Between Omaha and Utah lay the commanding heights of the Pointe du Hoc. Reconnaissance showed that a gun emplacement located here had the entire US invasion fleet potentially within range. It had been the subject of a series of bombing raids, the most recent by RAF Lancasters earlier this morning at 0445.
Yet the threat from the guns had to be dealt with decisively. For this reason the US Rangers had trained intensively to make an assault up the cliffs to destroy the guns. They had ladders mounted on DUKWs and rocket fired grappling hooks to assist them.
The mission was not going to plan. The group of nine Landing Craft Assault – LCA – of the 2nd Battalion had first headed for the wrong cliffs before turning late to their objective. Offshore the 5th Battalion were waiting for the signal that they had reached the cliff top so that they could come in to reinforce them. No such signal had been seen so at this very moment the 5th battalion were heading for Omaha beach to make a separate attack on Pointe du Hoc from the flanks.
Even if running late, the 2nd Battalion was going in with the attack. They were arriving from the wrong direction. The beach was too cratered for the DUKWs to get the ladders up to the cliffs. They then attempted to fire their rocket propelled grappling hooks:
Carrying a boat team of Company E, commanded by 1st Lt. Theodore E. Lapres, Jr., this craft grounded about 25 yards from the bottom of the cliff. Three or four Germans were standing on the cliff edge, shooting down at the craft. Rangers near the stern took these enemy under fire and drove them out of sight.
At the instant of touch down the rear pair of rockets was fired, then the other two pairs in succession. All the ropes fell short of the cliff edge, as a result of being thoroughly soaked. In some cases not more than half the length of rope or ladder was lifted from the containing box.
As the Rangers crossed the strip of cratered sand, grenades were thrown down from above them, or rolled over the cliff edge. These were of the potato—masher’ type, with heavy concussion effects but small fragmentation. They caused two casualties. The hand-rockets were carried ashore, and the first one was fired at 15yards from the cliff. It went over the top and caught.
Pfc. Harry W. Roberts started up the hand-line, bracing himself against the 80-degree slope. He made about 25 feet; the rope slipped or was cut, and Roberts slithered down.
The second rocket was red and the grapnel caught. Roberts went up again, made the top (he estimated his climbing time at 40 seconds), and pulled into a small cratered niche under the edge. As he arrived, the rope was cut. Roberts tied it to a picket. This pulled out under the weight of the next man, and the rope fell off the cliff marooning Roberts.
However; a 20-foot mound ofclay knocked off the cliff enabled Roberts’ team to get enough up the side to throw him a rope. This time he lay across it, and five men, including Lieutenant Lapres, came up. Roberts had not yet seen an enemy and had not been under fire. Without waiting for further arrivals, the six Rangers started for their objective, the heavily constructed OP at the north tip of the fortified area. About ten minutes had elapsed since touchdown.
Just after Lapres’ group got up, a heavy explosion occurred above the rest of 861’s team, waiting their turn on the rope. Pfc. Paul L. Medeiros was half buried under debris from the cliff.
None of the men knew what caused the explosion, whether a naval shell, or the detonation of a German mine of a peculiar type found later at one or two places along the cliff edge. The enemy had hung naval shells (200-mm or larger) over the edge, attached by wire to a pull-type ring device and fitted with a short-delay time fuze.
The explosion had no effect on the escalade. Medeiros and four more Rangers came up quickly, found Roberts’ party already gone and out of sight, and followed from the cliff edge toward the same objective.
This account of just one of the nine LCAs which each made independent assaults is from the Small Unit Action Report. This and a comprehensive collection of original documents relating to the Rangers on D-Day can be found in D-Day Cover Up at Pointe du Hoc: The History of the 2nd & 5th US Army Rangers, 1st May – 10th June 1944.