This rugged peninsula in France is called Pointe du Hoc. It’s one of the most infamous of all the D-Day battle sites in Normandy, equidistant between Utah and Omaha, the two landing beaches allocated to the American forces. The assault onto Omaha Beach was a bloodbath but on Utah, the casualty numbers were much lower. Having said that, many troops died in the rehearsal that took place in the south west of England at a seaside town called Slapton Sands. A series of blunders resulted in an ambush by German E-boats and the death of 750 men, four times the number that were killed on Utah Beach during the actual operation they were practising for. Breakdowns in communication at every level, a total collapse of the chain of command and Allied ships of various sizes colliding with each other as utter panic set in.
Because of the imminent invasion of Normandy, the catastrophe was immediately hushed up. Everyone was sworn to secrecy from the military top brass to the civilians in the nearby towns. Even the hospitals were forbidden to ask any questions of the wounded. And then the whole tragedy took a sinister twist as it became clear that ten officers were missing, all of whom had the highest level of clearance and detailed inside knowledge of the D-Day plan. The invasion could have been compromised if even one of those men had were captured and interrogated. For the next 24 hours top level meetings took place between military and political leaders and D-Day was nearly called off. That all changed when the bodies of all ten were found and identified floating in the water or washed up on nearby beaches.
After the war no attempt was made to honour the men who died on that picture postcard beach in England on that fateful day in the summer of 1944. The casualties of war are not only those who die on the front line but those who fall victim to mistakes and misjudgments. In 1984 a local man spotted the gun turret of a Sherman tank out at sea at low tide. He recruited volunteers from the community and it was recovered and restored. It now takes pride of place on the beach at Slapton Sands. It was said that locals were more interested in honouring the victims of that botched operation than both the British and American governments combined.
A disaster precipitated by flawed intelligence and that’s where we pick up the story of Pointe du Hoc. Unlike many of the famous battlefields across the world this site has been left almost untouched. It’s like a time capsule of that one day when the world held its breath as the Allied forces sought to gain a foothold on Hitler’s Fortress Europe. The day when Normandy became the portal of freedom for Europe. In the hours before the landings on those five beaches, before peace was overtaken by war, a colossal bombardment was unleashed from the sea. It turned this place into something that now looks more like the surface of the moon than the seaside beauty spot. Not much in the way of Health and Safety around here either.
Pointe Du Hoc is the scene of one of the most heroic operations on D-Day. Flanked by Omaha and Utah and both within the range of the coastal guns photographed by Allied aerial reconnaissance. 70,000 assault troops were one hour away from coming ashore and the guns had to be put out of action. The deadly operation fell to the elite troops of the 2ndand 5th US Ranger Battalions. It necessitated scaling the 100 ft cliff with rocket propelled ropes and grappling hooks launched from ten British landing craft that were busy navigating the submerged rocks at the base of the cliff. By the time the ropes were fired from the assault boats at 7am on D-Day, 50 of the Rangers had already drowned. Another 50 then fell to their deaths or succumbed to sniper fire from the German defenders.
We’re pick up the story in a minute but let me tell what this place speaks of to me as a Christian. During my teenage years I felt my life was a bomb site of failure and disappointment. Then I realised that it was because I’d lost the connection with God that I’d experienced as a young kid. And so, at a time when I was being carpet bombed by my past and my current circumstances, I turned the control of my life over to the God who made me for purpose. I started to read about Jesus, the son of God who came into the battlefield of human devastation and destruction saying “My peace I give to you, it’s a peace the world cannot understand.”
2,000 years ago Jesus embarked on a mission to free humanity from the grip of a terrible evil, what evil people ask? Well, the Bible says that our independence from God has created separation and death. That's why there’s bomb damage in our lives and that's why Jesus died on the cross to rescue us. On reaching this point, the Rangers uncovered a catastrophic error in the intelligence, the guns were no longer here. The training, the planning, the risk and ultimately the sacrifice was all for nothing. Over 100 elite troops at the very top of their game were lost. Just like that D-Day rehearsal back in England, it was a terribly high price to pay for wrong information and it ended in disaster. Sometimes our lives are built on flawed intelligence, misplaced trust and misguided foundations. When Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life” it wasn’t always popular.
Same as today, people back then didn’t like the idea that there was only one way and one truth, didn’t seem all that tolerant. Jesus spent a lot of time confronting religious lies. Lies about the nature of God’s heart towards us and lies about what is really important in life. He said the first shall be the last and if you want to find true life you have to be born again by the Spirit of God. Becoming a follower of Jesus is the moment we trade flawed intelligence for God’s truth and begin to walk free of the bomb damage and into a place of peace and restoration in relationship with him.
“A man encounters God when he is looking death square in the face, talks to him and then sees him come to the rescue.”