The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II

The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II

by Stephen E. Ambrose
The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II

The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II

by Stephen E. Ambrose


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New York Times Bestseller: The prize-winning historian’s definitive, “riveting” account of the eleven months from D-Day to Germany’s surrender (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

From America’s preeminent military historian, Stephen E. Ambrose, this is the definitive telling of the war in Europe from D-Day, June 6, 1944, to the end, on May 7, 1945. This authoritative narrative account is drawn by the author himself from his five acclaimed books about that conflict, most particularly from the D-Day and Citizen Soldiers, about which historian James McPherson wrote, “If there is a better book about the experience of GIs who fought in Europe during World War II, I have not read it. Citizen Soldiers captures the fear and exhilaration of combat, the hunger and cold and filth of the foxholes, the small intense world of the individual rifleman as well as the big picture of the European theater in a manner that grips the reader and will not let him go. No one who has not been there can understand what combat is like but Stephen Ambrose brings us closer to an understanding than any other historian has done.”

The Victors also includes stories of individual battles, raids, suffering, and acts of courage from Pegasus Bridge, an account of the first engagement of D-Day, when a detachment of British airborne troops stormed the German defense forces and paved the way for the Allied invasion; and from Band of Brothers, an account of an American rifle company from the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who fought, died, and conquered from Utah Beach through the Bulge and on to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.

Ambrose is also the author of Eisenhower and one of the editors of the Supreme Allied Commander’s papers, and he describes the momentous decisions about how and where the war was fought, and the strategies and conduct of the generals and officers who led the invasion and the bloody drive across Europe to Berlin.

But, as always with Ambrose, it is the ranks, the ordinary boys and men, who command his attention and his awe. The Victors tells their stories, how citizens became soldiers in the best army in the world. Ambrose draws on thousands of interviews and oral histories from government and private archives, from the high command—Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton—on down through officers and enlisted men, to re-create the last year of the Second World War when the Allied soldiers pushed the Germans out of France, chased them across Germany, and destroyed the Nazi regime.

“An absolutely wonderful book . . . a compelling narrative of a time when the average American youth exhibited heroism and grace to save the world.” —Wisconsin State Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684864549
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 02/13/2024
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 396
Sales rank: 6,412
File size: 57 MB
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About the Author

About The Author
Stephen E. Ambrose was a renowned historian and acclaimed author of more than thirty books. Among his New York Times bestsellers are Nothing Like It in the World, Citizen Soldiers, Band of Brothers, D-Day - June 6, 1944, and Undaunted Courage. Dr. Ambrose was a retired Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and a contributing editor for the Quarterly Journal of Military History.
Dr. Stephen E. Ambrose was a renowned historian and acclaimed author of more than thirty books. Among his New York Times bestsellers are: Nothing Like It in the World, Citizen Soldiers, Band of Brothers, D-Day: June 6, 1944, and Undaunted Courage. He was not only a great author, but also a captivating speaker, with the unique ability to provide insight into the future by employing his profound knowledge of the past.  His stories demonstrate how leaders use trust, friendship, and shared experiences to work together and thrive during conflict and change. His philosophy about keeping an audience engaged is put best in his own words: “As I sit at my computer, or stand at the podium, I think of myself as sitting around the campfire after a day on the trail, telling stories that I hope will have the members of the audience, or the readers, leaning forward just a bit, wanting to know what happens next.” Dr. Ambrose was a retired Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans. He was the Director Emeritus of the Eisenhower Center in New Orleans and the founder of the National D-Day Museum. He was also a contributing editor for the Quarterly Journal of Military History, a member of the board of directors for American Rivers, and a member of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council Board. His talents have not gone unnoticed by the film industry. Dr. Ambrose was the historical consultant for Steven Spielberg’s movie Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks purchased the film rights to his books Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers to make the thirteen-hour HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. He has also participated in numerous national television programs, including ones for the History Channel and National Geographic.

Date of Birth:

January 10, 1936

Date of Death:

October 13, 2002

Place of Birth:

Whitewater, Wisconsin

Place of Death:

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi


B.A., University of Wisconsin; M.A., Louisiana State University, 1958; Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, 1963

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 8: Pointe-Du-Hoc

It was a nearly 100-meter-high cliff, with perpendicular sides jutting out into the Channel. It looked down on Utah Beach to the left and Omaha Beach to the right. There were six 155mm cannon in heavily reinforced concrete bunkers that were capable of hitting either beach with their big shells. On the outermost edge of the cliff, the Germans had an elaborate, well-protected outpost, where the spotters had a perfect view and could call back coordinates to the gunners at the 155s. Those guns had to be neutralized. The Allied bombardment of Pointe-du-Hoc had begun weeks before D-Day. Heavy bombers from the U.S. Eighth Air Force and British Bomber Command had repeatedly plastered the area, with a climax coming before dawn on June 6. Then the battleship Texas took up the action, sending dozens of 14-inch shells into the position. Altogether, Pointe-du-Hoc got hit by more than ten kilotons of high explosives, the equivalent of the explosive power of the atomic bomb used at Hiroshima. Texas lifted her fire at 0630, the moment the rangers were scheduled to touch down.

Col. James Earl Rudder was in the lead boat. He was not supposed to be there. Lt. Gen. Clarence Huebner, CO of the 1st Division and in overall command at Omaha Beach, had forbidden Rudder to lead D, E, and F Companies of the 2nd Rangers into Pointe-du-Hoc, saying, "We're not going to risk getting you knocked out in the first round."

