WW2 Normandy – Utah Beach

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WW2 Normandy and Utah Beach may be an unusual setting for Belfast Entries but we thought it would be worthwhile following up on Operation Overlord and deployment of some of those American troops based in Northern Ireland during World War 2

Sainte Mere Eglise
Sainte Mere Eglise

Background

We’ve previously looked at the history of Brownlow House and its role as the HQ for American servicemen based in Northern Ireland during World War in preparation for Operation Overlord – the Battle for Normandy.

In rounding off the World War 2 tale, in this post we add some recent photographs taken in Normandy that may help to demonstrate the debt owed to so many who took part in the D-day Landings including the 82nd Airborne who were based in Northern Ireland. The photos are holiday snaps taken while passing through the area. As such, this is not intended as a history lesson but may be of interest to those who have never visited the area.

See previous pages on Brownlow House:

The Normandy Landings

Operation Overlord - Normandy Landings

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Eisenhower, Letter to Allied Forces

Operation Overlord was the codename for the Battle of Normandy, launched on 6th June 1944 involving an attack by 1,200 planes followed by an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. 160,000 troops were involved in the initial attack with more than 2 million Allied troops in France by the end of August.

After selecting the coast of Normandy in North-Western France for the invasion, diversionary tactics were employed over several months to convince the Germans that the main attack would be elsewhere. With the Normandy invasion itself portrayed as a diversionary attack, Americans troops led the attack at sectors codenamed Utah and Omaha with the British at Sword and Gold, and the Canadians at Juno.

Allied aircraft transported three airborne divisions to their drop zones behind enemy lines before the beach landings. The American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned objectives on the Cotentin Peninsula west of Utah Beach. The British 6th Airborne Division was assigned to capture intact the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne.

The purpose of this page is not to describe the ultimately successfully assault. Many other sources do this with greater knowledge and authority and we include links below to more detailed sources. Instead we will share some recent photographs of Utah Beach and, slightly inland, Sainte-Mère-Eglise to give a flavour of the obvious debt we owe to those involved and the continuing fascination to tourists in Normandy.

Sainte-Mère-Eglise

Along with Utah Beach, Sainte-Mère-Eglise was one of the areas where airborne operations were conducted on D-Day. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions landed in the countryside around Sainte-Mère-Eglise on the night of 5th June 1944. Sainte-Mere-Eglise and its surroundings were regarded as a strategic area along the roads connecting Cherbourg to Paris, at a junction between five departmental roads.

Only 10% of the paratroopers landed in their planned drop zones with the men’s efforts to regroup hampered by a shortage of radios and by the terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls and marshes. 30 paratroopers landed in Sainte-Mère-Eglise, including 20 on the church square. German soldiers responded to the invasion and the battle continued for two days until reinforcement troops arrived from nearby Utah Beach to secure the town

One celebrated combatant, Private John Steele of the 82nd Division, was hit by shrapnel shortly after he began his parachute descent. He could not use his leg and his parachute snagged on the church tower. Unable to free himself from the tangle, and realising that he was a sitting target, Steele dropped his gun and played dead. He was finally cut free and taken prisoner y the Germans but managed to escape and rejoined the Allies. Steele was subsequently transferred to a hospital in England.

Utah Beach

Amphibious landings at Utah Beach were undertaken by US Army troops, with sea transport, mine sweeping, and a naval bombardment force provided by the United States Navy and Coast Guard with British, Dutch and other Allied naval support.

Strong currents pushed the initial landing craft about 2,000 yards (1.8 km) from their intended landing zones. The first senior officer ashore, Assistant Division Commander Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr, of the 4th Infantry Division, decided that this landing site was actually better with only one bomb-damaged strongpoint in the immediate vicinity rather than two at the intended landing destination.  

By the end of the day, Allied forces had only captured about half of the planned area and contingents of German defenders remained, but the beachhead was secure.

The 4th Infantry Division suffered 197 casualties. Airborne parachute and glider troops suffered 2,500 casualties. A further 700 men were lost in the battle. German losses are unknown. The tides of war had begun to turn against the Germans.

Utah Beach Museum

The small Utah Beach Museum has a fascinating array of WW2 artifacts including planes, tanks, jeeps, amphibious landing craft etc. Sited near Utah Beach it is well worth a visit.

Le Roosevelt Cafe

A special mention for Le Roosevelt Cafe and souvenir shop just yards from Utah Beach. A German-occupied house at the time of the D-day landings, this was taken over by Allied troops as a communications centre. It is now a café with a unique history.

With plenty to explore inside and a range of interesting souvenirs for sale, Le Roosevelt is worth a visit to enjoy a coffee while soaking up the atmosphere and memories of those who fought on 6th June 2044. No-one who has watched the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan (based on the nearby Omaha Beach landing) could remain unmoved when visiting this area and remembering the sacrifices made.

For More Information:

Operation Overlord

Utah Beach Landing

Sainte-Mère-Église


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