Difficulties of Rangers taking Pointe-du-Hoc
as F Rtit By G.K. HODENFIELD For Th Associated Press The fear began to subside and excitement excitement mounted at 4:05 a.m., June 6, 1944. That's when 2,225 men of the 2nd U.S. Ranger Battalion left their landing ships, the HMS Ben Machree and HMS Amsterdam, Amsterdam, in their LCAs to begin the assault on Hitler's Atlantic Wall. It was D-Day, D-Day, D-Day, the long-awaited long-awaited long-awaited opening opening of the Second Front. A couple of hours earlier we had been served a hearty breakfast breakfast of pancakes pancakes and coffee, a meal designed designed to reduce reduce the pos-sibility pos-sibility pos-sibility of seasickness. The Ben Machree and Amsterdam were former Channel Steamers, and quite comfortable. The LCAs (Landing Craft, Assault) Assault) were built to carry 20-30 20-30 20-30 men or one vehicle, and were not built for comfort. The LCAs were loaded at deck level, then lowered into the black and choppy waters of the English Channel. Channel. As a correspondent for the Army newspaper Stars & Stripes, I was assigned assigned to LCA No. 883, commanded by Capt. Otto "Big Stoop" Masney of Company Company F and Pewaukee, Wis. The Rangers had been briefed and "sealed" aboard the Ben Machree and Amsterdam on June 1. We had gone through the false alarm of June 5. D-Day D-Day D-Day had been originally scheduled for that day. but had been postponed postponed because of horrible weather. The weather didn't seen much better now, but there was a subtle change in the Rangers. Their attitude now was, "Come on, let's get this thing over with." The seas were high and wild, the wind strong and biting cold. The Ranger plan was vital to the success of the entire invasion, invasion, but it was basically simple. Their target was Pointe du Hoc, a comparatively small tableland that jutted into the English Channel like the letter "V," between the main American landing landing sites on Omaha and Utah beaches. The Germans had six 155mm guns on Pointe du Hoc, all capable of pouring murderous fire onto either Utah or Omaha. Invasion planners called Pointe du Hoc "Target No. 1." The sides of the "V" of Pointe du Hoc were sheer cliffs, most more than 100 feet high, which is why one Allied officer said, "Three old women with brooms could keep the Rangers from climbing those cliffs." The LCAs were equipped with rocket launchers that would hurl grapnel hooks over the clifftops, trailing rope ladders. The Rangers would land on the narrow beach below the cliffs, pull the ropes tight to set the grapnel hooks firmly into the earth, scamper up the rope ladders, spike those 155mm guns with thermite grenades, and move about one mile inland inland to meet reinforcements from Omaha Beach at noon on D-Day. D-Day. D-Day. A good plan, a basically simple plan. But, ... As the 11 loaded LCAs formed up and M2 Em began their slow approach to the Normandy Normandy coast, about 10 miles ahead, one of the supply boats swamped and sank. There was one survivor. A short while later, another LCA swamped and sank in the heavy seas. This one carried Capt. Harold "Duke" Slater and some of his D Company men. Rangers in the other LCAs could see Slater and his men threshing about in the freezing water-, water-, water-, trying to stay afloat, but there was no thought of stopping to help them. Those big guns on Pointe du Hoc were still there, and they were the sole purpose of this operation. operation. In any event, all of the Rangers knew they were expendable. expendable. (Slater and some of his men were picked up later and returned returned prot esting bitterly to England. They wanted to be taken to Pointe d u Hoc.) Just before dawn, the big ships lying offshore offshore opened fire all along the invasion coast. The sky was aflame with the flashes and flares of hundreds of big guns. We knew there were about 5,000 ships out there in the darkness, carrying almost almost 200,000 men and their fighting gear to the French beaches. But came the dawn, and we saw that things were not going according to plan. The winds of at least 15 knots and the four-foot four-foot four-foot waves had pushed the Ranger flotilla far off course. We were headed for land at least three miles east of Pointe Pointe du Hoc. The mistake in navigation was quickly corrected, but valuable time had been lost. So had the element of surprise. Instead of coming ashore directly from the north at H-hour, H-hour, H-hour, the Rangers found themselves headed west parallel to the beaches, more than half an hour late. You make friends quickly in combat, and lose them just as quickly. I had spent much of the trip in the LCA kidding with a Ranger who said he would never understand understand why a reporter, who really didn't have to, would go along on what was cer- cer- I tain to be a suicide mission for about half the Rangers. He was a great guy, and I wish I had learned his name. Shortly-after Shortly-after Shortly-after our LCA turned west and headed for Pointe du Hoc, a German rifleman on the cliffs shot him through the head. He toppled over quietly at my feet. The casualties in the other LCA were higher. The naval fire had, indeed, driven the Germans to cover. But they had recovered recovered when the bombardment stopped and had come out to see what was going on. What they saw were slow-moving slow-moving slow-moving LCAs loaded with soldiers perfect targets targets for sharpshooters less than 200 yards away. The