Last night I heard the author of this book, Patrick K. O’Donnell, interviewed on John Batchelor‘s radio show,* timed, I’m sure, to coincide with the anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy on D-Day:
I have never understood how the Rangers managed to scale those cliffs in the face of withering fire from above. The author interviewed as many men as he could find, from both sides, for this book. From his account, it took many months of intense training at cliff-climbing, without safety ropes, to equip these Rangers for the mission they would not learn of until D-Day itself. These intrepid warriors not only succeeded against terrible odds, losing large numbers of their squadron, but continued on to lead the Allied penetration into the Nazi-held countryside of Normandy.
I just heard of this work, and some of the reviews on Amazon are critical of the author’s spare writing style, but I think it’s worth getting just to relearn what those members Dog Company and the rest of “The Greatest Generation” went through to rescue Europe and the world from the oppressive tyrannies spawned in the first half of the twentieth century.
Interestingly, the Allied invasion on D-Day was almost postponed by uncertain weather. It took a British meteorologist with gritty confidence in his forecast of a brief window in a stormy June, to convince General Eisenhower to wait 24 hours from his planned date (June 5th) and then launch in the face of contrary forecasts from American meteorologists:
In contrast to the bright morning about to dawn over Portsmouth, England, on June 4, 1944, gloom settled over the Allied commanders gathered inside Southwick House at 4:15 a.m. Years of preparation had been invested in the invasion of Normandy, but now, just hours before the launch of D-Day operations, came the voice of Group Captain James Stagg urging a last-minute delay. As Operation Overlord’s chief meteorological officer, the lanky Brit was hardly a battlefield commander, but the ultimate fate of D-Day now rested in his decision-making.
The disappointed commanders knew that the list of potential invasion dates were only a precious few because of the need for a full moon to illuminate obstacles and landing places for gliders and for a low tide at dawn to expose the elaborate underwater defenses installed by the Germans. June 5, chosen by Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower to be D-Day, was the first date in a narrow three-day window with the necessary astronomical conditions. The massive Normandy landings, however, also required optimal weather conditions. High winds and rough seas could capsize landing craft and sabotage the amphibious assault; wet weather could bog down the army and thick cloud cover could obscure the necessary air support.
The critical, but unenviable task of predicting the English Channel’s notoriously fickle weather fell to a team of forecasters from the Royal Navy, British Meteorological Office and U.S. Strategic and Tactical Air Force, and as D-Day approached, storm clouds brewed inside the meteorological office. Observations from Newfoundland taken on May 29 reported changing conditions that might arrive by the proposed invasion date. Based on their knowledge of English Channel weather and observations, the British forecasters predicted the stormy weather would indeed arrive on June 5. The American meteorologists, relying on a differing forecasting method based on historic weather maps, instead believed that a wedge of high pressure would deflect the advancing storm front and provide clear, sunny skies over the English Channel.
Stagg, the only meteorologist allowed direct contact with Eisenhower, had to make the final call. Although the sky was clear and wind negligible in the early hours of June 4, Stagg believed foul weather was only hours away. He sided with his fellow British colleagues and recommended a postponement. Knowing that the weather held the potential to be an even fiercer foe than the Nazis, a reluctant Eisenhower agreed in the early hours of June 4 to delay D-Day by 24 hours. . .
The Nazis lacked the network of weather-reporting stations that the British had, and so missed the window that Captain Stagg predicted. Confident that the Allies would not invade until the cessation of stormy weather a week or more later, many commanders left for war games. This left Eisenhower with his best advantage: the element of surprise.
The weather during the initial hours of D-Day was still not ideal. Thick clouds resulted in Allied bombs and paratroopers landing miles off target. Rough seas caused landing craft to capsize and mortar shells to land off the mark. By noon, however, the weather had cleared and Stagg’s forecast had been validated. The Germans had been caught by surprise, and the tide of World War II began to turn. . .
The GWPF has reprinted on its website another article on the meteorology of D-Day, with maps, from The Times (UK), which is otherwise behind a subscription wall, so check it out: “D-Day: The Sceptical Meteorologists Who Surprised the Nazis by Saying ‘Yes’ to June 6.”
Listen to President Ronald Reagan commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, D-day at Pointe-du-Hoc – June 6, 1984. He speaks of the major tyranny that still survived the war in Europe, the Soviet Union, which seven years later fell into dissolution, thanks in large part to the steadfast policies of President Reagan:
* The John Batchelor Show airs every day from 9 PM to 1 AM on WABC, in New York City, also on WPRO in Providence, RI, and elsewhere. Links to live streams and podcasts are on the website.