On the other side of the English Channel, German forecasters also predicted that stormy conditions would roll in as Stagg and his fellow Brits had feared. The Luftwaffe’s chief meteorologist, however, went further in reporting that rough seas and gale-force winds were unlikely to weaken until mid-June. Armed with that forecast, Nazi commanders thought it impossible that an Allied invasion was imminent, and many left their coastal defenses to participate in nearby war games. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel even returned home to personally present a pair of Parisian shoes to his wife as a birthday present.
Monday, June 5th
The 5th of June was indeed a miserable day and soldiers were cooped up in small beaching craft under lashing rain, and a day of intense anxiety for the top commanders watching from shore. The surface weather chart for 4 June 1944 (not shown) featured an intense low pressure system centered to the west of England and a cold front extending southeast from the low pressure center to Ireland. The foul weather that set in on June 4th threw all German commanders off their guard since, lacking weather observation stations west of the European continent; they were unable to predict the favorable weather that would follow the frontal system. The German weather station in Greenland had been evacuated at the beginning of June, and no weather reporting U-boats were in a position to detect the small area of high pressure. Hitler had long understood that the key to anticipating the timing of the invasion would be good weather forecasting. General Rommel, who was in charge with the defense of the invasion beaches, was certain that there would be no invasion between June 5th and 8th because the tides were “not right” and the German weather forecasters predicted no letup in the stormy weather until mid-June. Rommel also thought that the Allies would not attempt an invasion without a guarantee of about six days of fine weather. He was actually at home in Germany on the morning of D-Day when news of the landing caught up with him and only made it to the front at the end of the first day.
D-Day, Tuesday, June 6th
On June 6th, the weather was more tolerable, but certainly not ideal. A gusty wind blowing from the west at 15 to 20 knots produced a moderately choppy sea with waves of from 5 to 6 feet in height. This was a heavy sea for the small craft, which had some difficulty in making way. Even the assault area was rough for the shallow-draft vessels, although there the wind did not exceed 15 knots, and the waves averaged 3 feet. Visibility was 8 miles with a cloud ceiling at 10,000 to 12,000 feet. Scattered clouds from 3000 to 7000 feet covered almost half the sky over the channel, becoming denser farther inland. Maritime polar air had moved over the channel behind the cold front as the low of 4 June that was west of England moved eastward; the deep low that was off Labrador on 4 June moved north-northeast to just off the southeast coast of Greenland (see surface map for 6 June 1944). This was the key to the clearing weather: if the Labrador low had tracked eastward, foul weather would have prevailed. The midlevel overcast was most serious for air operations. Heavy bombers assigned to hit the coastal fortifications at Omaha Beach had to bomb by instruments through the overcast. With concurrence of General Eisenhower, the Eighth Air Force ordered a delay of several seconds in its release of bombs, in order to insure that they were not dropped among the assault craft. The result was that the 13,000 bombs dropped by 329 B-24 bombers did not hit the enemy beach and coast defenses at all, but were scattered as far as 3 miles inland. The weather also contributed to navigational difficulties. Mist mixed with the smoke and dust raised by the naval bombardment obscured landmarks on the coast; additionally, a lateral current of from 2 to 3 knots tended to carry craft east of their touchdown points by 1500 to 2000 yards and this caused some confusion. Their difficulties were compounded by the heavier enemy opposition, which isolated boat sections only a few hundred yards apart and at first made reassembly and reorganization or improvised missions almost impossible. Unloading at Utah beach proceeded in an orderly fashion, the chief distractions being an intermittent shelling of the beaches and air raids in the early morning hours.
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