Excerpt from The Victors by Stephen Ambrose, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Victors

Eisenhower and His Boys - The Men of World War II

By Stephen Ambrose

The Victors
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  • Hardcover: Sep 1998,
    396 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 1999,
    255 pages.

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Chapter 8: Pointe-Du-Hoc

It was a nearly 100-meter-high cliff, with perpendicular sides jutting out into the Channel. It looked down on Utah Beach to the left and Omaha Beach to the right. There were six 155mm cannon in heavily reinforced concrete bunkers that were capable of hitting either beach with their big shells. On the outermost edge of the cliff, the Germans had an elaborate, well-protected outpost, where the spotters had a perfect view and could call back coordinates to the gunners at the 155s. Those guns had to be neutralized. The Allied bombardment of Pointe-du-Hoc had begun weeks before D-Day. Heavy bombers from the U.S. Eighth Air Force and British Bomber Command had repeatedly plastered the area, with a climax coming before dawn on June 6. Then the battleship Texas took up the action, sending dozens of 14-inch shells into the position. Altogether, Pointe-du-Hoc got hit by more than ten kilotons of high explosives, the equivalent of the explosive power of the atomic bomb used at Hiroshima. Texas lifted her fire at 0630, the moment the rangers were scheduled to touch down.

Col. James Earl Rudder was in the lead boat. He was not supposed to be there. Lt. Gen. Clarence Huebner, CO of the 1st Division and in overall command at Omaha Beach, had forbidden Rudder to lead D, E, and F Companies of the 2nd Rangers into Pointe-du-Hoc, saying, "We're not going to risk getting you knocked out in the first round."

"I'm sorry to have to disobey you, sir," Rudder had replied, "but if I don't take it, it may not go."

The rangers were in LCA boats manned by British seamen (the rangers had trained with British commandos and were therefore accustomed to working with British sailors). The LCA was built in England on the basic design of Andrew Higgins's boat, but the British added some light armor to the sides and gunwales. That made the LCA slower and heavier -- the British were sacrificing mobility to increase security -- which meant that the LCA rode lower in the water than the LCVP.

On D-Day morning all the LCAs carrying the rangers took on water as spray washed over the sides. One of the ten boats swamped shortly after leaving the transport area, taking the CO of D Company and twenty men with it (they were picked up by an LCT a few hours later. "Give us some dry clothes, weapons and ammunition, and get us back in to the Pointe. We gotta get back!" Capt. "Duke" Slater said as he came out of the water. But his men were so numb from the cold water that the ship's physician ordered them back to England). One of the two supply boats bringing in ammunition and other gear also swamped; the other supply boat had to jettison more than half its load to stay afloat.

That was but the beginning of the foul-ups. At 0630, as Rudder's lead LCA approached the beach, he saw with dismay that the coxswain was headed toward Pointe-de-la-Percée, about halfway between the Vierville draw and Pointe-du-Hoc. After some argument Rudder persuaded the coxswain to turn right to the objective. The flotilla had to fight the tidal current (the cause of the drift to the left) and proceeded only slowly parallel to the coast.

The error was costly. It caused the rangers to be thirty-five minutes late in touching down, which gave the German defenders time to recover from the bombardment, climb out of their dugouts, and man their positions. It also caused the flotilla to run a gauntlet of fire from German guns along four kilometers of coastline. One of the four DUKWs was sunk by a 20mm shell. Sgt. Frank South, a nineteen-year-old medic, recalled, "We were getting a lot of machine-gun fire from our left flank, alongside the cliff, and we could not, for the life of us, locate the fire." Lieutenant Eikner remembered "balling water with our helmets, dodging bullets, and vomiting all at the same time."

Copyright © 1998 by Ambrose Tubbs, Inc. Reproduced by permission of Simon & Schuster.

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