Pointe du Hoc and Saint-Marcouf Islands

Pointe du Hoc

Situated on the commune of Criqueville en Bessin, the pointe du Hoc consists of a cliff from 25 to 30 meters high, overhanging a very short shingle beach. It was strengthened by the Germans, who settled a heavy artillery there, and is only at five kilometers of the west  extremity of Omaha beach, and in hardly more than 10 of Utah beach, what thus puts both beaches at the mercy of its guns (French 155 mm GPF, which can reach its target until 19 kilometers).

pointe-du-hocThe configuration of the site and the quality of the German defenses lead the Allies to think that, however essential they are, air and naval bombardments will not be enough to make harmless the pieces of ordnance, that is nevertheless essential to the success of the landing. It is thus decided to send a storm troop which will have to, from the first hour, secure the site. This mission is entrusted to the 2nd battalion of Rangers of Colonel James Earl Rudder, 4 companies forming the first wave (3 at the Pointe du Hoc itself, one at the Pointe de la Percée, placed next), two others, supported by the 5th battalion, constituting the reinforcements, to which will still be added in theory with the 116th Infantry Regiment landed at Omaha.

At 5:50 am begin the naval bombardment (US Texas, US Satterlee, HMS Talybont), followed by an air bombardment by B26 Marauders.

shell-pitAs on other beaches, the current, to which is added the difficulty finding a way because of the smoke of bombardments, is going to make divert boats (landing crafts: the LCA – Landing Craft Assault, but also DUKW Dual Utility Kargo Waterborne, amphibious vehicles, which transport in particular fireman’s ladders (borrowed from the fire brigades of London) which will serve, besides the rocket launchers equiped with ropes, to climb the cliff). One DUKW on four will get lost there. It is only at 7:10 am that the first rangers can land. It was planned that in case of success, these had to send a flare to inform the second wave. At 7 am, seeing nothing coming, Colonel Max Schneider, who commands it, concludes in a failure and thus applies the B plan by turning away on Omaha : the first Rangers will thus have no reinforcements. These, very fortunately, will going to climb the cliff and to seize enemy positions in a relatively short lapse of time and, for this action, without too many losses, the Germans quickly giving up the fight. They have then the surprise to discover bunkers without artillery : when ” The longest day ” illustrates the scene, it shows empty bunkers, what is not completely the case : to deceive the air observation, artillery was replaced by wooden pylons. The movie forgets especially the continuation: guns are there, but not in the place where we looked for them: they are inside lands, several hundred meters away. When the Rangers discover them, at about 9 am, the Germans have given  them up. The Americans can then destroy all the pieces. Reching  the coastal road, the men of the 2nd battalion are going to have to face the German counterattacks, all day long on june 6, but also next night. It’s only  on june 7 in the afternoon when, coming from Omaha, the 5th battalion, the 116th Infantry Regiment, and tanks of the 743rd battalion can finally join them. And it is only on the morning of june 8 that the Germans are definitively repelled, with the storming of the closest village : Saint-Pierre-du Mont. Among 225 Rangers that landed two days before, only 90 are still able to fight.

commemorative daggerToday still, the craters of the site (fitted out for the visit), on which nature tends nevertheless to take back its rights, testify of the violence of bombardments. A monument in the shape of dagger pays tribute to the sacrifice of the Rangers. In 1979, the site was confided by France to the United States (more exactly to American Battle Monuments Commission, which also manages Colleville’s cemetery). And it is thanks to american capital that the place was able to be restored after several years of important works (the bunker on which rises the monument threatened to collapse and must be closed in 2000) and finally inaugurated in 2011.

Saint-Marcouf Islands

Situated in some seven kilometers of the shore, this archipelago, constituted by two islands (L’île de Terre and l’île du large) became French under Napoleon. The history held that it is in this place that the very first submarine, the Nautilus of the American Robert Fulton, joined battle against the English people, who possessed then islands.

It is not however for that reason that the Allies are interested in them, but because they suspect the Germans of having settled there, within the fortifications begun under the Emperor, pieces of ordnance susceptible to fire as well Utah as Omaha.

Such a risk cannot be incurred, then a special operation is decided. Preceded by a naval frogmen’s small commando squad, a detachment led by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward C . Dunn gets a foothold on islands, where he finds nothing and no one. The first allies to land in Normandy (it is a little more than 5 am) are not thus on the continent ! This landing was made without fight, but not without victims (19 men out of action) because of mines put down on the shore.

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