Utah Beach on 5 June 2019
By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
During our recent D Day trip for the 75th Anniversary of D Day, where we led 33 wonderful folks on a week-long trip (35 total counting Anne & I), we got to visit Utah Beach on a very busy day on 5 June 2019.
So, I thought I’d tell you about Utah Beach in the Normandy Invasion and let you see some of our pictures of this hallowed ground as it looks today.
Utah Beach was one of the two beaches assigned to the American forces for the D Day Invasion—the other is the better known Omaha Beach. It was the far western objective during the D Day landings.
Utah was really a two prong operation, requiring significant airborne unit support along with an amphibious assault.
The two amphibious assault units were the 4th Infantry Division (Ivy 4) and the 70th Tank Battalion. They were supported by 2 airborne divisions, the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne Divisions, who begin the attack around 0130 on 6 June 1944 behind enemy lines.
Over 1,200 planes supported this assault for the airborne operations.
At around midnight, bombing of Normandy started in the Utah sector. It was highly effective, especially in the morning attacks, just prior to the landings of the 4th Infantry Division and the 70th Tank Battalion.
The 82nd Airborne Operation
The 82nd began drops at about 0230. Their mission was to capture or destroy 2 bridges in the enemy rear and prevent reinforcements arriving to assist the defenders in the Utah beach sector. One of the primary objectives was to capture the village of Ste. Mere Eglise, an important cross road—again to deny the enemy the ability to reinforce the beaches at Utah.
The 101st Operation
The 101st started the assault, with the first drops at about 0130. They were also tasked with controlling the causeways behind Utah and destroying or capturing road and rail bridges over the Douve River. The area surrounding the Douve River is very marshy and the only real way to reinforce the Utah sector was by the causeways and bridges.
The Landing at Utah
The attack was designed to be conducted in 4 waves, starting at 0630. It was proceeded by 40 minutes of naval bombardment, commencing at 0550. Then 20 minutes or so of aerial bombs were dropped.
The initial landings went well, especially after the first senior officer ashore, Assistant Division Commander Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., of the 4th Infantry Division, personally scouted the nearby terrain and decided to “start the war from here”. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions
The Results and Casualties
The 4th Infantry Division landed 21,000 troops at the cost of only 197 casualties. The secured the beachhead by about 0830, in about 2 hours after the initial landings
The 82nd and 101st Divisions, who conducted their assaults in gliders and by parachute, inserted 14,000 into the area of operations. They suffered far greater casualties with 2,500 casualties. The airborne troops were scattered behind the enemy lines, causing great confusion in the fog of war. Although this made their mission far more difficult, it also had the same effect on the German defenders, who were unsure of the American airborne soldier’s locations and objectives. They both successfully completed their missions by denying the enemy a chance to successfully counter attack.
The engineers, the 70th Tank Battalion and supporting landing crafts lost an additional 700 men.
Utah was a highly successful operation but did not achieve all their assigned objectives in the desired time frame—perhaps the war planners expected too much, too fast from their soldiers.
What it Looks Like Today
Here are some pictures of the sights and memorials of Utah Beach:
My Final Thoughts
It was an honor to remember those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen of all branches of service who successfully invaded this sector of Operation Overlord. May we never forget their valor and sacrifice.
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HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 47 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
Viking River Cruise Specialist
Scenic River Cruise Specialist
Emerald Waterways Specialist
Avalon Waterways Specialist