Becoming a Ranger, Overseas Deployment and Preparing for D-Day

Landing on D-Day and Finding the Guns on Pointe du Hoc

First Three Days in Normandy

Rangers Lead the Way and Hill 400

Hill 400, Rangers Past and Present and British Commandos

Training on Cliffs

Finding No Guns on Pointe du Hoc

Being Wounded

Hill 400


Leonard Lomell served with Company D, 2nd Ranger Battalion, United States Army. That Rangers were volunteers and aimed to be the best of the best in the Army. Lomell first went to a Ranger school that was specialized in many things that regular troops do not have to submit to. Rangers were in a specialized field with specialized missions. Lomell entered the US Army in June 1942. His first combat action was in Normandy, France. The 2nd Ranger Battalion trained and organized at Camp Forrest, Tennessee. Lomell was invited to become the First Sergeant of Company D on the very first day of the 2nd Rangers' activation in the spring of 1943. They had to be trained in all kinds of warfare. They were given jump training and various other training. Lomell found out on 27 April 1944, his mother's birthday, that the Rangers would be heading to Normandy. Prior to that, it was speculated as to what they would be doing since they had been climbing so many cliffs during their months of training. He didn't know where those cliffs would be until April 1944. Lomell and the Rangers were in England and had been training with the British Commandos there. A notice went out one day about a conference regarding the invasion plan, but with high security, the date and location were not given. They were told very general things since they were sworn to secrecy and didn't want things to leak out. The Rangers were told they would be used, but did not know where or what day at that particular conference. They were sworn to secrecy and then kept in training areas that were kept under guard in order to keep information from leaking out. Lomell was still the First Sergeant of Company D when preparing for Normandy. His main concern was the men and making sure their needs were met for the invasion. They eventually loaded channel steamers, English boats that took tourists back and forth prior to the war, and waited for what would become D-Day [Annotator's Note: Operation Overlord].


Leonard Lomell and the rest of the 2nd Ranger Battalion loaded the channel steamers a day or two before D-Day [Annotator's Note: the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944]. During the night of 5 June, they crossed the English Channel and were ready to assault on the morning of 6 June. They landed at the west side of Omaha Beach at Point Du Hoc. Omaha Beach was several miles wide, but only about a third of that was beaches where troops were to land in their LCAs, or landing craft assault. The Rangers went further west of that beach where there are several miles of cliffs, some over 100 feet high. Lomelllanded on a very narrow beach, maybe 50 feet wide, and not sand but little rocks. That didn't give them much room to unload their LCA's, which were British and not American. The British Navy was transporting them on D-Day and, unfortunately, they made a mistake and went to the wrong cliffs, which delayed their operation about 30 minutes. They landed around 7:00 or 7:10 on morning of 6 June 1944 atthe base of Point du Hoc. It was their mission to climb those cliffs and destroy six 155mm coastal guns which were situated at Point du Hoc. Point du Hoc had heaviest firepower on the Atlantic Wall that Hitler [Annotator's Note: German dictator Adolf Hitler] had to rely on. This mission was said to be the most dangerous mission assigned for D-Day. This was repeated by General Omar Bradley, who was the commanding officer of the operation. General Eisenhower [Annotator's Note: US Army General, later President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower] and the upper-level leaders were tremendously concerned because the guns of Point du Hoc were necessary to get out of action as soon as possible. They boarded the LCA's manned by the British Navy at around four in the morning. As mentioned earlier, they were about 30 minutes late on landing. As the LCA's landed and the ramps went down, they pushed buttons on a control panel and launched rockets [Annotator's note: which launched ropes attached to grapling hooks] that would fly up about 150 feet and fall behind the lines. As the Rangers pulled on them they secured to the earth. They could climb hand over hand 150 feet straight up. Had everything gone right, the Germans would have been in bed when they did this. But, because they were late, it gave the Germans time to welcome the Rangers. The Germans cut the ropes, dropped grenades on the Rangers and shot men off the ropes. It became almost impossible to climb the ropes. When they got to the top and fought their way through the Germans to the gun positions, Company D was assigned gun positions 4, 5, and 6 on the west flank. They were the only company assigned a mission on the west flank of Point du Hoc. When they got to the position where those three guns were supposed to be, they weren't there. There was nothing but telephone poles sticking out of the immense emplacements. They trained for this mission from aerial photographs and information that had been given to them. They didn't know, as they later found out, that the guns had been removed to alternate positions before D-Day. They could not find any guns at that point of the invasion of Point du Hoc. By 8:30 on the morning of D-Day, Sgt. Kuhn [Annotator's Note: US Army Staff Sergeant Jack Kuhn] the acting Platoon Sergeant of Company D's 2nd Platoon, and Lomell had their section sergeants set up a road block on the shore road from Point du Hoc to Grande Con [Annotator's note: spelling unknown] and man that roadblock to keep the Germans from getting up or down the road to help each other. When they did that, he and Kuhn went to find the guns. They happened upon a road that ran from the coast road along the English Channel, inland. It had wagon marks on the dirt road between the nine foot tall hedgerows. These were giant hedgerows that tanks couldn't get through. Lomell and Kuhn leapfrogged from position to position, meaning one would advance and look around and hold the position while the other would move up. They kept this up never knowing if they would ever run into the enemy.


