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:
- Tour of London Part 1
- Tour of London, Part 2
- Tour: D-Day at Sea (includes photos of the Isle of Wight and crossing the English Channel)
- Tour of Omaha Beach
- Tour of the Queen Mary (sister ship of the Queen Elizabeth)
From The Land Beneath Us:
Today—Pointe du Hoc, Part 1
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Please see Pointe du Hoc, Part 2 for more photos and more of the story…