Some Small Arms Ranger History from American Rifleman

ranger lozengeThis 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.

M1A1 Thompson from RIA

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.

 

27 thoughts on “Some Small Arms Ranger History from American Rifleman

  1. John M.

    Semi-off-topic question: Why was practically every piece of military equipment in WWII called an M1? Just in this article we have an M1(A1) Thompson and an M1 helmet. Then you also have the obvious M1 Garand and the M1 Carbine. What gives?

    -John M.

    1. Badger

      vs. Rifle, US, Cal 30, M1903 (adopted), etc. Interesting question…

      Thanks for this; Marines (make sense on a vessel) but Reisings. Have to write that down in my “I’ll Be Damned” book. :)

      1. Hognose Post author

        Yep. You know there’s no more shipboard MarDets, right? Since, IIRC, 09, but someone better connected to the Corps can set us straight on that.

      2. archy

        ***Thanks for this; Marines (make sense on a vessel) but Reisings. Have to write that down in my “I’ll Be Damned” book. :)***

        One of the many small arms rebuild programs in which I was involved as a Navy civvy small arms fixer was a Foreign Military Aid Program [FMAP] rebuild of a fair-sized batch of M1A1 Thompsons for a Friendly Central American Nation that shall remain nameless for discretion’s sake, since they were smart enough to get the M1911A1 pistols and M1A1 Tommys they had on inventory rebuilt before the US military switched over to the M9 Beretta and scrapped all the .45 pistol and Tommygun repair parts. Nevertheless, some components were often missing or damaged and not entirely available via cannibalization, so either repair work or new contract replacements were needed. Among these: the buttstock, pistol grip and foreend screws for the Thompson, in an oddball #14-24 pitch thread [pretty near 1/4×25 tpi]rather than the more common 1/4-20 or 1/4-28 fine thread machine screw sizes. But that was what the Tommys had been made with, and since the M1A1 was supposed to be the version geared for high-speed wartime inexpensive production, the question was…WHY? There really was an answer or two.

        The short answer was: that was the thread used on the earlier M1921, M1928 and M1928A1 Thompsons. Next question: so howcome the oddball thread was used on them? Again, there was an answer….

        It’s the same thread used on the action screws of the M1903 and M1903A3 Springfield rifles. And the Navy and Marine armorers toolchests carried aboard ship had the correct tap and die set to clean up the threads if some overeager swabbie or Marine burred up the weapon’s threads while cleaning or if saltwater corrosion had set in. Likewise Marine embassy detatchment armorer’s toolkits and truck-mounted ordnance field maintenance workshop kits.

        Okay, so one last little wonderment…why use the #14-24 thread on the .03 Springfield? Guess what the thread size/pitch is for the U.S. M1892/ M1899 Krag rifles….

    2. Hognose Post author

      Sometime in the 1920s, the Army changed from giving things the year as a model number to just sequential numbers. So instead of the M1903, the next rifle was the M1. But they didn’t renumber the M1903, so when it was improved in WWII the new rifle was M1903A3, even though the A3 and A4 (sniper version of 03A3) were newer than the M1.

      On the other hand, when they overhauled the design of the TSMG for faster production, it went from 1928A1 to M1.

      That’s why there was an M1 everything. Likewise, tank and mech units might have M3 light tanks, M3 halftrack infantry carriers, and M3 medium tanks (through 1943, anyway). (M1 and M2 medium tanks were obsolete at the start of the war and never went overseas).

      1. DSM

        And you can always tell a Dep’t o’ the Navy product because it’s a “Mk” something, with changes listed as a “Mod”; i.e. Mk19 Mod 3, Mk262 Mod 1. I’m sure there is some tradition in their naming convention just as the AF has/had “GAU” for everything from a 5.56mm SMG to a 30mm cannon on an A-10.