Leonard Lomell and Sgt. Kuhn [Annotator's Note: US Army Staff Sergeant Jack Kuhn] kept advancing forward, but as luck would have it, within the first couple of hundred feet, they located the guns and destroyed them so that they could not be used. They returned to their men at the roadblock and fought there for two days. There, they took heavy casualties until finally being relieved on D+2 [Annotator's Note: 8 June 1944]. Out of 65 men, Lomell had 15 men left by the end of the fighting. He feels that those who did survive were just plain lucky and they accomplished the mission by 8:30 in the morning of D-Day. This was so important because this was the heaviest firepower along the Atlantic wall and it could have destroyed the invasion fleet with thousands of ships in the channel and off the coast. They were visible targets for the Germans. Historians say that Allied leaders tried to use battleships that were off the coast and the American Air Force units. All the guns and all the planes and ships had the same target, to get those guns. Lomell does remember that there was not a shell hole near the guns when they found them. They were lucky. They were in the right place at the right time. Jack got up on the hedgerow while Lomell destroyed the five guns. There were only fivr due to one being destroyed in an earlier bombing mission. They saw that there were about 100 Germans taken by surprise that morning. They never knew there would be an invasion and never expected anyone to climb the cliffs to destroy those guns. There were two defensive lines in back of the Germans. They couldn't dream there was any American soldier nearby. Lomell felt that the bulk of Company D's casualties started at the shore road. He was the first wounded when they landed. The ramp went down and he caught a machine gun bullet through his right side above the right hip in the fleshy part. It did not hit the joint or anything important. It just burned. He wasn't disabled, he continued on and did his duty. They put those guns out of commission, thus saving thousands of lives. He's heard estimates on how many lives, numbering up to the tens of thousands. It was important that they destroy those guns so that the invasion could be a success. The Rangers had to be as light as possible when climbing the cliffs so they didn't have a lot of hand grenades and things. They each carried one thermite grenade and that was about the size of a beer can. That's whatthey used to knock out the guns. The guns were inoperable by 8:30 in the morning on 6 June 1944. There were about 180 Germans resisting there. Lomell only had 22 men to begin with and only had about ten who could still fight. They were relieved two days later by American troops coming up from the beach. Lomell and his men concluded that the Germans were very angry because, as far as they could see or tell, they had destroyed the guns, they had chased off some of the Germans, and they had killed or chased off the Germans on top of the cliffs. But, that night, the Germans launched three attacks on the Rangers trying to drive them off the cliff. They were unsuccessful and the Rangers held their positions along the cliffs. Lomell was surprised that the Germans didn't attack the Rangers more the next day. He assumed that they had reduced the 180 Germans down so much that they didn't have many left when the troops from Omaha Beach met the Rangers on D+3 and D+4. The 29th Infantry Division and the 1st Infantry Division had some 30,000 men coming into the area near there. The German ranks were greatly depleted by then. The Rangers were very fortunate that they accomplished their mission. The Germans were chased out of all of their positions and the Rangers had taken a lot of prisoners. They were relieved because they still had not had any advanced medical treatment for those who were wounded during all of the fighting.


