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The Meaning of D-Day

Utah Beach
By Brian Williams

In preparation for the invasion of Normandy, there were a total of 4 ready airborne divisions in England during the Spring of 1944:

    U.S. 82nd (All-American)
    U.S. 101st (Screaming Eagles)
    British 6th
    British 1st

Aerial and Naval Bombardment
At 0300 on the morning of June 6th, fleets of Allied bombers roared overhead delivering thousands of tons of bombs onto the German coastal defenses.  These were followed at 0500 by the naval bombardment which had been planned to immediately precede the invasion itself.

The battleship USS Nevada's 14-inch guns were assigned to the bombardment of the German batteries on Utah beach, while the USS Texas was to fire at Pointe-du-Hoc where the Rangers were to land as part of the Omaha landing.  On the western end of Omaha proper, the USS Arkansas pounded a battery at Les Moulins.  Several cruisers and destroyers also jumped into the bombardment with pre-determined targets and as opportunity arose.  At such close range, there was very little trajectory to the shots and many Americans who were coming in to land, could feel the vacuum of the shells passing overhead.  Needless to say, the bombardment was a very welcome sight to those troops about to land.

At approximately 0620, the Nevada turned its guns to the beach and began bombarding a concrete seawall.  Immediately after the bombardment, the plan called for a rocket bombardment by LCT(R)s (Landing Craft, Tank with Rocket launcher).  This was to be followed by the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry, in 20 Higgins boats which carried a 30-man assault team each.  Also, 2 squadrons of DD tanks (Dual-Drive, amphibious tanks) were to accompany the first wave.  Following the first wave would be the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, in 32 more Higgins boats.  The third wave would include 8 LCTs (Landing Craft, Tank) carrying some bulldozer tanks and Shermans.  Then, almost immediately afterwards, units of the 237th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions would follow.

Of course, during the actual operations, nearly everything didn't work out as planned.  The various units did not arrive on time or arrived too early.  Most units landed at the wrong places due to the smoke and strong currents.  But, the greatest cause for the confusion was the loss of 3 of the 4 LCCs (Landing Craft, Control) to sea mines.  The LCCs were responsible for bringing in the LCTs and without the LCCs, the LCTs were forced to circle aimlessly.

Even though the DD tanks were to accompany the first wave, these were moving so slow that many of the infantry transports overtook them.  The DDs were to launch 2 miles offshore and then drop their rubber "skirts" that made them amphibious, but were having a slow time approaching the shore.  Carrying on with the assault, as the LCVPs approached the shore, they fired smoke canisters to signal the lifting of the naval bombardment.  

The first wave of troops were scheduled to land in Higgins boats at 0630 shortly after the naval bombardment.  But, because of the sinking of the LCCs and all of the confusion, the landings were slightly off by a couple thousand yards and had arrived a little late.  Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.. (the son of the ex-president) was the assistant division commander to the 4th and was in the first wave to hit the beach.  He took control of the troops who had just landed with him and they began to move forward.  The DD tanks who were to land simultaneously with the troops, landed about 15 minutes behind the first wave.

The intended landing site was to be opposite Exit 3, but because of the confusion, it ended up nearer to Exit 2.  Luckily, the new position was significantly less defended than the original landing site.  Only sporadic fire from German infantry small arms and the occasional German 88 were firing upon the American positions on the beach.

The engineers followed the first wave with their demolition teams.  Their job was to clear a path for the invasion before the tide covered the obstacles.  Since the invasion began at the lowest point in the tide, time was against them to complete their mission.

The 4th Division's first task was to get off the beach and secure the exits and the causeways.  Hopefully, the Airborne had secured the interior section of the causeways, since crossing them would prove very hazardous.

In many cases, the beach became so congested that units were forced to advance forward - even though this meant straight through minefields.  As predicted, many men were wounded trying to negotiate through the fields.  By 0645, the Shermans started to arrive on the beach - firing at any active fortifications or resistance.  Several Shermans were lost to mines also, but those tanks that remained headed toward Pouppeville.  

Within 3 hours, exits 1, 2, and 3 had been secured and by 1PM, when leading elements of the US 4th approached Pouppeville, they found that it was secured by the 101st Airborne, who had captured it earlier that morning.

By the end of the day, the 4th Division had established a 4-mile deep penetration inland and were within reach of Ste-Mere-Eglise, where the 82nd had fought throughout the night.

Overall, the Utah landings were a great success.  Casualties were very light due to the effective pre-landing bombardment and the accidental landings that put them some 2000 yards from the initial location - more or less out of harm's way.  Estimates put casualties at less than 1% of the committed force.

The Germans were unable to mount a counterattack or a solid defense against the invasion, due in part to the US Airborne landings.  The landings came as a surprise to the German defenders and they found themselves unprepared.

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