It was a nearly 100-meter-high cliff, with perpendicular sides jutting out into the Channel. It looked down on Utah Beach to the left and Omaha Beach to the right. There were six 155mm cannon in heavily reinforced concrete bunkers that were capable of hitting either beach with their big shells. On the outermost edge of the cliff, the Germans had an elaborate, well-protected outpost, where the spotters had a perfect view and could call back coordinates to the gunners at the 155s. Those guns had to be neutralized. The Allied bombardment of Pointe-du-Hoc had begun weeks before D-Day. Heavy bombers from the U.S. Eighth Air Force and British Bomber Command had repeatedly plastered the area, with a climax coming before dawn on June 6. Then the battleship Texas took up the action, sending dozens of 14-inch shells into the position. Altogether, Pointe-du-Hoc got hit by more than ten kilotons of high explosives, the equivalent of the explosive power of the atomic bomb used at Hiroshima. Texas lifted her fire at 0630, the moment the rangers were scheduled to touch down.
At 0630, as Rudder's lead LCA approached the beach, he saw with dismay that the coxswain was headed toward Pointe-de-la-Perc`ee, about halfway between the Vierville draw and Pointe-du-Hoc. The error was costly. It caused the rangers to be thirty-five minutes late in touching down, which gave the German defenders time to recover from the bombardment, climb out of their dugouts, and man their positions. It also caused the flotilla to run a gauntlet of fire from German guns along four kilometers of coastline. One of the four DUKWs was sunk by a 20mm shell. Sgt. Frank South, a nineteen-year-old medic, recalled, "We were getting a lot of machine-gun fire from our left flank, alongside the cliff, and we could not, for the life of us, locate the fire.
The beach at Pointe-du-Hoc was only ten meters in width as the flotilla approached, and shrinking rapidly as the tide was coming in (at high tide there would be virtually no beach). There was no sand, only shingle.
The basic method of climbing was by rope. Each LCA carried three pairs of rocket guns, firing steel grapnels which pulled up plain three-quarter-inch ropes, toggle ropes, or rope ladders. The rockets were fired just before touchdown. Grapnels with attached ropes were an ancient technique for scaling a wall or cliff, tried and proven. But in this case, the ropes had been soaked by the spray and in many cases were too heavy. Rangers watched with sinking hearts as the grapnels arched in toward the cliff, only to fall short from the weight of the ropes. Still, at least one grapnel and rope from each LCA made it; the grapnels grabbed the earth, and the dangling ropes provided a way to climb the cliff.
The second problem for the disembarking rangers was craters, caused by bombs or shells that had fallen short of the cliff. They were underwater and could not be seen. "Getting off the ramp," Sergeant South recalled, "my pack and I went into a bomb crater and the world turned completely to water." He inflated his Mae West and made it to shore.
As First Sergeant Leonard Lomell climbed the cliff next to him was Robert Fruhling the radioman struggling with his "500" radio set with a big antenna on it. We were approaching the top, and I was running out of strength. Bob yelled, "Len, help me. Help me! I'm losing my strength." I said, "Hold on! I can't help you. I've got all I can do to get myself up." Then I saw Sergeant Leonard Rubin. He was all muscle, a born athlete, a very powerful man. I said, "Len, help Bob! Help Bob! I don't think he's going to be able to make it." He just reached over, grabbed Bob by the back of the neck and swung him over. Bob went tumbling, and the antenna was whipping around, and I was worried that it was going to draw fire. That's all I was thinking about. I was also worried about falling off the cliff with him. I yelled, "Get down! You're gonna draw fire on us!" You know, you get excited.
On the beach there were wounded who needed attention. Sergeant South had barely got ashore when "the first cry of 'Medic!' went out and I shrugged off my pack, grabbed my aid kit, and took off for the wounded man. He had been shot in the chest. I was able to drag him in closer to the cliff. I'd no sooner taken care of man. He had been shot in the chest. I was able to drag him in closer to the cliff. I'd no sooner taken care of him than I had to go to another and another and another." Captain Block set up an aid station.
Surprisingly, the massive concrete observation post at the edge of the cliff remains intact. It was the key to the whole battery; from it one has a perfect view of both Utah and Omaha Beaches; German artillery observers in the post had radio and underground telephone communication with the casemates.
