U.S. 4th Infantry Division

The 4th Infantry Division

Shoulder Patch of the 4th Infantry Division

Shoulder Patch of the 4th Infantry Division

The 4th Infantry Division was a regular army division which arrived in England in January 1944 to train and prepare for the cross-channel invasion. The 4th was assigned to conduct the initial D-Day landings on Utah Beach, at the western most end of the invasion area on the Cotentin Peninsula.

The 8th Infantry Regiment of the division was to conduct the initial assault, reinforced with an attached battalion of the 22nd Infantry Regiment. Its mission was to occupy the high ground along the road running between Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and Les Forges, then push westward across the Merderet River. The remaining units of the 22nd Regiment and the 12th Infantry Regiment were to be the follow-up forces and were to assist in the seizure of the causeways exiting Utah Beach and occupation of the surrounding high ground. On D-day the 4th Division also had attached one other regiment, the 359th Infantry, of the 90th Infantry Division, the first follow-on division in its sector. The 4th Division had surprisingly little difficulty in the initial assault, taking only light casualties and quickly gaining a lodgment. The assault forces were erroneously landed some 2,000 yards south of the intended beach, but this mistake proved valuable because much stronger German defenses were in position at the designated landing site. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., assistant commander of the 4th Division, made the decision to continue the landing where it was and quickly led the forces off the beach. Roosevelt had volunteered to lead the first wave of the assault force, and proved to be an inspiration to the troops on Day with his gallant conduct. His actions that day, improvising and leading an attack out of the unexpected locale, won him a Medal of Honor.

After gaining control of the beaches, the 4th Division’s lead regiment crossed the flooded areas on existing causeways and moved west to establish contact with the airborne units. Follow-on forces attacked northwest to enlarge the beachhead. By dusk most of the division had gotten ashore and pushed some 4 to 7 miles inland. The next day, the 4th Division broke through to Sainte-Mère-Église, and relieved elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. The division was then ordered to attack towards Cherbourg and secure the area beyond the beach.

The 4th Infantry Division had been the first unit to land and cross the Normandy beaches. It had also made the largest gains of the attacking forces on D-Day, while suffering only light casualties. The seizure of the westward invasion area was crucial in the success of Operation Overlord and enabled the American forces to subsequently take the entire Cotentin Peninsula by the end of June.

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