"I'm sorry to have to disobey you, sir," Rudder had replied, "but if I don't take it, it may not go."

The rangers were in LCA boats manned by British seamen (the rangers had trained with British commandos and were therefore accustomed to working with British sailors). The LCA was built in England on the basic design of Andrew Higgins's boat, but the British added some light armor to the sides and gunwales. That made the LCA slower and heavier -- the British were sacrificing mobility to increase security -- which meant that the LCA rode lower in the water than the LCVP.

On D-Day morning all the LCAs carrying the rangers took on water as spray washed over the sides. One of the ten boats swamped shortly after leaving the transport area, taking the CO of D Company and twenty men with it (they were picked up by an LCT a few hours later. "Give us some dry clothes, weapons and ammunition, and get us back in to the Pointe. We gotta get back!" Capt. "Duke" Slater said as he came out of the water. But his men were so numb from the cold water that the ship's physician ordered them back to England). One of the two supply boats bringing in ammunition and other gear also swamped; the other supply boat had to jettison more than half its load to stay afloat.

That was but the beginning of the foul-ups. At 0630, as Rudder's lead LCA approached the beach, he saw with dismay that the coxswain was headed toward Pointe-de-la-Percée, about halfway between the Vierville draw and Pointe-du-Hoc. After some argument Rudder persuaded the coxswain to turn right to the objective. The flotilla had to fight the tidal current (the cause of the drift to the left) and proceeded only slowly parallel to the coast.

The error was costly. It caused the rangers to be thirty-five minutes late in touching down, which gave the German defenders time to recover from the bombardment, climb out of their dugouts, and man their positions. It also caused the flotilla to run a gauntlet of fire from German guns along four kilometers of coastline. One of the four DUKWs was sunk by a 20mm shell. Sgt. Frank South, a nineteen-year-old medic, recalled, "We were getting a lot of machine-gun fire from our left flank, alongside the cliff, and we could not, for the life of us, locate the fire." Lieutenant Eikner remembered "balling water with our helmets, dodging bullets, and vomiting all at the same time."

USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont, destroyers, saw what was happening and came in close to fire with all guns at the Germans. That helped to drive some of the Germans back from the edge of the cliff. D Company had been scheduled to land on the west side of the point, but because of the error in navigation Rudder signaled by hand that the two LCAs carrying the remaining D Company troops join the other seven and land side by side along the east side.

Lt. George Kerchner, a platoon leader in D Company, recalled that when his LCA made its turn to head into the beach, "My thought was that this whole thing is a big mistake, that none of us were ever going to get up that cliff." But then the destroyers started firing and drove some of the Germans back from the edge of the cliff. Forty-eight years later then retired Colonel Kerchner commented "Some day I would love to meet up with somebody from Satterlee so I can shake his hand and thank him."

The beach at Pointe-du-Hoc was only ten meters in width as the flotilla approached, and shrinking rapidly as the tide was coming in (at high tide there would be virtually no beach). There was no sand, only shingle. The bombardment from air and sea had brought huge chunks of the clay soil from the point tumbling down, making the rocks slippery but also providing an eight-meter buildup at the base of the cliff that gave the rangers something of a head start in climbing the forty-meter cliff.

The rangers had a number of ingenious devices to help them get to the top. One was twenty-five-meter extension ladders mounted in the DUKWs, provided by the London Fire Department. But one DUKW was already sunk, and the other three could not get a footing on the shingle, which was covered with wet clay and thus rather like greased ball bearings. Only one ladder was extended.

Sgt. William Stivinson climbed to the top to fire his machine gun. He was swaying back and forth like a metronome, German tracers whipping about him. Lt. Elmer "Dutch" Vermeer described the scene: "The ladder was swaying at about a forty-five-degree angle -- both ways. Stivinson would fire short bursts as he passed over the cliff at the top of the arch, but the DUKW floundered so badly that they had to bring the fire ladder back down."

The basic method of climbing was by rope. Each LCA carried three pairs of rocket guns, firing steel grapnels which pulled up plain three-quarter-inch ropes, toggle ropes, or rope ladders. The rockets were fired just before touchdown. Grapnels with attached ropes were an ancient technique for scaling a wall or cliff, tried and proven. But in this case, the ropes had been soaked by the spray and in many cases were too heavy. Rangers watched with sinking hearts as the grapnels arched in toward the cliff, only to fall short from the weight of the ropes. Still, at least one grapnel and rope from each LCA made it; the grapnels grabbed the earth, and the dangling ropes provided a way to climb the cliff.

To get to the ropes, the rangers had to disembark and cross the narrow strip of beach to the base of the cliff. To get there they had two problems to overcome. The first was a German machine gun on the rangers' left flank, firing across the beach. It killed or wounded fifteen men as it swept bullets back and forth across the beach.

Colonel Rudder was one of the first to make it to the beach. With him was Col. Travis Trevor, a British commando who had assisted in the training of the rangers. He began walking the beach, giving encouragement. Rudder described him as "a great big [six feet four inches], black-haired son of a gun -- one of those staunch Britishers." Lieutenant Vermeer yelled at him, "How in the world can you do that when you are being fired at?"

