D-Day: American Rangers Who Terrified the Germans

A group of American Rangers, led by the bold James Rudder, were some of the strongest and bravest soldiers in D-Day battles. Learn how they sabotaged a giant stockpile of German weapons aimed at Normandy beaches.

Giles Milton
8-minute read
Episode #84

Ranger Leonard Lomell was convinced that the Germans had concealed their big guns in order to safeguard them from the Allied aerial bombardment. Now, he and his platoon sergeant, Jack Kahn, decided to scout barns, outhouses, and orchards to see if they could find them.

It wasn’t long before they came across a sunken road with deep track marks in the mud. And then came the jackpot.

"Here they are!" Lomell shouted over to Kahn. He’d chanced upon the very guns they were tasked with destroying. Concealed in an orchard and half camouflaged by trees, they were huge, far bigger than Lomell was expecting. "The wheels went up over our heads. Their muzzles went way up into the air, above our reach."

Alarmingly, they were all pointing towards Utah Beach, some eight miles away. "Their positions were textbook ready."

Jack handed over his thermite grenade. It was the perfect weapon for sabotage—totally silent on detonation, yet releasing such a furnace of heat that it would turn steel to liquid.

"You cover me. I’m going in there and destroying them."

'You cover me. I’m going in there and destroying them.'

Lomell crawled forward and lodged the thermite grenades into the traversing mechanism of two of the cannons. This would melt them and render them useless. He then smashed the sights on the remaining guns, before signalling to Kahn that they should return to the roadblock and collect the rest of the thermite grenades.

This they duly did. "We stuffed them in our jackets and we rushed back and we put the thermite grenades, as many as we could, in traversing mechanisms and elevation mechanisms." When they detonated, they turned everything to a gooey mess of molten steel—guns, cranks, hinges, and breechblocks. It was work well done.

"Hurry up, Len!" Kahn was getting increasingly concerned about being spotted by the Germans.

"Hurry up! Hurry up! Let’s get the hell out of here!"

They had just started making their escape when there was an explosion of such staggering force that the blast lifted them from the ground and hurled them into the sunken lane.

"We went flying, and ramrods, rocks, dust and everything came down on us." Shaking with fear, they picked themselves up and "ran like two scared rabbits as fast as we could back to our men at the roadblock."

They had just started making their escape when there was an explosion of such staggering force that the blast lifted them from the ground and hurled them into the sunken lane.

They assumed that a nearby ammunition dump had been hit by a stray shell from the Texas. In fact, the explosion was the work of their fellow Rangers. Sergeant Frank Rupinski had stumbled across the dump while looking for the guns, and blown it sky-high with explosive charges. The resulting blast had destroyed absolutely everything, including a sizeable chunk of field.

When James Rudder received word that the guns had been destroyed, he sent a message to the ships offshore. "Located Pointe-du-Hoc—mission accomplished—need ammunition and reinforcements—many casualties." 
It was an hour before he received a reply. "No reinforcements available." All his fellow Rangers had been diverted to Omaha Beach. Rudder’s men were now on their own, surrounded and under siege. Even Petty’s bastards wondered how they would survive the rest of the day.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Unknown History. In the next episode, we’ll be meeting a colourful British aristocrat who was to play a vital role in the commando landings on Sword Beach.


About the Author

Giles Milton

Giles Milton is a writer and historian who graduated from the University of Bristol. He is an internationally bestselling author of nine works of narrative non-fiction and three novels. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and serialized by the BBC.