Utah Beach, following the invasion in 1944, is somewhat overlooked due the appalling losses incurred on Omaha Beach. Even more overlooked, is the German involvement during the battle that occurred on this stretch of the Normandy coastline in June all those years ago.
The German strong points that were defending this portion of the Atlantic Wall were not exactly impregnable; unlike the description given by the Axis propaganda. Many of the bunkers were not in fact manned by German soldiers. The German Wehrmacht were extremely overstretched by that period in the war and Hitler resorted to utilising soldiers from Russian, Georgia and other nations in Eastern Europe. Although being dead set against any race other than Germans fighting for the Third Reich, it soon became apparent that his hands were tied. With around 5000 km’s of Atlantic Wall to man, he had very little choice but to use non German soldiers.
The strong point at Utah Beach that would bear the brunt of the American assault on D-day turned out to be WN5. WN being Weiderstandsnest in German. The translation of this into English is resistance nest.
Leading up to the D-day assault, the commanding officer of this resistance nest was Arthur Jahnke; a young officer in his early twenties. Having experienced combat on the Eastern Front, he was a very good officer and despite his age, demonstrated great courage during the battle on June 6th.
In the early hours of June 6th, Jahnke received a notification that there were reports of paratroopers dropping behind the resistance nest position. Startled by this news, he sent a patrol to see what was happening. Much to his amazement, on returning, they brought back 19 American prisoners from the 101st Airborne. Jahnke started to wonder if this was the inevitable invasion; however, convinced by Rommel that the invasion would come in good weather and at the shortest point between England and France, he could not help think that it was a diversionary attack.
Jahnke secured the 19 Americans in a bunker behind the coastal defences. Many of the paratroopers were injured so the resistance nest medic tended to them. The prisoners were alarmed to see that the medic was carrying a side arm; contrary to the Geneva Convention. After remonstrating at this breach, Jahnke ordered the medic to “lose the cannon”. This action would later go in favour of Jahnke when taken prisoner by the Americans.
Once the invasion force arrived on the beach, now known as Utah Beach, it is worth noting that despite the overwhelming odds, Jahnke and his force of around 75 soldiers, put up a fight as best as possible. To the dismay of Jahnke, almost all of the equipment he had at his disposal to repel the allied assault, was destroyed during the air and naval bombardment.
Resistance nest 5 was taken with limited American casualties. This statistic would indicate that the German force was inferior to that of the Americans. However, when the statistics are analysed, it paints a slightly different picture. With limited numbers of German troops and equipment at the beach head, no reserves troops and no tank support, it was an almost foregone conclusion that the Americans would prevail. With the American Airbone soldiers landing behind the enemy lines and cutting off vital reserves, Jahnke and his men would ultimately be fighting a losing battle; a battle that would last around 90 minutes but would go down in the history books as the start of the fall of the Nazi regime.
Nearly 70 years after the D-day invasion, Utah Beach still attracts thousands of visitors each and every year. Many of the bunkers that were built to repel the allied invasion are still in tact and are now a tourist attraction. Arthur Jahnke and his troops who were manning these bunkers would probably never have believed that their bunkers would be visited by tourists from all over the world all these years later.