"I take two short steps and three long ones," Trevor replied, "and they always miss me." Just then a bullet hit him in the helmet and drove him to the ground. He got up and shook his fist at the machine gunner, hollering, "You dirty son of a bitch." After that, Vermeer noted, "He crawled around like the rest of us."

The second problem for the disembarking rangers was craters, caused by bombs or shells that had fallen short of the cliff. They were underwater and could not be seen. "Getting off the ramp," Sergeant South recalled, "my pack and I went into a bomb crater and the world turned completely to water." He inflated his Mae West and made it to shore.

Lieutenant Kerchner was determined to be first off his boat. He thought he was going into a meter or so of water as he hollered "OK, let's go" and jumped. He went in over his head, losing his rifle. He started to swim in, furious with the British coxswain. The men behind him saw what had happened and jumped to the sides. They hardly got their feet wet. "So instead of being the first one ashore, I was one of the last ashore from my boat. I wanted to find somebody to help me cuss out the British navy, but everybody was busily engrossed in their own duties so I couldn't get any sympathy."

Two of his men were hit by the machine gun enfilading the beach. "This made me very angry because I figured he was shooting at me and I had nothing but a pistol." Kerchner picked up a dead ranger's rifle. "My first impulse was to go after this machine gun up there, but I immediately realized that this was rather stupid as our mission was to get to the top of the cliff and get on with destroying those guns.

"It wasn't necessary to tell this man to do this or that man to do that," Kerchner said. "They had been trained, they had the order in which they were supposed to climb the ropes and the men were all moving right in and starting to climb up the cliff." Kerchner went down the beach to report to Colonel Rudder that the D Company commander's LCA had sunk. He found Rudder starting to climb one of the rope ladders.

"He didn't seem particularly interested in me informing him that I was assuming command of the company. He told me to get the hell out of there and get up and climb my rope." Kerchner did as ordered. He found climbing the cliff "very easy," much easier than some of the practice climbs back in England.

The machine gun and the incoming tide gave Sgt. Gene Elder "a certain urgency" to get off the beach and up the cliff. He and his squad freeclimbed, as they were unable to touch the cliff. When they reached the top, "I told them, 'Boys, keep your heads down, because headquarters has fouled up again and has issued the enemy live ammunition.'"

Other rangers had trouble getting up the cliff. "I went up about, I don't know, forty, fifty feet," Pvt. Sigurd Sundby remembered. "The rope was wet and kind of muddy. My hands just couldn't hold, they were like grease, and I came sliding back down. As I was going down, I wrapped my foot around the rope and slowed myself up as much as I could, but still I burned my hands. If the rope hadn't been so wet, I wouldn't have been able to hang on for the burning.

"I landed right beside [Lt. Tod] Sweeney there, and he says, 'What's the matter, Sundby, chicken? Let me -- I'll show you how to climb.' So he went up first and I was right up after him, and when I got to the top, Sweeney says, 'Hey, Sundby, don't forget to zigzag.'"

Sgt. Willian "L-Rod" Petty, who had the reputation of being one of the toughest of the rangers, a man short on temper and long on aggressiveness, also had trouble with a wet and muddy rope. As he slipped to the bottom, Capt. Walter Block, the medical officer, said to Petty, "Soldier, get up that rope to the top of the cliff." Petty turned to Block, stared him square in the face, and said, "I've been trying to get up this goddamned rope for five minutes and if you think you can do any better you can f--ing well do it yourself." Block turned away, trying to control his own temper.

Germans on the top managed to cut two or three of the ropes, while others tossed grenades over the cliff, but BAR men at the base and machine-gun fire from Satterlee kept most of them back from the edge. They had not anticipated an attack from the sea, so their defensive positions were inland. In addition, the rangers had tied pieces of fuse to the grapnels and lit them just before firing the rockets; the burning fuses made the Germans think that the grapnels were some kind of weapon about to explode, which kept them away.

Within five minutes rangers were at the top; within fifteen minutes most of the fighting men were up. One of the first to make it was a country preacher from Tennessee, Pvt. Ralph Davis, a dead shot with a rifle and cool under pressure. When he got up, he dropped his pants and took a crap. "The war had to stop for awhile until 'Preacher' could get organized," one of his buddies commented.

As the tide was reducing the beach to almost nothing, and because the attack from the sea -- although less than two hundred rangers strong -- was proceeding, Colonel Rudder told Lieutenant Eikner to send the code message "Tilt." That told the floating reserve of A and B Companies, 2nd Rangers, and the 5th Ranger Battalion to land at Omaha Beach instead of Pointe-du-Hoc. Rudder expected them to pass through Vierville and attack Pointe-du-Hoc from the eastern, landward side.

On the beach there were wounded who needed attention. Sergeant South had barely got ashore when "the first cry of 'Medic!' went out and I shrugged off my pack, grabbed my aid kit, and took off for the wounded man. He had been shot in the chest. I was able to drag him in closer to the cliff. I'd no sooner taken care of him than I had to go to another and another and another." Captain Block set up an aid station.

"As I got over the top of the cliff," Lieutenant Kerchner recalled, "it didn't look anything at all like what I thought it was going to look like." The rangers had studied aerial photos and maps and sketches and sand table mock-ups of the area, but the bombardment from air and sea had created a moonscape: "It was just one large shell crated after the other."

