The summer of 1944 was a truly horrifying year of unexpected outcomes. In our 21st century bubble of hindsight, accompanied by easy to digest 30-min World War 2 in HD color fast analysis with over simplified methods of entertainment, the reality of the moment is easily lost in the “at arm’s length” factor. The truth is that placing yourself in the shoes of a man or woman in 1944 was living a truly horrifying experience of global unknowns, an experience no words or documentaries can ever truly embody. An emotion all to lost in our society today, much due to the heroics of those same men and women from 1944.
As the summer was fast approaching, the Allies had gained significant grounds in Africa and were starting to win the war over the Italian peninsula. These assets were not insignificant by any means but in no way threatened the efficient industrial interior of German power. In the east, the Russians were beginning to counter strike at the German front lines, after lifting the immense siege of Leningrad only a few months past. The German hierarchy was in no way of the opinion that their fight was ending and in fact were producing more tanks, guns and equipment than they had at any single point during the war. Truthfully, 1944 was more of a ramp up in the scale of war than a downward trajectory as most people in our 21st century typically have come to assume. There was a lot of fighting left and the most loyal and fanatic of Hitler’s Germany were ready to see victory through at all costs.
The idea of the Normandy invasions did not come easy by any means, the debates waged for months around what exactly would see Allied troops begin to press towards the rich interior of German might. If Germany was producing more output than at any point in the war, there was no time to waste in fighting through the Northern Italian mountains, there had to be a more direct line towards Berlin. Furthermore, with the Soviet Crimean and Bagration offensives, the Allies in the West knew that any time used in deliberation would allow the Soviets to win this war solo. A very serious fear on the minds of all communist fearing participants. There was a lot riding on this Normandy campaign, not just the destruction of Nazism but also the future strong footing of Democracy and Capitalism in Europe. To the troops waiting in England on those rainy days, hoping for a fast end to this nightmare, they were there to simply obey honor’s command.
Normandy was not going to be an easy nut to crack, as the landscape was well suited for an efficient defensive perimeter that was built by no other than the military genius of Erwin Rommel. In many ways, you could say that the assault on the beaches of Normandy were more consistent with the risks associated with siege warfare than an open battlefield. There were very obvious “murder holes” and weak points present all over the beachhead. One of the most crucial beaches on the planning maps of the allies was the Omaha Beach, situated as one of the middle beaches for invasion. Also, Omaha Beach staging area included the single most challenging element of the entire invasion, Pointe du Hoc.
With its 100-foot high natural rock face as a border to a very shallow beachhead, the land above was supreme territory of German firepower against Allied invasion efforts on the Omaha staging area. With the artillery to hit troops storming multiple beaches within the vicinity of Pointe du Hoc, there were few targets that Erwin Rommel himself spent more time obsessing over. If Pointe du Hoc were to be ignored or not effectively taken, the devastation visited upon the allies on the surrounding beaches would be utterly devastating, going to the point of operational failure. There was little doubt that the guns on Pointe du Hoc were imperative to the ability of the allies to push inland.
The mission was juggled around by top brass for some time, as the knowledge of the insane mission was all too well known, going as far as assuming any man partaking in this expedition was surely more like to never come back. The desperate mission fell through the chain of command and upon the lap of Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder of the U.S. Army Ranger battalions. These brave men knew the task ahead of themselves all too well. For they trained alongside British Commandos on cliff faces prior to D-day. For General Omar Bradley had made the claim, “No soldier in my command has ever been wished a more difficult task than that which befell the thirty-four-year-old Commander of this Provisional Ranger Force”.
When D-Day arrived, the Ranger companies that were set to undertake the first assault were led by Colonel Cleveland A. Lytle. During the debriefing upon the ships taking the men over to France, Lytle became extremely vocal regarding the suicidal and unnecessary aspects of the mission. He was then relieved of command by Rudder, who was determined to see the mission through to the end. While all of the Rangers involved in the assault knew the desperate perils of their mission, these men hailed the call and set about storming the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc.
The Rangers were given British assault boats for their mission, alongside ladders that were requisitioned from one of the local British fire departments. As the assault craft from Company C were approaching the shores of Pointe du Hoc on the early morning of June 6th, many of them began to take on water and one eventually capsized in pursuit. Closer to shore, the Ranger’s began to take on machine gun and mortar fire from the German’s manning the defense of Pointe du Hoc. This firepower destroyed two assault craft. Upon reaching the beaches, the Rangers set about climbing the cliff faces while under fire by German positions. Eventually, around the evening, the Ranger’s made it on top of the cliff face of Pointe du Hoc. Captain Ralph E. Goranson, of the first assault wave, noted that of the original 70-man company, only 12 men remained to carry out the remainder of the attack.