When they got to the casemates, to their amazement they found that the "guns" were telephone poles. Tracks leading inland indicated that the 155mm cannon had been removed recently, almost certainly as a result of the preceding air bombardment. The rangers never paused. In small groups they began moving inland toward their next objective, the paved road that connected Grandcamp and Vierville, to set up roadblocks to prevent German reinforcements from moving to Omaha.
Sergeant South remembered "the wounded coming in at a rapid rate, we could only keep them on litters stacked up pretty closely. It was just an endless, endless process. Periodically I would go out and bring in a wounded man from the field, leading one back, and ducking through the various shell craters. At one time, I went out to get someone and was carrying him back on my shoulders when he was hit by several other bullets and killed."
The fighting within the fortified area was confused and confusing. Germans would pop up here, there, everywhere, fire a few rounds, and then disappear back underground. Rangers could not keep contact with each other. Movement meant crawling. There was nothing resembling a front line. Germans were taken prisoner; so were some rangers. In the observation post a few Germans held.
The primary purpose of the rangers was not to kill Germans or take prisoners, but to get those 155mm cannon. The tracks leading out of the casemates and the effort the Germans were making to dislodge the rangers indicated that they had to be around somewhere.
There was a dirt road leading south (inland). It had heavy tracks. Sgts. Leonard Lomell and Jack Kuhn thought the missing guns might have made the tracks. They set out to investigate. At about 250 meters (one kilometer inland), Lomell abruptly stopped. He held his hand out to stop Kuhn, turned, and half whispered, "Jack, here they are. We've found 'em. Here are the goddamned guns."
Unbelievably, the well-camouflaged guns were set up in battery, ready to fire in the direction of Utah Beach, with piles of ammunition around them, but no Germans. Lomell spotted about a hundred Germans a hundred meters or so across an open field, apparently forming up. Evidently they had pulled back during the bombardment, for fear of a stray shell setting off the ammunition dump, and were now preparing to man their guns, but they were in no hurry, for until their infantry drove off the rangers and reoccupied the observation post they could not fire with any accuracy.
"There was nobody at the emplacement. We looked around cautiously and over about a hundred yards away in a corner of a field was a vehicle with what looked like an officer talking to his men. We decided let’s take a chance. I said "Jack, you cover me and I’m going in there and destroy them." All I had was two thermite grenades – his and mine. I went in and put the thermite grenades in the traversing mechanism and that knocked two of them out because that melted their gears in a moment. Then I broke their sights. We ran back to the road...and got all the other thermites from the remainder of my guys manning the roadblock and rushed back and put the grenades in traversing mechanisms, elevation mechanisms, and banged the sights. There was no noise to that. There is no noise to a thermite, so no one saw us."
And with that the rangers had completed their offensive mission. It was 0900. Just that quickly they were now on the defensive, isolated, with nothing heavier than 60mm mortars and BARS to defend themselves.
In the afternoon Rudder had Eikner send a message -- by his signal lamp and homing pigeon -- via the Satterlee: "Located Pointe-du-Hoc -- mission accomplished -- need ammunition and reinforcement -- many casualties."
The rangers took heavy casualties. A number of them were taken prisoner. By the end of the battle only fifty of the more than two hundred rangers who had landed were still capable of fighting. But they never lost Pointe-du-Hoc.
Leonard G. Lomell, Born, 1920 and adopted by Scandinavian parents he was drafted into the army in June of 1942. He quickly rose in rank as a member of the 76th division. He attended Ranger training and was among the 60 who graduated the rigorous training. Accepting a promotion to First Sergeant in D Co. 2nd Ranger Battalion. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his action in taking out the guns. After the war distinguished himself as a prominent lawyer in Tom’s River NJ
Frank E. South, Born, 1924 at Norfolk Nebraska. A combat medic in 2 HQ Co. attaining the rank of T-4. He received 2 purple hearts for wounds in action and 2 bronze stars. After the war he graduated from the University of Berkeley California and later became professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Delaware.
475 S/N by Leonard Lomell
85 Artist Proof S/N by Leonard Lomell and Frank South
44 Canvas glyciee S/N by Leonard Lomell and Frank South
Military edition, 300 S/N by Leonard Lomell
40 Artist Proof S/N by Leonard Lomell and Frank South
Canvas Glyciee Edition 44 S/N Leonard Lomell and Frank South