Fifty years later Pointe-du-Hoc remains an incredible, overwhelming sight. It is hardly possible to say which is more impressive, the amount of reinforced concrete the Germans poured to build their casemates or the damage done to them and the craters created by the bombs and shells. Huge chunks of concrete, as big as houses, are scattered over the kilometer-square area, as if the gods were playing dice. The tunnels and trenches were mostly obliterated, but enough of them still exist to give an idea of how much work went into building the fortifications. Some railroad tracks remain in the underground portions; they were for handcarts used to move ammunition. There is an enormous steel fixture that was a railroad turntable.

Surprisingly, the massive concrete observation post at the edge of the cliff remains intact. It was the key to the whole battery; from it one has a perfect view of both Utah and Omaha Beaches; German artillery observers in the post had radio and underground telephone communication with the casemates.

The craters are as big as ten meters across, a meter or two deep, some even deeper. They number in the hundreds. They were a godsend to the rangers, for they provided plenty of immediate cover. Once on top, rangers could get to a crater in seconds, then begin firing at the German defenders.

What most impresses tourists at Pointe-du-Hoc -- who come today in the thousands, from all over the world -- is the sheer cliff and the idea of climbing up it by rope. What most impresses military professionals is the way the rangers went to work once they got on top. Despite the initial disorientation they quickly recovered and went about their assigned tasks. Each platoon had a specific mission, to knock out a specific gun emplacement. The men got on it without being told.

Germans were firing sporadically from the trenches and regularly from the machine-gun position on the eastern edge of the fortified area and from a 20mm anti-aircraft gun on the western edge, but the rangers ignored them to get to the casemates.

When they got to the casemates, to their amazement they found that the "guns" were telephone poles. Tracks leading inland indicated that the 155mm cannon had been removed recently, almost certainly as a result of the preceding air bombardment. The rangers never paused. In small groups they began moving inland toward their next objective, the paved road that connected Grandcamp and Vierville, to set up roadblocks to prevent German reinforcements from moving to Omaha.

Lieutenant Kerchner moved forward and got separated from his men. "I remember landing in this zigzag trench. It was the deepest trench I'd ever seen. It was a narrow communications trench, two feet wide but eight feet deep. About every twenty-five yards it would go off on another angle. I was by myself and I never felt so lonesome before or since, because every time I came to an angle I didn't know whether I was going to come face-to-face with a German or not." He was filled with a sense of anxiety and hurried to get to the road to join his men "because I felt a whole lot better when there were other men around."

Kerchner followed the trench for 150 meters before it finally ran out near the ruins of a house on the edge of the fortified area. Here he discovered that Pointe-du-Hoc was a self-contained fort in itself, surrounded on the land side with minefields, barbed-wire entanglements, and machine-gun emplacements. "This is where we began running into most of the German defenders, on the perimeter."

Other rangers had made it to the road, fighting all the way, killing Germans, taking casualties. The losses were heavy. In Kerchner's D Company, only twenty men out of the seventy who had started out in the LCAs were on their feet. Two company commanders were casualties; lieutenants were now leading D and E. Capt. Otto Masny led F Company. Kerchner checked with the three COs and learned that all the guns were missing. "So at this stage we felt rather disappointed, not only disappointed but I felt awfully lonesome as I realized how few men we had there."

The lieutenants decided that there was no reason to go back to the fortified area and agreed to establish a perimeter around the road "and try to defend ourselves and wait for the invading force that had landed on Omaha Beach to come up."

At the base of the cliff at around 0730, Lieutenant Eikner sent out a message by radio: "Praise the Lord." It signified that the rangers were on top of the cliff.

At 0745, Colonel Rudder moved his command post up to the top, establishing it in a crater on the edge of the cliff. Captain Block also climbed a rope to the top and set up his aid station in a two-room concrete emplacement. It was pitch black and cold inside; Block worked by flashlight in one room, using the other to hold the dead.

Sergeant South remembered "the wounded coming in at a rapid rate, we could only keep them on litters stacked up pretty closely. It was just an endless, endless process. Periodically I would go out and bring in a wounded man from the field, leading one back, and ducking through the various shell craters. At one time, I went out to get someone and was carrying him back on my shoulders when he was hit by several other bullets and killed."

The fighting within the fortified area was confused and confusing. Germans would pop up here, there, everywhere, fire a few rounds, then disappear back underground. Rangers could not keep contact with each other. Movement meant crawling. There was nothing resembling a front line. Germans were taken prisoner; so were some rangers. In the observation post a few Germans held out despite repeated attempts to overrun the position.

The worst problem was the machine gun on the eastern edge of the fortified area, the same gun that had caused so many casualties on the beach. Now it was sweeping back and forth over the battlefield whenever a ranger tried to move. Rudder told Lieutenant Vermeer to eliminate it.

Vermeer set out with a couple of men. "We moved through the shell craters and had just reached the open ground where the machine gun could cover us also when we ran into a patrol from F Company on the same mission. Once we ran out of shell holes and could see nothing but a flat 200-300 yards of open ground in front of us, I was overwhelmed with the sense that it would be impossible to reach our objective without heavy losses." The heaviest weapon the rangers had was a BAR, hardly effective over that distance.

