Someone once asked former Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower how he managed to prevail on D-Day, 70 years ago today.
“Because we had better meteorologists than the Germans,” he replied. Of course, it was much more.
On June 6, 1944, 175,000 Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy in the most powerful armada ever assembled. They showed remarkable courage, innovation and strength on that Longest Day. Superior strategy and the weather helped, too.
The lead meteorologist, Group Capt. James M. Stagg, had told Eisenhower on June 4 that there would be a 36-hour window of calm weather over Normandy. If he didn’t strike then, the invasion would have been put off several weeks, giving the Germans valuable time to fortify their positions. The Nazi command had anticipated a landing at Normandy. Eisenhower pondered this weather forecast for 30 seconds and said, “OK. Let’s go.”
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Adolf Hitler had Europe in a stranglehold. France was occupied, and Poland and other nations lay under subjugation. England was being pounded nightly by German rockets. For the United States and the Allied forces, failure on June 6 was unthinkable, although victory was hardly guaranteed.
Eisenhower told the soldiers that day: “You are about to embark on the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
All across the world, free people gathered around radios to hear about the progress of the battle in France, knowing their sons, husbands and brothers were at the tip of the sword in that crusade.
Allied troops loaded into 5,300 transport ships and 11,000 aircraft, headed to the heavily fortified gun emplacements on the five beaches of Normandy. Allied bombers pounded Nazi strongholds in France in preparation for the massive invasion. The liberation of Europe had commenced, though it would be another 334 days until V-E Day, May 7, 1945.
Led by paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne, some of whom landed in their target zones in plywood gliders, the landing craft dumped thousands of men into the sea. Some drowned because the water was too deep and their equipment too burdensome. Others were killed by the intense machine gun fire from the cliffs looking down on Omaha and Utah beaches.
Incredibly, U.S. Army Rangers rappelled up the cliffs under fire and stormed the bunkers. Hundreds died hanging from ropes. Hundreds more lay on the beaches, impaled on barbed wire and anti-tank traps. The surf ran red – 2,499 U.S. soldiers and 1,915 soldiers from Allied nations had died.
The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, a field of white crosses atop thousands of graves, marks sacrifices to the cause of freeing the European continent, defeating fascism and ending World War II. Most soldiers who survived the D-Day invasion are gone. The youngest soldier then would be about 88 now. Some survivors have made the journey back to Normandy for a commemoration this year at what now is a peaceful resort.
We who are the liberty-loving sons, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchilden of that generation extend our appreciation once more. Thanks to them, the weather in Europe and in the world is calmer now than it was on June 6, 1944.