Pointe du Hoc is a clifftop location on the coast of Normandy in northern France. It lies 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Omaha Beach, and stands on 100 ft (30 m) tall cliffs overlooking the sea. It was a point of attack by the United States Army during the Battle of Normandy in World War II. At Pointe du Hoc (often spelled as its Parisian French name "Pointe du Hoe" in official Army documents), the Germans had built, as part of the Atlantic Wall, six casemates to house a battery of captured French 155mm guns. With Pointe Du Hoc situated between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east, these guns threatened Allied landings on both beaches, risking heavy casualties in the landing forces. Although there were several bombardments from the air and by naval guns, intelligence reports assumed that the fortifications were too strong, and would also require attack by ground forces. The U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion was therefore given the task of destroying the strongpoint early on D-Day. Prior to the attack, the guns were moved approximately 1 mile away. However, the concrete fortification was intact and would still present a major threat to the landings if they were occupied by artillery forward observers. The Ranger Battalion commanders and executive officers knew the guns had moved, but the rest of the Rangers were not informed prior to the attack. The myth that the guns were "missing" on D-Day may be attributed to this decision not to inform the troops prior to the attack. The Ranger battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder. The plan called for the three companies of Rangers to be landed by sea at the foot of the cliffs, scale them using ropes, ladders, and grapples under enemy fire, and engage the enemy at the top of the cliff. This was to be carried out before the main landings. The Rangers trained for the cliff assault on the Isle of Wight, under the direction of British Commandos. Despite initial setbacks because of weather and navigational problems, resulting in a 40-minute delay and loss of surprise, the cliffs were scaled and the strongpoint was assaulted successfully, with relatively light casualties. Fire support was provided during the attack by several nearby Allied destroyers. Upon reaching the fortifications, most of the Rangers learned for the first time that the main objective of the assault, the artillery battery, had been moved out of position, possibly as a result of air attacks during the buildup to the invasion. It is said that German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel gave the order to move the battery since he had recently been placed in charge of the coastal defenses of Normandy. Removal of the guns had actually been completed on June 4, 1944, but poor weather conditions prior to the invasion limited a final reconnaissance effort which would have revealed the guns' removal. The Rangers regrouped at the top of the cliffs, and a small patrol went off in search of the guns. This patrol found the guns nearby and destroyed them with thermite grenades. The new battery location inland was sighted solely for Utah beach. The costliest part of the battle for the Rangers came after the cliff assault. Determined to hold the vital ground, yet isolated from other assault forces, they fended off several German counterattacks over the next two days, until reinforced from Omaha Beach. The original plans called for an additional, larger Ranger force of eight companies to follow the first attack, if successful. Flares from the clifftops were to signal this second wave to join the attack, but because of the delayed landing, the signal came too late, and the other Rangers, mostly of the U.S. 5th Ranger Battalion, landed on Omaha instead of Pointe du Hoc. At the end of the 2-day action, the landing force of 225+ was reduced to about 90 men who could still fight. Pointe du Hoc now has a memorial and museum dedicated to the battle. Many of the original fortifications have been left in place. The site is speckled with an impressive number of bomb craters.
Photos generously submitted by: Jérôme Andre
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