On this day during World War II in June 1944, Army Rangers would complete a mission, scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on D-Day that would immediately become the stuff of legend. Later, the survivors would comment that they couldn’t believe that they survived. The Commander of the Rangers, LTC James Rudder would comment, “How did we do this? It was crazy then, and it’s crazy now.”

The Allies had formulated their plan in the fall of 1943 to storm the coast of France the following spring. While the Germans assumed, with much Allied disinformation, that the landings will take place in the Pas de Calais area, Normandy was the actual target.

The two beaches in the American sector code-named Omaha and Utah were separated by a large promontory point called Pointe du Hoc. The Germans recognized the importance of the high ground which rises to over 100 feet over the beaches, where both are clearly visible and spotters or guns from the point can dominate both beaches.

The Germans initially placed a battery of six captured French 155mm artillery pieces in open gun pits in 1943, in a good position to support their defenses on both beaches. The 352nd Infantry Division (a good hardened unit) was in positions to defend and support the guns. The open pits were vulnerable to air attack and because of Allied bombing, the Germans withdrew the guns 1000 yards to the rear in an apple orchard early in April 1944. An American Army Air Corps A-20 raid dropped 33 tons of bombs and forced the Germans to build casemates, an observation bunker and gun pits for 20mm flak anti-aircraft guns. By the time of the invasion, two casemates would remain unfinished.

The Plan: LTG Omar Bradley, the American ground force commander, tasked LTC James Rudder with taking the high ground, destroying the guns, and denying the Germans the use of the high ground for observation.

The 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions were tasked with the assignment. The 2nd with an assault force of Companies D, E, and F (Force A) was to land on the beach, scale the cliffs, using a combination of ropes, ladders, and grapples, secure the high ground while the remainder of the 2nd Bn. and 5th Bn. were to be signaled by a flare at the top of the cliffs to signify the cliffs had been taken. There they would push through and bolster the three companies at the top of the cliffs, block the Germans from using the road and then attack the Maisy Battery which was located back behind the cliffs. Maisy battery consisted of four 155mm captured French guns, four 105mm artillery pieces and four additional 150mm pieces that were destroyed by Allied naval bombardment.

The Rangers had been rehearsing for this mission at the Isle of Wight under the watchful eyes of the British Commandos.

Bradley later remarked that assigning Rudder that task was the most difficult decision he had to make in the war. Rudder had recruited, trained, and led the Rangers and believed them to be ready for the job. “My men can do it,” Rudder told Bradley.