D-Day: The Utah Beach Landings

As dawn broke on June 6, 1944, Allied forces were conducting their first wave of landings on Utah Beach—and quickly realized that a part of their plan had gone very, very wrong. 

Giles Milton
7-minute read
Episode #81

Schroeder took the initiative, leading his men on an agonizing belly-crawl through the thick grass that covered the dunes. This was no-man’s-land and progress was slow, for the sand was tangled with barbed wire that had to be blown with specialist explosives.

Schroeder's target was a German stronghold inside a farmhouse. As soon as his men were within range, they let rip with everything they had. To their amazement, the resistance crumpled in seconds. Most of the defenders were still clutching their heads from the pounding of naval shells. They surrendered to Schroeder, “their hands up, looking terrified."

They were even more terrified when they looked towards the beach, for the sight was little short of astounding. More than 60 landing craft had beached in the five minutes since H-Hour—the moment when the first troops were set ashore—along with tanks and armoured vehicles.

Schroeder now pushed on inland, killing two Germans who stood in his way. The gunfire increased in intensity as he pushed through a minefield and he was hit in the arm by two bullets from machine gun.

He felt no pain, for he was numbed by shock. “The blood was flowing, but I continued to lead my men through the minefield towards the village.”

As they advanced, they had no idea whether the American paratroopers, landed in the night, had captured their targets. One of the men could see troops up ahead, but couldn't tell if they were American or German.

He waved a little orange flag—a pre-agreed identification flag—and an orange flag waved back. Soon after, two US paratroopers emerged from the undergrowth.

“Fourth Division?”


The men smiled and shook hands, aware that this was truly an historic moment.

The men smiled and shook hands, aware that this was truly an historic moment.

Here on the windswept shores of Normandy, just inland from Utah Beach, the American seaborne and airborne assault teams had succeeded in linking up.

The battle was far from over—and there would be many setbacks in the hours ahead—but the opening act of the invasion, on Utah Beach at least—had gone like clockwork.

Hitler’s forces were now the defensive.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Unknown History. In the next episode, we’ll be hearing the harrowing, untold story of what really happened to the first wave of American troops to land on Omaha Beach.


About the Author

Giles Milton

Giles Milton is a writer and historian who graduated from the University of Bristol. He is an internationally bestselling author of nine works of narrative non-fiction and three novels. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and serialized by the BBC.