In order to protect the Utah Beach sector, on the western flank of the landing zone, the Allied High Command decided to drop two American divisions of paratroops there during the night preceding the assault. Their mission was to check any German counter-attacks. Major-General Ridgway’s 82nd Airborne Division was to capture the important road junction at Sainte-Mère-Eglise and the bridges across the Merderet. Major-General Maxwell Taylor’s 101st Airborne Division was to try and take control of the beach exits behind Utah.
Between midnight and 3 am, nearly a thousand Dakota C-47 transport planes dropped more than 13,000 paratroops over the Cotentin, though the conditions in which they did so were far from ideal. Many aircraft, taking evasive action to escape the heavy flak, flew too high and too fast. The soldiers often fell a considerable distance from the drop zone they had been assigned, some as much as twenty or even thirty kilometres away. Many became lost, tangled in the branches of trees or bogged down in the marshes, where some even drowned. Several sticks of men dropped right into the centre of Sainte-Mère-Eglise itself, to be greeted by deadly fire from the German garrison.
At 4 am, a hundred Waco gliders carrying reinforcements and equipment were released above the Normandy countryside. Many crashed into hedges on landing, which is how Brigadier-General Don Pratt, assistant commander of the 101st Airborne, met his death.
Many units were incapable of regrouping to carry out the precise missions they had been assigned. Fortunately, this scattering had the effect of perplexing the Germans, who were quite unable to assess either the strength or the positions of their adversaries. This resulted in a night of confused and sporadic fighting in the countryside.
Nevertheless, at around 4.30 am, a battalion of the 82nd Airborne, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Krause, managed to secure Sainte-Mère-Eglise.
In the morning, it took many hours for the parachutists to regroup prior to meeting up in the early afternoon near Pouppeville with the advanced parties of the 4th Infantry Division, which had landed on the beach of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont at dawn.