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4th Infantry Division assault on D-Day enabled capture of vital port, Cherbourg

By: Joe Berg Fort Carson Museum
October 8, 2017 Updated: October 8, 2017 at 4:05 am
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The 4th Infantry Division assaults Utah Beach. -Photograph from the US Army Center of Military History

Fort Carson is celebrating the 100th birthday of the 4th Infantry Division with stories about the unit's past. This, the third installment, tells the story of the division's participation in the Normandy landings that turned the tide in Europe during World War II.

The Normandy landings were the largest amphibious landings conducted. Allied forces landed on five beachheads on the coast of German-held France during World War II.

The beaches each had a code name: "Juno," "Sword," "Gold," "Omaha," and "Utah". A late addition to the plan, Utah beach was added to the invasion plans to enable the swift capture of the vital port of Cherbourg, France.

Early in the morning of June 6, 1944, two American airborne divisions, the 82nd and 101st, jumped into the areas behind Utah Beach. Their mission was to disrupt the German defenses in advance of the invasion.

However, until the 4th Infantry managed to fight its way inland from the beaches, the airborne soldiers were surrounded.

The initial landings on the beach did not go as planned. Three boats leading the way onto the coast were destroyed by naval mines, and the rest of the landing craft were caught up in strong currents.

The actual landings occurred about 2 miles south of the planned landing beaches about 6:30 a.m. Fortunately, the 4th Infantry Division had two pieces of good luck.

The first was that the German defenses were not so dense in the spot where the division accidentally landed. The second was Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

Roosevelt Jr. was a World War I veteran, son of the famous president and war hero, and the assistant division commander of the 4th Infantry Division.

The second pair of boots to land on the beach, he quickly assessed the situation and began to issue a stream of orders correcting the units' dispositions, encouraging soldiers and getting formations moving up off of the beach.

When one commander complained to Roosevelt that he was nowhere near his objectives, the tough veteran replied, "We'll start the war from here!"

Surging forward, the 4th Infantry Division quickly overran the one major German strongpoint in its landing area.

The soldiers then began to move westward over the causeways behind the beach toward the beleaguered airborne divisions.

By nightfall, contact was established with the 82nd and 101st divisions, and the 4th Infantry with all of its associated units was ashore.

Twenty-one thousand soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division had successfully captured a beachhead in occupied France at the cost of 197 killed in action.

The soldiers would go on to capture the port of Cherbourg and, later still, the city of Paris, but that, of course, is another story.

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