The battery at Pointe du Hoc must be the most visited and well-known of all the German defensive position along the Normandy coast. Comprising six 15,5cm K420(f) guns (f=französisch=French), the battery could cover the areas where both the Omaha and Utah fleets would be stationed. As such it became not only a bombardment target for air and naval forces but also for an amphibious landing by elements of the US 2nd Ranger Battalion. Their story is well told, and best done so on the ground itself. The story of the men who paved the way for the Rangers, less so.
Whilst the crews of Bomber Command might have considered their role on D-Day as a relatively easy mission, compared with raids over Berlin for example, it was of course not without risk. One of the Halifax bombers en route to bomb the battery in Houlgate (near Sword Beach) exploded shortly after take-off with the loss of all seven crew. Once the aircraft approached the French coast, though, the danger would naturally come from the Germans, either from Flak or fighters.
At Pointe du Hoc itself, anti-aircraft defences
were primarily in the form of two 3,7cm Flak37
guns, each in its own open topped bunker with
ammunition storage and accomodation for the
crew below. Unltimately, it wasn't these guns
that caused problems for the Lancaster crews.
(Right: One of the two Flak guns at Pointe du Hoc)
Three of the one-hundred-and-fourteenLancasters assigned to bomb Pointe du Hoc were shot down, most likely by the same German pilot, Hptm Helmut Eberspächer from 3./SKG.10. This unit's primary role was very low level bombing of targets in England using Fw190 single seat fighter-bombers. On the morning of D-Day, with reports of airborne landings and other activity coming in, several of their pilots were sent up on a fact-finding mission. Eberspächer related how, having seen the invasion fleet and made the decision to return to base, he spotted the unmistakable silhouette of a Lancaster. Within three minutes he'd shot down three and twenty-one men lost their lives. It's rather sad that, having given their lives to aid, if not enable the landings at Pointe du Hoc, there is no mention of them nor the role of Bomber Command that morning on the site itself.
Probably Eberspächer's first victim was a 50 Sqaudron Lancaster, ND874, shot down over Formigny a few miles inland from Omaha Beach. The pilot was 28 year-old P/O Roland Ward from Coogee, New South Wales. A flourmiller in civilian life, he enlisted in April 1942 and joined 50 Squadron in May 1944, three weeks before D-Day. The crew had another Australian , Sgt Malcolm Burgess who was also from the Sydney area. Initally posted missing, Malcolm's death would not be confirmed to his parents for almost a year. Malcolm died three days before his 22nd birthday. Of those that died, only the bodies Ward, Burgess and F/Sgt Richard Haine were recovered and identified. Three more men, F/Sgt George Livingstone and Sgts Denis Mangan and Kenneth Smith are all still officially missing and thus commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. The seventh crew member, Sgt Keith Reading, managed to bail out and survived, the only man from three crews to do so.
Left: A rather poor quality photo of Roland Ward.
Right: Malcolm Burgess
Both images courtesy National Archives of Australia
Below: Left to right, the graves of Ward, Burgess and Haine. Having been found and interred in St Laurent sur Mer by the Americans, all three now lie in the CWGC cemetery in Bayeux
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The one man who managed to successfully bail out, Sgt Keith Reading had a fairly remarkable story. As mid-upper gunner he was closest to the entry door on the rear starboard side of the fuselage which undoubtedly aided his escape. The aircraft was on fire as he bailed out and he suffered burns to his face and head, then upon landing he sprained his ankle. After a few hours he was captured and taken to Balleroy, where the Germans had established a hospital in the chateau. By the 10th of June, Allied forces were getting close so the Germans evacuated the hospital, Reading and the other wounded prisoners were moved to Caumont-l'Eventé. There were 'discussions' with their German guards who in the end decided the prisoners were too much trouble so abandoned them. The local French then took the former prisoners to the nearby slate mines where they stayed until liberated a few days later.
Just a few further west, another Lancaster came down near the village of Osmanville. ND815 was from 97 Squadron and, illustrating well the very cosmopolitan nature of Bomber Command, even sometimes within the same crew, the pilot (Lt Finn Varde Jespersen) and four others were Norwegian, one was British and the other Canadian.
Below: The five Norwegian crewmen of ND815, from left to right, Lt Finn Varde Jespersen, Sgt Knut Baade Magnus, Sgt Kare Pedersen, Sgt John Ernst Herlof° Evensen, Sgt Christian Andreas Münster. Evensens body was reptriated to Oslo. The other four are officially missing. (Photos courtesy of the Norwegian Second World War Memorial Biography "Vaare Falne 1939-1945")
Left: P/O William McCutcheon from British Columbia is now buried in Bayuex CWGC cemetery (below left).
Right: Sgt Gerald Ashpole is buried in th echurchyard of Osmanville St Clement (below right).
Below: Also in the churchyard is a very nice, discreet memorial to the crew of ND815.
(Photo of McCutcheon courtesy National Archives of Canada, photo of Ashpole courtesy International Bomber Command Centre)
The story of the third aircraft lost, ND739 again from 97 Squadron, will be added shortly.