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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thursday, 2 July '09: D-Day: Scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc

"And these are the sheer cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc," announced our knowledgeable French guide, "where the Rangers under the command of Col James E Rudder scaled the 100 metre cliffs under enemy fire. Their mission impossible - knock out the huge artillery guns on the top of the cliffs."

Royal Navy boats brought the Rangers under position under the cliffs. Rocket-fired grappling irons invented by British Commando forces with rope ladders attached were launched at the solid rock from the boats. Where grappling irons held, men began to ascend the ladders. From the top of the cliffs, the amazed German defenders fired down upon them and dropped grenades. As one man fell, another simply took his place.

Strong support was given the Rangers by the destroyers USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont. The Satterlee remained with the Rangers all day.

Yachts with butterfly-like sails moved on a peaceful sea during my visit to Pointe du Hoc. But what a scene the surprised German defences must have seen as a veritable Armada of vessels moved irrevocably towards them on the morning of June 6 1944.
Eventually the brave Rangers reached the top of the cliff and rushed towards the giant guns covered in camoflaugue netting. To their surprise when the netting was ripped away, they only found wooden poles which simulated their presence. The huge guns had been moved a little way off; they were soon dealt with. Then Colonel Rudder's radio operator struggled to send the message: "Praise the Lord!" to signify success. The message was not received. The 5th Battalion of Rangers assumed that the mission had failed and resorted to an alternative plan.


The Batallion of the German 916th Grenadier Regiment took even longer to communicate news of the assault and call for reinforcements. But eventually a German counter attack was launched and Rudder's small force was attacked again and again. They ran out of ammunition and had to arm themselves with weapons taken from fallen enemy soldiers.

Was it my imagination or were the visitors who walked the cliffs, peered into German pill boxes, peered over barbed wire and gazed at this simple memorial, unusually sombre? Even the little boys who clambered down grassy bomb craters and scurried down the stone steps into German dugouts seemed awestruck by this heroic venture.
* Credit goes to Anthony Beevor's splendid and comprehensive military history: D-Day, published 2009 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books, which I bought at the bookshop at the Military Museum at Caen and devoured during the rest of the trip. Antony Beevor has also written: Stalingrad; Berlin, the downfall; Crete, the battle and resistance: Paris after the liberation and The battle for Spain, all recommended for military history enthusiasts.

13 comments:

Janet said...

Very interesting blog again today. I do love your photographs!

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

Oh Eleanor, the picture of the sail boats made me lond to go out on the ocean and just relax and and smell the salt air and enjoy the breeze!
xoxo

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

Lovely pics Eleanor. What a sad time this was in the world. So many brave men and women lost teir lives during that time. I could never go to a place like this as I would feel their ghosts walking beside me.

Anonymous said...

You should teach history to Americans. I was an "honor student" and never learned these things. Of course, I could have taken it upon myself to learn. In the late 60s and early 70s it wasn't "politically correct" to dwell on the heroic deeds of the military. All the more heartbreaking that so many lives were given to no avail in the hearts of many only a generation later.

Avril said...

Very interesting! How sad though to read Anonymous' comment!
My Dad (as did many Dad's) fought in the WWII (Italy and the desert) and came back a changed man apparently. He was in the Rhodesian Artillery and lost a few close friends - haunted more than all the problems that went with the Rhodesian terrorist war

Avril said...

Sorry that should read - haunted him more ...

Sreddy Yen said...

Hey~! Wow, that's a lovely photo, the first one. It looks like a man praying with his hands held high. It must be very haunting to walk along a place like this, with all the brave people who died. I hope you enjoyed your trip :O)

Sreddy

Anonymous said...

Avril, my Dad served in Burma during the War. In high school and college, I enrolled in all required history courses, including "American history," but for some reason we never "made it" to World War II. We did study World War I in what seemed like some depth. Perhaps it was assumed we would learn all we needed to know about World War II from the movies.

Cynthia said...

A complex battle in a lovely place. I hate to imagine the suffering that took place in that sea blown land. Thanks for sharing your own living history. I came over from Carol's Writers Porch blog. I write from the mountains of Puerto Rico...where it is green, wet, and warm. <3

Vicki Lane said...

Thank you, Eleanor, for this post about a time that shouldn't be forgotten. My father served in Burma and chose not to talk much of his experiences.

Poetikat said...

It is certainly one of those places where the spectre of fear and death must still loom. I felt that way when I was at Dachau as a teen in 1977.

Kat

Anonymous said...

Maybe our fathers knew each other, Vicki.

Barbara Martin said...

Interesting and informative post, Eleanor. This portion of history is very somber.