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D-Day weather, a blessing in disguise

Visiting the Normandy beaches today #normandytours #ddaytours #battlefieldtours #americanddaytours #britishddaytours, most people reflect upon the difficulties encountered by the Allied forces on June 6, 1944. These were mostly due to unfavorable weather conditions. But how did the Germans interpret their weather forecast? What kind of impact did the weather have on their strategy?


A key factor

The success or failure of the D-Day operations depended on the weather. If the tides or the moon phase could not have changed at the last moment, the weather was a different matter altogether. From the moment they started the work, D-Day planners had indicated that winds blowing in from the Bay of Seine should not exceed force 3 (8-10 mph) or be less than force 4 (16-18 mph) if blowing out from the land in order to avoid a sea that would be too rough to put men and equipment ashore. Furthermore, a wind exceeding 22 mph could spell disaster for the paratroopers that would end up scattered all over the countryside while anything more than light cloudiness endangered the Allied supremacy of the sky. Last but not least, the cloud ceiling was supposed to be at no less than eleven thousand feet otherwise the heavy bombers would not be able to drop their payloads on the intended targets.


D-Day postponement

It is well known that the date set for D-Day was June 5th, 1944. After months of planning, everything was ready for the Allied invasion of France a.k.a Neptune (the codename chosen for the amphibious assault component of Operation Overlord). With so much at stake, the first days of June proved to be very strained for Cpt. James Stagg. This 44 years old Scotsman was SHAEF's chief meteorologist and his role was a vital one: provide the Supreme Commander with as accurate a weather forecast for D-Day as possible. Late on June 3rd, his weather report sounded very gloomy: from tomorrow winds will be from between southwest and west, force 4 to 5, maybe 6 at times on the English side of the Channel and 3 to 4 along the French coasts. They will continue fresh, even strong at times, till Wednesday (June 7) [...] There will be much cloud, often 10/10ths with its base at 500-1000 ft". Confirmation of this forecast came the next morning and led to General Eisenhower's decision to postpone the attack for at least 24 hours.


D-Day tours
D-Day landings (image source: National Archives, Washington D.C)

Meanwhile, the German commanders, who were expecting to be confronted with a massive Allied attack any day now, consulted their own weather reports. The latter predicted drizzle, a wind of force 5-6, sea swell scale 4-5, all combined with heavy clouds. In the light of all this it was deemed highly unlikely that the enemy would venture to attack in such miserable conditions. All units stationed along the coast received the message to stand down. In addition, a commanding officers' conference followed by a map exercise were scheduled to take place in Rennes - over 100 miles distant from the Normandy beaches - on June 6 at 10 00 hrs. As Paul Carell would later write: even Fieldmarshal Erwin Rommel had allowed himself to be tempted by the bad weather to combine business with pleasure. He left France for Germany early on June 5, intent on being at home the next day for his wife's birthday but also to meet Hitler at Berchtesgaden. At this point, neither side thought an invasion possible in the first week of June.


Fortuna smiles on the Allies

With D-Day already postponed, Stagg rushed to deliver his second daily report late on June 4th. It was quite different from the one he presented just a few hours before. The weather was expected to improve from Monday afternoon [June 5th] with the sky only half covered with clouds, its base no lower than 2000-3000 ft; the westerly wind was to be force 3 to 4 or even less than that. D-Day was finally on and, the subsequent meeting convened in the early hours of June 5, simply confirmed these predictions. While 156.000 Allied troops were already heading their way, the common German soldier, oblivious to the threat, was lying in his bunk or sharing a drink with his comrades; their higher-ups were preparing the maps for their Kriegsspiel (ger. war game). The theme was, quite ironically, "airborne landings".


As luck would have it, the Allied attack enjoyed complete surprise. Most of the German generals were either on the road to Rennes or already there when the 6000+ ships strong armada came into view; Rommel was at Herrlingen; Hitler would be briefed on the state of affairs only around noon. Confusion and panic reigned in the German camp for most of D-Day.

 

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Had it not been for the break in the bad weather on June 6, the Allies would have been compelled to wait for another favorable interval. The consequences of such a delay were, in Ike's own words, 'almost too terrifying to contemplate'. The Supreme Commander had every reason to be worried. The aforementioned interval fitting the rigorous D-Day criteria was set between June 19-21. But on June 19 a huge storm broke out in the Channel. The French later said they had not seen anything like it since the beginning of the 20th century. It raged for three days until June 21! In conclusion, nobody can say what might have happend if the Allies failed to launch their attack on Fortress Europa when they did but there is no doubt that D-Day weather proved to be a blessing in disguise.






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