The Battlefield of Pointe du Hoc, France

german gun emplacement pointe du hoc
A circular gun emplacement. The pin on which the gun pivoted is still visible. From Pointe du Hoc, the Germans held high ground that overlooked both Omaha and Utah beaches.

Unlike Omaha Beach, where almost all remnants of the D-Day battle of World War II have been removed, the spit of cliff called Pointe du Hoc looks much as it must have right after the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944. Of course, all the guns and explosives have been removed, but the evidence of the violence is evident in the shattered remains of the German fortifications.

Pointe du Hoc was a key part of Hitler's Atlantic Wall. It is a sheer cliff about 100 feet high which the Germans had outfitted with large 155 mm guns that could direct fire down on both Omaha and Utah beaches. The US 2nd Ranger Battalion, under the command of Lt. Colonel James E. Rudder, had the job on D-Day morning of scaling those cliffs to knock out the guns that could wreak havoc on the American troops landing at both beaches. Companies of the 5th Ranger Battalion, of which my father was a member, waited in landing craft just off the beach. They were to land and continue the attack if the 2nd Rangers failed.

Before D-Day, the Allies pummeled Pointe Du Hoc with artillery from both from the air and the sea, destroying some of the German fortifications. Nevertheless, they feared the German guns were still operational, and so sent in the Rangers.

The day of the landings the gun emplacements were bombarded again, but because the landing craft carrying the Army Rangers were subjected to unexpected choppy seas and a strong current, they arrived at Pointe du Hoc nearly 40 minutes after the predicted time. The bombardment had stopped those 40 minutes earlier, and so the Germans had time to reoccupy their positions to repel the Rangers.

The 2nd Rangers suffered horrible casualties but did succeed in scaling the cliffs and capturing Pointe du Hoc. But, as it often happens in war, intelligence was outdated. The Germans had moved the guns to a wood a kilometer behind the cliff, and they were never fired against the American troops.

With the success of the original attack, the reserve companies of the 2nd Rangers and the 5th Ranger Battalion were diverted from Pointe du Hoc to the Dog Green section of Omaha Beach and led the assault there–the assault that was memorialized in the movie Saving Private Ryan. Those Rangers who made it off the beach then continued to Pointe du Hoc via land and were tasked with resisting the German counter attacks. It took them two days to reach the 2nd Rangers stuck at Pointe du Hoc.

On the evening of D-Day, the Rangers who made it up the walls did find the guns and destroy them. Then they held their positions on the cliff top for two more days against fierce German counter attacks until they were relieved.

By the end of the battle, only 90 of the 225 men of the 2nd Rangers who had landed were still able to fight. The rest had been killed or wounded.

shattered bunker pointe du hoc
Reinforced two-foot thick concrete bunkers smashed by the Allied shelling.

 

rebar pointe du hoc
German rebar, twisted by the concussion and heat of the bombardment.

 

bunker view pointe du hoc
View from the slit of a German bunker overlooking the channel.
ranger memorial pointe du hoc
The Ranger Memorial overlooks the cliff they had to climb.

Here are some photos of the Omaha Beach Cemetery and battlefield. Most of the men killed at Pointe du Hoc are buried there.

Here is another post about our visit to another battlefield of World War II, in Bastogne, Belgium.

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7 thoughts on “The Battlefield of Pointe du Hoc, France”

  1. My friend, Andrea Baker, visited Point du Hoc last summer as a favor to me and my family. My Uncle, Ranger 2nd. Battalion, Charles Grady McCalvin was killed there. I do know he died on the cliffs because a friend was with him. The friend later came to visit our family but he was turned away. I’m afraid his death was so painful for the family that they just couldn’t speak of it. His name was never mentioned above a whisper in our home. Of course, since I was a child, it made my curiosity so great that I have spent a lifetime trying to find out how he died. He was the oldest of 9 brothers and sisters. I hope to get there before my life is over.

    Reply
    • Pam, I hope you make it, too. The battlefield and the nearby cemeteries above Omaha Beach are the most moving places we’ve visited in all our travels. Be prepared to get very emotional.

      Reply
    • One of the lucky ones. Was he in the 2nd Rangers? My father was in the 5th Rangers, and was in reserve to attack Pointe du Hoc. When the 2nd Rangers were successful, his unit was diverted to Omaha Beach, where they didn’t fare a whole lot better than the 2nd had at Pointe du Hoc. Brave, brave men.

      Reply
  2. On the 46th Anniversary, the American Flag of the Rangers that was lost in battle was returned to the 75th Ranger Regiment. It was a proud moment to observe the reaction of the Rangers who scaled the cliffs in 1944.

    Reply
  3. My paternal grandmother’s first cousin, Theodore “Teddy” Hrupkowska/ski, was in a glider never to be heard from again on 6/6/1944. My grandmother died in 1994 and I didn’t ask her much about her beloved cousin who she said was like her brother. I wish I had more information on him and, plan to visit Normandy next year.
    I am 51 and wish I knew then what I know now, no family left to tell his story. Anyone with information on “Teddy” please let me know.
    Thanks Again, Ken Donnelly

    Reply
    • If you know what unit he was in, you can often find unit reports or histories on line. Also, for his particular records, you might ask your congress member to check into that. They have staff who can access military records. Unfortunately, many records from World War II were destroyed in a fire in the 70s. Finally, the attendants at the Normandy grave sites have some information on the men buried there. They might be able to help. When we visited the Ardennes grave site, they were able to tell us exactly how Kris’s uncle was lost. Good luck.

      Reply

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