225 US Rangers had to storm a rock spire on D-Day, less than half survived. But apparently the truth was not taken too seriously later, so as not to disturb the legend.

The US rangers assigned to storm the Pointe du Hoc on D-Day knew they had little chance of surviving June 6, 1944. That day 75 years ago today when the Allies landed in France.

Pointe du Hoc is a cliff in Normandy that rises 30 meters vertically above the beach. There was an artillery position there, whose heavy 155mm guns could have shelled the entire landing beach.

The facility was so heavily fortified and bunkered by the Todt Organization, a construction team of the National Socialists, that it was not possible to destroy the battery from the air. In addition to the natural protection of the cliffs, the facility was secured by minefields and barricades. Machine gun emplacements and fast-firing anti-aircraft guns could pound any attackers coming from the beach.

Point du hoc without cannons

225 US Rangers should storm this fortress. Armed only with light weapons they could carry, they were to charge the cliff with ropes and scaling ladders – right through the German line of fire and before the main forces were to begin landing.

The venture was ill-fated, the boats drifted off at sea and, in this time-sensitive venture, arrived at the foot of the fort 40 minutes later than planned. On top of that, a boat had capsized – 19 rangers drowned before reaching the beach.

After heavy fighting, they took and held the altitude. Only 90 of the 225 men were operational on the second day. Since then, their fight has been considered a US national shrine and was portrayed in the film “The Longest Day” – where Hollywood star Robert Mitchum stormed the heights. The disappointment of the soldiers was already shown in the film from the 1960s. Because when they had conquered the bunkers with so many losses, the survivors had to realize that there were no cannons in the fortress.

How significant was Pointe du Hoc

For years there has been a dispute as to the significance of the Battle of the Needle. Militaria collector Gary Sterne doubts the value of the operation. In his opinion, the important battle for the German artillery positions took place elsewhere.

This criticism is a sacrilege. Rob Citino, senior historian at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, told the Washington Post: “The Pointe du Hoc is so sacred, it’s like driving someone to Gettysburg and saying : ‘Actually, there was a much larger battle fought just a few kilometers away.’ And that nobody knows.”

And that battle does appear to have taken place near the spire. Collector Gary Sterne stumbled across the “Maisy Battery” when he bought an old military map at a flea market 15 years ago. At the time, Sterne bought an entire US soldier’s uniform for $180. In a pocket was the map, on it the areas with high resistance of the Germans were marked. But nothing was known about these battles in literature, and Sterne also thought that there were only fields there.

Visiting these zones in Normandy, he quickly found the buried German bunkers. Sterne bought the fields together for a museum, but when he first published his theses, the outsider was called a crackpot.

War hero was shameless swindler

The disgrace probably left the collector no peace. He evaluated declassified secret archives and attacked the commander of the US rangers, Lt. Col James E. Rudder, sharp on. He accused him of having known before the attack that the Germans had removed the cannons from the position.

As Stern describes it, the attack on Pointe du Hoc was bloody and heroic – but the 77 dead and 38 missing were sacrificed senselessly.

The legend lives on

Even if he never questioned the heroism of the rangers, the outsider scratched the monument violently and had to take serious attacks for his theses. But it was precisely this dispute that showed how closely related heroic legends are to lies and deceit. Star was attacked massively by Lieutenant George G. Klein. He had been a D-Day celebrity for years, appeared in TV documentaries, was present at important commemorative events and always talked about the day he stormed Pointe Du Hoc with Rudder.

But when it came to stars, the “D-Day star” had come across the wrong person, because he was researching the hero’s story. A hero who left no trace in the D-Day files. Eventually, Klein’s World War II files were tracked down. The hero wasn’t in Normandy on June 6th, but in Ireland. Klein had to admit that he had made it all up.

After the revelations, Klein withdrew and was no longer available to the public. But the battle for the Maisy base will never displace the legend of Pointe du Hoc.

Citino told the Washington Post that the story of the rock needle captures the imagination of all who hear it. How the rangers storm the weapon-ridden German fortress in the early morning darkness – with nothing more than their submachine guns and hand grenades.

“What happened at Maisy is harder to explain.” It is interesting for experts to see the outlines of a sunken military base in the ground. “But you can’t take a little kid there and say, ‘Look, Johnny, the rangers scaled those cliffs with nothing but a rope.'”

Quellen: The Cover-Up at Omaha Beach: D-Day, the US Rangers, and the Untold Story of Maisy Battery; DDay Overlord; Washington Post

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