RELEASE NUMBER: 140609-01
DATE POSTED: JUNE 9, 2014
Ranger Regiment honors those at Pointe du Hoc
By Sgt. 1st Class Michael R. Noggle
75th Ranger Regiment Public Affairs NCOIC
POINTE DU HOC, FRANCE (USASOC News Service, June 9, 2014) –Twenty-five Rangers with 75th Ranger Regiment gathered to honor the 225 Rangers who assaulted Pointe Du Hoc on June 6, 1944.
Elements from 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions participated in the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach, Normandy. Companies from D, E, and F were given the mission to scale the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc, which overlooked Omaha Beach, and destroy German gun emplacements. Though viewed by many as an “impossible” mission, they were to scale the cliffs four miles west of Omaha Beach at Pointe Du Hoc and destroy six 155 mm artillery pieces , which were aimed at U.S. ships and landing sites out at sea.
“The cliffs behind me and the observation afforded from this position commanded the flanking shores of Omaha and Utah Beaches,” said Maj. Jeffrey Hammonds, 75th Ranger Regiment, during his ceremonial speech. “It was considered key terrain for this reason.”
According to the plan, if the operation was a success a signal would be sent back to higher headquarters acknowledging that the point was secured and reinforcements could arrive.
“That was the plan,” said former Pfc. Ray Tollefsen with 2nd Battalion. “The rest of us had to have word by radio or signal to come here.”
The operation demanded the utmost in Ranger courage and skill as the assault troops climbed up the sheer rock face while under intense machine gun, mortar, grenade and small arms fire.
Despite losing two of their 11 landing crafts and supplies, the companies overcame German resistance and climbed the 90-foot cliffs only to find that the gun emplacements had been moved. Continuing to search for the gun positions, the Rangers advanced inland to cut off German routes to the landing areas.
After just more than two hours on land, a two-man Ranger patrol had located five of the howitzers a mile from the beach area. Unattended but ready to fire, the Rangers destroyed the sights on all the guns and placed grenades in two others.
Even though the Rangers had accomplished their primary mission within two hours of landing, higher headquarters never received the signal. This led the remainder of 2nd Battalion and 5th Battalion to push forward onto Omaha Beach.
“No word ever came, so the leadership made the decision to head to the beach,” Tollefsen said.
The Rangers at Pointe Du Hoc continued to hold ground when German forces arrived and began counterattacks. Of the 225 Rangers that began the mission, only 90 survived after two-and-a-half days of fighting when reinforcements arrived.
Knowing there might be a chance to go back for his fellow Rangers at Pointe Du Hoc, Tollefsen and 29 other Rangers preceded to assault the beaches of Omaha. Under extreme enemy fire, their landing craft pilot was killed and the gate had dropped, exposing the Rangers to machine gun fire.
“As soon as the ramp went down, the machine gun fire came in so the rest of us scrambled out the best we could,” he said. “We were in deep water at the time but buoyant enough to get to somewhere where we could stand.”
Tollefsen never made it past the beaches of Omaha. He was struck by enemy fire and nearly bled to death. Luckily a fellow Ranger treated his wounds and saved his life.
Tollefsen first returned to these D-Day sites during the 50th anniversary, and returns on occasion to visit the areas where his fellow Rangers had fought.
“I have been impressed with each of the ceremonies and the people who are here, especially the present day Rangers,” he said. “It’s amazing what the Pointe and what D-Day has meant to the world.”
“The entire operation was hard to fathom, but the few exceedingly well-trained and hand-selected Soldiers (were able to execute the mission). Those are our heroes, the United States Army Rangers,” Hammonds said. “Today, we pause to recognize the special accomplishment of these truly special men.”