On June 6th 1944 an international coalition attacked Nazi occupied France along the Normandy coast. Supported by paratroops, soldiers landed on five beaches - codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword - to begin the liberation of Western Europe. This was D-Day for Operation Overlord and its success - all five beachheads were established - was a pivotal moment in the Second World War. However, there was a sixth naval landing that, although far smaller than the main beaches, was considered more dangerous. It took place at Pointe du Hoc. On the west of the Normandy coast, between Grandcamp les Bains and Vierville sur Mer, a rocky promontory called Pointe du Hoc sticks out of the cliffs. When Germany prepared an 'Atlantic Wall' of defences against Allied invasion in 1943/44 they picked Pointe du Hoc, with its vertical slopes, tiny shingle beach and views of the surrounding coast, to build a defensive compound mounting – according to Allied intelligence reports - six 155mm guns, artillery which could hit positions several miles away. With thick concrete casements and underground bunkers, protected cable runs, an equally protected spotting post on the cliff and a network of trenches, the position was amongst the strongest ever built by the Nazis in the west. The beaches guarded by Pointe du Hoc had been chosen as the two American landing points - Utah and Omaha – on D-Day and, with the capability to inflict such massive casualties, the guns had to be neutralized as early as possible during the invasion. Unfortunately, the massive concrete infrastructure prevented Allied bombers from achieving a guaranteed success. Although the RAF and USAF dropped explosives equivalent to the Hiroshima bomb upon the Pointe, Allied soldiers would still have to attack in person on D-Day. In addition, the Germans had placed the majority of their defences to guard against an attack from inland, believing the cliffs to be nearly impregnable, and had around 200 men in place. Just to give an insight as to how deep the craters are, here is me stood in one 60 years after the event. The mission was given to the 2nd and 5th battalions of the US Rangers. Under the command of Lt. Colonel James Rudder, D, E and F companies of 2nd Battalion would move first, sailing to the cliff base and attacking up the sheer rockface with grappling hooks and ladders at 6.30am. D company would move in from the west, E and F from the east. When a route was open the remaining force – A and B company as well as the whole of 5th Battalion – would follow. If the initial attack failed and no signal had been given by 07:00 am, the remaining force would adopt a different plan, landing at the west of Omaha beach and attacking the Pointe round from inland. Meanwhile, Company C of 2nd Battalion would make a similar assault on Pointe de la Percée, a position located between Pointe du Hoc and Omaha beach. From here C Company would head overland to du Hoc. The initial target was the guns, but the Rangers were also briefed to neutralise the position and seize a main road which ran past the Pointe and along the coast, severing the German connection between Grandcamp Les Bains and Vierville sur Mer, and thus between Utah and Omaha beaches. This position was to be held until troops from Omaha were able to link up with the Rangers, hopefully at around midday. As 6.30 am (H-Hour) approached, D, E and F companies approached the Normandy coast in a flotilla of twelve craft: nine LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) carrying the Rangers and three DUKWs (duplex-drive trucks which could 'swim') carrying supplies and ladders. The tenth LCA, with D Company’s Captain Slater and twenty men, had sunk shortly after embarking, and the rough seas similarly overwhelmed the fourth DUKW soon after; Slater and his men were rescued later that morning. At H-Hour the guns of USS Texas ceased firing upon the Pointe and the Rangers closed in. Unfortunately, a combination of strong tides and navigational confusion – the same mix which proved so lucky on Utah – had pushed the Rangers off course: they were opposite Pointe de la Percée instead. Rudder quickly realised and ordered the flotilla west along the coast, but the delay cost the Rangers thirty-five minutes. They reached the Pointe at 07:05 am, five minutes after the deadline to signal the remainder of their force, so 5th Battalion – accompanied by A and B companies from 2nd Battalion – moved towards Omaha beach instead. D, E and F were all Rudder had to take Pointe du Hoc. The mistake had other consequences. As the Ranger's flotilla sailed to the Pointe they moved parallel to several miles of defended coastline and came under attack from machine guns, mortars and artillery. Despite the aid of USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont, who realised the situation and fired onto the coast, suppressing the German troops, another DUKW was sunk. In addition, the Germans which USS Texas had suppressed atop Pointe du Hoc had over half an hour to realise the bombardment had stopped and return to their positions. Finally, all three companies approached from the East, and the remainder of D company abandoned the plan to attack from the west in favour of regaining lost time. The site belongs to the Americans who have left things just as it was when the War Ended in 1945. The first phase of the assault involved jumping out from the LCAs, crossing a small and slippy shingle beach and climbing the cliff face via ropes, rope ladders and grappling hooks which were fired by special rocket propelled launchers from the landing craft. Soaked by the sea, some of the ropes were now too heavy to reach the clifftop. Men sank into craters beneath the surf – created by Allied bombs and shells which had missed the Pointe – and had to struggle out, assisted by Mae West lifejackets and their comrades. Others were killed or wounded as they crossed the beach, the target of constant fire from a German machinegun post to the Ranger's left. The DUKWs weren't able to land on the shingle and their ladders couldn't be used. In addition, German defenders fired down from the cliffs, rolled grenades over and cut some of the ropes, which were now greasy and often hard to grip. Amidst all this, the Rangers followed their training and took advantage of what luck they had. Allied bombing had caused part of the cliff to collapse, creating a muddy mound which Rangers could clamber up to rise a third of the way, or hide behind for cover. The grappling hooks had lit fuses on top, designed for no other reason than scaring German troops away with the pretence of a bomb, while the Naval ships continued to give what suppressive fire they could, pushing the defenders back from the edge. One intrepid Ranger even gave covering fire from the extended ladder of a DUKW, swinging back and forth in mid-air as the waves buffeted him around. The ragged cliffs also gave protection and once the first Rangers reached the top they gained some security for the climbers. While this might sound nightmarish to the modern reader, some Rangers retained their sense of humour. Sergeant Gene Elder told his men as they reached the clifftop "Boys, keep your heads down, because headquarters has fouled up again and has issued the enemy live ammunition", while, after falling in a underwater shell hole, Lieutenant Kerchner got rather angry: "I wanted to find somebody to help me cuss out the British navy, but everybody was busily engrossed in their duties so I couldn't get any sympathy." (Both quotations from the online version of The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II by Stephen Ambrose at http://www.worldwar2history.info/D-Day/Pointe-Du-Hoc.html) Another picture showing the size of a crater left by the Allied bombing. Once on top of the Pointe, the Rangers gathered into platoons and went after their assigned guns. They were aided by the landscape, which had been heavily cratered by aerial bombardment: the most frequent comparison is with the moon. Up to several meters deep, the craters gave immediate cover for the Rangers, who could form up and move quickly between the holes with far less casualties than over a level surface. The main threats were the machine gun from their west, an anti-aircraft gun which had begun firing from the right, and German troops in their trenches. Nevertheless, the Rangers soon reached the casements.