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The American soldiers stationed in southwest England in the spring of 1944 didn't know what mission they were training for, but they knew they had to be ready for anything. Because they knew their mission would be an important one-and a dangerous one.
"These units accepted only volunteers," recalls Lieutenant James Eikner, who, as part of the 2nd Battalion, would be in the attacking force. "Men were selected for their mental and physical stamina and their motivation to get the job done. Sometimes we were called suicide groups, but not at all.... We were simply spirited young people who took the view that if you were going to be a combat soldier you may as well be the very best."
They trained for many months, stationed first in Bude, Cornwall, and then near the chalky cliffs of the Isle of Wight.
"We did lots of training on the cliffs in Bude," remembers Salva Maimone, a 2nd Battalion Ranger from Memphis, Tennessee. "All types of cliffs to climb. We didn't know what kind of cliff would be over there on the French coastline."
"The training was long and hard," remembers Ralph Goranson of Company C, "Each day we would run seven miles out to the cliffs on the ocean, climb all day, and run back home." Theypracticed reconnaissance, night operations, capturing prisoners, and running in ankle-deep sand. Toward the end of their training they began taking weekly plunges into the icy waters of the English Channel. Finally, after roughly half a year of intense and careful training, the Rangers were ready. For them it was only a question of when and where.
On the other side of the Channel, a site had been selected. In the eighteen-mile gap between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach there was an ominous prominence called Pointe du Hoc. Both Generals Eisenhower and Bradley were very worried about this particular piece of terrain since intelligence had identified six large guns placed on the prominence.
"Pointe du Hoc was equidistant between Omaha and Utah Beaches," said Lieutenant Eikner. "The six 155-millimeter guns had a 25,000-yard range and they could rain much destruction down on either of the beaches and reach far out into the sea and cause tremendous damage to naval craft out there. So this installation was to be the most dangerous within the invasion area. Its early neutralization on D-Day morning was considered the primary objective for that day."
"Towards the sea," Eikner continued, "the cliffs dropped off about a hundred feet on the average from vertical to near vertical to actually overhang."
The importance of Pointe du Hoc to the Allied planners is clearly shown by the neutralizing fire they focused on this position. The heavy naval warships had eighteen targets on their bombardment list for D-Day morning. Pointe du Hoc was number one. The air support plan for the medium and heavy bombers also had it as the top priority. Failure of the invasion at other places along the sixty-mile front might be overcome, but failure at the point could spell disaster. General Bradley called the task of knocking out the Pointe du Hoc defenses the toughest of any task assigned on D-Day.
To neutralize these guns, Eisenhower had conceived of a daring cliff-climbing attack using grappling hooks fired from special mortars installed on each of the landing craft that would take the attacking force to the Pointe. This attack relied heavily upon surprise. It was reasonable to presume that the German defenders would not expect a force to attempt to scale the hundred-foot sheer cliffs, so that's exactly what Eisenhower planned.
The commander chosen to lead the attacking force was Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder, the commander of the Ranger Force that consisted of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions. The plan sounded simple but was anything but.
Company C of the 2nd Battalion would make an initial, separate attack on a small prominence just to the east of the Pointe called Pointe et Raz de la Percee. This would be an attack that would mostly support the effort at Omaha Beach to help eliminate German flanking fire on the western end. But the main attack, the attack to eliminate the devastating fires from the big 155mm guns, would come at the Pointe itself.
To attack the Pointe, Companies D, E, and F of the 2nd Battalion would assault the cliffs while Companies A and B, and the entire 5th Ranger Battalion marked time off shore awaiting the signal that the Pointe had been taken. If that signal came, then they would follow in trace and land to climb the cliffs.
If the signal did not come from Pointe du Hoc that the position had been secured, then the offshore force would head east to Omaha Beach, land there, and move inland to take the Pointe from the rear, advancing along the coastal road.
As the great armada sailed toward Normandy on the night of June 5 and into the early hours of June 6, there was much talk and speculation taking place below decks by the men of the Ranger landing force. Some of it was cocky, some whispered concerns, but most talk exuded confidence borne of discipline and training.
Donald Scribner from Company C was below deck on the British ship, HMS Prince Charles. Company C's attack on Pointe et Raz de la Percee would be isolated from the rest of the force.
"I remember quite well going across the English Channel," he said. "It was very rough. The waves were very high. We were about ten miles from shore when Col. Rudder came down and talked to us prior to loading up the LCAs [Landing Craft-Assault]. He had this comment to make to us. 'Boys, you are going on the beach as the first Rangers in this combat in this battalion to set foot on French soil, but don't worry about being alone. When D, E, and F take care of Pointe du Hoc, we will come down and give you a hand with your objective. Good luck and may God be with you."'
Excerpted from Voices of Valor by Douglas Brinkley Ronald J. Drez Copyright © 2004 by Douglas Brinkley and Ronald J. Drez. Excerpted by permission.
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|Chapter 1||The Call to Arms and Gathering for D-Day||16|
|Chapter 2||Launching the Attack||30|
|Chapter 3||The Battlefield Isolated: Help from the Resistance and the SOE||46|
|Chapter 4||Dropping from the Skies: The British Attack on the East Flank||58|
|Chapter 5||Over the Atlantic Wall: The American Airborne Drop on the Cotentin Peninsula||74|
|Chapter 6||Crossing the Channel: The Air and Sea Armadas||90|
|Chapter 7||Utah Beach||102|
|Chapter 8||The Rangers at the Pointe||116|
|Chapter 9||The 16th Regiment at Omaha Beach||128|
|Chapter 10||The 116th Regiment: Into the Jaws of Hell||142|
|Chapter 11||The British 2nd Army at Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches||154|
|Chapter 12||The Aftermath||168|
Posted September 6, 2010
Posted July 9, 2012
No text was provided for this review.