  2. Haxo Angmark

    interesting. I was not aware that the Rangers eventually found and destroyed the re-sited inland battery. Used to receive Amer Rifleman as part of my NRA membership, which lapsed sometime ago. Almost makes it worthwhile to renew. Almost

      1. archy

        ***I believe a MoH was awarded based on their destruction.***

        First Sergeant and D Company 2 Battalion acting commander Bud Lomell got a DSC for his part in the action for nailing five of the guns with thermite grenades on their traversing and elevation gearwork. Rangers being Rangers, other raiders from E Company also dropped thermite grenades down the gun tubes, further ruining them, and blew up their ammunition dump as well.
        Of the 225 Rangers who disembarked with 1st Sgt Lomell, only 90 were left standing at the end of the battle. When the Pointe was taken, guns disabled and coastal road was taken, the Second Battalion became the first American unit to accomplish its D-Day mission, and did so before 9:00 a.m. He died of natural causes at his Toms River home on March 1, 2011 at 91 years old.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Lomell

    1. Buckaroo

      I generally hold association magazines in low regard, but American Rifleman is surprisingly good.

      1. Hognose Post author

        The AFIO Intelligencer is usually good as well, and the Special Forces Association’s The Drop has improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years. I still read the obits first, though.

  3. SPEMack

    RLTW.

    Going up Pointe du Hoc, to me anyway, is a text book explanation of why Rangers are around.

  4. Daniel E. Watters

    Several sources indicate that Martin K.A. Morgan is/was the research historian for the National D-Day Museum (later renamed the National WW2 Museum) and the curator for the Eisenhower Center’s WW2 collection. He is also the author of “The Americans on D-Day: A Photographic History of the Normandy Invasion.”

      1. Hognose Post author

        I expect he’s finished his doctorate by now… or given up.

        Funny thing, the Blogfather and I are looking at a possible D-Day revisit this year, wonder if the old man wants a more knowledgable guide than me, and if Mr Morgan is available.

  5. archy

    <img src=" 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.***

    See the pic of one of the DUKWs with the former fire brigade extension ladders and the aircooled Vickers K guns in the response thread to the D-Day post The Ride in the Boats was the Worst Thing in the Weaponsman post from a couple of days ago. http://weaponsman.com/?p=32502#comments

  6. SOTM

    Always encouraging to read Ranger history. Many do not know that in Ranger Indoctrination Program (Now called RASP) a candidate has to pass a Ranger history test before becoming part of the unit, which is meticulous on detail. I remember it being given at the end of the hellacious previous weeks and several being sent out to the “needs of the Army” for failing it. We live in a sad state of affairs today with the majority walking the streets with eyes and ears plugged to portable devices…with no sense of rootedness in any place, people or creed.

  7. looserounds.com

    Martin Morgan is a good guy. He is pretty close to being the best friend of one of my friends, Trey Moore, owner of Mooremilitaria. Martin Morgan has read at least one post from looseorunds and commented on it, ( the M14 article of course haha) and Trey Moore made the introduction of myself it Martin recently and I met and talked to him at the recent NRA Show

    Morgan gave a “forgotten guns or pearl harbor ” seminar and I met him afterwards and we both stayed for Major Plaster’s seminar on “Sniping and Sniping Weapons Of The Vietnam War”.

    A very nice and approachable down to earth guy., Not at all like the much more self important and -pretentious Mark keefe editor of AR who was also there,

  8. Bart Noir

    Well that explains it.
    The Rangers went after the 155mm guns because they were “breechloading rifles”. That’s what put them on the target list.
    If they had been 155mm smoothbore muzzleloaders, likely it would have been left to the Army Air Force to bomb (and hence miss) the guns.

  9. RostislavDDD

    The scene of battle on the beach in “Saving Private Ryan” is almost a documentary. You can define the memories on which were written the episodes.
    The problem is mainly determined by the terrain.

