By Leonard G. Lomell, Army Ranger, 2nd Ranger Battalion

In the days leading up to the invasion of Europe in June, 1944, a major worry of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force was the five giant 155MM coastal artillery guns believed to be stationed by the Germans at Pointe du Hoc in France. These “big guns” had a range of 10-12 miles that could be fired at the planned American landing points of Omaha and Utah beaches, as well as the thousands of ships of the invasion fleet anchored off the shores of Normandy on what would soon be known as D-Day. One of the most important objectives of the early hours of the invasion, believed General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was to make certain that these guns were made inoperable…

Located on the west flank of Omaha Beach, fortress Pointe du Hoc was believed to be one of the strongest forts in Hitler’s Atlantic wall, possessing incredible firepower. Located on cliffs 100 feet high, Pointe du Hoc held five large coastal artillery guns. These guns, along with the German Army divisions located nearby, were totally able to prevent the successful invasion of France if they were not put out of action quickly and early on June 6, 1944.

The risk of tremendous loss of life was immeasurable. In all the history of wars in the world to date, the invasion of France was by far the greatest military operation yet seen. The battle for Normandy would take two and a half months, longer than either Iraq war. On D-Day, thousands of military personnel and innocent civilians would die, homes and communities would be destroyed, and the invasion fleet would be severely damaged if the “guns of Pointe du Hoc” were not put out of action by American forces as early as possible before 6:30 AM, when the troops were scheduled to land.

The U.S. Army Air Corps, as it was then known, unopposed by German aircraft because of bad weather, flew 1,365 bombers, dropping 2,746 tons of bombs on or near the American landing areas of Omaha and Utah beaches before tens of thousands of Allied troops landed. The American Navy fired 21,600 rounds before the landing. Unfortunately, there was very little damage, if any, to the German targets, including the guns at Pointe du Hoc and the 30,000-plus German soldiers. According to historians, the targets were missed by up to three miles. The Allied landing was not going to be the ‘piece of cake’ some predicted it would be. Due to bombing errors, there were no bomb craters on Omaha Beach that could be found or used for protection in the assault. Thousands of Americans would die on “Bloody Omaha Beach,” and many thousands more were wounded.

Fortunately, the most dangerous ground mission of D-Day was assigned early on to the Rangers with orders to “find the guns of Pointe du Hoc and render them inoperable as soon as possible,” in case the described mighty American firepower had not succeeded as expected, which it did not. The biggest surprise of all to the Rangers when they climbed the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc was that there were no big guns in the encasements, only long wooden shafts reminiscent of telephone poles. The United States Army and Army Air Corps intelligence units had unintentionally and unknowingly misguided the Rangers by use of their aerial photography and other misinformation. The French Underground Resistance Units informed the Rangers right after D-Day that the “big guns” were never installed at Pointe du Hoc. They claimed that the U.S. Army intelligence had been duly informed about this several times before D-Day. Nevertheless, the guns were in an undisclosed alternate position over a mile inland, still capable of killing tens of thousands of allied troops and innocent civilians. These Ranger volunteers strongly pursued and accomplished their mission by rendering the guns inoperable by 8:30 AM. It was the answer to the surviving Allied troops’ prayers. Now, let me tell you the rest of the story. I was there.