Fortunately, orders came from Rudder to hold up a moment. An attempt was going to be made to shoot the machine gun off the edge of that cliff with guns from a destroyer. That had not been tried earlier because the shore-fire-control party, headed by Capt. Jonathan Harwood from the artillery and Navy Lt. Kenneth Norton, had been put out of action by a short shell. But by now Lieutenant Eikner was on top and he had brought with him an old World War I signal lamp with shutters on it. He thought he could contact the Satterlee with it. Rudder told him to try.

Eikner had trained his men in the international Morse code on the signal lamp "with the idea that we might just have a need for them. I can recall some of the boys fussing about having to lug this old, outmoded equipment on D-Day. It was tripod-mounted, a dandy piece of equipment with a telescopic sight and a tracking device to stay lined up with a ship. We set it up in the middle of the shell-hole command post and found enough dry-cell batteries to get it going. We established communications and used the signal lamp to adjust the naval gunfire. It was really a lifesaver for us at a very critical moment."

Satterlee banged away at the machine-gun position. After a couple of adjustments Satterlee's five-inch guns blew it off the cliffside. Eikner then used the lamp to ask for help in evacuating the wounded; a whaleboat came in but could not make it due to intense German fire.

The rangers were cut off from the sea. With the Vierville draw still firmly in German hands, they were getting no help from the land side. With the radios out of commission, they had no idea how the invasion elsewhere was going. The rangers on Pointe-du-Hoc were isolated. They had taken about 50 percent casualties.

A short shell from British cruiser Glasgow had hit next to Rudder's command post. It killed Captain Harwood, wounded Lieutenant Norton, and knocked Colonel Rudder off his feet. Lieutenant Vermeer was returning to the CP when the shell burst. What he saw he never forgot: "The hit turned the men completely yellow. It was as though they had been stricken with jaundice. It wasn't only their faces and hands, but the skin beneath their clothes and the clothes which were yellow from the smoke of that shell -- it was probably a colored marker shell."

Rudder recovered quickly. Angry, he went out hunting for snipers, only to get shot in the leg. Captain Block treated the wound; thereafter Rudder stayed in his CP, more or less, doing what he could to direct the battle. Vermeer remarked that "the biggest thing that saved our day was seeing Colonel Rudder controlling the operation. It still makes me cringe to recall the pain he must have endured trying to operate with a wound through the leg and the concussive force he must have felt from the close hit by the yellow-colored shell. He was the strength of the whole operation."

On his return trip in 1954, Rudder pointed to a buried blockhouse next to his CP. "We got our first German prisoner right here," he told his son. "He was a little freckle-faced kid who looked like an American....I had a feeling there were more of them around, and I told the rangers to lead this kid ahead of them. They just started him around this corner when the Germans opened up out of the entrance and he fell dead, right here, face down with his hands still clasped on the top of his head."

Out by the paved road, the fighting went on. It was close quarters, so close that when two Germans who had been hiding in a deep shelter hole jumped to their feet, rifles ready to fire, Sergeant Petty was right between them. He threw himself to the ground, firing his BAR as he did so -- but the bullets went between the Germans, who were literally at his side. The experience so unnerved them they threw their rifles down, put their hands in the air, and called out "Kamerad, Kamerad." A buddy of Petty's who was behind him commented dryly, "Hell, L-Rod, that's a good way to save ammunition -- just scare 'em to death."

In another of the countless incidents of that battle, Lt. Jacob Hill spotted a German machine gun behind a hedgerow just beyond the road. It was firing in the general direction of some hidden rangers. Hill studied the position for a few moments, then stood up and shouted, "You bastard sons of bitches, you couldn't hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle!" As the startled Germans spun their gun around, Hill lobbed a grenade into the position and put the gun out of action.

The primary purpose of the rangers was not to kill Germans or take prisoners, but to get those 155mm cannon. The tracks leading out of the casemates and the effort the Germans were making to dislodge the rangers indicated that they had to be around somewhere.

By 0815 there were about thirty-five rangers from D and E Companies at the perimeter roadblock. Within fifteen minutes another group of twelve from F Company joined up. Excellent soldiers, those rangers -- they immediately began patrolling.

There was a dirt road leading south (inland). It had heavy tracks. Sgts. Leonard Lomell and Jack Kuhn thought the missing guns might have made the tracks. They set out to investigate. At about 250 meters (one kilometer inland), Lomell abruptly stopped. He held his hand out to stop Kuhn, turned, and half whispered, "Jack, here they are. We've found 'em. Here are the goddamned guns."

Unbelievably, the well-camouflaged guns were set up in battery, ready to fire in the direction of Utah Beach, with piles of ammunition around them, but no Germans. Lomell spotted about a hundred Germans a hundred meters or so across an open field, apparently forming up. Evidently they had pulled back during the bombardment, for fear of a stray shell setting off the amunition dump, and were now preparing to man their guns, but they were in no hurry, for until their infantry drove off the rangers and reoccupled the observation post they could not fire with any accuracy.

Lomell never hesitated. "Give me your grenades, Jack," he said to Kuhn. "Cover me. I'm gonna fix 'em." He ran to the guns and set off thermite grenades in the recoil and traversing mechanisms of two of the guns, disabling them. He bashed in the sights of the third gun.

"Jack, we gotta get some more thermite grenades." He and Kuhn ran back to the highway, collected all of the thermite grenades from the rangers in the immediate area, returned to the battery, and disabled the other three guns.

