0810: Sergeant Lomell finds the Pointe du Hoc guns

A post action image of Ranger Sgt. Len Lomell sitting on one of the 155mm Guns he found, June 1944

Between Utah and Omaha lay the high cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc, offering the Germans not only a splendid vantage point of the two beaches but a strong artillery emplacement. Despite a series of bombing raids the guns could not be knocked out – they would need to be assaulted by men capable of getting up the cliff, under enemy fire. Assigned to this isolated objective were the US Rangers.

This is the account of First Sergeant Leonard G. Lomell, DSC:

I was First Sergeant of Company D of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, U.S. Army, acting as a Lieutenant platoon leader of the 2nd Platoon. We were short one officer when we landed at Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was transferred to Battalion Headquarters for special duty a few days before D-Day. After the hours of tremendous aerial and naval bombardment as earlier described, the greatest invasion in history started landing troops at 6:30 a.m. as planned.

After a stormy two hour trip in our British LCA, through cold rain and high seas and running the gauntlet for three miles, 300 plus yards offshore, under fire from the German soldiers from cliff tops along the way, we Rangers finally fired our grappling hooks with their plain or toggle rope up ove the 100 foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc (visualize a 10-story building), when our British LCA landed and the ramp was dropped.

The Germans were waiting for us on top of the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, determined to drive us back into the sea. (If we had been on time we would have caught them in their underground quarters, but we were 40 minutes late due to a British navigational error.) They were waiting to cut our ropes, drop grenades on us and shoot us off the ropes. We could not shoot back or defend ourselves very well while climbing. We were seriously outnumbered but we prevailed.

Shot through my right side as I led the men ashore in a wet landing, I suddenly disappeared in water over my head as I stepped off the ramp into an underwater bomb crater, which I could not see. I came out of the water cold and wet, my right side hurting, with my arms still full of combat gear with the help of my men. We hurriedly headed for the nearest ropes and up we went as fast as we could climb.

There had been twenty-two of us in our British LCA, and we were all up the cliff within 15 minutes, rushing through the German small arms fire, as quickly as we could to the three gun emplacements that were our original objective on the west flank: of the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on Omaha Beach.

We continued to have more combat with the enemy as we moved from bomb crater to bomb crater, which had been created months before. This fortress had underground tunnels, troop quarters, etc. and the Germans popped up often firing their weapons from where we least expected. We moved on very quickly to avoid more sniper and machine-gun fire, as well as flat trajectory anti-air craft machinegun fire, too, which was becoming more and more of a serious problem. We neutralized one German machine gun position on our way across the point and temporarily quieted down the antiaircraft position, in order to get by it quickly and not get pinned down or delayed as we continued our assault.

We got to our first objective in a matter of minutes after the assault; only the three guns in positions number four, five and six were not there. Remember, there were no big guns anywhere on the Pointe’s 40 acre fortress area that we could see, only telephone poles or something similar sticking out of the bombed out encasements. By this time we were taking mortar and heavy 88MM artillery fire, crawling fire to our rear. We moved out of that position fast, hoping to locate the missing guns, thinking they were in an alternate position inland and we would soon hear them firing. It did not happen that way.

By the time we fought our way about a mile or so to the blacktopped coastal road (about one hour), I had only a dozen men left, some of whom were lightly wounded, but able to fight on. Ten of the original 22 Rangers in my boat team had been killed or were very badly wounded. We still had not found the guns nor had any idea of where they were. It seemed we were surrounded and greatly outnumbered by German troops, in broad daylight. We were then behind their second line of defense. Fortunately, the Germans had no idea we were in their midst. I left all my men except S/Sgt. Jack Kuhn, behind to set up a roadblock as ordered.

S/Sgt. Kuhn and I started leapfrogging down this sunken farm road heading inland, following wagon tracks between the high hedgerows with trees, not knowing where it was going. It led to a little swale, or draw in an apple orchard. There was netting with camouflage over the missing guns, their barrels were over our heads. There was not a shell or bomb crater anywhere that we could see.

Looking over the hedgerow, I saw the five big 155MM coastal artillery guns and their ammunition and powder bags neatly in place, aimed at Utah Beach. The German gun crew could easily turn the ‘Big Guns’ around to fire on Omaha Beach when they so desired. The five Big Guns were located a little over a mile from where we had landed. About one hundred yards away, a German officer was talking to about 75 of his men we believed to be his gun crews, at a farm road intersection. A few minutes earlier, S/Sgt. Kuhn and I had discovered another 50 Germans, a combat patrol about two hundred yards in the other direction. They eventually passed within 20 feet of us across the blacktop road behind a boundary wall on their way to join the German troops just referred to.

This is the memoir of Lt. Leonard G. Lomell, which was delivered as a speech at Brookdale Community College, USA. The College’s own television station produced a 35 part series – Triumphant Spirit – on participation in World War II, still available on YouTube.

In recent years the exact mission that the US Rangers were given on D-Day has become something of a controversy. The discovery of a German battery at Maisy has given rise to the suggestion that the Rangers either did not attempt or were unable to take one of the key objectives that they were given.

If you are interested in historical detective work then the work of Gary Sterne gives you the opportunity to sift through virtually all of the available evidence. Copies of all the classified documentation, intelligence reports, maps and briefings as well as the post action reports have been brought together and published in two extensive volumes.

That the Rangers played a critical role on one of the most significant battles in history cannot be in doubt. Understanding that role is now the subject of intense debate amongst military historians. It is a great credit to Gary Sterne that he has not just made a the case for a new look at the evidence but that he bought all of the evidence into the public domain.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

D. Osika June 12, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Thank you for the reference to Mr Stearn and his work on finding information and restoration of the Maisy battery. Since his discovery at Maisy he has opened a fresh look at the events at both Maisy and Pte du Hoc.

bill haight August 15, 2016 at 7:16 am

this is how we won the war men going the extra mile THANK YOU

ccg June 7, 2014 at 2:55 am

I’ve been to Pointe du Hoc and the heroism involved in attacking it still amazes me!

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