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Utah Beach

The Amphibious Landing and Airborne Operations on D-Day

June 6, 1944


By Joseph Balkoski

A review by Major General John O. Moench, USAF (Ret) prepared for Marauder Men

The Marauder Men, especially those serving in the WW II European Theater of Operations, have long fretted over the media coverage that relegated the Martin B-26 Marauders to the subordinate level of “they also flew.”  Few understood that the background issue was the USAF interest in separating from U.S. Army leadership and establishing air power as an independent military arm equal to ground and naval power.  Key to accomplishing this was the emphasis on strategic bombing – which tended to subordinate the accomplishments of the medium and light bombers.

            Proponents of strategic bombing in the European Theater of Operations held that the defeat of Germany could be achieved by that means alone.  In the end, this was proven to be false.  Later, in the case of Japan, the end was achieved without an invasion, but that was facilitated by the introduction of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

            A key event in the European scenario was the D-Day invasion across the English Channel.  Prior to D-Day, among other things, the Marauders played a key role by attacking bridges, marshaling yards, airfields, missile sites, and communications centers with the object of isolating the battlefield and reducing the German military capability.

            When D-Day arrived, all the chips were on the table for a final roll of the dice.

            A primary job of air power was to blast the invasion beaches to facilitate the entry of the amphibious forces.  Two major U.S. landing sites had been established: Omaha to the East and Utah to the West.  The heavy (strategic) bombers were assigned to attack the Omaha Beach area; the Marauders were assigned to attack the Utah Beach area.  The air attack on Omaha Beach was a total failure with not one bomb dropping in the beach area; the air attack on Utah Beach was a success.  But that has not been how much history has been written!

            Historian Joseph Balkoski in the book Utah Beach and in the companion book Omaha Beach stands almost alone in citing the D-Day failure of the heavy (strategic) bombers and the success of the Marauders.  His writing comes across as a breath of honest air after more than a half century of the other kind.

            How bad has the Marauder community been treated by too many writers of the past?  Let me quote from the book The Mighty Eighth by Gerald Astor wherein he cites a personal D-Day account as representative of the whole.


We (referring to the heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force) were to hit the defenses in the Utah Beach Area [the westernmost of the proposed two U.S. beachheads], maybe fifteen minutes or so before the landing barges came ashore around 7:00 A.M. . . .  We assembled into our thirty-six-ship formation, then the 108-plane combat box of our wing headed for Utah Beach to bomb the concrete fortifications the Germans had built.  I kept looking out and all I could see was our wing . . .  then a minute before we were to bomb, I looked to the right and left and out of the high-altitude haze I suddenly saw what looked like the entire Eighth Air Force, maybe 1,500 planes almost in line abreast like the kickoff of a football game.

We came over Ste. Mere Eglise, where a few hours earlier our paratroopers had dropped.  As we were passing over Ste. Mere Eglise, I was thinking of what might be happening to the paratroopers.

The (prior to D-Day) air strikes and the miserable flying weather . . . combined to restrict the Luftwaffe to no more than a token appearance on June 6.  But the poor visibility reduced the tactical effectiveness of both the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces that were expected to smash blockhouses and emplacements guarding the Normandy beaches.  While Navy support vessels pounded portions of Omaha Beach . . . the Air Corps drops fell well inland, behind enemy lines, Utah Beach also largely escaped any significant blows from the skies.


            That is the kind of absolute historical distortion, cover up and hogwash to which the public has been subjected.  With not a single point in the above quotation being accurate, it seeks to give credit to the heavy bombers for the effective D-Day support accomplished by the Marauders at Utah Beach where no heavy bombers participated and to walk around the total failure of the heavy bombers in preparing Omaha Beach for the amphibious landing – a failure that led to countless casualties and almost destroyed the invasion effort.

            Why the heavy bomber attack on Omaha Beach so thoroughly failed is set forth by Joseph Balkoski in the companion book to Utah Beach – that being Omaha Beach.

            While, from an “air” point of view, I would liked to have read in the Utah Beach book more of the massive D-Day fighter support and follow-on Marauder D-Day missions that took place, as a writer I know that there are times when not everything can be covered.

For the airmen, Utah Beach places the preparatory bombing in a proper perspective and it clearly sets forth the trauma on the ground about which we were all concerned, as, after the first mission of D-Day, we were back in friendly England getting ready for our follow-on missions.

            For those interested in honest, descriptive and worthy writing of history, I urge them to read Utah Beach – as well as Omaha Beach.



Joseph Balkoski is a historian specializing in D-Day and the Normandy campaign.  His books include Beyond the Beachhead and The 29th Infantry Division In Normandy.


John Moench is, among other pursuits, a Marauder historian.  His work includes Marauder Men, And Account of the Martin B-26 Marauder and co-compiler of The Martin B-26 Marauder, A Bibliography and Guide to Research Sources.

Copyright © 2006 Major General John O. Moench, USAF (Ret). All rights reserved.

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