Leonard Lomell remembers that the Battle of Normandy lasted for two and half months. As the beachhead grew to be larger in the days after D-Day, the forces continued to grow and moved inland. Lomell mentions that General Patton [Annotator's Note: US Army Lieutenant General George S. Patton] broke out and led the way across France until he ran out of gas in Metz because he got ahead of his gas lines. Patton was bogged down and the Rangers played an important role in getting gas to him so they could get through the Ruhr Valley, across the Rhine, and into Berlin. On the fouth day after D-Day [Annotator's Note: 10 June 1944], Lomell was evacuated back to England for operations on his wounds. Then, he was sent back to Normandy and became the Sergeant Major of the entire battalion [Annotator's Note: 2nd Ranger Battalion]. He remained in that position until the Rangers reached Belgium. In Belgium, Lomell received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. He then led the 1st Platoon of Company D the rest of the way until he was wounded bad enough to be sent home. The 2nd Ranger Battalion was involved in a lot of combat after landing on D-Day. They were involved in the fighting on the Brest Peninsula. They spent a whole year in combat. They were constantly being called by other divisions for special details. When divisions had trouble or were held up and needed someone to raid an outfit, they would send in the Rangers. They were very active in combat all the time. Hill 400 was important for the Rangers because of a tremendous battle there. Patton ran out of gas in Metz and the Army had to make sure the lines were open and the gasoline got to where Patton needed it. The Army needed the Rangers to go forward into the Ruhr Valley to clear it out. It seemed every intersection was on the target boards of the tower on top of Hill 400. On D-Day, the Rangers only had 100 feet to climb. There, on 7 December 1944, they had 400 feet to climb. The hill was straight up, the weather was terrible, ice and snow, and the hill was covered solidly with evergreen trees. This battle became known as the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. Their duty was to help clear the Ruhr Valley to open it up so that Patton could pass through it and cross the Rhine on the way to Berlin. The Rangers did that job knowing that there were thousands of men from other divisions who had tried it and failed. Just a few days before the 2nd Ranger Battalion did it, 5,000 men from the 4th Infantry Division tried it and failed. They lost a lot of people wounded and killed. Equipment was all over the area in front of Hill 400 in the Bergstein, Germany area. They were called in on short notice by the 8th Infantry Division. They rode in open trucks from their previous camp to Kleinhaus, a little German village where they de-trucked at around two the next morning, 7 December.


The Rangers de-trucked in Kleinhaus at about two in the morning of 7 December 1944 then marched a couple of miles to the area that they were going to attack from. Two patrols were chosen to reconnoiter the area and Leonard Lomell led one of them. They were to reconnoiter Hill 400 atop of which was a tremendous control tower. The troops in the tower used a number system when they sighted in the artillery pieces on the hill. That way, if they wished to shell a nearby intersection, they hit that corresponding number and the guns would all fire there, blowing up anything in that area. Lomell and the patrols reported in at about three or four o'clock in the morning what they saw. They then made their battle plan to jump off at 7:30 on the morning of 7 December from the sunken road in front of the church of Bergstein at the base of Hill 400. They did this and were successful. They captured Hill 400, they captured the tower, killed the gunners and put them out of business. However, they did not know that on 16 December 1944 the Germans came out of the Ardennes in the worst battle of all and started another fight. The Rangers were engaged in attempting to stop the Germans from coming out of the Ardennes. In the German rush, they took Hill 400 back from the Americans. There were 68 men in a Ranger company and Lomell thinks they had about 130 men that took Hill 400 in Bergstein, Germany on 7 December. A week or so after the Battle of the Bulge started in the Ardennes, the German forces were turned around and forced back. The American forces also had to recapture the Ruhr Valley. It took paratroopers and, Lomell thinks, some 15,000 infantry, three days to recapture Hill 400 and Bergstein, Germany, that the Rangers had done just a couple of weeks earlier with 130 men. The war was over by the following May, 8 May 1945. Lomell does not think he changed much, if at all, when he came back from the war. He did not see any change in himself, his family, or his friends. They went right back to work and to getting an education. Lomell thinks the best thing that happened for him was getting the G.I. Bill. His family did not have the money to send him to college, but the G.I. Bill did. Everyone came back with the same enthusiasm that they had in the outfit and they all took advantage of the G.I. Bill and put the war behind them. Lomell and his Rangers remained a family upon their return from the war that has lasted ever since. Lomell's own children were teenagers before they came to realize that all of their uncles were not their blood uncles. The Rangers have a close family relationship to this day and are very active. Lomell is a past National President of all Rangers and was President of the Northeast Chapter during the time of the interview. The modern day Rangers socialize well with the Rangers of World War 2 and the old veterans have a great deal of respect for the modern day Rangers. Lomell has flown around and talked with Ranger units and with the 2nd Rangers. He thinks the Rangers today are just as good as they ever were, maybe better. Lomell thinks the Rangers measured up in their time, and the modern day are measuring up now. When Rangers get together, they exchange ideas and how to best perform certain maneuvers. For example, the top level powers that be did not give adequate consideration to the hedgerows in Normandy. When they found out their tanks and heavy equipment couldn't get through them, they were horrified. Some farm boy found if they put blades on the front of a tank, it would tear into the hedgerow [Annotator's Note: credit for the invention of the hedge cutter is given to Sergeant Curtis Grubb Culin, III]. Lomell mentions that solutions do not always come from the top. When you least expect it, someone below will come up with a solution. The Rangers operate that way. If they have a problem, they don't like to give in without solving it. Lomell says that the Rangers are to American forces what the British Commandos are to their forces. During the war, the Rangers' relationship with the Commandos was excellent. They were brave, intelligent, serious and lots of fun. They had a great sense of humor and were often kind to the Rangers. They didn't live in barracks, they lived with the English people and sometimes Commando's parents. The Rangers regard them and see that they stand for the best of the best of the British forces like the Rangers stand as the best of the best for the American forces.

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