0415: Eisenhower postpones D-Day

Father (Major) Edward J Waters, a US Army Catholic chaplain, conducts a service on the quayside at Weymouth for army and navy personnel about to take part in the invasion of Europe, June 1944. Troops from Weymouth were destined for Omaha assault area.

Father (Major) Edward J Waters, a US Army Catholic chaplain, conducts a service on the quayside at Weymouth for army and navy personnel about to take part in the invasion of Europe, June 1944. Troops from Weymouth were destined for Omaha assault area.

The Final Embarkation: Three US Navy LCTs (Landing Craft Tank) of either 1st or 29th US Infantry Divisions loaded with men and equipment at Portland.

The Final Embarkation: Three US Navy LCTs (Landing Craft Tank) of either 1st or 29th US Infantry Divisions loaded with men and equipment at Portland.

At the beginning of May Eisenhower had met with his most senior commanders to settle the final date for the invasion of Europe, ‘D-Day’ and times for ‘H-Hour’. They needed a moonlit night for the airborne assault, followed by a low tide first thing in the morning so that the beach obstacles could be dealt with. The timings for the beginning of the Naval bombardment would be fixed around the time of first light.

The first date to fit these needs was Monday 5th June and Eisenhower had chosen to go on the first possible day. It was quite by chance that Rommel had commented, just recently, ‘knowing the Allies they will probably come on a Monday’.

In England the tension was mounting. All the troops were either on their ships or ready to board their planes late on the 4th. The US first wave assault troops had already left port. It was a fine summer’s night and everything looked promising when the Allied senior command team met to be given some bad news.

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay KCB MVO Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Forces, photographed at his London Headquarters at Norfolk House.

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay KCB MVO Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Forces, photographed at his London Headquarters at Norfolk House.

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay had been responsible for drawing up the detailed plans which masterminded the despatch of thousands of warships and assault craft:

4 June

Commanders met here at 0415 to hear the latest weather report which was bad. The low cloud predicted would prohibit the use of airborne troops, prohibit the majority of air action including air spotting [for naval bombardment]. The sea conditions were unpromising but not prohibitive.

I pointed out we had only accepted a daylight assault on the understanding that overwhelming air & naval bombardment would be available to overcome the enemy coast and beach defences.

S.A.C [Eisenhower] therefore decided to postpone assault for 24 hours.

Forces U [Utah] and O [Omaha] would have started and must be recalled.

The weather got progressively worse from midday, having been lovely at 0415 making the decision to postpone more difficult. As the day went on the forecast became more fully justified. Force U had a bad time regaining shelter & will have suffered great discomfort. No enemy reactions.

Lines of landing craft and other ships in the English Channel, part of the invasion armada bound for Normandy, June 1944. The craft headed for Utah had to be recalled on the 5th June.

Lines of landing craft and other ships in the English Channel, part of the invasion armada bound for Normandy, June 1944.
The craft headed for Utah had to be recalled on the 5th June.

It was a difficult day for the Naval forces. The force destined for Utah assault area did not receive the message “Bowsprit” which was sent to all Allied signalling the postponement. Fast destroyers failed to catch Force U and eventually aircraft had to be sent to turn them back. The men on the Landing Craft had to endure an uncomfortable sea passage back to port.

Group Captain J M Stagg, Chief Meteorological Officer with the Royal Air Force, responsible for forecasting weather conditions for D Day.

Group Captain J M Stagg, Chief Meteorological Officer with the Royal Air Force, responsible for forecasting weather conditions for D Day.

However, within a short space of time they would be sent out again:

At 2100 held another Comd[rs] conference at which the weather prophets were more optimistic & we decided to continue with the operation as ordered. The grounds were not too good and we were obviously taking a big chance but it seemed to be Tuesday or not this week at all. When informed, all Naval Force Comdr[s] showed great concern

See The Year of D-Day: The 1944 Diary of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, RN

This was just a provisional decision. The Commanders would meet again at 0415 on the 5th to review the weather situation once more.

Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade aboard LCI (S) (Landing Craft Infantry (Small)) at Warsash, Southampton, 3 June 1944.

Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade aboard LCI (S) (Landing Craft Infantry (Small)) at Warsash, Southampton, 3 June 1944.

