The D-Day Battlefields
UTAH Beach Museum
The focal point for commemoration at UTAH Beach is the UTAH Beach D-Day Museum, a fitting tribute to the military personnel who participated in Operation Overlord. The original Museum on this site, built around a German blockhouse known as WN5, opened in 1962 but was expanded in 1994. The official website has a wealth of information on the creation of the current museum and the events that took place here on 6 June 1944: www.utah-beach.com.
In June 2011 the UTAH Beach museum was completely renovated and greatly enlarged with a new 1,000 sq meter hall and a hangar to house one of the last surviving B-26 Marauder bombers, named ‘Dinah Might’. The designer of the project, architect Nicholas Keleman, has succeeded in harmonising the buildings with the dunes using natural light and making it a highly memorable ‘visitor experience’ in keeping with the subject matter.
The UTAH Beach Museum is one of several must-see attractions for anyone interested in the history of the Landings with many of the well-spaced and illuminated attractions easy to photograph. In addition to the superbly restored Marauder, there are several military vehicles including a German Goliath disposable tracked mine, artillery pieces and a landing craft.
The collection of smaller exhibits is also remarkable with many at the centre of personal tales from those who took part in the invasion. The high-definition documentary movie presentation `Victory in the Sand` is also worth watching.
There are a number of large scale photos of some of the American military veterans who fought in Normandy in 1944 on display in the B-26 hangar.
An original `Higgins Boat`. Officially designated Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), they were used extensively by Allied forces during World War 2.
Above: The Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) was introduced by the United States Navy but variants were also widely used by the United States Marine Corps and United States Army, as well as British and Canadian forces. Originally intended solely as cargo transports for ship to shore operations, they evolved into amphibious troop landing craft and fire support vehicles. The various types were commonly referred to as `Amtraks`, `Buffaloes` or `Gators`. Many were used during Operation Overlord but the Americans viewed the Sherman DD swimming tank as the best option when assaulting heavily defended beaches. Once the beaches were secure, however, the LVTs proved invaluable, shuttling from ship to shore as originally intended. Many of those that landed at UTAH accompanied the advance as it progressed inland being ideally suited to ferry troops and supplies across the marshes and fields deliberately flooded by the Germans.
The Museum`s six-wheel DUKW amphibious truck - see below for further information.
The Red Ball Express was a truck convoy system which the Allies first put into practice in late August 1944 to expedite the carriage of cargo to the front line, which was by then many miles inland from the D-Day beaches and secure ports. Following the break-out into the French interior and the push northward into Belgium, efforts to transport vital supplies, including fuel and ammunition, to the troops often proved chaotic so the Red Ball system was devised to ease passage. The optimum routes were closed to civilian traffic and marked throughout with a series of red balls and an identical sign would be placed on each of the convoy vehicles to easily identify them as priority transports.
The trucks were primarily staffed with African-American soldiers of the US Army and at its peak the Express operated approximately 6,000 vehicles that carried about 12,500 tons of supplies each day. Red Ball ran for 83 days until 16 November 1944 by which time the port facilities at Antwerp in Belgium, had been captured and made operational. Although the Allies had massive air superiority, German pilots would attack the long supply columns whenever possible, so to provide protection anti-aircraft units, also manned by black US soldiers, would travel in convoy with the trucks on towed mobile ack-ack carriages.
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The 2.5-ton, six-wheel DUKW amphibious trucks were widely used by the U.S. Army and U.S.Marine Corps during World War II. The types` primary role was to ferry troops, ammunition and other eqipiment from mother ships moored offshore to supply dumps and fighting units on shore. DUKW is an acronym based on `D` for the model year, 1942; `U` referring to the body style, utility (amphibious); `K` for all-wheel drive; and `W` for dual rear axles. The vehicle was capable of carrying 25 soldiers and their equipment, an artillery piece, or 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) of general cargo. At sea the vehicle could maintain a speed of 5 knots (about 6 statute miles, or 9 km, per hour), and on land it could go 50 miles (80 km) per hour.
Around 20,000 DUKWs were produced by the United States during World War II, approximately ten percent of which were supplied to the British under lend-lease. The amphibious trucks were initially used in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily in 1943. In the Normandy Invasion, DUKW proved invaluable and were used by the infantry, engineers, rangers, artillery, and service support units. By ferrying weapons, troops, ammunition, and supplies to the beaches, they played a vital role in the overall success of the landings. They were also successfully employed in the Pacific Theatre by both the US Marine Corps and US Army.
The Goliath was a small wire-guided, tracked `mine-carrier` that contained 220lbs of explosives. twelve of these weapons were discovered at strongpint WN.5 on UTAH Beach but the bombing of the area had disrupted their command systems. The Goliath measured approximately 4ft (1.2m) by 2ft (0.61m) and was packed with high explosives. It was capable of not only detonating mines but destroying enemy tanks, disrupting infantry formations, in addition to demolishing buildings and bridges.
Between April 1942 and September 1944 over 7,500 were produced in two versions, the E-motor and V-Motor. The first units to be issued with the Goliath were Panzer Pioneer Companies. The machines were widely used in an attempt to clear a path through the extensive Soviet defences during the Battle of Kursk, Russia, in 1943, which developed into the greatest tank battle in history.
In the centre of this display cabinet is a coil of tape used for marking safe passages through minefields with a length unravelled in the foreground. The other objects are mines including a booby-trapped ammo box and a glass anti-personnel device which was virtually undetectable when buried.
Although bulky and weighing over 1.5kg (3lbs) each, these boots were very warm and prized by troops operating in harsh winter environments such as on the Eastern Front and in Norway. This pair may have belonged to a soldier who served in one of these theatres before being transferred to man a station on the Atlantic Wall on the Normandy coast. No doubt the boots would have been a welcome piece of equipment during freezing nights on sentry duty, however, the felt used as lining often consisted of human hair taken from the millions of Jews murdered in the concentration camps.
More information on the external exhibits and memorials here can be found on the UTAH Beach Main Page.