Utah Beach was the furthest west of the five beaches designated for the D-Day landings in June 1944. Located at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, it was added by General Dwight “Ike”Eisenhower commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, SHAEF to the original D-Day plan to ensure the early capture of the vital port of Cherbourg, at the north of the peninsula. Eisenhower realised that the Allied advance throughout Western Europe would require vast amounts of equipment and that the only major port that could handle this in the initial stages of the war was at Cherbourg.
Allied forces attacking Utah faced two battalions of the 919th Grenadier Regiment, part of the 709th Static Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben. While improvements to fortifications had been undertaken under the leadership of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel beginning in October 1943, the troops assigned to defend the area were mostly poorly equipped non-German conscripts.
The target ‘Utah Beach’ was about three miles wide. Much of it was made up of sandy dunes and the German fortifications here were weak when compared those of Omaha Beach. The land behind the target beach was easily flooded by locks and it is assumed that the Germans believed that the area need not have too much defence as their main defence would be to flood the region when and if the Allies attacked there. There were only four main ways off the beach area and flooding would have severely restricted any form of movement, but especially that of vehicles. The nearest major town for the Allies was Carentan, to the south-west of the beach. Through Carentan ran a main road to the east to Bayeaux, which would link the Allies who landed at Utah to the Allies at Omaha and to Gold, Juno and Sword. This same road ran north-west from Carentan to Valognes. Cherbourg was only 13 miles from Valognes.
The landing at Utah was scheduled for 06.30 and the Allied force came from the US 4th Infantry Division, nicknamed “Ivy Division” under Major General Barton Raymond Oscar “Tubby”. The casualties of the 4th Division in the European campaign: total battle casualties 22.660, killed in action 4.097, wounded in action 17.371, missing in action 461, prisoner of war 731 and days of combat 299.
The plan for Utah included an airborne drop by the US 82nd under Major General Bradley, Omar Nelson “Brad” and 101st Airborne Divisions under Major General Maxwell Davenport Taylor at various points two to five miles inland of the beach. Those landing on the beach were scheduled to link up with the paratroopers as soon as was possible. The paratroopers were dropped primarily to secure the main road from Valognes to Carentan and to cause general chaos as they dropped at night at 01.30. German commanders did not know if they were a decoy to a main attack elsewhere or the primary attack force in the area. For this reason, the Germans did not know what forces to deploy against the 82nd and 101st – such chaos and uncertainty was perfect for the Allies and precisely why the paratroopers were dropped.
The airbornef the lesser-defended areas along the entire beach front and the casualties as the Americans came ashore were minimal when compared to Omaha. The most senior American commander on the beach, Brigadier General Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt told his men that, “We’ll start the war from here!” and ordered an advance. By midday, the men of the US 4th Infantry had met up with the men from the 101st Airborne unit. German opposition was swiftly dealt with. By the end of the day, the Americans had advanced about four miles inland and they were about one mile from the 82nd at St. Mère-Eglise, where 101 AB paratrooper
John Steele was hanging on the church tower some six miles north of Carentan.
The 82nd Airborne Division had the next casualties: total casualties 9.073, killed in action 1.619, wounded in action 6.560, missing 270 and 615 prisoner of war. The 101 Airborne Division: total casualties 9.328, killed in action 1.766, wounded in battle 6.388, missing 207 and prisoner of war 967.
On the first full day of the landing at Utah, 20,000 men had been landed and 1.700 military vehicles. Casualties were less than 300 men. Though the war in the Cotentin Peninsula was not yet over, the achievements at Utah were immense, even if Nature had given a helping hand.