loss of two LCAs had reduced the Ranger fighting force to fewer than 200 men. Also in the Ranger flotilla were four DUKWs (pronounced "Ducks"). The DUKW was a 2Vt-fon 2Vt-fon 2Vt-fon truck chassis with a hull, rudder and propeller to make it amphibious. amphibious. The Rangers had equipped their . four DUKWs with extension ladders from the London Fire Brigade. The DUKWs were to run aground, raise their ladders, and provide a fast and relatively easy means of getting over the clifftops. Just before reaching the narrow Pointe Pointe du Hoc beaches, one of the DUKWs was hit by 20mm fire and sunk. The other three were never truly effective. The nine LCAs touched down at about 7:10 a.m. a good 40 minutes late. A welcoming committee was at the top of the cliffs, shooting directly down at the Rangers and dropping hand grenades on them. Some of the LCAs fired their rockets before hitting the beach and the rockets failed to reach the clifftops. All had other rocket launchers which could be carried ashore and fired from there. Captain Masney saw the other LCAs stop too soon and fire their rockets ineffectively. ineffectively. He ordered the boatswain on his LCA to keep driving toward the beach, and warned against shooting the rockets prematurely because, "We've got plenty of time." Thus it was that LCA 883 made the only dry landing of the group, and five of our six rockets went sailing over the cliff tops. The sight and sound of the rockets drove the Germans back from the clifftops clifftops just about long enough for some of the Rangers to start up the rope ladders. The first LCA to touch down had brought Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder of Brady, Texas, to the shores of France. Rudder set up his command post on the narrow beach. Snipers and machine gunners were on the cliffs all around us, so we scrambled to the safety of the cliff base. Sgt. Bob Youso and Pvt. Alvin White of our LCA had already started up the ladders and others lined up awaiting their turn. Despite the opposition, the Rangers got to the top of the cliffs and began pushing the Germans back. I'll never know how they did it. As each group of Rangers reached the clifftops they set about their assigned mission find those German guns and spike them with thermite grenades. But the guns weren't where they were supposed to be. First Sgt. Leonard Lomell (now a successful successful attorney in Toms River, N.J.) knew the guns couldn't be far away. Although Although he had been shot in the side just as he left his LCA on the beach below, he was one of the first Rangers up the cliffs, and he was determined to find those guns. He did. . At the place where his target gun was supposed to be, Lomell could see tracks leaving the gun position. Along with Staff Sgt. Jack E. Kuhn, he followed the tracks down a narrow lane and sure enough, they found five of the guns. Incredibly, the guns were set up to fire on Utah EDITOR'S NOTE D-Day, D-Day, D-Day, 1944, the liberation of Europe, and the people first tasted its joys and agonies lived the edge of the Normandy beaches. how the invasion looked to those whom accorded a dangerous front row seat, including former Associated Press writer G.K. Ho-denfield, who took part as a combat correspondent with the first wave of Rangers. Inside, three Central Illinoisans, a Ranger, recall their part in the Beach from a well camouflaged position. There were piles of ammunition ready to be fired and fuses on the shells. But there wasn't a German soldier anywhere in the immediate area. With Kuhn covering him, Lomell climbed over a hedgerow and set off thermite grenades in the recoil and traversing traversing mechanism of two of the guns, and used his gun butt to smash the sight on all five guns. Then Lomell and Kuhn went back for more thermite grenades and put the remaining three guns out of action. The thermite grenades melted the mechanisms and rendered the guns useless. useless. The Rangers had been scheduled to break out of Pointe du Hoc and advance eastward toward Grandcamp and Omaha Beach by noon of D-Day. D-Day. D-Day. In fact, they didn't leave Pointe du Hoc until about noon on D-plus-2, D-plus-2, D-plus-2, D-plus-2, D-plus-2, about 48 hours late. It was about 1 a.m. on June 7 that the Germans launched their first counterattack. counterattack. That was thrown back, but they regrouped and hit us again about dawn. The reinforcements, after bloody, bitter bitter fighting, moved up from the east, and the Germans took off. But those guys coming from Omaha beach heard the sound of our captured German weapons. Since they believed the original striking force had been wiped out, they assumed we were Germans, and they opened fire on us. Col. Rudder had an American flag displayed, displayed, and ordered our firing to stop. But we already had lost several men to "friendly fire." About noon on D-plus-2 D-plus-2 D-plus-2 D-plus-2 D-plus-2 the remnants of Companies D, E and F walked off Pointe du Hoc. Of the original force, there were only about 50 who could walk under their own power. Some of those were badly wounded, including Rudder and Masney, both wounded twice. Some of the survivors will meet again at Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. D-Day. D-Day. Masney and Lomell will be there, among others. We'll all miss Rudder, Rudder, who became president of Texas A&M before he died at age 60 in 1970. snafu Situation Normal, All Fouled Up! At the end of the day, a battlefield grave.