    Мммм…
    Pillbox mow 2RBn and 29 ID was a small hopper on one machine gun.
    This machine gun sweep the entire beach from the flank.
    Heinrich Severloh at the opposite end of the beach alive. Bunker сrew – no. The destroyer shot from the sea, all have died.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I’ve been there, Rostislav, and as a soldier the tactical problem for the men on the beach is very difficult. The bunkers were hardened the most and had no openings towards the sea, except those slightly inland for big guns. The big guns were placed to engage ships. The MGs and AT guns (a mix of captured weapons, mostly French but even Russian 76.2 guns, and German 75mm high-velocity guns) were all sited, as you note, to engage beach-landing troops from the flanks.

      (There were additional MGs up on the dunes in small two-man posts that the Western Allies called “Tobruks” after the North African city where they were first encountered. The Tobruk was made of precast concrete and combat engineers just dug a hole for it, instant 2-man bunker).

      The big bunkers were placed to give mutual support. While the sea side of the bunker was very thick for maximum protection from naval gunfire, and was a blind side for the men in the bunker, the next bunker (usually, to the left as you look at the beach, but some go the other way)could cover that side with AT and MG gunfire.

      I mentioned on our Memorial Day a man I knew who was with 29th that morning. He found that first 20 minutes of Private Ryan very realistic, except first boats landed at about 0630 in the morning, and men in small groups were working their way up the draws and over the dunes by about 1430, so that “20 minutes” of hell was really 8 hours.

      His first comment at end of movie: “Jesus Christ.”

      Ultimately, the bunkers were beaten by sheer weight of shell like Verdun in WWI and Sevastopol on the Eastern Front, but also by small, self-organized groups of men. They might have been led by a private or by a general (one Brigadier General, Norman Cota, acted largely as a squad leader in leading an assault up out of the beach).

      1. RostislavDDD

        :)
        Ambrose S. E. D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War.
        Chapter 21.”Tell me how do we manage it?”
        Quote:
        “In terms of historicism in” Ryan “our cinema would suck without tilting 20-30 years”
        Well-known military historian Aleksei Isaev.

        Honestly Omaha beach, it is not Tarawa. It is difficult to understand how the marines were able to capture the island with such small losses. But the courage and skills of rangers and soldiers of 116 infantry regiment beach does not take away. There is no difference between a soldier in the fire sector of german or japanese pillbox.

        WN 70
        Secured the open strtch of field between St. Laurent and Vierville on the Plateau.
        You need to walk about 10 min from the street
        Armement:
        2 x 75 mm Guns
        Tobruk MG
        2 x Tobruk Grenade lauchers 50 mm
        1 x 2 cm FLAK
        Barbed wire
        Minefield

        WN 71
        On the eastern Plateau of D-1 Draw.
        From there you have an excellent view over the Beach
        D-1 Exit was the most fortified sector on Omaha Beach.
        Sectors: Charlie and Dog Green
        Armement:
        Concrete structure with gun slits to the west side
        Tobruks for heavy grenade lauchers
        Concrete shelters
        Trenches, barbed wire, minefield

        WN 72
        On the west side of D-1 Draw below Vierville
        The best constructed strongpoint of the Germans at Omaha.
        1 Casemate Typ H667 guarding the beach from west to east with a PAK 43 – 8,8 cm –
        Today you find the National Guard memorial on top
        To stop the americans from advancing up the road was also blocked by a AT-wall.
        West of the 8,8 Bunker you’ll find another Bunker for a 50 mm
        both bunkers were connected by trenches
        2 other Tobruks
        Around the strong point were barbed wire and Mines.

        WN 73
        Small strongpoint overlooking the western bluff
        1 x 75 mm Gun firing down on the beach, not visible from the sea side
        Mines, trenches and barbed wire

  10. Keith

    I’ve been there too but we only had time to go down the draw closet to the cemetery. There was a memorial on the beach on top of a bunker built like Hognose said with a 50mm ATG still in it.

    You can’t stand there and have any knowledge of what happened there and not be humbled and amazed of what the men did there.

    On that trip was a veteran of the ETO. He was bugler for his VFW post. We were there just before Memorial Day that year (2002). They were cleaning the grave markers. There was maybe 100-150 people there that day. When he started Taps everybody I could see stopped to listen. By the time he drew out that last fading note many were moved to tears.

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