A nauseous medley of diesel engine smoke, of the smell of burnt gunpowder from our naval fire and the salty sea air was turning my stomach. I was deafened by naval artillery fire, the thundering sound of explosions, and the raging groan of enemy weapons. A multitude of rumbling, whistling and shrill noises, added to those of the engines and the sea swell as it crashed against the hulls of our amphibious craft, the sudden detonations of German seamines, the last blows before the agonizing sound of vessels as they plunged into the deep waters, and the desperate cries for help from the wounded and the drowning – all of these noises echoed incessantly in my ears. -Navy Lieutenant Howard Van der Beek-
Normandy & Freedom
Back in 1985 I was 10 years old, my father took me to the beaches of Normandy, and told me that our freedom had started right there, it made a huge impression on me that day. And now my son is 10 years old, so we went back to Pointe du Hoc, the place where it started. Walking from the parking lot past the small museum, you can read what happened on that day in June. My son said: ‘what does it say dad?’ and I started reading out loud, and I can tell you now, that even by sitting here typing this, I still get a lump in my throat, because it is so f#cking impressive what those brave Warriors accomplished that day!
By mid-1944, German forces manned formidable defenses along the French coast. Of concern to the Allies were German 155mm artillery positions on Pointe du Hoc. They could wreak havoc on Utah and Omaha Beaches. Lt. Col. James E. Rudder, commanding the 2nd Ranger Battalion, received the mission to land at 6:30 a.m., scale the 100 foot cliffs, and disable the German positions. Lt. Col. Max F. Schneider’s 5th Ranger Battalion would follow and reinforce them.
Timeline of events that day
June 6, 5:50 a.m.: Naval bombardment of Pointe du Hoc began, including guns of the battleship USS Texas. Three companies (70 men per) of Rudder’s 2nd Ranger Battalion were to land at Pointe du Hoc at 6:30 a.m., but were delayed. Per plan, Schneider’s command (plus three companies of the 2nd) joined the Omaha Beach assault.
June 6, 7:10 a.m.: Two landing craft were lost, but the Rangers debarked and started up the cliffs. They pressed upward, supported by the destroyer USS Satterlee. One of the Rangers’ DUKWs was disabled by enemy fire en route to Pointe du Hoc. The engine failed. Three Rangers were casualties, including one killed.
June 6, 7:40 a.m.: Most of the remaining Rangers reached the top.
June 6, 9:30 a.m.: The Germans had previously moved the guns southward from their initial prepared positions. Despite fierce resistance, Rangers found and destroyed the guns pushing onward to cut the highway south of Pointe du Hoc.
June 6-8: After fighting two days, only about 90 Rangers stood when relieved by Schneider’s Rangers and the 29th Division from Omaha Beach.
Visiting the site after 32 years, made a huge impression again. People are easy to forget what was done for them and take the way they live for granted much to often. ‘That will never happen again’, that might be true, but evil is still out there, it just looks different.
If you never visited the area, I encourage you strongly to make the trip, it is even after all those years a very impressive place to visit and very well maintained.
Thank you Warriors of the 2nd Ranger Battalion and all others involved that day in June.