Utah Beach – Joseph Balkoski

Utah Beach is a companion volume to the author’s previous Omaha Beach. Like its companion, it follows the first day, June 6, 1944 on this second American Beach in detail. It moves from conception as a late addition to the invasion to widen the front to the end of the first day.

The terrain at Utah was not as imposing as Omaha, with its high cliffs, but in many ways less suitable for an invasion. There was a fine beach, but the land behind was so low and flooded that all traffic inland had to cross narrow causeways.  These could be defended by as little as a handful of men with some guns indefinitely.  The planners tried to avoid this by having two airborne divisions drop behind these causeways at night before the invasion and seize the inland end that night to keep defenses from being set up.  So in addition to the complexities of a naval invasion of a defended coast, the plan needed to add airdrops and plans to relieve these troops as soon as possible.

Mass airborne attacks were a new thing, and like most new things they did not go off as planned.  There were high winds and mistakes in locating the landing zones that led to the two divisions being scattered all over the region.  While not as bad as the debacle in Sicily the year before, a confused series of battles broke out as the two airborne divisions landed in the middle of two German divisions. While the confusion in the US troops was considerable, with units in the wrong locations and often fragments of the planned size, the Germans found the situation incomprehensibly confusing, as there were pockets of paratroopers all over the place.

The dawn invasion did not go off like clockwork either.  The tides led to the landing craft drifting a mile off course.  This meant that units were not at the planned locations, so that attacks had to be reorganized on the fly.  Luckily, it was quickly done and the fire on the beaches was much less than at Omaha.  It was easier to reorganize without the severe losses at that beach, but it was just as essential to clear the beaches and move inland.

When the nearest causeways were reached, they found that the airborne forces had managed to regroup in the night and take the far end, allowing the troops to move inland rapidly and rescue the isolated paratroopers farther inland.

The first day lodgement was six miles inland, and would expand deeper when pockets of the 82nd Airborne were linked up with.  Casualties were only 800 for the sea landed forces – but the airborne forces lost but when you add in the airlanding the losses rise to 3450 men,  about half dead or captures.  This is approaching the losses at Bloody Omaha beach that same day.

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