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Utah Beach

History and pictures of the beach

 
Utah Beach is the first of the two American landing zones. This beach was wanted by the english general Bernard Montgomery who wished to establish a beachhead directly in the Cotentin, in order to capture Cherbourg faster, since it has a deep water harbor.

Involved forces

There are two sectors on Utah: Uncle Red and Tare Green, located between the village of Dunes-de-Varreville (North) and La Madeleine (South). These beaches are defended by the 709th german infantry division which has installed 7 strongpoints and 20 batteries. Two artillery batteries, located at Montebourg and Saint-Marcouf, can open fire on this beach, since these guns have a firing range of almost 30 kilometers.

Image :  American soldiers on the way towards Normandy
American soldiers on the way towards Normandy.

It is the 7th Army of the Major General J. Lawton Collins, composed of the 8th, 22nd and 12nd infantry regiments of the 4th american infantry division led by the general Omar C. Bradley, commanding the 1st American Army, which will launch the attack of Utah Beach on D-Day in order to capture the landing beach sectors, then to establish a solid beachhead and to carry out the junction with the airborne troops of the 82nd and 101st American airborne divisions.

Image :  American soldiers embark in the landing crafts at dawn
American soldiers embark in the landing crafts at dawn.

The attack has to be done early in the morning, at 06:30 a.m., a schedule which corresponds to a very low tide: then the German beach obstacles (which represent a very important danger for the navy) are uncovered. Also, the engineers can open ways on the beach through these obstacles in order to allow the following reinforcements to land.

Image :  After having board the landing crafts, american soldiers await the order of the departure
After having board the landing crafts, american soldiers await the order of the departure.

The attack

Tuesday June 6, at 3 o'clock in the morning, the U fleet (Utah) arrives near the Cotentin beaches and damps at approximately 18 kilometers off the coast, a distance which limits the effectiveness of the German batteries.

The day comes at 05:58 a.m. exactly, 28 minutes after the beginning of the bombardment of the German positions by the allied warships. This huge bombardment follows air raids carried out by thousand of allied bombers.

Image :  An american assault wave preparing to land on the coast An american assault wave preparing to land on the coast.

The American soldiers of the 4th infantry division who boarded the landing crafts can see these bombardments which plow the French ground and which fill up the sky with smoke. Even if much of them suffer from a terrible sea sickness, they are glad to see the bunkers becoming dust.

Image :  A landing craft goes towards Utah Beach A landing craft goes towards Utah Beach.

Two squadrons of Duplex Drive tanks start floating 3 kilometers off the shore and must join the beach sectors by their own means thanks to two propellers and a rubber protection which enable them to sail towards their objective. They approach the beach in two assault waves (the first one is made up of 12 D.D. tanks and the second one of 16) and when the Germans reorganize after the terrible allied bombardment, they discover American tanks coming from the sea and moving to their positions.

Image :  The first assault wave finally reach Utah Beach
The first assault wave finally reaches Utah Beach.

The first american assault wave lands right after the arrival of the tanks in order to be supported in their action. Then, they attack the bunkers and blockhouses of Utah Beach.

During the first minutes of the landing on Utah Beach, the german shootings are important but soon, the light and heavy German machineguns stop firing. Then, long distance guns belonging to the 709th german infantry division, situated a few kilometers inland, open fire.

Image :  Air sight of the American landing on Utah Beach
Air sight of the American landing on Utah Beach.

These guns open fire from the positions located a few kilometers West from the landing beach and are camouflaged so that the allied planes which patrol in the Norman sky can not locate them.

 

Up

 

Very quickly, the beach is under American control. The tide is low, german beach defences are visible on a distance of 500 meters between the dunes and the sea. The fifth and last assault wave lands half an hour after H Hour. One hour after H Hour, at 07:30 a.m., some engineers open breaches through the beach obstacles so that the landing barges can sail without troubles.

Image :  Landing in Normandy of soldiers belonging to the 4th american infantry division
Landing in Normandy of soldiers belonging to the 4th american infantry division.

A strong current

Brigadier general Theodore Roosevelt, nephew of the president of the United States, lands with the first assault wave. He realizes very quickly with the HQ staff of the 4th infantry division, that the marine current has moved the landing two kilometers south of the planned landing beach location. Indeed, they are not located north but south of La Madeleine, in front of the german W5 strongpoint.

Image :  Landing of the reinforcements on Utah Beach: men, material and vehicles
Landing of the reinforcements on Utah Beach: men, material and vehicles.

The problem with this improvised landing area is that there is only one small road going out the beach from the dunes whereas in the planned beach sector there are four roads heading inland, which was better for the reinforcements. The question is: will the reinforcements follow the first plan or will they adapt themself and follow the new beach sector, south of the village of La Madeleine? Roosevelt indicates that the reinforcements must follow the assault troops whatever the landing point.

Image :  A German strongpoint destroyed by the allied bombardments
A German strongpoint destroyed by the allied bombardments.

On the other hand, the W5 strongpoint resistance is less important than the one north of La Madeleine and all the attacks to the north are pushed back by the german forces, supported by the shootings of the Kriegsmarine batteries from Montebourg and Saint-Marcouf. Roosevelt decides to move inland using this only road controlled by the Americans, despite the risks of obstructions. Indeed, 30,000 American soldiers and 3,500 vehicles have to landed at Utah Beach on D-Dat and the simple country lane, between the grounds flooded by the Germans, seems insufficient to support such a quantity of troops and material.

Image :  An american vehicle lands at Utah Beach An american vehicle lands at Utah Beach.

Meanwhile, American tanks wait on the beach until the engineers destroy the anti-tank walls, then they can move on. Two hours after H Hour, at 08:30 a.m., they cross the dune and move towards Normandy.

Image :  A team of american medics lands on the hardly protected beach
A team of american medics lands on the hardly protected beach.

If the shootings on the beaches become rare, the explosions of german mortar and artillery shells continue to kill. This bombardment continues until the end of the evening.

Image :  A shell fired by a 88 mm gun explodes on Utah Beach during the landing
A shell fired by a 88 mm gun explodes on Utah Beach during the landing.

Assessment

At the end of the day in Utah Beach, on June 6, 1944, 1,700 vehicles have landed and also nearly 23,250 american soldiers. 197 soldiers have been killed and 60 are missing.

The amphibious tanks action proved reliable on this beach, while supporting the infantry on the beach and inland. The Germans were impressed to see tanks landing, which seriously started their moral and thus reduced their fighting value. 28 of the 32 tanks planned for the attack of the first wave succeeded in landing, cleaning the german strongpoints with a strong fire power.

Image :  American soldiers in fox holes, ready to face a german counter-attack
American soldiers in fox holes, ready to face a german counter-attack.

At the end of the day, the landed troops carried out their junction with the airborne troops of the 82nd and 101st american airborne divisions. The landing on the sector of Utah Beach is the most successful one of the five allied beaches in Normandy.

Image :  Landed troops on the way towards the interior
Landed troops on the way towards the interior.

 

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