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Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landing and Airborne Operations on D-day, June 6, 1944 Paperback – May 18, 2006
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"Joe Balkoski has just written the finest book about Utah Beach." (Bill Stone Stone & Stone Second World War Books 2005-09-25)
"[Balkoski] provides a convincing, thoughtfully crafted narrative buttressed by facts and statistics that unequivocally recasts how one views both Utah Beach and the associated airborne operations." (Col. James R. Oman, Chairman, Department of Command, Leadership, and Management, U.S. Army War Colle Parameters, Summer 2006 2006-06-01)
From the Inside Flap
In the early-morning darkness of June 6, 1944, a fleet of U.S. Army Air Force C-47s roared through the skies over Normandy as 13,000 U.S. paratroopers dropped into the marshes and villages behind the beach code-named Utah. A few hours later, American infantrymen--21,000 by days end--surged out of landing craft and rushed the beach itself. D-Day had begun.
Yet Allied commanders were troubled. The plan for Utah Beach had not even existed four months earlier, having been tacked onto Operation Overlord largely at the insistence of Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower and D-Day ground commander British Gen. Bernard Montgomery. A combined airborne and seaborne invasion of this magnitude had never before been attempted. Many feared that the elite American troops executing the assault would be slaughtered. Not only was Utah the most isolated of the five D-Day beaches--which meant the troops could be cut off for days--but the German defenders had flooded huge tracts of land behind the beach in the airborne drop zones. To move inland, the infantry would have to trudge over a few narrow causeways secured by the paratroopers at the opposite ends. On D-Day, this bold operation would end in either a secure footing on the coast of France, or a bloody repulse back across the English Channel.
Success would mark the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe. Failure would paralyze the Allies and prolong the struggle for months, if not years. American troops knew the stakes were high and the perils grave. Nevertheless, from the sea and sky, they confidently cascaded into that far corner of Normandy and contributed decisively to the Allied triumph on D-Day.
In Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landing and Airborne Operations on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Joseph Balkoski shows how American soldiers, sailors, and airmen gained that victory in the face of long odds. With the same verve and authority that made his earlier Omaha Beach so compelling, he weaves firsthand accounts, meticulously detailed maps, and dramatic storytelling into the first truly comprehensive narrative of this critical World War II battle. It is indispensable history and unforgettable reading. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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First, the three sides: those are the Germans defending the area, the paratroopers and glidermen who came out of the sky to seize the roads and towns behind the swamps and beach, and the infantrymen who stormed the beach from the sea.
Anyone who calls Utah Beach the "easiest" of the five D-Day beaches is being simplistic. Yes, the Americans drove inland pretty efficiently, but that victory was brought about by the heroism and determination of both the airborne and seaborne forces, facing considerable and well-built defenses and difficult terrain. The airborne forces were additionally hampered by their widely scattered drop.
Joe Balkoski tells their story with great literary flair and verve, often letting the participants speak for themselves, in diaries, letters, and interviews. He also knocks off a few myths. For example, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt was not the "assistant division commander" of the 4th Infantry Division as described in Cornelius Ryan's book and movie "The Longest Day," but a supernumerary officer assigned to the division, because of his experience in amphibious assaults in North Africa and Sicily. The 4th Division had not seen action, but was well-trained for the invasion. Only one of the invading American airborne regiments had actually seen action, the 505th Parachute Regiment. And Benjamin Vandervoort, played by 56-year-old John Wayne in "The Longest Day," was only 26.
Mr. Balkoski has established himself as a military historian of merit, skill, and great writing ability. He deserves to be read.
Balkoski starts this history by discussing the inception of the Utah Beach component to the Operation Overlord plans and how the logistics were worked out. Utah Beach was not included in the original invasion plans. It is interesting to see the various politics at work within the Allied military command and Montgomery at work. It is difficult to discern truth from fiction when Montgomery is the subject; however, the information presented here could explain Eisenhower's patience in dealing with Montgomery. In Last Battle: The Classic History of the Battle for Berlin you can see where Eisenhower's patience has worn thin by the later stages of the war.
Utah Beach's focus expands from the more narrow focus of Omaha Beach to discuss the airborne landings of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions as they were planned to ensure the success of the beach landing. Balkoski describes the founding of the US airborne divisions and its roots from German demonstration. He tells of the uneasiness of committing airborne troops due to disasters in previous engagements. He describes the scattered drops and follows the movements of many of the major groups as they struggle to achieve their aggressive D-Day objectives. You will find yourself impressed by the tenacity of the airborne troops to complete objectives with only small fractions of the expected forces. As another reviewer pointed out, Balkoski's coverage of the airborne landings is not as comprehensive as some other accounts. However, the major movements and battles are discussed enabling the reader to understand how the airborne assault eased the rapid expansion of the beachhead. In fact, the actual landings on the beach are the anticlimax to the enthralling airborne assault. The real focus for the amphibious force is on the 4th Infantry Division's advance to link up with the heavily engaged airborne units.
Balkoski discusses the differences between the two American D-Day invasion assaults. He describes the more effective aerial bombardment using different tactics and naval artillery support where liaisons were able to call in devastating barrages. He discusses the weaker German defensive fortifications and lack of advantageous terrain. He points out the impact of the airborne assault on the enemy organization and ability to commit local reserves against the amphibious assault. How would the assault on Omaha Beach have gone if airborne troops had been deployed in support of the attack? He also explains the importance of the Utah Beach addition to Operation Overlord in providing a solid flank for the Omaha Beach assault while tying up most of the German reserves that were in position to fight on D-Day. But, he attempts to illustrate that the Utah beach landing was not as easy as it has been portrayed by pointing out the casualties suffered by the other parts of the invading force especially the airborne. I think the most important part from studying Utah Beach is the bravery of leaders and soldiers of the infantry to move with all haste to go the aid of their brothers in arms the airborne and for the airborne to hazard overwhelming opposition in order to protect their friends landing on the beaches. Utah Beach proved the costliness in lives of employing airborne troops and their effectiveness in taking targets and causing short-term disruption in the enemy. It also showed the vulnerability of cutoff airborne troops like Millett's lost elements of the 507th. However, this did not prevent Monty from planning the disastrous Operation Market Garden to go one bridge too far. I would recommend Cornelius Ryan's book A Bridge Too Far: The Classic History of the Greatest Battle of World War II on this subject.
My only complaint is the one-sided Allied viewpoint of the story. This follows the same pattern as Omaha Beach. The German units engaged are identified, but with little detail provided. While I still value Balkoski's contribution to the history of Utah Beach, I think this takes away from the story even more so than Omaha Beach because of more numerous reserve units involved over a much larger area. Despite this, I still give the book a strong four stars and recommend it for those interested in World War II. I would also recommend reading Cross-channel attack (United States Army in World War II. The European theater of operations). This book fills in the blanks on the German side. It discusses topics skipped by Balkoski like the German commanders being on a training exercise and away from their commands or explaining that Hitler's concern of the weakness of Cotentin resulted in the 91st Luftlande division being moved to Normandy. Don't get the Barnes & Noble version because it is missing vital maps.