The eastern side of the Cotentin Peninsula is a low-lying, marshy area, which floods over each winter. Along the coastline, rows of dunes separate the wide, sandy beaches from the marshes, which are crossed by raised causeways.
As Field-Marshal Rommel was only too well aware, this sector was especially favourable for amphibious assaults, and he made frequent trips there in order to oversee the strengthening of its defences. The dunes between the Veys bay and Saint-Vaast-La-Hougue were studded with at least thirty “nests of resistance”, or Widerstandnesten (WN). Meanwhile, on the higher ground inland, a number of heavy batteries were installed, notably at Azeville, Crisbecq, Morsalines and La Pernelle.
The Allies had not initially planned to land troops on the Cotentin coast, and it was not until December 1943 that Eisenhower and Montgomery decided to extend the landing zone west of the Veys bay, in order to capture Cherbourg more rapidly. This new beach was given the codename Utah. It stretched from Sainte-Marie-du-Mont to Quinéville, with an assault zone of roughly two kilometres, at the level of Saint-Martin-de-Varreville. In order to protect this sector, the Allied High Command decided to drop two divisions of airborne troops in the night before the landing, their mission being to prevent the Germans from launching a counter-attack in the direction of the beaches.
On June 6th 1944, supported by amphibious tanks, the first assault waves of the 8th Regiment of General Barton’s 4th US Infantry Division landed on the beach at 6.30 am. Due to a navigational error, they ended up in front of the Madeleine dunes ‑ just a few kilometres from the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and roughly two kilometres south of their planned destination. This turned out to be providential, as the German defences were far weaker here. Carried to their left by powerful coastal currents, the barges arrived opposite the WN 5defences, which had been badly damaged by aerial and naval bombardments and offered very little resistance.
The beach was rapidly cleared of its obstacles by army engineers and most of the troops were able to land without any problem, despite sporadic fire from Crisbecq Battery. Without further ado, General Barton’s men marched inland along the marsh causeways and established contact with the paratroops near Pouppeville in the early afternoon.
The 4th Division’s losses on June 6th (killed, wounded, missing) came to just 200 men.