D-Day, 6th June 1944 – Part Four The US 4th Infantry Division at UTAH Beach

This post is dedicated to the memory of those who died on Tuesday 6 June 1944 in pursuit of freedom. It is through their sacrifice that we enjoy the freedoms we have today.

In this the fourth part of the story of D-Day, 6 June 1944 we concentrate on the actions of the US 4th Infantry Division the leading element of the US VII Corps at UTAH Beach. This is their story…

Introduction

UTAH was the codename for the most westerly of the Allied landing beaches on D-Day, 6 June 1944. It was added to the invasion plan towards the end of the planning stages when the seaborne invasion forces were increased from three to five Divisions. The UTAH Beach area was about three miles long centred on La Madeleine stretching from Les Dunes de Varreville to Pouppeville on the eastern side of the Cotentin Peninsula. It formed part of the American sector and was the responsibility of the US VII Corps commanded by Major General Joseph Lawton Collins. They were to assault one Division up, with the US 4th Infantry Division leading.

Two hours before the main invasion force was due to go in, a raiding party armed only with knives swam ashore at Îles Saint-Marcouf, a small island just off the coast of the Cotentin Peninsula. This was thought to be a German observation post but it was found to be unoccupied.

The landing on UTAH Beach was planned for four waves. The first wave consisted of 20 LCVPs or Higgins Boats, each of which carried a 30-man assault team. Ten of these LCVPs were to land on TARE GREEN Beach towards the right of the UTAH Beach area, opposite the strong point at les Dunes de Varreville, and the other ten were intended for UNCLE RED Beach to the left about 1,000 yards further south. The entire operation was timed against the touchdown of this first assault wave, which was scheduled to take place at 06.30 hours. Eight LCTs (Landing Craft Tanks), each carrying four amphibious DD Tanks, were scheduled to land at the same time or as soon as possible thereafter.

The second wave comprised of 32 LCVPs with additional troops of the two assaulting Battalions, plus some combat engineers and eight naval demolition teams that were to clear the beach of underwater obstacles.

The third wave, which was timed to land at H+15 minutes, contained eight more LCTs with dozer tanks. This third wave was to be followed within 2 minutes by the fourth wave, which was mainly made up of detachments of the 237th and 299th Combat Engineer Battalions that were to clear the beach between the high and low water marks.

The first wave arrived at the line of departure on time and all 20 LCVPs crossed this imaginary line to head for the beach in line abreast. When they were about 300 to 400 yards from the beach, the assault Company Commanders fired special smoke projectors to signal the lifting of naval support fire. Shortly thereafter the assault craft lowered their ramps and six hundred men from the US 8th Infantry Regiment waded through the waist-deep water of the last 100 yards or so to the beach.

The actual touchdown on the beach was a few minutes late but this was negligible and had no effect on the phasing of the succeeding waves. Enemy artillery had fired a few air bursts at sea, but despite being substantially off course, the leading elements of the US 4th Infantry Division landed at UTAH Beach with relatively little resistance.

The first troops to reach shore were from the 2nd Battalion of the US 8th Infantry Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Carlton O MacNeeley. The 1st Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Conrad C Simmons landed a few minutes later. Both Battalions came ashore well to the south of their designated landing areas. 2/8th should have hit at UNCLE RED Beach which was opposite Exit 3 and 1/8th was supposed to land directly opposite the strong point at les Dunes de Varreville. They came ashore, however, at La Madeleine which was astride Exit 2 about 2,000 yards further south. Potentially this error could have been very serious as it might have caused a great deal of confusion.

Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jnr., the deputy divisional commander of the US 4th Infantry Division, had volunteered to go in the first wave and personally lead the initial attack on the beach strong points. When he realized that the landings had come in at the wrong place, he personally made a reconnaissance of the area immediately to the rear of the beach to locate the causeways which were to be used for the advance inland. He then returned to the beach where he held an impromptu orders group with the two Battalion Commanders and co-ordinated the attack on the enemy positions that confronted them. It was at this impromptu orders group that Brigadier General Roosevelt famously stated "We’ll start the war from here!" and the plan he put together worked with complete success, avoiding any confusion. For his actions on UTAH Beach, Brigadier General Roosevelt was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour. The first link up of the seaborne invasion forces with the US Airborne who had dropped during the previous night was made at Pouppeville when the 2/8th met the paratroopers of 3/501st.

By the end of D-Day, some 23,000 troops and 1,700 vehicles had safely landed at UTAH Beach and of the men that came ashore there were only about 200 recorded casualties. There are several factors that contributed to this success at UTAH including: -

• The effective pre-invasion bombardment in destroying the known German positions, such as the coastal battery near Saint-Martin-de-Varreville.

• The DD tanks were launched close to the beach and were able to steer into the current more effectively to avoid swamping in the rough seas.

• The point at which they made landfall was opposite Exit 2, which proved to be the least heavily defended of all of the UTAH Beach exits.

The most significant contributory factor however was the part played by the two US Airborne Divisions in capturing the inland end of the causeways of the four beach exits, securing the area immediately to the rear of the beach and preventing any significant German counterattack developing against the UTAH landings. The true cost of the UTAH Beach landing therefore is reflected in the heavy casualties borne by the two US Airborne Divisions.

Ian R Gumm
at Willowmead

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