A few kilometres east of the small fishing port of Grandcamp, the cliffs form a sheer promontory towering thirty metres above a narrow pebble beach. This is the Pointe du Hoc. On this particularly favourable site, the Germans had built a heavy artillery battery capable of raking a wide stretch of coastline. It represented a formidable threat to the two beaches where American troops were going to land: Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east.
Conscious of the danger represented by the guns at the Pointe du Hoc, the Allied strategists resolved to destroy the position. Although aerial bombardments would be increased over the weeks leading up to D-Day, nobody could be sure that they would actually neutralize the battery. As a precaution, the decision was therefore taken to attack the position at dawn on D-Day, sending a commando by sea to scale the cliff using ropes and ladders.
This perilous mission was entrusted to the 2nd Ranger Battalion, under the command of Colonel James E. Rudder. Carried to the beach by barges, the men of Companies D, E and F managed the incredible exploit of reaching the clifftop within a matter of minutes, despite the slippery rock face, ropes sodden with seawater and firing from the defenders. At the top, in what resembled a lunar landscape, pockmarked with craters, fierce fighting ensued, which resulted in more loss of life than the actual ascent had done.
A major surprise was in store for the Rangers, when they discovered that huge timber beams had been substituted for the guns. To keep them safe, the latter had been taken from their emplacements in April and moved inland. They were subsequently discovered by an American patrol, which put them out of action by sabotaging their breeches with explosives.
Rudder’s men now had to endure many terrible hours. Surrounded on the Pointe du Hoc without any reinforcements, and subjected to German counter-attacks from all sides, they were only relieved on June 8th, at around midday, by troops advancing from Omaha. Of the 225 Rangers who had embarked on this insane adventure, only 90 were still able to fight, and nearly 80 of their comrades had lost their lives in this tiny corner of Normandy.