This past Monday, there was a great American Rifleman article by Martin Morgan, whom we don’t know but respect already based on this one article, on The Forgotten Guns of D-Day. We expected these guns to be obvious ones, because AR is a magazine for the widest possible range of gunny interests, and sure, some of them were, like the FG42 carried by counterattacking German Fallschirmjäger. But others were not (how did a John Browning design with a jawbreaker Polish name…? You’re going to have to Read The Whole Thing™).
Morgan even taught us Ragnar history that we didn’t even know that we didn’t know, including a truly bizarre use of an oddball gun that we tend to associate only with the LRDG and SAS in the Western Desert, and a critical use of the butt end of an M1 Thompson. A taste:
On D-Day, a force of 225 men from the U.S. Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion was given the special D-Day mission of landing four miles west of Omaha Beach at a place called Pointe Du Hoc. After coming ashore, the Rangers would have to scale 100-ft. tall cliffs to conduct an assault against one of the most threatening German gun batteries in lower Normandy. Established in May 1942, Heeres-Küsten-Batterie Pointe Du Hoc was a position armed with six French-made 155 mm breechloading rifles. The guns had been captured in 1940 and subsequently placed in German service with the designation 15.5 cm K 418(f). At Pointe Du Hoc, they were mounted on concrete traversing tables that extended their maximum effective range, improved their already impressive accuracy, and transformed them into formidable anti-ship weapons. The Ranger mission on D-Day, which was commanded by Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder, had the objective of preventing the guns from firing on the fleet.
At 7:10 a.m., Rudder’s force landed, scaled the cliffs, and swiftly pushed the enemy back from the battery area. That is when the Rangers discovered that no guns were mounted at the point. Instead, timbers had been placed on each of the six concrete traversing tables to present the false appearance that the battery remained armed. The Rangers also found two casemates for heavy artillery at Pointe Du Hoc, but they were still under construction and their guns had not yet been mounted. In late April, the Germans removed the guns from the point to a position almost a mile to the south, but the Rangers did not know that at the time. After they secured the battery position at the point, the Rangers moved on to the next phase of their mission, which was to set up a roadblock on the Vierville/Grandcamp road. While doing this, they put out flank security for the roadblock and quickly stumbled across the guns concealed along a hedgerow-enclosed lane. First Sergeant Leonard “Bud” Lomell and S/Sgt. Jack Kuhn then used thermite grenades to destroy each gun’s traversing and elevation mechanisms. After that, Lomell used the buttstock of his M1A1 Thompson to smash the sights for each gun. Although not designed for such a purpose, the Thompson nevertheless proved effective. Those 155 mm guns-among the deadliest guns of D-Day-never fired a shot in opposition to the Normandy invasion.
Overnight on June 6 and 7, the Germans launched a series of powerful counterattacks that pushed the Rangers back to the point. By the time vehicles from Omaha Beach linked up with Rudder’s force at Pointe Du Hoc on June 7, the Rangers had suffered 135 casualties, mostly during the German counterattacks on the night of June 6. In the aftermath of the intense battle, one particular memorial to a fallen Ranger was raised amid the craters and debris at Pointe Du Hoc. A U.S. M1 helmet was placed on top of the handgrip of a Vickers K Gun, the muzzle of which was stuck into the soil. Although a British design chambered for the .303 British cartridge, K Gunswere mounted on the ends of extending ladders that were, in turn, mounted on DUKW amphibious trucks. The plan was that the DUKWs would swim up to the beach, then roll up to the base of the cliff at Pointe Du Hoc and extend the ladders so that the K Gunscould provide suppressing fire while the Rangers conducted their assault on the battery. Because of its blended hand grip/trigger and 60-round pan magazine, the K Gunwas anatomically well-suited for the mission in ways that the M1918A2 BAR and the M1919A4 .30-cal. machine gun were not. Of course, the Rangers could not expect to be resupplied with .303 cartridges, but they were not planning to use their K Gunsbeyond the morning of June 6, anyway. When the ammunition ran out, it would be all over and the K Gunswere to be discarded as the battle pushed inland. That is why a British automatic weapon can be found among the spent shell casings and exhausted smoke grenades at Pointe Du Hoc in the American sector of the invasion area.
We already told you, but we’ll tell you again, go Read The Whole Thing™. In fact, read anything by Martin K.A. Morgan there. We don’t know his background, or anything about the guy, but he’s great at presenting historical guns in human context and that’s rare and worthwhile.
We enjoy writing about guns (and in previous lives, computers, cars, and aircraft), but in the end every story is a people story. Morgan gets that and his story isn’t the usual dry Guns of This Event one that’s all about the engineering with scant attention to their human masters.