Meanwhile Sgt. Frank Rupinski, leading a patrol of his own, had discovered a huge ammunition dump some distance south of the battery. It too was unguarded. Using high-explosive charges, the rangers detonated it. A tremendous explosion occurred as the shells and powder charges blew up, showering rocks, sand, leaves, and debris on Lomell and Kuhn. Unaware of Rupinski's patrol, Lomell and Kuhn assumed that a stray shell had hit the ammo dump. They withdrew as quickly as they could and sent word back to Rudder by runner that the guns had been found and destroyed.

And with that the rangers had completed their offensive mission. It was 0900. Just that quickly they were now on the defensive, isolated, with nothing heavier than 60mm mortars and BARS to defend themselves.

In the afternoon Rudder had Eikner send a message -- by his signal lamp and homing pigeon -- via the Satterlee: "Located Pointe-du-Hoc -- mission accomplished -- need ammunition and reinforcement -- many casualties."

An hour later Satterlee relayed a brief message from General Huebner: "No reinforcements available -- all rangers have landed [at Omaha]." The only reinforcements Rudder's men received in the next forty-eight hours were three paratroopers from the 101st who had been misdropped and who somehow made it through German lines to join the rangers, and two platoons of rangers from Omaha. The first arrived at 2100. It was a force of twenty-three men led by Lt. Charles Parker. On the afternoon of June 7, Maj. Jack Street brought in a landing craft and took off wounded and prisoners. After putting them aboard an LST he took the craft to Omaha Beach and rounded up about twenty men from the 5th Ranger Battalion and brought them to Pointe-du-Hoc.

The Germans were as furious as disturbed hornets; they counterattacked the fortified area throughout the day, again that night, and through the next day. The rangers were, in fact, under siege, their situation desperate. But as Sgt. Gene Elder recalled, they stayed calm and beat off every attack. "This was due to our rigorous training. We were ready. For example, Sgt. Bill Stivinson [who had started D-Day morning swaying back and forth on the London Fire Department ladder] was sitting with Sgt. Guy Shoff behind some rock or rubble when Guy started to swear and Bill asked him why, Guy replied, 'They are shooting at me.' Stivinson asked how he knew. Guy's answer was, 'Because they are hitting me.'"

Pvt. Salva Maimone recalled that on D-Day night "one of the boys spotted some cows. He went up and milked one. The milk was bitter, like quinine. The cows had been eating onions."

Lieutenant Vermeer said he could "still distinctly remember when it got to be twelve o'clock that night, because the 7th of June was my birthday. I felt that if I made it until midnight, I would survive the rest of the ordeal. It seemed like some of the fear left at that time."

The rangers took heavy casualties. A number of them were taken prisoner. By the end of the battle only fifty of the more than two hundred rangers who had landed were still capable of fighting. But they never lost Pointe-du-Hoc.

Later, writers commented that it had all been a waste, since the guns had been withdrawn from the fortified area around Pointe-du-Hoc. That is wrong. Those guns were in working condition before Sergeant Lomell got to them. They had an abundance of ammunition. They were in range (they could lob their huge shells 25,000 meters) of the biggest targets in the world, the 5,000-plus ships in the Channel and the thousands of troops and equipment on Utah and Omaha Beaches.

Lieutenant Eikner was absolutely correct when he concluded his oral history, "Had we not been there we felt quite sure that those guns would have been put into operation and they would have brought much death and destruction down on our men on the beaches and our ships at sea. But by 0900 on D-Day morning the big guns had been put out of commission and the paved highway had been cut and we had roadblocks denying its use to the enemy. So by 0900 our mission was accomplished. The rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc were the first American forces on D-Day to accomplish their mission and we are proud of that."

Copyright © 1998 by Ambrose Tubbs, Inc.

Table of Contents

4 "OK, LET'S GO"69
19 THE GIs349
The Invasion of France, June 6-August 25, 194476-77
The Defeat of Germany, August 1944-May 1945218-19

What People are Saying About This

Geoffrey C. Ward

A vivid tapestry of combat memoirs woven by the unrivaled master of the form.


On Wednesday, September 30th, welcomed Stephen E. Ambrose to discuss THE VICTORS and ^%=ucase(title2)%^.

Moderator: Welcome, Stephen Ambrose. We are honored that you could join us to discuss your new book, THE VICTORS, and also your new paperback, CITIZEN SOLDIERS. How does it feel to have three books simultaneously on the New York Times bestseller list?

Stephen E Ambrose: It feels wonderful!

Mark H. from Yorkville: Since the VICTORS is a compilation work, was it much easier to put together than your other books? How did you go about constructing it?

Stephen E Ambrose: Yes, it was easier, because I drew on a lifetime of writing. I put it together by reading all the books again and drawing on them to make a coherent narrative that covered the supreme commander down to the privates, with the biggest concentration on the campaign in northwest Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean.

Dale Marshall from Richmond: I love your description of the Omaha Beach invasion in THE VICTORS. When I read it, I had the same visceral response that I did when I watched "Saving Private Ryan." Was it difficult for you to find veterans from these specific battles to get firsthand accounts? How willing were they to describe to you in detail the horrors they witnessed?

Stephen E Ambrose: I started 20 years ago, and at first it was very difficult both to find veterans and to get them talking, but as these men got older, they became more willing. Interviewing one veteran would lead to a recommendation to interview this guy or that guy, and so the circle broadened. I could say to them, "So A-company was over to your left and the Rangers were to your right, and I know Colonel Camhan was on your boat...," that sort of detail, and this gave me a sort of trustworthiness and authority, that I knew what I was talking about. To sum up, it became easier and easier to both find men to talk to and get them to talk.

