01 July 2011
Work on historic D-Day site now complete Irene Moore visits Pointe du Hoc ...
The restoration of Pointe du Hoc, site of the heroic assault by American Rangers on D-Day, is now complete thanks to a $6 million project to halt the erosion of the cliffs.
The problem was identified in 2004 by academics from the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University. During the last 60 years the limestone cliffs had crumbled away by 10m and the most significant part of the site had to be closed to visitors. Now concrete columns driven 130ft into the bedrock have stabilised the forward observation casement and backfilling the caves at the base of the cliffs has ensured the future of the site for at least another 30 years.
Work has been going on for two years but finished in March when the iconic Ranger memorial was lifted on top of the casement. Closed for over ten years, this huge building has now opened to the public and provides spectacular views of the site of one of the most daring feats on D-Day.
The 2nd Ranger Infantry Battalion under Col. James Rudder was given the ‘forlorn hope’ task of capturing the powerful German coastal battery that threatened the landing beaches of Utah and Omaha, as well as the battleships of the invasion fleet. From the tiny beach where they landed the Rangers scaled the cliffs with ladders and rocket-fired grappling hooks under German fire – there they found that the ‘guns’ in the bunkers were in fact decoy telegraph poles. Rudder sent a party to find the missing guns and Ranger Len Lommel, who died in March this year, successfully put them out of action.
Rudder and his 2nd Rangers, by now joined by 23 men of the 5th Rangers who, having landed on Omaha Beach, made their way five miles overland – fought off German counter attacks all day and night. By the time he was relieved on 8th June the Rangers had taken 70% casualties but they had held their ground.
It is this proud legacy, on a site owned by the USA, that is now safeguarded for the future. On the 40th anniversary President Ronald Reagan expressed it thus:
“The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe.
Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms. Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”
Less than a mile from the Pointe across the fields lies the hamlet of St Pierre du Mont where the 11th century church was destroyed by the D-Day bombardment. Now restored, in the churchyard lies a grave reminding passers-by of the cost to those living in this hitherto quiet corner of Normandy. The inscription reads, “Here lies Louis Richard, died June 7th 1944 and the age of 17, victim of the landing.”
* Aerial photo of Pointe du Hoc (American Battle Monuments Commission)