Friday, June 5, 2009

This weekend marks 65th anniversary of D-Day, thanks to a weatherman named Capt. Stagg

Above: The grave marker of the American soldier, Robert B. Seyler, at the American Cemetery and Memorial overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

Sixty-five years ago this weekend, the Allies launched the greatest offensive ever seen in modern warfare.

Dubbed "Operation Neptune," the Allied invasion of Normandy involved two phases; an air assault by U.S., Canadian and British paratroopers, and an amphibious assault of armored troops commencing at 0630 on June 6, 1944.

All-told, some 160,000 troops and approximately 5,000 ships were involved in the invasion in Northern France, covering some 50 miles of coastline. But the invasion almost didn't happen as planned, if it were not for British Army Capt. James Martin Stagg.

As General Eisenhower's chief meteorologist, Stagg was saddled with the responsibility of not only predicting the weather within what experts called "a small window of opportunity", but also advising the supreme allied commander on the perfect time and day to proceed.

The weather leading into early June was horrible. June 4, 1944 started with wind and high seas, making a beach landing nearly impossible. Furthermore, low clouds and rain would turn the planned aerial drop into a suicide mission. Landing craft and troop convoy ships already staged in the English Channel were forced to take shelter in coves and bays. It looked like the mission would be scrubbed afterall.

At a critical meeting the following morning, Eisenhower met with the Allied commanders. After they poured over reports and status updates, the general asked the allied leaders to weigh in, hoping for a consensus. Only British Air Chief Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory was doubtful.

While rumors of the invasion had been swirling for months, the German high command believed conditions were too poor for the Allies to launch the invasion. Indeed, weather conditions inland in Northern France, where the Germans were headquartered, were worse than on the coast.

Many German infantry divisions stood down, and senior officers took the weekend off. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel spent the weekend celebrating his wife's birthday, and many other troop commanders participated in mock war games away from the coast.

A perfect storm was brewing, and it had nothing to do with the weather.

Captain Stagg presented his findings to the assembled senior leadership on the weather outlook for June 6. As the senior meteorologist, Stagg was responsible for assembling data from three separate weather forecasting teams--The Royal Navy, The United Kingdom's Meteorological Office, and United States Army Air Forces.

After careful consideration of the reports, Stagg concluded that there may be a brief improvement in the weather over the next 24 hours. Based on his information, Eisenhower ordered the invasion forward.

The British 2nd Army and Number 10 Commandos, consisting of 83,000 troops were employed, backed by the United States Army 1st Infantry and 29th Infantry Divisions, 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, and the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions--all consisting of 73,000 men, readied for the invasion.

General Eisenhower read the following statement just before dawn on June 6:

"You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months."

What happened next has been committed to collective memory, and immortalized in countless television shows, movies, and books. Places like Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Normandy and Pointe du Hoc serve as a reminder to many who made the ultimate sacrifice in the closing years of WWII.

This weekend, as you go about your daily lives, please take some time to reflect on the sacrifices of our WWII veterans. Some are our grandfathers or great-grandfathers. Many have already passed on.

And if you have a chance to go outside to enjoy the sunshine, remember the work of Captain J.M. Stagg--a weatherman who played a part in the success of what some call "The Longest Day."

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Social Media Manager

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