Clyde from Fort Myers: How would you evaluate the role of the historian in contemporary times? Is the interpretation of the past more or less important to our society?

Stephen E Ambrose: We cannot know where we are going unless we know where we are at, and we can never know where we are at if we don't know how we got there. History is always the most critical of all the academic subjects because it deals with people. It provides lessons, inspiration, and sometimes hope -- but it is us (by that I mean the human race and all the time we have been on this earth). I don't think history is more or less important now. I think it is always important.

Michael from Lake Tahoe: I understand that you were a political consultant for the movie "Saving Private Ryan." What were your contributions? Did you visit the set?

Stephen E Ambrose: No, I was not on the set. My contribution was that I write books on World War II and Spielberg read the books and took incidents, anecdotes, and scenes from them. When he had roughed out the movie footage, that is where I came in. I made some suggestions from the raw cuts and he took some and passed on others. My major contribution is, I have spent a long time interviewing veterans, and that was the major source material for the movie.

Greg from Seattle: Can't wait to read THE VICTORS. What do you believe -- in a nutshell -- made Eisenhower an exemplary leader? What important leadership qualities did he possess?

Stephen E Ambrose: Honesty, courage, professional knowledge, common sense, but most of all, decisiveness.

Larry Holmes from San Francisco, CA: Can we make a comparison between Colin Powell and Eisenhower? In your opinion, are there any generals in the world today with Eisenhower's leadership abilities?

Stephen E Ambrose: Yes. I think that Colin Powell is very much like Eisenhower in a number of ways -- except that I can't get him to run for president! I think he is the best man in the country to run, like Eisenhower was in 1952. Powell has all the leadership qualities that I just spoke of in Eisenhower. I am a great admirer of most of the officers in the U.S. Army, but Powell stands alone.

Mark from New York City: I read somewhere that when you finished CITIZEN SOLDIERS, you thought that was the last war book you would write. Even gave away your World War II book collection. What inspired you then to revisit war in THE VICTORS?

Stephen E Ambrose: My editor, who said I should take all the books on World War II that I have done (I think eight in total) and do one comprehensive narrative. I thought that was a good idea, so I did it. I promised my wife, "I ain't going to study war no more." Well, I really didn't study it; I just took work I had already done.

Blake from University of Virginia: What would you say are the three main reasons the Allies won the war?

Stephen E Ambrose: They were on the side of right (a political reason), and because of this they were able to get the spontaneous and voluntary commitment to victory from all their people. Eisenhower once said in a private letter to his brother on the day the war began in 1939, "Hitler should beware the fury of an aroused democracy." Hitler made a lot of big mistakes. The two biggest were invading the Soviet Union in June of 1941 and declaring war on the United States on December 10, 1941.

Mary Jamison from Greensboro: What would you say was Eisenhower's greatest accomplishment as a general? As a president?

Stephen E Ambrose: As a general, his greatest accomplishment was holding the coalition together -- or, put into a sound bite, it was Eisenhower that kept Montgomery and Patton fighting the Germans instead of fighting each other. And as president, it was getting us through the worst decade of the cold war without going to war and without losing any territory. That is in foreign policy. In domestic policy, many things, but the one that stands out is the interstate highway system.

Jonathan from Seattle: First of all, I think your books are incredible. In your view, what is the importance of teaching history in public schools?

Stephen E Ambrose: Young people want to know about those that came before them. They want to know, "How did we get to where we are at?" And that is really the most important question they have -- i.e. "How did we get here?" And within that, they want to know who are our heroes and what did they do. And this is universal. And that is basically what Homer, the first historian, did. He told the Greeks who their heroes were and how they got to where they were at.

Melissa from San Diego: I see that you wrote biographies of both President Eisenhower and Nixon. Are there any other presidents that you would like to write about?

Stephen E Ambrose: Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, who are my own personal heroes, but there have been a lot of good books about both of them, and the world doesn't need another book by me.

Dale LeCount from Charlotte: What was the turning point in the Battle of the Bulge? How much depended upon pure luck, being in the right place at the right time?

Stephen E Ambrose: Well, the turning point of the Battle of the Bulge was when the sun came out on the day of Christmas Eve and the U.S. Air Force could fly. Victory in war always depends on luck. In this case, the break of good weather.

Rudolph from Clearwater, FL: Do you think movies like "Saving Private Ryan" and your books provide readers with accurate accounts of what war is really like? Also, how do you feel about all those novels and movies that glorify war in a Ramboesque light? What do you think was the most accurate portrayal of war prior to "Saving Private Ryan"?

Stephen E Ambrose: Oliver Wendell Holmes, the former Supreme Court Justice, said, "The real war will never get into the books." I think that is right. It is not possible to portray the horror of modern war in a book or movie, but we can try to come close. Any book or movie that glorifies war, no man who has ever been in combat would pick up or touch. There is no glory in war. And before Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," there has not been a movie on World War II which told it like it was.

Risa from Toronto: In your introduction to THE VICTORS, you say that it was the most "fun" book to write. Why? Was it the most challenging?