The assault lead by Lieutenant Colonel Rudder, with the main force of three Ranger Companies, were set behind schedule due to poor weather conditions. They eventually landed at the beach almost 40 minutes behind schedule from their original time. This was an extremely devastating occurrence due to the fact that the Germans were able to reform their defensive positions after they had been suppressed by Allied Naval and Air bombardment. Once the landing craft hit the beaches, the men were subjected to extremely heavy firepower by the German defenders. Machine guns, grenades, rifle lines and mortars were all thrown at the Rangers, as they were densely compacted on the beaches below. The grappling hooks that were brought along to scale the cliffs were succumbing to wet and muddy environments, alongside German attempts at cutting the ropes. The scaling was slow, painful and brutal on all accounts. Eventually, Rudder’s men reached the top of the cliff and were then instructed to call for reinforcements to provide the manpower necessary to complete the assault.
Over the next two days, Rudder’s Rangers would experience extremely difficult actions, fueled by the loss of men, German counter attacks and failed reinforcement communications. The Ranger’s held their position while low on food and ammunition. By June 8th, the Ranger’s under Lieutenant Colonel Rudder experienced a 70% casualty rate. Most of the men that set out originally to assault Pointe du Hoc had died in the effort. The Ranger’s succeeded in their mission of dismantling the guns on top of Pointe du Hoc and were reinforced when elements of 116th infantry broke through the German lines on June 7th.
The assault at Pointe du Hoc during World War Two was on all accounts the riskiest endeavor undertaken throughout the entire war on the western front. Rudder and his men gave the ultimate sacrifice in seeing through to their duty and their honor. It is truly hard to imagine the level of commitment that the men under Rudder had in their mission and each other, even under the intense dialogue of the Normandy Invasions.
It is an impossible errand to compare our everyday adversity to stories like these, an adversity beyond even the imagination of the vast majority of people alive today. In fact, it feels wrong in a way to make any assumption that our tasks in the 21st century entrepreneurial landscape can even fall within a context that this story would represent. The truth of the matter is that these men gave their lives to protect the ability for us today to live a hard-working lifestyle. An alternative to not comparing our troubles today is to just forget about the sacrifice entirely, which is exactly what we are seeing across our broad strokes media instruments. I can honestly say that I cannot remember the last time that I had even heard of this story anywhere on social media over the past fifteen years. If our method of reliving history through the eyes of an entrepreneur within this article gives us the grace to tell this story, then I will assume the lessor evil.
I remember a client of mine around four years ago that had a lot going for them and their group of partners. They had some very well-known players in their field participating in the venture, they had significant capital backing and most importantly they had a deep bench of employees with hardened faith in the product offering. In truth, there were very few start-ups that I felt had the trajectory that this organization did.
One day stands out to me in particular, we had just signed a big contract with a group of partners that were literally at the top of their game in that world. It was a partnership worth millions of dollars, won on the backs of countless hours of investment. Our small little group just became validated in the eyes of an industry. A day to celebrate. It was myself and four other members of the team, including the two new partners. We were having expensive dinner and wine, all while celebrating the future together. My spirit was not at a place of peace in that moment though, my intuition was yelling at the top of its lungs to run and run fast, but why? Well in that moment I realized something, that this was not success, this was an easy step towards a plausible success but not success. Everyone at that table was kidding themselves, there was nothing to celebrate yet, I was just the only one with any foresight.
As the weeks and months ticked along, the truth would come out slowly and most of the employees would stay in their nice cozy bubble until it was literally too late to do anything. On that first day back at the office, I challenged the comfort in the office, I drove a hard conversation into the “how’s and why’s”. No one else in this newly formed partnership was doing any tough, grueling or challenging work. Everyone was still aloof in their façade of hierarchy, as if their minor win was the definition of success itself. As the days rolled forward, it was becoming all too apparent to me and a handful of other’s that our core leadership team was so invested into their own images of themselves that the hard work needed to earn a long-standing win was not materializing. They were more interested in cigar shop antics than grinding at a codebase. Finally, the last straw hit, the handful of outspoken minority made a perfectly keen observation, the conversation that the majority of our peers at the company were having was not one of conflict or challenge, it was of self-ego stroking soothing comfort.
To be clear, it was the lifestyle that was the downfall of this group of entrepreneurs. Comfort around a certain unsustainable wage, comfort around a luxury image, playing into the hands of the past successes experienced all before any true success was ever derived. They were afraid to sacrifice their high-end lifestyle in order to make the business work, to get the job done. What does it ultimately take to see a goal to its fruition? A lot of sacrifice that these individuals were naïve for thinking they could avoid.
In summary, the downfall of this organization was all about the lack of personal sacrifice. Not a single one of the leadership team, very few managers, and only a handful of employees were ever willing to allow themselves to lose any face. The lack of challenge in the day to day conversation always ensured that everyone left every meeting happy, positive and well off. The lack of challenge in the day to day conversation always ensured that no one ever progressed, we never built anything of value to anyone outside of the organization and most importantly the company became static. Eight months after that one evening with the team celebrating a win, we were cutting the entire employee workforce, the cash had completely dried up, and multiple investors and partners were in open lawsuit with one another. All because the overall majority of the key players in the conversation were completely unwilling to sacrifice anything for the vision we all set out to achieve.