used in preparations for D-day (Imperial War Museum MH 24806)

Allied map showing German gun emplacements and defenses at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, dated 21 April 1944 and used in preparations for D-day (Imperial War Museum MH 24806)

Before D-day, the bombers of the RAF and the US Eighth and Ninth Air Forces subjected Pointe du Hoc to heavy aerial bombing. In fact, one air raid in April 1944 destroyed one of the guns. As a result, the Germans moved the remaining five guns about a mile inland and placed telephone poles in the original positions to fool Allied aerial reconnaissance. Although the French Resistance did send word of the changes, this information didn’t get to the unit before D-day. The remaining guns were still active and were trained on Utah Beach, but were not fired on D-day.

Pre-invasion Bombing of Pointe du Hoc by US Ninth Air Force A-20 light bombers, spring 1944. (US Army Center for Military History)

Pre-invasion Bombing of Pointe du Hoc by US Ninth Air Force A-20 light bombers, spring 1944. (US Army Center for Military History)

On June 1, 1944, the US 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions boarded their transports in Weymouth, England. Rudder, in command of both battalions, had split the force between Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc. In the 2nd Ranger Battalion, companies D, E, and F were to land first. If successful, they were to signal companies A and B to land also. If they failed, companies A and B were to head to Omaha.

British Navy Landing Craft LCA-1377 carries US 5th Rangers to transport HMS Baudouin, Weymouth, England, June 1, 1944. Rangers include Lt. Stan Askin, Capt. John Raaen, Maj. Richard Sullivan, and chaplain Father Lacy, carrying medical supplies. British sailors in the conning tower (US National Archives)

British Navy Landing Craft LCA-1377 carries US 5th Rangers to transport HMS Baudouin, Weymouth, England, June 1, 1944. Rangers include Lt. Stan Askin, Capt. John Raaen, Maj. Richard Sullivan, and chaplain Father Lacy, carrying medical supplies. British sailors in the conning tower (US National Archives)

Before dawn on June 6, 1944, the Rangers boarded their little LCAs (Landing Craft, Assault) from their transport ships. At 0430, they began the ten-mile trek toward Pointe du Hoc, due to land at 0630. Allied ships heavily bombarded the point from 0550-0630.

However, the coxswain of the British motor launch in the lead made a navigational error. Rudder discovered the error, and after a spirited discussion with the coxswain, convinced him to switch course—but this created a forty-minute delay, leading to a change in the landing plan.

Aerial photo marked to show the assault landings at Pointe du Hoc by the US 2nd Ranger Battalion on D-day, 6 June 1944 (US Army Air Force photo)

Aerial photo marked to show the assault landings at Pointe du Hoc by the US 2nd Ranger Battalion on D-day, 6 June 1944 (US Army Air Force photo)

Due to that delay, they had to chug in parallel to the coast under heavy German fire, and they were unable to signal in time for reinforcement by companies A & B. Also, the naval bombardment ended at 0630, when the Rangers were scheduled to land. The delay allowed the Germans to come out from their underground shelters and defend the point.

Rocket-propelled grapnel used by the US 2nd Ranger Battalion at Pointe du Hoc, Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Rocket-propelled grapnel used by the US 2nd Ranger Battalion at Pointe du Hoc, Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Rangers climbing the cliff of Pointe du Hoc on D+2 (June 8, 1944), bringing up supplies. A ladder, a toggle rope, and two plain ropes are in view ((US Navy photo #80-G-45716)

Rangers climbing the cliff of Pointe du Hoc on D+2 (June 8, 1944), bringing up supplies. A ladder, a toggle rope, and two plain ropes are in view ((US Navy photo #80-G-45716)

Despite these setbacks, the Rangers were trained to be flexible and to take the initiative. They fired their rocket-propelled grapnels. Since the LCAs had swamped, the ropes were wet and heavy, and only nineteen of fifty-four held. But within five minutes of landing, the first of the two hundred Rangers reached the top of the cliff. Within thirty minutes, all of the men had scaled the cliffs except a medical detachment and the wounded.

What they saw amazed them. The land was pockmarked with giant craters from the aerial and naval bombardment, and swirling with smoke. The craters served well to conceal the Rangers as they made their way to their objectives—but they also concealed the Germans.

View over Pointe du Hoc from the top of a gun battery, facing the point (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

View over Pointe du Hoc from the top of a gun battery, facing the point (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

View over Pointe du Hoc showing cratering (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

View over Pointe du Hoc showing cratering (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Crater on Pointe du Hoc (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

Crater on Pointe du Hoc (Photo: Sarah Sundin, September 2017)

One of the very few pictures showing the US 2nd Ranger Battalion in action on D-day inside a crater on Pointe du Hoc (US Navy photo)

One of the very few pictures showing the US 2nd Ranger Battalion in action on D-day inside a crater on Pointe du Hoc (US Navy photo)

Please see Pointe du Hoc, Part 2 for more photos and more of the story…

6 Responses to “The Land Beneath Us – Tour of Pointe du Hoc, Part 1”

  1. Janice Laird

    Wonderful photos and a clear synopsis of events! Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Myra

    Do you know if Rudder survived, or the survival rate at this site if those Rangers? Wonderful information!

    Reply

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