Stephen E Ambrose: Because I was able to look at the war from the point of view of the five-star general down to the lowliest soldier and all the ranks in between -- so it has a comprehensive quality to it that made me feel awfully good about it. The most challenging that I have written was NIXON. It was not the most fun!

Bruce from Austin, TX: Why had the Allied democracies left themselves so unprepared for war in 1940, unlike the totalitarian regimes?

Stephen E Ambrose: Because they were democracies and they didn't have that single-mindedness that a totalitarian state had. Throughout the democracies -- Britain, the United States, and France, especially -- the feeling was that after World War I, we can never let this happen again. There was a sense that if we just don't prepare for war, there won't be a war.

Ned from Athens, GA: Do you think you will become involved in writing documentaries like Ken Burns? Won't CITIZEN SOLDIERS make an excellent film?

Stephen E Ambrose: I expect to get more involved in documentaries and films. There are three TV series that I am involved in now. One is for UNDAUNTED COURAGE and LEWIS & CLARK, and one is for CITIZEN SOLDIERS, and the third, BAND OF BROTHERS. And actually there is a fourth that Francis Ford Coppola wants to do that is on Eisenhower in the two weeks before D-Day.

Mickey Hart from Washington, D.C.: Who are some historical authors that you enjoy reading?

Stephen E Ambrose: Forrest Pogue, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss, and Doug Brinkley. And many others!

Bruce McConachie from Pittsburg: You say in CITIZEN SOLDIERS that the GIs didn't go into the war "talking patriotism" but that it was their newfound sense of teamwork, fighting for a worthy cause, and vision that pulled them through the war. Can we say these are the main ingredients for any victorious army? And, in your opinion, is this what went wrong in Vietnam?

Stephen E Ambrose: Well, unit cohesion is a critical element for any army, and yes, one of the things that went wrong in Vietnam is a system of replacements coming in as individuals rather than as units they had trained with.

Jeff Hunter from Logan, Utah: Dr. Ambrose, with all of the people you have met, the places you have been, and all the events you have recorded, I have to believe that it's about time that the historian became a part of history. Do you have any plans to write an autobiography?

Stephen E Ambrose: [laughs] No. I am now writing a book on the building of the first transcontinental railroad that was completed in Utah on May 10, 1869. I would think this book will be out in 18 months -- I hope.

Elise from Brooklyn, NY: What do you think is some good fiction to read about World War II?

Stephen E Ambrose: I would rather talk about the fiction from the Civil War. There are three classic Civil War novels: THE KILLER ANGELS, COLD MOUNTAIN, and THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. There are many good World War II novels, but none of them come up to that level.

Clark from Hartford, CT: Do you have a favorite book that you have written? Mine is UNDAUNTED COURAGE, but I love them all.

Stephen E Ambrose: My favorite and best book is the one I am writing now on the railroads.

Jonathan from Seattle: Given the opportunity to interview a famed historical figure, who would you choose, and why?

Stephen E Ambrose: Meriwether Lewis. He is the man I would most like to sit around the campfire with. Eisenhower would be on the list, but I spent five years interviewing him (ha ha). I would love to sit around with Thomas Jefferson.

Berry from Williamsburg: Tell us a little bit about the Eisenhower Center. Why did you found it? What is your mission?

Stephen E Ambrose: The Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans does the things an academic center does: It sponsors conferences on a variety of subjects; it is the depository for the thousands of interview with GIs I have done; it collects memories and letters from veterans. Its purpose is to honor the men of World War II and remind us today and all future generations of Americans that freedom doesn't come for free. My successor as the director of the center is Douglas Brinkley.

Sandy from Pennsylvania: How do you choose the topics which you write about? It seems your writing is varied. Which area of history is your greatest passion?

Stephen E Ambrose: I choose a topic on the basis of curiosity -- I want to know more about it. I have written on the whole of American history, and I find it all fascinating.

Fred Quick from Springfield, OH: What do you feel are the major differences between war today and war in the '40s? How have soldiers changed?

Stephen E Ambrose: They are better armed, they are better protected, they can move around a lot faster, their mission is different, we do not have mass armies and will not, and so World War II will not be repeated. There never again will be another mass war, so the army today is leaner, meaner, faster. But not necessarily better.

Elise from Brooklyn, NY: Have you read Tim O'Brien's novels about the Vietnam War -- like GOING AFTER CACCIATO, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED? What do you think of his fictional accounts?

Stephen E Ambrose: No, I haven't read him.

Sandra Burk from Georgetown: Having not served in a war, what fascinates you the most about the wartime experience? What repels you?

Stephen E Ambrose: How they did it, and I think that all men want to know of themselves, Am I a coward? The only way you can find out is to be in combat, which is something most men never do, so that the great majority will go to our graves not knowing the answer to that question. What repels me? Almost everything. it is senseless destruction and murder, but there come times when it cannot be avoided, when you either fight or lose your freedom.

Helen from Chicago: Do you consider D-Day the greatest or lowest moment in American military history?

Stephen E Ambrose: The greatest. The pivot point of the 20th century. It was the moment that ensured freedom because it ensured an Allied victory.

Moderator: Thank you for joining us this evening, Mr. Ambrose. Do you have any closing remarks for your online audience?

Stephen E Ambrose: I have had a very privileged life. I have met a lot of great men; I have been able to follow my own curiosities and write about what interests me. It has been just wonderful. Thanks.

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