Troops from 7th Battalion Green Howards, 69th Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division, cleaning and preparing their rifles aboard the LSI 'SS Empire Lance' at Southampton, 3 June 1944.

Troops from 7th Battalion Green Howards, 69th Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division, cleaning and preparing their rifles aboard the LSI ‘SS Empire Lance’ at Southampton, 3 June 1944.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Overall June 6, 2014 at 1:12 am

Gripping stuff! Those poor lads in the landing craft going all the way out and back again in those conditions. Great extra detail Brian, and Martin, brilliant job as always. I’ve been reading this blog for a long time now waiting for this day!
Richard.

Editor June 5, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Brian

Very many thanks for adding that, it was an aspect of the story that I was unaware of. It is fascinating to think that an Irish light house keeper, belonging to a neutral nation, could have played such a critical role in the whole vast enterprise. Hindsight tells us if they had attempted go on the 5th things could have gone rather badly. Perhaps the luck of the Irish was on the side of the Allies.

Martin

Brian Curtin June 5, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Despite years of planning, in the days leading up to the attack, the Allied invasion would depend on one crucial and uncontrollable factor – the weather.

Although separate observations were taken at various locations by Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and United States Army Air Force meteorologists, an accurate forecast from the Irish Meteorological Service, based on observations from Blacksod on the Mullet peninsula would be the most important.

Despite the country’s neutrality during the war, Ireland continued to send meteorological reports to Britain under an arrangement which had been agreed since Independence. According to the Irish Independent, Blacksod was the first land-based observation station in Europe where weather readings could be professionally taken on the prevailing European Atlantic westerly weather systems.

The Normandy invasion was originally planned for June 5. Nearly 5,000 ships and over 11,000 aircraft would carry approximately 156,000 troops into battle on the day across a 60-mile beachfront and into the interior of the Cotentin peninsula. Because of the importance of the landings by sea and by air, the 6th and 7th, were also pinpointed as possible dates because moon and tide conditions were then deemed ideal.

However, British and American forecasters could not agree on the likely weather conditions for the planned date.

According to the memoirs of Scotsman James Stagg, the chief meteorologist for the Normandy Landings, by June 2, the Americans were optimistic for a ‘go’ on June 5, whilst the British were “unmitigatedly pessimistic.” An agreement could not be reached.

Then, in the early morning hours of June 3, Irish Coast Guardsman and lighthouse keeper Ted Sweeney sent his hourly weather observation report, containing a warning of “a Force 6 wind and a rapidly falling barometer” at Blacksod.

Group Captain Stagg, stationed at Southwick House outside Portsmouth, studied the Blacksod report and advised General Dwight D Eisenhower to postpone for 24 hours. Eisenhower postponed the invasion to Tuesday June 6.

Sweeney, who died in 2001, said in an interview from 1994: “I was sending an hourly report 24 hours a day and night. It had to be phoned into London, (Dunstable). We got a query back.

“They asked for a check. ‘Please check and repeat the whole report.’ I was wondering what was wrong. I thought I had made some error or something like that. They sent a second message to me about an hour later to please check and repeat again. I thought this was a bit strange so I checked and repeated again. It never dawned on me that this was the weather for invading or anything like that. When I checked the report, I said: ‘Thanks be to God, I was not at fault anyway.’ I had done my job and sent over a correct reading to London.”

New Met Eireann analysis has confirmed that Ted Sweeney’s June 3 reports from Blacksod indicated a cold front lying halfway across Ireland and moving rapidly south eastwards and that a deep depression lay between Iceland and Scotland. Gale-force winds, low clouds and heavy showers would still be affecting the English Channel in the early morning hours of June 5.

On June 4, Sweeney sent a report saying that heavy rain and drizzle cleared, cloud at 900ft and visibility on land and sea very clear. An hour later, Blacksod would receive full clearance of the weather.

The following day, at Eisenhower’s morning briefing, the latest report from Blacksod confirmed the passage of a cold front at Blacksod at noon on June 4 and confidence was restored, reports the Irish Independence.

Eisenhower’s long awaited weather clearance had arrived and he gave the order for Operation Overlord, as the invasion was named, to proceed. D-Day would be on June 6.

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